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Dr. Responsible for Saving Millions of Lives - Pioneer Cemetery - Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Old town cemeteries always have a story to tell, and the Pioneer Cemetery in Point Pleasant, West Virginia is no different. We stopped at this cemetery on our way out of the town when we were there in the July of 2019 since this was on our way out of town.

The cemetery is located at 900 Viand St Point Pleasant, WV 25550. This memorial garden is the final resting place for some of the earliest landowners in Mason County, West Virginia. Among these early settlers are two veterans of the American Revolution, John Roush, and John Michael Roseberry. Another significant burial is that of Dr. Jesse Bennett, Surgeon of the 2nd West Virginia Regiment of 1812, and he is also credited with the first Caesarean section delivery in the United States in 1794 (see below).

As you pull into the parking lot next to the cemetery, you will notice a directory that is posted showing the locations of all of the grave sites in the cemetery. This was quite interesting and unique. We don't see this too often. From this directory, we were easily able to find the grave site of Dr. Jesse Bennett who has a historical marker out by the road in front of the cemetery.

About Dr. Jesse Bennett

Buried in this cemetery is Dr. Jesse Bennett. Bennett was born in Frankford, Philadelphia, on July 13, 1769. He earned a B.A. Degree at Philadelphia College before apprenticing with Dr. Benjamin Rush and attending medical school. In April 1791, he received the title Doctor of Medicine, at the same time he received his M. A. degree. Dr. Bennett married Elizabeth Hogg in 1793 and settled in Rockingham County, Virginia, establishing his practice in a log cabin. When Elizabeth became pregnant, Bennett engaged a Dr. Humphrey of Staunton, Virginia, to attend Elizabeth at the delivery.

After Elizabeth had endured a prolonged labor, Dr. Humphrey and Bennett determined the only options were a Caesarean section on Elizabeth or a craniotomy on the unborn infant. Dr. Humphrey refused to do anything, feeling that either operation meant certain death for both the mother and her infant. It appears Dr. Humphrey then left the Bennett home. Desperate to save her child, Elizabeth begged her husband to perform the Caesarian section. Dr. Bennett assembled a crude operating table from two boards supported by barrels. Dr. Bennett gave his wife laudanum to make her sleepy and had two servants support her on the table while Elizabeth's sister, Mrs. Hawkins, held a tallow candle to light the makeshift operating table.

Dr. Bennett cut his wife's abdomen with a single sweep of his knife and extracted his infant daughter, Maria. He then removed both of Elizabeth's ovaries, saying he'd "not be subjected to such an ordeal again." Finally he sutured the surgical wound with stout linen thread, the kind used in frontier homes to sew heavy clothing.

Elizabeth recovered and was able to be up a month later (see postpartum confinement). Dr. Bennett declared his wife healed as of March 1, 1794, writing a cryptic case history on the title page of one of his medical books. Elizabeth Bennett lived for thirty-six more years, passing away on April 20, 1830. Maria Bennett lived until 1870, married twice, and bore six children.

Dr. Bennett refused to publicize the details of the surgery during his life. He said other doctors would never believe that a woman could survive this hazardous operation, done in the backwoods of Virginia, and he was "damned if he'd give them a chance to call him a liar."

Because Dr. Bennett didn't report the operation during his life, it was long believed the first successful American Caesarian section had been performed in 1827 by Dr. John Lambert in Ohio - coincidentally, only ten miles from Dr. Bennett's practice.

Dr. A. L. Knight, a boyhood neighbor of the Bennetts, remembered hearing the details of Maria's birth when he was a youth. Dr. Knight collected eye-witness testimonies from Mrs. Hawkins and the surviving servant after Dr. Bennett's death and published the story in The Southern Historical Magazine in 1892 as part of "The Life and Times of Dr. Jesse Bennett, M.D." (wikipedia)

One thing we did notice as we were walking around the cemetery is how close the markers are to the sidewalk and road. There are headstones that are right up against the curb, now we know that they headstones were there first; however, these are really close.

Another thing that is saddening is the decay of the stones and monuments. We were not able to find anyone who is responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery, which means it is probably maintained by the city. Hopefully at some point a group will come together to help preserve some of these monuments and history for the town and County.

If you have been to the cemetery or know any more information about it, please leave us a comment below. We would love to know more details and stories about this cemetery. If you would like to see more pictures from our visit, please click the "More Pictures" button.

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