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John Nelson Norris M.D.


Posted By: Fran Hunt, Volunteer
Date: 10/6/2001 at 10:16:54

From the Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties – 1890
John Nelson Norris, M.D., a leading physician and surgeon of Van Buren County residing in Birmingham, was born in Steuben County New York, June 7, 1816, and is a son of James and Hettie Hyatt Norris. The family is of German origin. Shadrach Norris, the grandfather of our subject, emigrated from Germany to this country and settled in New Jersey. His wife was a native of County Antrim Ireland. After their marriage they removed to Steuben County, New York. The father of the Doctor was born in New Jersey in 1784. He served his country in the War of 1812, and after his return from the army was married in Steuben County in 1815, to Miss Hyatt who was born in the same county in 1790, and came of pure English stock. He was a farmer by occupation but at the time of his death, which occurred in 1829, he was working at contracting on the Ohio canal. His wife died some six years later in the faith of the Baptist Church, of which she was a member. In political sentiments, Mr. Norris was a supporter of Democratic principles. In their family were four children, of whom three are yet living—Rebecca, widow of Isaac Young, a resident of Albany Oregon; John Nelson of this sketch, and Weltha, widow of Dr. William Miller, also residing in Albany Oregon.
In the days of his boyhood and youth our subject spent upon a farm and in the common schools of that day acquired a good English education. However, not desiring to follow the pursuit to which he had been reared, he left the parental roof and bidding goodbye to home and friends started out in life to make his own way in the world. The first pursuit to which he turned his attention was that of clerking, being employed in a store at Millersburg Ohio. He conceived the idea of making the practice of medicine his life work and during his leisure hours gave his time to the study of that science. In 1837, he and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Miller, came to Iowa, and in February of 1838, located adjoining the site of the present town of Birmingham, which has since grown up around them. They built a cabin of hickory poles, which they adorned with a stick chimney and though the roof served well in dry weather it proved hardly adequate in the rainy season. The Doctor was his own cabinetmaker; with auger and ax he constructed a bed which at least possessed one admirable quality, that of strength. Soon after arriving, Dr. Miller and his wife were taken sick and Dr. Norris, being an “all around man” served as housekeeper, nurse, doctor and cook. To fill the last position required no little ingenuity. They had brought a sack of meal with them but it has gotten wet and spoiled and he therefore had to improvise a grater and provide the breadstuff. Salt was wanting but he boiled salt beef bones, and thus obtained the much desired article. Stagnant pond water was not very palatable but who cared for that when with one stroke of the bucket you could drive the scum away and scare the tadpoles to the bottom. Is it any wonder that a person who could find some way to surmount such obstacles as this should succeed in professional life. The Doctor was blessed with a liberal patronage from the first. He would often have to drive twenty or twenty-five miles to visit a patient and became known all over the county. Having practiced until 1854, he was graduated from the medical department of the State University, then at Keokuk. Twenty-two students have prepared themselves for college under his instructions; he has been very successful in surgery, having cut out some twenty-two tumors and has had an extensive and successful course of practice on the eyes, patients coming to him from different states to receive treatment.
On July 26, 1842, Dr. Norris was united in marriage with Miss Margaretta S. Culbertson, a native of Ohio, and unto them was born two children—Hettie F. widow of C.M. Selvey, and Samuel C. who served in the Third Iowa Cavalry during the late war. He was taken prisoner near Memphis Tennessee, and then sent to Andersonville, where he remained in captivity for four months. He died in 1871, from the effects of prison life. The mother of these children was called to her final rest in September of 1847. The Doctor was again married on October 26, 1848, the lady of his choice being Barbara Miller, who was born in Highland County Ohio, December 22, 1823, and came to this county among its early settlers. Their union has been blessed with six children—Izora M., wife of John S. Ragsdale, a druggist of Birmingham; John M. who died when about two years old; Dr. W. Pitt, who for some sixteen years has been a partner of his father, and Dr. Jay C. who has shared in their business for some seven years.
In early life, Dr. Norris supported the Whig Party until the rise of the Abolition Party. On the organization of the Republican Party he joined its ranks but within the past fifteen years he has been independent, voting alone for the man who he thinks will best fill the position. Religiously, he grasps the broad idea of the brotherhood of all Christians, making the test of fellowship, loyalty to Christ. The Doctor has the honor of having aided in laying out the town of Birmingham and giving it its name. In 1839 John Harrison took a claim on which the city now stands. The Doctor after much argument and many promises of assistance induced Mr. Harrison to make the venture of founding the town and the result shows that his ideas were correct. He has witnessed its growth, has been identified with its advancement and has done not a little for it building up. For fifty-one years he has been engaged in the practice of medicine in Van Buren county, during which he has won a reputation equal to any in this section and as a true student still keeps himself well informed concerning the progressive movement of the science.
I am not related, and am only copying this for the information of those who might find this person in their family.


Van Buren Biographies maintained by Rich Lowe.
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