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A Midwife's Tale | Timeline

Martha Ballard Chronology


English colonists first attempt (unsuccessfully) to settle Maine, at Fort George on the Kennebec River. Other English colonists found Jamestown, Virginia.

Capt. John Smith explores and maps the northern New England coast. Smith will publish his Description of New England two years later and become an enthusiastic promoter of settlement.

Plymouth Colony is founded by the Massachusetts Bay Company.

A fur-trading post is established at Cushnoc (now Augusta). Maine's first settlers, fur traders, act as go-betweens with the American Indians. In New France, to the north, traders and missionaries are the first to settle.

William Learned, Martha Ballard's ancestor, becomes a freeman in Charleston, Massachusetts.

April 12: Galileo Galilei stands trial for heresy after claiming that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo recants his heretical theory.

William Ballard, Ephraim Ballard's ancestor, crosses the Atlantic on the ship Mary & John. Part of the Puritan Great Migration, William will settle in Lynn.

John Winthrop writes that smallpox has killed off the local native American population and made the way clear for European settlement.

Harvard College, the first in British North America, is founded. Martha Moore Ballard's brother will later attend the theological university.

Jacob Moore (Martha's ancestor) is born in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Fourteen women are hanged in Massachusetts and Connecticut after accusations of witchcraft.

William Harvey publishes De Generatione Animalium, identifying the female egg's role in conception.

Nicholas Culpeper publishes The English Physitian, or an Astro-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of This Nation.

Thomas Syndenham names his tincture of opium and alcohol "laudanum," from the Latin for praise.

June 1: Mary Dyer, an English Quaker, is hanged on the Boston Common for her religious heterodoxy.

Louis XIV of France chooses a male physician -- not a midwife -- to attend the delivery of his mistress's child.

The Great Plague decimates London.

Massachusetts Bay Colony declares its authority and protection over Maine. Maine will remain a territory of Massachusetts throughout Martha Ballard's lifetime. Ephraim Ballard will live to see Maine separate from Massachusetts and become a state.

Jane Sharp publishes the first English treatise on midwifery, in which she attacks man-midwives.

Mary Collins (Martha's paternal grandmother) is born in Middletown, Connecticut.

King Philip's War erupts in New England as Chief Metacum leads the Narragansett Indians in a rebellion against an annual tribute demanded by the colonial government.

British soldiers massacre the Narragansett at their winter home in Rhode Island.

August: King Philip's War ends when Colonial militiamen kill Chief Metacum in battle and take his head to Plymouth, where it will be displayed for the next 20 years.

Sir Isaac Newton publishes his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

John Locke publishes Two Treatises of Government. Maine squatters will use Locke's arguments to challenge the Plymouth proprietors for whom Ephraim Ballard worked.

Dutchman Zacharias Janssen invents the microscope.

Witch trials claim twenty lives in Salem, Massachusetts.

Hannah Kidder (Ephraim's mother) is born in Medford, Massachusetts.

Slave trading is legalized by the British Parliament, beginning the "triangle of trade" from New England to Africa to the Caribbean Islands and back to New England.

Queen Anne's War (called the War of Spanish Succession in Europe) begins.

Elijah Moore (Martha's father) is born in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Sarah Campbell Knight travels from Boston to New York, becoming the first white woman known to have made the journey alone.

The Treaty of Utrecht ends Queens Anne's War.

Dorothy Learned (Martha's mother) is born in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

New York City requires midwives to be licensed.

England's Lady Mary Montagu introduces English physicians to smallpox inoculation, which she observed being performed by old women in Constantinople.

Jonathan Ballard and Hannah Kidder (Ephraim's parents) marry in Billerica, Massachusetts. Richard Moore and Ebenezer Learned (Martha's grandfathers) are Oxford selectmen.

John Maubray publishes Thw Female Physician, in which he notes a trend toward physician-assisted childbirth, and away from midwifery. The English physician criticizes his colleagues for relying too heavily on instruments.

May 17: Ephraim Ballard is born in Billerica, Massachusetts.

ca. 1726
Jonathan and Hannah Ballard move their family to Oxford, Massachusetts.

Benjamin Franklin begins publication of Poor Richard's Almanack.Almanacs are common reading material in the colonies and early republic. The form of Martha Ballard's diary suggests that she may have used the dated page layout of an almanac at first.

The Chamberlen forceps' design is published, although it probably was sold secretly by the Chamberlens before that.

A scarlet fever epidemic sweeps across New England.

Feb 20: Martha Moore is born in Oxford, Massachusetts.

The Cato Conspiracy -- the British Colonies' first slave revolt -- takes the lives of 44 blacks and 30 whites in South Carolina.

Fielding Ould, an Irish physician, publishes the first description of an episiotomy.

King George's War -- an offshoot of the War of Austrian Succession -- breaks out between France and Britain in the Caribbean and in North America.

William Hunter, a Scottish physician, is appointed surgeon-midwife to the British Lying-in Hospital. Hunter will consult in the delivery of Queen Charlotte, although a midwife will perform the actual delivery.

William Smellie publishes his Treatise on Midwifery in London. Most births in Europe and British America are still in the hands of female midwives.

James Lind, an Englishman, publishes his findings that lemons and oranges cure scurvy, an idea that was known previously but not believed totally.

Dec 19: Martha Moore marries Ephraim Ballard.

Benjamin Pugh publishes his Treatise on Midwifery, in which the English physician discourages lying down during delivery.

Sept 11: Cyrus Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim.

The French and Indian War (an offshoot of the Seven Year War in Europe) breaks out in North America.

Aug. 28: Lucy Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim.

September 13: British troops defeat France's American army at the Plains of Abraham outside Montreal, establishing British control of Canada.

October 5: George III assumes the English throne.

Elizabeth Nihell, an English midwife, publishes A Treatise on Midwifery, arguing sharply against the use of forceps and other instruments favored by male physicians attending childbirths.

Apr. 17: Martha Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim. The younger Martha will die in the 1769 diphtheria epidemic.

Jonathan Moore (Martha's brother) graduates 27th in his class at Harvard.

Mar. 4: Jonathan Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim.

February 10: The Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War, opening up northern New England lands such as Maine to English settlement. 

William Shippen teaches midwifery classes in America.

April 5: The Sugar Act passes British Parliament, lowering duties on sugar imports to the American colonies but mandating their enforcement. Boston lawyer James Otis denounces "taxation without representation" and urges the colonies to resist the new tax.

Mar. 26: Triphena Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim. She will die in the 1769 diphtheria epidemic.

May 15: The Quartering Act passes British Parliament, compelling colonists to quarter soldiers in their houses.

May 17: Dorothy Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim. Dorothy will die along with two older sisters in the 1769 epidemic.

The Townsend Acts pass British Parliament.

A diphtheria epidemic claims the lives of three Ballard children this summer: Triphena (June 17), Dorothy (July 1), and Martha (July 5).

August 6: Hannah Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim.

March 5: The Boston Massacre leaves 3 protestors dead and the colony inflamed against the British army, which is regarded increasingly as an occupying force.

Hallowell, Maine, is incorporated.

Sep 2: Dorothy (Dolly) Ballard is born to Martha and Ephraim.

November 2: Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren of Boston establish the first of several "Committees of Correspondence" to circulate anti-British polemics.

December 16: The Boston Tea Party is staged to protest new laws governing tea importation. Boston men disguised as American Indians throw 242 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

Charles White, an English surgeon, publishes his Treatise on the Management of Pregnant Women, in which he decries the forced bedrest that commonly followed delivery, advocating instead fresh air and cleanliness.

September 5: The first Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia.

William Hunter publishes his Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus.

Ephraim travels up the Kennebec River and leases property at Fort Halifax. Suspected of loyalist sympathies, Ephraim is soon driven out of Fort Halifax by the local Committee of Safety. It is unclear exactly why the Ballards left Oxford, Massachusetts.

Apr 19: The American Revolution begins at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Ephraim manages land and mills in Hallowell, Maine, owned by John Jones, a loyalist who was not welcome in the town. Later, Ephraim will become a surveyor and do much work for the Plymouth Proprietors, a group of investors who claimed land in Maine.

July 4: The Declaration of Independence is issued by the Continental Congress. Abigail Adams writes "remember the ladies" to her husband John as he and other statesmen work on a constitution for the 13 former colonies.


Oct. 14: Martha Ballard joins Ephraim in Hallowell, after traveling from Oxford. 

July 7: The battle of Tyconderoga is a discouraging defeat for the colonial militiamen.

Oct. 7: The Battle of Saratoga marks a turning point in the American Revolution, as colonial forces hand the British their first major defeat.

February: Lucy Ballard marries Ephraim Towne.

July: Martha Ballard midwives for the first time.

Nov. 1: Martha and Ephraim move to the Jones Mill at Bowman's Brook.

June 2: Molly Pitcher, a water carrier at the Battle of Monmouth, takes over her husband's cannon when he is overcome by heat.

Mar. 30: Ephraim Jr. is born to Martha and Ephraim. Ephraim Jr. is their last child.

Oct. 19: The British surrender at the Battle of Yorktown, ending the Revolutionary War.

The Treaty of Paris, signed by British and American negotiators, guarantees American sovereignty.

Ephraim Ballard becomes a selectman, a post he will hold in Hallowell until 1787. Unlike Martha Ballard, whose life passed unrecorded outside her diary, Ephraim Ballard figured prominently in Hallowell's town records.

Jan. 1: Martha Ballard begins her diary. The diary is the only record we have of Martha Ballard's very active life as an individual and as a central participant in the healthcare and female economy of Hallowell.

The dollar becomes the official U.S. currency, as Congress adopts a decimal monetary system. Martha Ballard and her neighbors, as well as the rest of the country, often lack hard currency with which to carry on their daily trade.

Ephraim Ballard is elected Hallowell town moderator. 

Daniel Shays leads an armed revolt by farmers in Western Massachusetts, closing local courts in an attempt to stop foreclosure on their farms. 

Thomas Denman publishes An Essay on Natural Labours.

Aug. 6: Ephraim's mill burns. Scarlet fever strikes Hallowell, and Martha nurses its victims. In her Aug. 7 emtry, Martha shows rare sympathy for her patients, probably remembering the summer of 1769, when three of her own children died in a similar epidemic.

June 21: The U.S. Constitution is ratified by the ninth state, New Hampshire.

George Washington becomes the first U.S. president.

July 10: Judge Joseph North stands trial for rape.

Judith Sargent Murray publishes On the Equality of the Sexes.

April 21: The Ballards move from the Jones Mill to their own property, which they finally have cleared. 

The Bill of Rights is added to the Constitution.

Three Marriages:

Jan. 11: Jonathan Ballard marries Sally Pierce.

Oct. 28: Hannah Ballard marries Moses Pollard.

Nov .18: Parthenia Barton marries Shubael Pitts.

Dec. 12: Moses and Hannah Pollard "go to housekeeping."

Mary Stone Wollstonecraft publishes Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which the Englishwoman argues for equality of opportunity for men and women.

America's first cotton mill -- built by Samuel Slater -- opens in Rhode Island. Martha Ballard buys by the pound raw cotton brought up the Kennebec River by ship. The women of Hallowell and Augusta pick, comb, spin, and weave the cotton.

Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.

The Jay Treaty, postpones -- but does not avert -- an Anglo-American war.

The Whiskey Rebellion pits Pennsylvania farmers against the U.S. Army.

May 14: Dorothy Ballard marries Barnabas Lambard.

Alexander Gordon writes A Treatise on the Epidemic of Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen, in which the Scotsman observes that the fever is spread from patient to patient by birth attendants.

John Adams is elected the second U.S. president.

Edward Jenner develops a vaccine against smallpox using the less dangerous Cowpox virus.

Feb. 20: Hallowell divides in a dispute over whether to bridge the Kennebec at Fort Western of The Hook. North and Middle parishes soon incorporate as the town of Augusta, which later will become the capital of Maine.

Nov. 21: The Kennebec Bridge at Fort Western is dedicated.

The Kennebec Medical Society is founded.

Nov. 8: Lucy Ballard Towne dies. Martha Ballard nursed her daughter through a long illness with persistence and hope, but meets Lucy's death with acceptance and a prayer.

The Alien and Sedition Acts pass Congress.

Nov. 26: Martha and Ephraim move to their new house on their son Jonathan's farm. The new house, about a mile uphill from the town center, turns out to be a difficult move for Martha. Walking to town and to the scattered houses of clients will become increasingly difficult for the aging woman.

George Washington dies.

Thomas Jefferson is elected third U.S. president.

A National Census is taken; the U.S. population reaches 5.3 million.

Apr. 30: The U.S. purchases the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million.

Feb 5: Ephraim Jr. marries Mary Farwell. 

Dec. 23: Jonathan and family move in with Martha, who is living alone while Ephraim is in jail. As tax collector, Ephraim is punished personally when he does not collect the full amount.

May: The Lewis & Clark expedition into the Louisiana Territory begins. Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel.

May 29: Ephraim is released from jail. 

Sep. 14: Jonathan and family move out of Martha and Ephraim's house.

Toussaint Charboneau and his wife Sacajawea join the Lewis & Clark expedition with their infant son.

July 9: Capt. James Purrington kills his wife, his six children and himself

Congress outlaws slave importation. Jefferson bars all exports to Britain and France, causing New Englanders severe economic hardship.

Jefferson's embargo on American trade with Europe brings a slump to the Kennebec River economy. Martha Ballard's diary notes the celebration when the embargo is repealed.

The Malta War divides Maine. Settlers without land title from the Plymouth Proprietors contest attempts to remove them. Ephraim Ballard receives much of his work from the Plymouth Proprietors.

Dec. 25: Ephraim McDowell, a Kentucky surgeon, performs the first recorded gynecological surgery in the U.S., removing a 22 1/2-pound ovarian tumor from Jane Crawford.

A National Census is taken; the U.S. population reaches 7.2 million.

William Henry Harrison and his troops engage Tecumseh's army at the battle of Tippecanoe.

Apr. 26: Martha Ballard midwives for the last time.

May 7: Martha Ballard writes the last entry in her diary.

Between May 7 and June 9 Martha Ballard dies and her daughter Dolly Lambard inherits her diary.

James Madison is elected fourth U.S. President.

Shipping disputes lead the U.S. to declare war on Britain.

The New England Journal of Medicine is founded.

The Treaty of Ghent ends the War of 1812, but not before British troops sack Washington on August 24.

Andrew Jackson defeats a larger British force at New Orleans, two weeks after the peace treaty was signed.

James Monroe is elected fifth U.S. president, beginning the "Era of Good Feeling."

Abigail Adams dies.

The Panic of 1819 strikes the U.S. economy.

Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec, a French physician, invents the stethoscope, averting the need for a physician to place his ear on the breast of a female patient.

Jan. 7: Ephraim Ballard dies. Martha Moore and Ephraim Ballard leave a large extended family, many of whom stay in Maine. Descendants can still be found in the area today.

The first textile mills are built in Lowell, Massachusetts.

John Stearns espouses the use of ergot to induce labor, a practice the New York physician learned from a German midwife.

The Monroe Doctrine is incorporated into U.S. foreign policy.

John Quincy Adams is elected sixth U.S. President.

A British physician suggests the moniker "obstetrician" to describe male specialists in childbirth, replacing such traditional terms as "man-midwife."


Ether and chloroform are used in childbirth in America for the first time.

The Female Medical College of Philadelphia opens.

Sarah and Hannah Lambard inherit their grandmother's diary.

Clara Barton, grandniece of Martha Ballard, carries on the healing tradition by bringing medical supplies to Civil War soldiers and founding the American Red Cross.

Joseph Lister develops antiseptic surgery.

James North quotes passages from Martha Ballard in his History of Augusta.

Louis Pasteur identifies streptococcus as the cause of puerperal fever.

Mary Hobart graduates from The Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary and inherits her great-great grandmother Martha Ballard's diary.

June 10: The Massachusetts Medical Society admits women.

Charles Everton Nash abridges Martha Ballard's diary for his history of Augusta.

Dr. Mary Hobart donates Martha's original diary to the Maine State Library.

Researchers discover the antibiotic properties of sulphonamides.

Penicillin isolated as an antibiotic.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book Good Wives is published. Laurel Ulrich "discovers" Martha Ballard's diary.

A Midwife's Tale is published. Producer Laurie Kahn-Leavitt contacts Laurel Ulrich about making a film of the diary.

A Midwife's Tale wins the Pulitzer Prize.

A transcription of Martha Ballard's diary, by Robert and Cynthia McCausland, is published.

The film A Midwife's Tale is released.

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