GSCHWIND (Gschwindt, Schwindt), JOHN (Johann) FREDERICK (Friedrich) TRAUGOTT, army and militia officer, physician, and office holder; b. c. 1748 in Oberdaubnitz, near Meissen, Saxony (German Democratic Republic); m. 3 Aug. 1782, probably in Halifax, Anna Fletcher, and they had at least one child; d. 2 Sept. 1827 in Halifax.
Nothing is known of John Frederick Traugott Gschwind’s youth, but he may have obtained some medical training in early adulthood. In the mid 1770s he enlisted with the Hessian troops which were to be sent to North America in order to assist the British government in suppressing the colonial revolt. His unit, the Regiment von Stein (renamed von Seitz in 1778 and von Porbeck in 1783), was assembled at Hersfeld in Hesse (Federal Republic of Germany), from where it departed in May 1776. Five months later, having passed through Bremen (Federal Republic of Germany) and Portsmouth, England, the troops arrived in New York City, in the vicinity of which they remained during the next two years. In October 1778 Gschwind’s regiment was transferred to Halifax. Gschwind is listed as a surgeon in the 3rd Company during the years 1780 to 1782, although he may have functioned as such prior to that time. When his regiment embarked for the return to Europe after the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Gschwind decided to stay behind.
One of his reasons for remaining in Nova Scotia must have been the fact that in 1782 he had taken a wife, Anna Fletcher, a widow slightly younger than he. She was to die in 1805, at the age of 55. Their daughter Anna married another military surgeon, Charles Alexander Simpson.
Gschwind succeeded in establishing himself in Nova Scotian society. In 1784 and 1788, as a reward for his wartime services, the provincial government issued to him land grants of 500 and 400 acres in Halifax County; the 500-acre grant was escheated in 1820. In Halifax itself, Gschwind and his family occupied a house at the corner of Duke and Grafton streets and worshipped at St Paul’s Church. Gschwind also kept in close touch with the German community, becoming vice-president of the High German Society in 1789.
During his more than 40 years as a Halifax resident Gschwind made his living as a physician. His skill was recognized by his appointment in 1793 as surgeon of the 2nd Halifax Militia Regiment with the rank of adjutant, and even more so by his promotion in 1796 to the post of surgeon and physician general of the provincial militia. Around 1801 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the garrison, a position he held for 15 years. His military obligations, however, left some room for civilian activities. From 1799 he was health officer, with salary, “in and for the Port or Place” of Halifax. His primary task in this capacity was to prevent the spread of contagious diseases; in particular, he was responsible for the inspection of incoming ships and decisions concerning quarantine.
Little is known about Gschwind’s life during the following two decades. In 1818 his appointment as health officer was renewed. Instead of a salary, however, he obtained only the promise of compensation through the House of Assembly for services rendered. This arrangement proved to be an unfortunate one. The job itself was unpleasant and hazardous enough for the ageing Gschwind, who had to row out to arriving ships in any kind of weather and expose himself to possible typhus or smallpox infection. Under the new terms of his appointment, he had to advance his own money for expenses such as boat-hire and fumigating materials, and the legislature proved slow in compensating him for his efforts. The numerous petitions he addressed to the house in order to seek his just reward testify to his frustrations. He held out, however, until 1825, when infirmity forced him to tender his resignation.
Gschwind’s performance as a military surgeon may have been ordinary, but his career as a health officer – like the career of another Halifax physician, Matthias Francis Hoffmann* – shows the hesitant involvement of government in a sphere then mostly regarded as a private concern. The unsatisfactory nature of this involvement is clearly seen in the difficulties Gschwind experienced. Yet, living up to his physician’s ethos, he clearly did the best he could under the circumstances. The esteem in which his fellow citizens held him is evidenced by the fact that when he died in 1827 it was the bishop’s chaplain, the Reverend Edward Wix*, who delivered the funeral sermon. Gschwind was buried in St Paul’s cemetery.
PANS, RG 1, 171: 51, 71; 172: 47; 173: 414–15; 232: 29; RG 5, O, 41; P, 80; RG 20A, 43; RG 32, 135. PRO, WO 17/1516: 2v. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of burials, 1816–1954: 63 (mfm. at PANS). Acadian Recorder, 3 June 1815, 8 Sept. 1827. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 6 Sept. 1827. Hessische Truppen im Amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg (HETRINA): Index nach Familiennamen, comp. E. G. Franz et al. (5v., Marburg, Federal Republic of Germany, 1972–76), 4. Loyalists in N.S. (Gilroy). D. A. Campbell, Pioneers of medicine in Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1905). Max von Eelking, Die deutschen Hülfstruppen im Nordamerikanischen Befreiungskriege, 1776 bis 1783 (2v., Hanover, [Federal Republic of Germany], 1863); also available in an abridged translation, The German allied troops in the North American War of Independence, 1776–1783, trans. and ed. J. G. Rosengarten (1v., Albany, N.Y., 1893). Ernst Kipping, Die Truppen von Hessen-Kassel im Amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg, 1776–1783 (Darmstadt, Federal Republic of Germany, ). E. J. Lowell, The Hessians and the other German auxiliaries of Great Britain in the revolutionary war (New York, 1884; repr. Port Washington, N.Y., 1965). M. H. L. Grant, “Historical sketches of hospitals and alms houses in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1749–1859,” Nova Scotia Medical Bull. (Halifax), 17 (1938): 294–304, 491–512.