It Happened in Windham: The dentist from Popeville

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The gravesite of Elijah Pope.

He was only 40 when he died, but Elijah Pope (1816-1856) of Popeville in Windham, had an interesting life. His biography has been recorded on the Find a Grave website, along with a photo of his gravestone in the Old Quaker Burying Ground in Windham.

It starts with the discovery of anesthesia to be used in dental surgery. There’s a bit of confusion about who actually made the discovery, but in the records of one Professor Henry Lyman, it is stated that the first medical professionals to use ether during dental work were William E. Clarke and Windham’s Dr. Elijah Pope.

Lyman described the event thusly: “During the year 1839 a young student of chemistry in the city of Rochester, N.Y., William E. Clarke, was in the habit of entertaining his companions with inhalations of ether. At Berkshire Medical College, during the winter of 1841-1842, Clarke diligently propagated this convivial method among his fellow students. Emboldened by these experiences in January 1842, having returned to Rochester, he administered ether from a towel to a young woman, and one of her teeth was then extracted without pain by a dentist named Elijah Pope.”

So far as has been ascertained, this is the first historic account of the successful administration of ether, resulting in a painless surgical operation of any sort.

Pope was the son of Nathan Pope and Phebe Allen. They had nine children, including Elijah. He was a student in Rochester in 1841 and studied at Vermont Medial College in 1843. The tooth extraction mentioned here took place in 1842.

In 1844 Elijah Pope is listed in the Rochester City Directory not only as a “Surgeon Dentist” but also as “Pope, E. & Co., Surgical Instrument Makers.”

Pope married Mary Hicks Moore in October of 1844, but she died six weeks later of consumption. She is buried in Rochester.

He came back to Windham where he was listed in 1850 as a dentist. He lived a quiet life back home in Popeville and died on Jan. 2, 1856. He is buried in the Old Quaker yard at the corner of Route 202 and Pope Road. He never remarried, so far as is known.

The gravesite of Elijah Pope.