Isaac Henry Barber was born August 3, 1829, at Florida, Montgomery County, N.Y. He was of Welsh extraction. His great-grandfather, James Barber [James was actually Isaac's grandfather], (born 1779,) with four brothers, came from Wales, and settling in the New England States, engaged in manufacturing and farming [Isaac's great-grandfather was Hamlet Barber and he was the ancestor who came to America - it is not clear if Hamlet came after James was born]. His father, William Barber, (born 1803,) moved from Milford, Mass., to New York State. Isaac H. Barber received an academic education in the Academy of Amsterdam, New York. During his youth and early life he was delicate in health and physique, and this fact had to do with the selection of medicine for his life-work. In 1847 he commenced to study medicine with Dr. Jacob G. Snell of Port Jackson - now Amsterdam - Montgomery County, N. Y. Later he came to New York and studied with Dr. R. K. Hoffman as his preceptor. In 1849-50 and '51 he attended lectures at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, located at that time in Crosby street. During his student days he lived in Fifteenth street near Seventh avenue. In 1851 he obtained the degree of M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons [Columbia University].

The doctor's first office in New York City was on Twenty-fourth street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. His sign had been up only a few weeks when he received a call to go as surgeon on the Vanderbilt Line of steamers running to the Chagres River [now Panama Canal and Panama City]. This position he accepted, and in the fall of 1851 he left New York for Chagres. Later he became harbor surgeon at that place. We abstract from one of his letters written home November 1, 1853, that he had shortly before received an appointment on the Pacific Mail S. S. Line, and that he was physician and surgeon on board the Steamer "Uncle Sam," then at anchor off Panama. While in this, and the preceding service, Dr. Barber passed through many eventful experiences. Among these were the malarial and other fevers of the Isthmus and the West Indies, and the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of 1852-3-4 on the Pacific coast, and on shipboard. We call to mind his own modest statement of his work on board of his steamer during one of these fearful outbreaks of cholera, as well as the testimony of the second officer (Captain Bogart) on the "Uncle Sam," during the voyage from Rio Janeiro around Cape Horn during the yellow fever epidemic of 1852, and we, who know the man, know how lovingly and well his work must have been performed, and can easily understand why he was held in such high esteem by his associates. After the doctor went to sea, his mother, being in poor health, returned to Amsterdam to reside. At her death she left a family in which were several daughters young in years. The doctor, being the eldest member, felt it incumbent upon him to go home and care for them. To this end we find him opening an office in Amsterdam in 1856. In the spring of 1857 the doctor came to Brooklyn to practise, opening an office on Willoughby street.

September 13, 1857, Dr. Barber was married to Miss Jane M. Fremyre of Amsterdam, N.Y. Mrs. Barber is of Dutch ancestry. Their home became noted among many of the profession as a hospitable place, where those seeking the help of advice or sympathy were sure to freely receive. A son and daughter blessed this union of hearts and lives. The daughter died in infancy. The son is our beloved and esteemed associate, Dr. Calvin F. Barber.

In 1861 Dr. Barber became a member of the Medical Society of the County of Kings. In 1889 he was elected vice-president of the Society, and in 1895 he was elected trustee, which office he held at the time of his death.

About September 24, 1862, there came a special and urgent call from Surgeon-General Hammond at Washington for a number of experienced surgeons to go to Antietam's battlefield and render what service they could. Of Brooklyn's surgeons, Drs. Isaac H. Barber, Louis Bauer, John Cooper, and John H. Duff, responded to the call, and left immediately for the seat of war. These four surgeons worked from early morning until late at night for five days, amputating limbs, exsecting joints, trephining, etc., and were then relieved by a body of surgeons sent to continue their work.

These surgeons, who so patriotically and promptly responded to their country's call, were compelled to pay their own way to the front; an attempt was afterwards made to reimburse them, but, under the pressure, or corruption, of these war times, this was not done. The following is a copy of the official paper or certificate given these surgeons upon starting for home:

Hoffman's Hospital, Summer's Corps,
Near Sharpsburg, MD.

Drs. Isaac H. Barber, Louis Bauer, John Cooper, and John H. Duff, surgeons from Brooklyn, N. Y., have rendered most important and efficient aid in the treatment of our wounded. I am glad to acknowledge our obligations to them, and request that they may be passed free on public conveyances to their homes.

Signed Alex. N. Dougherty,
Surgeon U. S. Volunteers,
and Medical Director of Summer's Corps.

From June 1, 1870, until his death, Dr. I. H. Barber was a member of the New York Physicians' Mutual Aid Association.

January 9, 1865, Dr. Isaac H. Barber was elected or appointed a member of the Attending Staff of the Brooklyn Central Dispensary. As attending surgeon he continued in active every-other-day attendance until the end of the year 1890, when he gave up his chair of active work, retaining his consulting surgeonship from 1874 until his death. In 1877 Dr. Barber was elected a member of the board of trustees of that institution. In 1889 the trustees made him their president, re-electing him in 1890.

For over thirty years our friend and professional brother was connected with the Brooklyn Central Dispensary, over twenty-five years in steady every-other-day attendance. This was purely a work of live on his part, and it was often rendered, as we know, at a pecuniary loss. The record of the recording angel for this period must be bright with many a kindly service of his, well rendered, and with many encouraging words well spoken. The recipients of his treatment, and the city of Brooklyn, became much his and our profession's debtor by this loving but long and arduous service.

During this generation of service at the Central Dispensary the doctor was associated with a large proportion of the professional brethren of this city, all of whom learned to esteem him, and with whom many warm attachments and strong friendships were formed. It may be of interest to run over a list of some of these associates from this first appointment to the year he ceased his active work: 1865 to 1867, Drs. A. J. Willetts, George H. Bennett, J. J. Caldwell, Charles Corey; 1867 to 1871, Drs. Joseph C. Hutchison, R. C. Stiles, Jonathan C. Prout, J. H. H. Burge, James R. Bird, James Watt, Thomas Wilde, Thomas P. Norris, Henry C. Turner; 1871, Drs. Joseph C. Hutchison, George K. Smith, W. W. Reese, J. H. H. Burge, J. A. Blanchard, Frank W. Rockwell, Cortelyou; 1872, Drs. Charles Jewett, George R. Fowler, E. Seaman Bunker, John F. Barnett.

In 1874, Drs. Joseph C. Hutchison and Isaac H. Barber were made Consulting Surgeons to this Dispensary, Dr. Barber continuing also as Attending Surgeon, Drs. Nelson S. Drake and J. H. H. Burge were made Consulting Physicians, and the new names appearing on the staff this year were: Drs. Stephen E. Fuller, A. Ross Matheson, Wm. H. B. Pratt, J. J. Gleavy, Lewis S. Pilcher, William Maddren. In 1875, Drs. Z. Taylor Emery and Charles W. Vrooman were appointed on the staff. In 1876, Dr. A. J. C. Skene's name appears, associated as Consulting Physician. In 1876 to 1878, there appear associated on the staff the new names of Drs. Henry C. McLean, John C. Shaw, and Joseph Healy. In 1879, Drs. Thomas M. Rochester, T. M. Northridge, and F. B. Green. In 1881, Drs. E. Reynolds, D. F. Lucas, and Jared Wilson. In 1882, Drs. George McNaughton and W. A. Bunker. In 1883, Drs. William Browning, S. H. Benton, Charles Goodspeed, and J. Y. McKay. In 1887 we find associated in this work with Dr. Barber the new names of Drs. J. Bion Bogart, J. J. Luis, B. T. Welch, E. Percy Jenks, George G. Cochran, W. C. Sneden, and A. Brinkman. In 1888, Dr. John A. Cochran. In 1889 and '90 there appear associated on the staff the names of Drs. Calvin F. Barber [Dr. Issac H. Barber's son], Victor A. Robertson, E. W. Pearson, J. O'Connell, W. A. Berendsohn, and J. F. McGraw. At the end of this year's service Dr. I. H. Barber ceased his attendance, and much regretted by the whole staff, resigned his position of attending surgeon.

For many years Dr. Barber was greatly interested in the surgical work at the County Hospital at Flatbush. During the service of the late Dr. Joseph C. Hutchison as surgeon at this hospital, Dr. Barber was a frequent and welcome visitor upon operating days, and in the fall of 1887, following Dr. Hutchison's death in July, Dr. Barber was appointed by the Commissioners of Charity to the position of attending or visiting surgeon. This position he filled until his death. His associates in this work before the reorganization were Dr. Zabriskie, Dr. Tunis Schenck, Dr. Homer L. Bartlett, Dr. J. S. Prout, and Dr. P. L. Schenck. At the reorganization of the visiting staff the doctor declined to become one of the consulting surgeons, preferring to retain the more active part of attending surgeon.

Dr. Barber was truthfully in many of the best ways " A Doctor of the Old School," a veritable up-to-date Dr. MacLure. The practice of medicine and surgery included and absorbed his whole time and thought, it had grown to be, was, recreation, and life to him. His love for his profession, and his sense of obligation and duty, have for many years often led him to get up and go out to his patients at the expense of much physical pain and suffering from an angina pectoris, that would have deterred any but a very brave, earnest, and unselfish man. It was an offense to his kindness of heart and consideration to be obliged to accept fees from his poorer patients, and very often the fee accepted was greatly out of proportion to the service rendered.

As a surgeon, Dr. I. H. Barber was not a pioneer, blazing an untrodden path for others to follow. He was conservative in his character, but let his judgment be convinced that any operation was really necessary for the patient's best good, and he would go fearlessly as far as the most daring. His readiness and promptness of action were well portrayed in the following incident, that occurred in the County Hospital some years since. A patient had done very badly under an anesthetic, and ordinary procedure failing to relieve the asphyxia, without a word, or a moment's hesitation, the doctor seized a tenaculum, transfixed the trachea, and with a single cut laid open several rings of the trachea, giving immediate relief. Perhaps his most marked feature as a surgeon was what might be called his practical surgical common sense. This was the result of a very large experience and close observation, and rare ability in applying the same in similar cases. His help, judgment, and prognosis, was much sought and highly prized by many of his professional brethren, who knew that he possessed this quality. As a man and friend the doctor was candid to an extreme degree, outspoken, fearless, truthful, and honest, would say just what he thought without flattery, was very fond of, and loyal to his profession and its code of ethics, was very careful to treat his professional brethren as he would like them to treat him. He was generous to his professional brothers and ever ready to respond to calls from them for service or help.

Dr. Isaac H. Barber died February 5, 1896. He had suffered much for a long time. Finally, a cystic disease of the right kidney, which had taken on malignant degeneration, produced by compression a practically complete obstruction of the lower part of the duodenum, compelled him to take and keep his bed for about a week before his death.

And now, beloved members of his, and our profession, may we, when our fights with death shall cease, and it shall come our turn to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, be able to do so with a mind as serene and tranquil, as calm and fearless, as did our loved friend, associate, and nestor, Dr. Isaac H. Barber, whose only expressed regret when he realized that his illness would prove fatal, was that for him, it ended the practice of medicine.

William Maddren
Z. Taylor Emery


The Brooklyn Medical Journal, Vol. XI, January-December, 1897, Medical Society of County of Kings, 356 Bridge Street, Brooklyn, N. Y., p. 212- 217.


Last update April 7, 2009