william chester minor

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William Chester Minor graduated from Yale Medical School in 1863 with a degree and a specialization in comparative anatomy. By May of 1864 he was a surgeon in the Union army. He served at the Battle of the Wilderness, which is known for being a very brutal and bloody fight with many casualties on both sides. He also was once given the job of branding a soldier with a red hot D, for deserter, on his face. On his off time he would visit the local brothels, something his commanders didn’t really approve of. They sent him to Florida where his paranoia began to really show itself. He became scared of his fellow officers, afraid they would hurt him. The army sent him to an institution and he was diagnosed with having a mental illness. He was released after 18 months.

In 1871 he moved to London and unfortunately he became even more paranoid. He felt that he was always being followed by an unknown group, he even went to Scotland Yard with his fears but they couldn’t help. On February 17th, 1872, he awoke and saw what he thought was someone at the end of his bed. Terrified, he grabbed his pistol and chased this phantom intruder out into the street. Sadly he ran into a man named George Merrett who was on his way to work, and mistook him for his constant pursuers. He shot and killed Merrett on the street. He was arrested and sent to trial.

During the trial it came to light that he had been seeing people following him since his release from the American asylum. Also the prison guards who watched him while he awaited the trial testified he would wake up screaming, claiming to have been sexually abused by people living in the floorboards and in the walls. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Broadmoor asylum. He wasn’t considered a serious threat and had a pension from the army which would help pay his bills, so he was given a comfortable cell and access to books and writing materials.

He soon found out that the Oxford English Dictionary, still being written, was looking for volunteers to help get the english language on paper. He became one of the most prolific contributors the dictionary folks had. Through his vast collection of books and access to a good library he was able to gather quotes that explained how particular words were used. The dictionary people would even compile lists of words for him to look up and find the right quotes to make it work. Even the wife of the man he murdered would visit often, bringing him books for his collection. In 1899 Dr. James Murray, the O.E.D’s editor, said of Minor “We could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone.”

Sadly Minor’s condition worsened over the years. In 1902, because he thought he was being taken from the hospital and flown all over the world to sexually assault children, he cut off his penis. In 1910 he was released and deported back to America to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He was diagnosed with dementia praecox, a chronic and deteriorating psychotic disorder. In 1919 he was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut and the next year he passed away.

Pictured above: William Chester Minor, a depiction of the Battle of the Wilderness, an O.E.D pamphlet asking for volunteers, a few more shots of Minor and his library, Broadmoor Asylum and lastly his grave.