William Chester Minor

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William Chester Minor, also known as W. C. Minors (June 1834 – March 26, 1920) was an American army surgeon who, later, was one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. He was held in a lunatic asylum at the time. His biography by Simon Winchester is cited below.


Early life

Minor was born on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the son of Congregationalist Church missionaries from New England. He had numerous half-siblings, among them Thomas T. Minor, mayor of Seattle, Washington in the late 1880s.[1] At 14 he was sent to the United States, finishing his medical education in 1863 at Yale.

Military career

Becoming a surgeon in the Medical Corps of the Union Army, Minor served at the Battle of the Wilderness. He was also assigned to brand "deserters" with a D; that some of these men were Irish immigrants would later play a role in Minor's dementia delusions.

After the war Minor was reassigned to New York City, where he spent much of his time with prostitutes. By 1867 his behavior caused the Army to transfer him to a remote post in the Florida Panhandle, but his condition worsened and in 1868 he was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital. Showing no improvement after eighteen months, he was allowed to resign his commission, with pension.[2]

Move to England

In 1871 he went to England and settled in Lambeth, an area of London, where once again he took up a dissolute life. Haunted by paranoia, on February 17, 1872 he fatally shot George Merrett, who Minor believed had broken into his room. After a pre-trial period spent in London's Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Minor was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in the asylum at Broadmoor. As he had his army pension and was not judged dangerous, he was given comparatively comfortable quarters and was able to buy and read books.[3]

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