Dr. James Cook Bright was born in Ohio, U.S.A. around 1820. He was certified by the Eclectic Medical Board in 1867. On the 28th of May, 1869 he was registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons to practice medicine in Ontario, but there is evidence that he practiced medicine as early as 1866. Dr. Bright advertised his medical practice in the 1869 Ontario Gazetteer and Directory. In the 1877 Chatham Directory and the 1880 Kent Directory, Dr. Bright’s address was listed as 39 King St., West (home and office). It was a four storey brick building. On November 16th, 1881, his home and office was gutted by fire. At the same location, between 1882 and 1884, Dr. Bright built Bright’s Opera House which included office space for his medical practice and his pharmacy. The cost to build the Opera House was $20,000.
Dr. Bright is listed in the 1885 Ontario Business Directory as practicing in Chatham. In the 1886 Chatham Directory and Gazetteer, he is listed as Dr. J. C. Bright, Chemist and Druggist, King St. opposite the market square. The address is listed as 43 King St., West in the Ontario Business Directory of 1888.
Dr. Bright married Susannah B. (Williams) Ogilivie on the 16th of April, 1887 in Detroit Michigan. According to the hand-written marriage record, Dr. Bright was 65 years old and Mrs. Bright was 40 years old. Further, the marriage record records that she was living in Chicago, Illinois and she had been born in England. Mrs. Bright had an adult daughter named Annie Ogilivie, who went to live with Dr. and Mrs. Bright in Chatham. Mrs. Bright was a nurse.
On or about the 27th of May, 1887 Dr. Bright was arrested and charged with murder in the death of a young woman named Ruth Harlowe. Ms. Harlowe had travelled from Hamilton to Chatham for an abortion. Abortion in Canada was illegal until 1969 when Parliament passed a law that allowed abortion in certain circumstances to protect the health of the mother. Dr. Bright performed the abortion and Ms. Harlowe died a short time later. Dr. Bright was held in custody while he was on trial and the Chatham newspaper covered the trial with daily updates. The October 14th, 1887 edition announced that Dr. Bright had been acquitted by a jury on the 12th of October, 1887.
The trial took a heavy toll on Dr. Bright’s wife Susan. Mrs. Bright died on the 21st of October, 1888 of a morphine overdose. The day after her death an inquest was commenced at the Town Hall of Chatham with Dr. Holmes presiding over the jury. Dr. Bright testified that since his incarceration Mrs. Bright had become mentally unstable. Other witnesses testified that Mrs. Bright was worried that she would be taken away and put in an insane asylum. After Mrs. Bright consumed the morphine, efforts were made to revive her. Dr. James P. Rutherford had been summoned and he had given Mrs. Bright an antidote but his efforts were in vane. At the conclusion of the inquest, it was determined that Mrs. Bright had died at her own hands. She was buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.
Dr. Bright died on the 24th of September, 1892. He was buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery. Upon his death he left behind a daughter Nettie Ferris who resided in New London, Ohio. It states in his obituary in the Chatham newspaper, that he had been a physician in Chatham for the past 35 years.
*The photo used is the tombstone of Dr. Bright’s wife Susan. To date, the tombstone of Dr. Bright has not been located, despite extensive searches at Maple Leaf Cemetery.
**The webmaster is grateful for the research assistance of Goldie Howes.
***Dr. James P. Rutherford also appears on the Chatham-Kent Physician Tribute website.