Peter B. Ray

It was July of 1862. Mary Burns, about 40 years of age and a servant for “a respectable family”, lay near death. She was an unmarried woman, not known to have any children. A woman named Mrs. Cunningham took down Mary’s deathbed statement to the coroner:

  • I do not know my age; my child was born on Monday; Dr. Ray attended me, and some days prior to the birth of the child performed an operation on me with an instrument; I cannot describe the instrument because the Doctor did not let me see it; I paid him four dollars for this operation, and he did it for the purpose of effecting an abortion; he never produced an abortion on me before; I went to him without being directed by any third party; Dr. Ray has called on me since he performed the operation; he furnished me with medicine for the purpose of producing an abortion previous to the operation; I took six bottles at six and sixpence per bottle, but it did not have the desired effect; the operation was performed in Dr. Ray’s office; the colored Doctor is the one I mean…. The child is now in the out-house where I threw it; I know that I am in a dangerous condition and have no hope of getting well, and knowing this, the statements I now make are correct.

An investigation found a bottle in Mary’s bedroom, with a label indicating that Dr. Ray had prescribed it for Mary on June 18. It was to be taken three times a day. The prices was six and sixpence. And a “night scavenger” named John Bauer discovered the body of a baby floating in the water behind the house where Mary lived. The child’s body was brought to the coroner’s office.

The investigators concluded that Mary had died of the effects of an abortion performed by Dr. Peter B. Ray. Ray, who was Black, had been denied membership in the Kings County Medical Society, though whether due to race or due to being a reputed abortionist I have been unable to determine.

One article in the July 30, 1862 Brooklyn Eagle said about the case:

It is but an act of justice to Dr. Ray to state that he denies all knowledge of the woman in toto; in fact, he says that he never saw her that he knows of. Dr. Ray has up to this borne an excellent6 reputation in his section of the city, and was esteemed to be a well qualified physician.
Dr. Ray is a mulatto, a native of the Island of Martinique, about forty years of age. He has heretofore enjoyed a large share of practice in the Eastern District, ranking among the most skillful of its medical and surgical practitioners.