The Overcomer

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a person who overcomes is “one who succeeds in dealing with, or gaining control of, some problem or difficulty”. Is it easy for you to overcome? If that’s the case, you should be thankful, as many have to work hard at being an overcomer. Although challenging, an overcoming mindset is one that we all need to develop.

When I think about a man that was an overcomer, I think of my third great-grandfather Addison Spaulding. He was born in 1807 and died in 1875. He was a farmer in Massachusetts. He and his wife Nancy had five children. 

This month marks the 167th anniversary of Addison Spaulding’s United States Patent Office approval for his artificial leg patent granted on August 7, 1855. 

This is his story – the story of The Overcomer.

Addison Spaulding was out working on his property on Monday, February 7, 1848. He was loading up a cart with muck in preparation for the planting season. I don’t know much about mid-nineteenth century farming, so I had to do some homework on that term “muck”.

Muck is found in low-lying areas, usually bogs or marshes, which have been drained. The organic matter that is found in the bottom of these bogs contains materials high in nutrients used to enrich the soil for planting crops. 

Ok, enough about muck – let’s get to the story. 

The Accident

On that fateful day of February 7, 1848, Addison Spaulding, at age forty, suffered a life-changing accident. Here’s the account as recorded in the local newspaper. 

“A few days since, Mr. Addison Spaulding, of Dracut, went to his meadow with his cart and oxen and horse, loaded his cart with muck, and started for his home. In going out of the meadow, the wheels became set in the mud. Mr. Spaulding put his shoulder to the wheel and spoke to the oxen; the instant they started, the axletree broke and let the loaded cart body drop upon his leg, fracturing it severely, and holding him fast to the ground. He was a mile from home, with no one within hearing to help him, and was unable to extricate himself. He finally succeeded in reaching his shovel, with which, after an hour’s labor, he succeeded in so far unloading the cart that he was enabled to get his leg from under it. He then crept to his horse, and, by means of the harness got upon him, unhitched the tugs, and rode home. His leg was amputated, on Thursday last, below the knee, by Dr. Kimball of this city, Chloroform being used in the operation with entire success.”

Lowell Daily Courier (1848)

This wretched accident didn’t slow Addison down; in fact, it drove him to innovation. It compelled him to be an overcomer. It drove him to his destiny.

The Patent 

With grit, perseverance, and a determined mind, Addison Spaulding built an artificial leg for himself in order to continue his livelihood as a farmer. He became one of the early pioneers in the manufacturing of artificial legs. The United States Patent Office granted patent number 13,404 to him on August 7, 1855. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census conducted in Lowell, Massachusetts, lists Addison Spaulding’s occupation as a “patent leg manufacturer.” 

Here are my third great-grandfather Addison Spaulding’s words from his United States Patent Office application: 

“Be it known that I, Addison Spaulding, of Lowell, in the county of Middlesex and State of Massachusetts, have invented a new and useful Artificial Leg; and I hereby declare that the following specification, in connection with the accompanying drawings and references thereon, constitutes a lucid, clear and exact description of the construction of the same.”

Addison Spaulding Patent Application (1855)
Addison Spaulding Patent Application Drawing (1855)

The timing of Addison’s invention was divine in nature. His artificial leg patent was granted in 1855, six years before the start of the Civil War. During the war, doctors were woefully inexperienced in the surgical procedures required to address the sheer number of the devastating wounds of battle. With nearly three-quarters of Civil War battle wounds affecting the limbs, amputation quickly became the optimal course of action to save lives. The result—tens of thousands of soldiers lost limbs during the Civil War. 

Addison Spaulding manufactured his artificial legs for nine years from 1858 to 1867 during the Civil War and post-war period. One could only imagine the number of soldiers afforded some sense of comfort and perhaps a bit of normalcy from Addison’s invention.

Addison Spaulding lost his leg in order to help countless others; a divine intervention indeed. But Addison and Nancy Spaulding’s sacrifice to country didn’t stop there. Two of their sons, Henry and Oscar, fought in the Civil War. One came home; the other did not.

The Legacy 

Addison Spaulding’s legacy was that of an overcomer. Time and time again, he met adversity head-on with perseverance. He faced adversity when he lost his leg. He faced tragedy when he lost his son, Oscar, in the Civil War. We will all face challenges, difficulties and troubles in our lives—this reality. But there is good news.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

John 16:33 (NIV)

Through the many hardships Addison faced, he remained faithful to the end. As matter of fact as he penned his last will and testament on October 18, 1873, he wrote the following charge.

“I give and bequeath unto my daughter Helen the Family Bible and I charge her in the most solemn manner that none of the marks placed therein by my mother shall be obliterated or removed.”

Addison Spaulding (1873)

My third great-grandfather Addison Spaulding was an overcomer and a man of faith. I look forward to meeting him in heaven someday. It’s been an honor to remember him this month on the 167th anniversary of the United States Patent Office approval of his artificial leg patent granted on August 7, 1855. 

You can read more about Addison, the overcomer, and his sons that fought in the Civil War in my book Fortitude.

Published by Dale Spaulding

Family historian and author of Fortitude.

4 thoughts on “The Overcomer

  1. Hi Dale Recently I joined a group called New England Geneology. I noticed several cousins that shared the Spaulding name in their family lineage so I past the info along of you publishing Fortitude. One cousin wrote me ba k to thank me. She said that so much she had already discovered but was thrilled to see it in print. Earlier I had thanked you for sending me a copy in which I was in err.A friend that I mentioned it to actually sent it.There was no return address or note,so you probably think I m deranged Jill Tullous


    1. Wow, thanks so much for passing on my book to the New England Genealogy Facebook group. I will plan on joining that group. No worries on how you got your copy of my book Fortitude – I’m just so grateful you have it to enjoy. Please continue to spread the word on my book to other family members (or friends) who would enjoy reading it. To me, Fortitude is a book for anyone who loves history and enjoys stories about ordinary, faithful, hard-working and patriotic people.
      Thanks again,
      Dale Spaulding


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