NEW ALBANY —
If soap operas existed in 19th century Indiana, Dr. Asahel Clapp could have been a lead character.
Married first to a Scribner daughter and then shortly after her death to his late wife’s aunt, New Albany’s first doctor seemed to have an intriguing past. Renowned as both a physician and a botanist, Clapp traveled around America and met world renowned leaders in his field. Some of them even came to his Southern Indiana home to call on the distinguished Hoosier.
“He became a very famous well-known doctor and a very famous botanist and geologist,” said local historian Anne Caudill. “He was one of those people with a scientific turn of mind who spent his whole life investigating, taking notes and keeping a diary.”
But when you visit his grave at Fairview cemetery, you get the feeling Clapp’s life had plenty of heartache as well. Buried in the Scribner plot, the tombs of several of his young children are near his grave. His first wife died at the age of 17 during childbirth and five of his seven offspring through his second marriage didn’t make it past childhood. Even for a doctor, that’s a lot of death for one man to take.
When Clapp arrived in New Albany in 1817 at the age of 24, the doctor’s future was wide open, his life not yet marred by tragedy, at least as far as we can tell.
Little is recorded about his early life. Born Oct. 5, 1792, in Massachusetts, his family moved to Vermont where he received medical instruction from a local doctor. Somehow four years after this apprenticeship, he ended up in Southern Indiana at the home of Joel Scribner, one of the founding fathers of New Albany, where he boarded.
Former brother-in-law and business partner Dr. William Augustus Scribner writes of Clapp in his journal. Excerpts of this have been reproduced in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s history of the Scribner House titled “The Scribner House of New Albany: A Bicentennial Commemoration.”