From Duane Hurd's History of Essex County, Massachusetts, Vol. 1, 1888.
"Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath born me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorred in my imagination it is!"
Those famed lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet in which the titular character expounds on the memory of the long-dead court jester have been misquoted for centuries as "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well." While even the most casual readers of Shakespeare know of this often misquoted phrase, you'd probably never guess that there was a man named Yorick (born two hundred years after the publishing of Shakespeare's play) who would go on to distinction as a physician, military surgeon and two-term Massachusetts state senator. That man is one Yorick Gordon Hurd of the town of Ipswich, and in addition to the aforementioned posts also gained distinction as a penologist, serving as the director of the Essex County House of Correction and Insane Asylum at Ipswich.
One of seven children born to Col. Smith and Mehitable Emerson Hurd, Yorick Gordon Hurd was a native of New Hampshire, being born in the town of Lempster on February 17, 1827. His education occurred in "district schools" near Lempster, and during the winter months, he taught school as a means of income. Hurd would also engage in farm work during his youth, eventually enrolling at the Hancock Literary and Scientific Institute. He decided upon a career in medicine during this time and later began his study under Dr. Albert Smith, a Dartmouth medical professor and prominent physician in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Hurd would continue his studies at both the Vermont Medical College and Dartmouth College, graduating from the latter school in the class of 1854. Hurd had married a year earlier in May 1853 to Mary Twitchell, who died five years after their marriage in October 1858. He would remarry in 1861 to Ruth Brown, who predeceased him by two months. Both of these marriages were childless, but notice is given as to Yorick and Ruth's adoption of a daughter, (name given as Josephine) who later married a Mr. H.K. Dodge of Ipswich.
After receiving his medical degree Yorick G. Hurd relocated from New Hampshire to Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he established a medical practice. He continued to tend to patients in Amesbury until the second year of the Civil War, and in 1862 joined in the war effort, being dispatched to Wenham, Massachusetts, where he served as a surgeon at Camp Lander for a period of two months. In December 1862 Hurd was transferred to the 48th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers and as surgeon went with this regiment to New Orleans, and during his time here was later detached from his regiment and "placed in charge of division hospitals", on the order of Gen. Christopher Auger (then commander of the First Division of the Nineteenth Army Corps.)
Yorick Hurd returned home to Essex County, Massachusetts at the conclusion of his service and soon after returned to the practice of medicine. Touted upon his return as having been "the best regimental surgeon in the division" during his service, the call of public office soon beckoned to Hurd, and in 1865 won his first term in the Massachusetts State Senate, representing the town of Amesbury. During this session of the legislature, Hurd served on the senate committees on Public and Charitable Institutions and the sub-committee on the Subject of Hospitals for Invalid Soldiers. Hurd was returned to the senate in 1866 and his second term saw him hold a seat on the committee on the Library, Sanitary Necessities and Public and Charitable Institutions.
While still an incumbent senator Yorick Hurd was tapped to be the Superintendent of the Essex County House of Correction and Insane Asylum, located in Ipswich, Massachusetts. As a practicing physician, Hurd used his extensive medical knowledge in developing a manner of care for the inmates under his watch, and the History of Essex County Massachusetts devoted a substantial passage to Hurd's stewardship of the asylum, noting:
"Immediately upon the assumption of the duties of the responsible position as superintendent of the house of correction he instituted such reforms in its management as secured a state of quiet and good order among those placed in his charge as had never been known in the previous history of the institution, which by his even tempered management he was able to preserve so long as the institution was under his supervision."Hurd's time as superintendent also saw him gain distinction as a "consulting authority" on the management and care of the mentally disturbed, and is recorded as being "called in the courts as an expert in insane cases."
From 1866-1887 Yorick Hurd had charge of the Essex County House of Correction, and during this lengthy period also earned distinction in a number of other non-medical areas, including serving as a trustee for the Ipswich Savings Bank. He was also a past director of the Ipswich Gas and Light Company. Hurd retired from the superintendency of the house of correction in 1887 and in the year following his retirement suffered the death of his wife Ruth, who died July 26, 1888. Yorick followed her to the grave two months later, dying at age 61 on September 24. A burial location for both Yorick Hurd and his wife is unknown at this time but is presumed to be somewhere in the Ipswich, Massachusetts area.