He graduated from Harvard in 1750, after which he was apprenticed to Ebenezer Robie of Sudbury, and then practiced medicine in Groton. He returned to Harvard to get an M.A. in 1753. He and Lydia Baldwin were wed in 1756. Three of their seven children died in an epidemic of 1765/6. Before the American Revolution he was successively major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel in the militia. A leader in Groton, he was selectman for 31 years, and town clerk for 13.
He was an attending physician at the battles of Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill. Early in 1776 he was appointed a brigadier general of militia for the county of Middlesex, and became a member of the board of war. In 1777 he was elected a member of the supreme executive council of the state, in 1778 he was appointed third major general of militia in the commonwealth, and in 1781 he became second major general, but soon afterward he resigned. In this year he was commissioned by the government to cause the arrest and committal of any person whose liberty he considered dangerous to the commonwealth.
From 1779 until his death, he was judge of probate for Middlesex County. He has been cited as influential in suppressing Shays's Rebellion, though another source says he served mainly as a recruiter for a force that quelled another insurrection which occurred in Middlesex County at the same time. In 1780 he became one of the original fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he was a trustee, patron, and benefactor of Groton Academy.
His son, also named Oliver (4 April 1762, Groton - 26 September 1827, Newburyport, Massachusetts), was also a physician. He graduated at Harvard in 1783, studied medicine with his father, and was surgeon of the forces that suppressed the Shays insurrection in 1787. Leaving a large practice in Groton, he removed to Newburyport in 1811, practising successfully there till his death. He was often a representative in the legislature, and was a founder, trustee, and treasurer of Groton Academy.
He contributed articles to the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, but is best known for a discourse before the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1813, entitled a “Dissertation on the Natural History and Medicinal Effects of Secale Cornutum, or Ergot,” which was republished in London, and translated into French and German.
- Eric Howard Christianson (1999). "Prescott, Oliver". American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Prescott, William, soldier". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.