Founding Physicians - The Top 10 Doctors of the American Revolution

Founding Physicians - The Top 10 Doctors of the American Revolution

When we think about the leaders of the American Revolution, we often picture Lawyers, Merchants and Soldiers in our minds.

However, there was another sector of the upper class represented in all facets of the American Founding…Doctors.

Physicians were more than just hospitals attendants. They affixed their signature to all of the major documents, acted as Surgeons and many even went into the heart of battle.

Here are the 10 most important Founding Physicians.:

10) Dr. William Burnet

Dr. Burnet was one of the Directors of Hospitals for the Continental Army and built many medical facilities. He also played a role in the arrest of William Franklin.


9) Dr. James Tilton

Dr. Tilton was a high ranking doctor in the Continental Army who played a large role in the modernization of military hospitals. Eventually, he would be appointed Physician and Surgeon General under James Madison during the War of 1812.


8) Dr. William Shippen Jr.

Dr. Shippen was one of the first Professors to teach medical school and an early Director of Hospitals for the Continental Army. His tenor caused a bit of controversy as he was accused of mishandling his duties by competitors. 


7) Dr. John Morgan

Dr. Morgan was the man who accused Dr. Shippen of wrongdoing. Actually, Morgan was the first Director of Hospitals (after the treason of Benjamin Church) who was replaced by Shippen. In turn, he eventually forced Shippen to retire. The whole scene was kind of a mess. 


6) Dr. David Hosack

Dr. Hosack was the doctor who attended the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel. He was the one who treated Hamilton’s wounds. Hosack would go on to be an early patron of artists in New York City. 


5) Dr. Hugh Williamson

Dr. Williamson petitioned for colonial rights while living in London before moving to North Carolina where he participated in the war effort as a surgeon and a smuggler of medicine. He would sign the US Constitution and serve as an inaugural member of the Senate.


4) Dr. Nathaniel Scudder

Dr. Scudder was a New Jersey medicine man who joined the Patriot Cause early. After signing the Articles of Confederation he led a militia as a Lieutenant Colonel and was killed late in the war. Scudder was the only active member of the Continental Congress to die in battle.


3) Dr. Joseph Warren

Dr. Warren was the personal physician for many of Boston’s most notable Founders, even giving a young John Adams the smallpox inoculation. Joseph was a tireless Patriot who sent Paul Revere on his famous ride and demanded he serve on the front lines during the Battle of Bunker Hill, during which he was martyred for the cause. 

2) Dr. James McHenry

Dr. McHenry served as a secretary to George Washington and an aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War. He went on to sign the Constitution and serve as Secretary of War for Washington and John Adams. 

1) Dr. Benjamin Rush

Dr Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, early abolitionist and fighter for prison reform. His most lasting impact was as the Father of American Psychiatry. Although many of his methods seem antiquated to us now, Rush put the nation on the path to a better understanding of the human mind.

This is far from an exhaustive list of Founders who practiced medicine.

Here are some other Founding Physicians:

Richard Bayley Survives the NYC Doctors Riots

Purveyor General of Hospitals Nathan Brownson

David Ramsay - American History’s First American Historian

Thomas Young Distracts the Crowd…So His Friends Can Tea Party

Snake Oil and the Placebo Effect…Elisha Perkins’ Metallic Tractor

The field of medicine was quickly developing around this time.

‘Medicine and the American Revolution’ is a great look at how the changing knowledge of disease coincided with the winning of the war.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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