John Morgan's Side of the Continental Hospital Rivalry
John Morgan was the first Director of Hospitals for the Continental Army.
Morgan is most known for starting the Medical College at what is today the University of Pennsylvania. This was the first Med School in the United States.
Yesterday, we looked at William Shippen and his struggles fighting against complaints about his work during his tenure as Director of Hospitals during the Revolutionary War.
Today we will review these accusations from the perspective of his greatest rival: John Morgan.
Like Shippen, John Morgan was born and raised in Philadelphia.
As the two boys were the same age, in the same city, and from wealthy families, it is likely that they knew each other in their youth. Morgan, however, was sent away to the Nottingham Academy for his preparatory schooling. He then attended the College of Philadelphia (modern University of Pennsylvania) and was a member of the original graduating class.
John Morgan left college and went to war.
He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the British army and fought in the French and Indian War.
Morgan also spent time in this war as a Surgeon, and he learned the basics of military medicine. This experience would serve him during his time in the Revolutionary War.
After the French and Indian War, John traveled to Europe where he studied at the University of Edinburgh.
Morgan became friendly with the Duke of York and the two traveled together. They went as far as Italy, where they met the Pope.
By the time he returned home, John had been elected to both the Royal Academy of Surgery in Paris and the Royal College of Physicians in London.
Founding a Medical College
When John Morgan returned to Pennsylvania, his medicinal credentials were extremely impressive.
He worked with the aforementioned William Shippen Jr to establish the colony’s first Medical College as a part of the College of Philadelphia. Shippen had been giving private lectures on medicine, and it was his syllabus on which the curriculum was based.
Despite this, Morgan was named Chairman of the Medical College. Although Shippen was soon chosen as a Professor at the school, he would forever hold a grudge against John.
Director of Hospitals
At the onset of the American Revolution, John Morgan was named by the Continental Congress as Director of Hospitals.
Starting a Medical Department for an army from scratch is no easy task. Although he faced much adversity, Morgan was able to get the hospitals going.
In the ensuing year, his rival William Shippen began to criticize Morgan’s work. Eventually Shippen was given the responsibility for all the hospitals east of the Hudson River (which was a shot at John’s pride but with the extensive size of the Medical Department was probably necessary).
By January of 1777, Shippen’s criticism had made the task of running the hospitals so difficult that Morgan resigned his post.
Turning the Tables
After he left the office, Morgan (along with Benjamin Rush) filed several complaints against Shippen. He also produced significant evidence of abuses of the position.
Shippen’s trial was put off for over a year and, despite his seeming guilt, was let off on a technicality (although he also resigned soon thereafter due to the embarrassment of the accusation).
Morgan, his health failing, retired from public office soon after the Revolutionary War and passed away just as George Washington took office as President.
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