William Shippen Jr's Direction of Hospitals is Questioned
William Shippen Jr was an important physician during the Revolutionary War.
Shippen held the post of Director of Hospitals for the Continental Army, though his tenure was not without controversy…
William Shippen Jr
William Shippen Jr was born into one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia. His father was a founding member of the committee which formed the College of Philadelphia (now known as the University of Pennsylvania).
Though Shippen decided to follow his father into the practice of medicine, he chose a different school to attend: the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). It just so happens that his uncle was one of the men who founded this institution.
Although I was unable to find any evidence that this caused anger within the family, you must assume that his father was at least a bit irked.
After graduation, William Shippen Jr went to Europe where he graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
William returned to North America with the finest education a young doctor could desire. He began working as a professor at the College of Philadelphia (which I’m sure his father was please about) and became one of the earliest lecturers in anatomy and maternity.
The maternity teachings were especially controversial, as it was considered wrong for a man to be involved with a woman’s birth. Shippen’s office was frequently abused by angry locals.
Director of Hospitals
When the American Revolution broke out, William joined the Continental Army as a surgeon.
Shippen was originally assigned the lengthy title of Chief Physician & Director General of the Hospital of the Continental Army in New Jersey. By the following autumn, he was named Director General of the Hospitals West of the Hudson River.
William continued to climb the medical ranks of the army and after a year in service he was appointed Director of Hospitals for the Continental Army. In this position, Shippen held the highest office in the Medical Department (today, we know this position as Surgeon General).
Not everything was rosy in the Medical Department. While Shippen was Director General of the Hospital West of the Hudson River, his old teaching companion Dr. John Morgan was Director of Hospital East of the Hudson.
Shippen had filed several complaints to General Washington regarding Morgan’s actions. This ended up getting Morgan fired (and that’s how Shippen received the promotion to Director of Hospitals).
Around this time both Morgan and the much-esteemed Congressmen Dr. Benjamin Rush began filing complaints against Shippen. They claimed William was misusing funds.
When the Continental Congress decided not to pursue action against Shippen, Rush resigned from that body.
Morgan and Rush persisted in their accusations and the matter was brought to General Washington.
Washington and his aides determined to put off a court martial of Shippen, as his services were too important to the Continental Army during those trying times. After more than a year, William was arrested and tried for misappropriation of funds. Fortunately for him, he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.
Soon after, exhausted from his efforts, William Shippen resigned from the Continental Army. He spent the rest of his life maintaining his medical practice and training the first generation of truly American physicians.
If you’d like to dig deeper about healthcare during the Revolutionary War, pick up a copy of ‘Medicine and the American Revolution’ through the Amazon affiliate link below.
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