Craik, James

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Craik, James

CRAIK, JAMES. (1730–1814). Chief physician and surgeon of the Continental army. Scotland. Born near Dumfries, Scotland, James Craik was the illegitimate son of a member of the British Parliament. The family's gardener was the father of John Paul Jones. Craik studied medicine at Edinburgh and then joined the British Army, serving in the West Indies. In 1751 he quit the army and moved first to Norfolk and then Winchester, Virginia. He was physician at the fort of Winchester, and on 7 March 1754 he became the surgeon of Colonel John Fry's Regiment. The next year he was with General George Washington at Great Meadows, tended the mortally wounded Edward Braddock after the latter's defeat, and he became Washington's chief medical officer when the latter became commander in chief of the Virginia forces on 14 August 1755. Thereafter Craik was closely associated with Washington, accompanying him on a trip to the interior in 1770 and becoming senior medical officer in 1777 of the military district bounded by the Hudson and Potomac Rivers. He organized the hospitals for the comte de Rochambeau's expeditionary force, became chief hospital physician of the Continental Army on 6 October 1780, and chief physician and surgeon of the army on 3 March 1781. He warned Washington of the "Conway Cabal," naming Thomas Mifflin as a conspirator. Craik was present at the surrender at Yorktown and served in the army until 23 December 1783. That same year he helped to create the Society of the Cincinnati. He then moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to be near his friend Washington, accompanying him on his western journey in 1784. He returned to the army briefly as its physician-general on 19 July 1798 during the French war crisis. He attended Washington in the latter's final illness, and is often blamed with hastening Washington's death. He died in Alexandria on 6 February 1814.

SEE ALSO Conway Cabal; Washington, George.


Blanton, Wyndham B. Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth Century. Richmond, Va.: Garrett & Massie, 1931.

                               revised by Michael Bellesiles