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Shippen Family of Philadelphia

Shippen Family of Philadelphia

SHIPPEN FAMILY OF PHILADELPHIA. Edward Shippen (1729–1806), in the fourth generation of a wealthy and powerful Philadelphia Quaker family, became chief justice of Pennsylvania after the Revolution. He attained this post despite the fact that he had been a moderate Loyalist and that his daughter Margaret (Peggy) was married to Benedict Arnold.

William Shippen (1736–1808), Edward's cousin and son of Dr. William Shippen II (a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779–1780), was a physician and pioneer teacher of anatomy and midwifery. About 1760 he married Alice Lee, sister of Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, William, and Arthur Lee. After studying under William Hunter in London, Shippen started teaching anatomy in Philadelphia on 16 November 1762. Despite popular objections to his use of human bodies, which included attacks on his surgery, Shippen became professor of surgery and anatomy in the newly established medical school of the College of Philadelphia in 1765. He was also one of the few doctors in America to teach midwifery to both men and women.

In July 1776 William Shippen was appointed chief physician of the Continental army hospital in New Jersey, and in October he became director general of all hospitals west of the Hudson. On 11 April 1777 he succeeded John Morgan as chief physician and director general of all Continental army hospitals. His appointment undoubtedly was earned to a large extent by the plan for reorganization of the medical service that he had submitted to Congress in March 1777 and that was adopted almost in its entirety. Morgan, who had once been a close friend, accused Shippen of engineering his discharge and Benjamin Rush charged him with inefficiency. Shippen was arrested in October 1780 and charged with speculating in hospital stores and incompetence. He admitted the former but fought the latter, being acquitted by a bitterly divided court-martial and barely escaping censure by Congress. On 3 January 1781 he resigned from the army and continued his career as a teacher and practitioner. The scandals that drove him from his position with the army did not harm his later career, as he became a prominent professor at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia from 1805 until his death on 11 July 1808.

SEE ALSO Arnold, Benedict; Lee Family of Virginia; Morgan, John; Rush, Benjamin.


Klein, Randolph S. Portrait of an Early American Family: The Shippens of Pennsylvania across Five Generations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975.

                               revised by Michael Bellesiles

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