John Morgan

views updated May 18 2018

John Morgan

The American physician John Morgan (1735-1789) established the first medical department at a colonial college and was medical director of the Continental Army.

John Morgan, third son of a Welsh merchant, Evan Morgan, and Joanna Biles Morgan, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on Oct. 16, 1735. Orphaned at 13, John attended West Nottingham School, became a medical apprentice to John Redman, and later became apothecary of the Pennsylvania Hospital. After completing requirements for the bachelor's degree in 1756 at the College of Philadelphia, he participated in frontier warfare as surgeon for the Pennsylvania troops.

Between 1760 and 1763 Morgan studied with eminent physicians in London and completed his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. He was elected to the Académie Royale de Chirurgie de Paris, to the Royal Society of London, and to the Royal College of Physicians in London and in Edinburgh.

To improve standards of medical training in America, Morgan proposed establishing a medical school at the College of Philadelphia. Chosen professor of the theory and practice of medicine, he expounded his reforms in A Discourse upon the Institution of Medical Schools in America (1765). He advocated rigorous training and the separation of the professions of physician, surgeon, and apothecary. Too idealistic and egocentric to work harmoniously with others, he became an archrival of William Shippen, Jr., professor of anatomy and surgery at the college. Morgan won acclaim for his medical lectures but gave up research. After his marriage to Mary Hopkinson in 1765, he encouraged science, philosophy, and fine arts as a member of the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge and of the American Philosophical Society.

Morgan reluctantly supported the patriot cause during the Revolution and accepted the directorship of hospitals for the Continental Army in 1775. Faced with overwhelming problems of insufficiently trained medical personnel, scarce supplies, and congressional indifference, he became embroiled in acrimonious disputes with Dr. Shippen. Unable to prevent the collapse of the medical service, Morgan was summarily dismissed by Congress in 1777 and did not win vindication until 2 years later.

In postwar Philadelphia Morgan resumed his medical practice but was only belatedly reelected to his professorship after the reorganization of the college as the University of Pennsylvania. Shattered by his wife's death, prematurely old at 50, he withdrew from public life, reappearing briefly to participate in the founding of the College of Physicians. He died on Oct. 15, 1789.

Further Reading

The definitive biography of Morgan is Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., John Morgan: Continental Doctor (1965). Further information on him may be found in Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., The Letters of Benjamin Rush (1951). Morgan's relationship to the University of Pennsylvania is brought out in Edward P. Cheyney, History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1940 (1940). Recommended for background reading are Francis R. Packard, History of Medicine in the United States (1931); Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin (1942); and Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735-1789 (1956; repr. 1967). □

Morgan, John

views updated May 29 2018

Morgan, John

MORGAN, JOHN. (1735–1789). Medical director of the Continental army. Pennsylvania. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 16 October 1735, Morgan graduated with the first class of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1757. Almost immediately he enlisted as a lieutenant and surgeon for the provincial troops during the Seven Years' War. In 1760 he undertook a period of study abroad, during which he enjoyed a very successful education in London and Edinburgh. His studies culminated in his election to the Royal College of Physicians and to the Royal Society in 1765. He returned to Philadelphia that year, and played a key role in establishing a medical school at his alma mater, becoming its first professor. In doing so, he acted without consulting other Philadelphia physicians, and thus made a bitter enemy of William Shippen, Jr.

On 17 October 1775 the Continental Congress elected Morgan to be the director-general of hospitals and physician-in-chief of the American army. Joining the army at Cambridge and accompanying it later to New York, he worked skillfully to achieve an efficient organization of his service but, in so doing, made so many enemies that, on 9 October 1776, he was demoted, his directorship being reduced to only those hospitals east of the Hudson River. On 9 January 1777 he was removed even from this reduced authority without explanation and replaced by his old Philadelphia rival, Shippen. Embittered, Morgan published "A Vindication" in 1777, making the inevitable charges of Congressional meddling and the plotting of "a mean and invidious set of men" to remove him. Although he was cleared of any misconduct by Congress in 1779, he considered himself disgraced and withdrew from public life, except to bring charges of fraud against Shippen, who was court-martialed in 1781 and forced to resign. Morgan died in Philadelphia on 15 October 1789.


Bill, Whitfield J., Jr. John Morgan: Continental Doctor. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965.

                                revised by Michael Bellesiles

John Morgan

views updated May 17 2018

John Morgan


American physician and surgeon who received his M.D. at Edinburgh in 1763, then two years later co-founded with William Shippen the first medical school in the Western Hemisphere, the Medical Department of the College of Philadelphia, subsequently called the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. From 1775 to 1777 he served as Director-General of Military Hospitals and Physician-in-Chief of the American Army, a position equivalent to surgeon-general. In 1787 he became one of the 12 original fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.