George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas McKean, 17 January 1790

From Thomas McKean

Philadelphia January 17th 1790.


It appears, that Congress intend to erect Hospitals in the United States for the reception of sick & disabled seamen,1 and it is expected, that one may be established at Baltimore in Maryland.

Doctor George Buchanan, who practices physic there, wishes for the superintendence or direction of such an institution.2 His pretensions are, that his studies & pursuits in life have led him to attain qualifications for such a station: he served an apprenticeship in this city with Doctor William Shippen, some time Director General of the Hospitals of the American Army; afterwards he attended the medical lectures in our University, and received its honors; he then went to London, Edinburgh and Paris to perfect himself in his profession.

I am interested, Sir, in his prosperity, as he is married to my second daughter; but this circumstance may incline me to be too partial to his talents & industry, I would therefore rather refer Your Excellency to Messieurs Smith, Carrol3 &c. of Baltimore, Delegates in Congress (who I suppose know him) for further information of his character & conduct. The Doctor is the eldest son of General Buchanan sometime deceased, whose zeal in the American cause was so great, that I think, he could not be unknown to you: the family connexions are very numerous in Maryland, particularly in Baltimore county.

As a small proof of the Doctor’s desire to be useful, and as it bears some relation to the present application, I beg leave to present your Excellency with a treatise on the Hospital fever, lately written by him.4

Your favoring Doctor Buchanan’s suit will, in my humble opinion, serve the Public, and it will confer a particular obligation on him as well as upon one, who professes himself to be, Sir, with the utmost attachment and regard, Your Excellency’s Most obedient And most humble servant5

Thos McKean


2George Buchanan (1763–1808) was the son of Andrew Buchanan (1734–1786), a Baltimore merchant who served as a brigadier general in the Maryland militia during the Revolution. The younger Buchanan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1785 and then studied abroad for three years. He received the university’s medical degree in February 1789 and set up practice in Baltimore. In June 1789 he married Letitia McKean (Kelly and Burrage, American Medical Biographies, description begins Howard A. Kelly and Walter L. Burrage. American Medical Biographies. Baltimore, 1920. description ends 161–62).

3Daniel Carroll served on the committee appointed by the House of Representatives on 20 July 1789 to prepare the hospitals and harbors bill (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:115).

4A copy of Buchanan’s A Treatise upon the Typhus Fever: Published for the Benefit of Establishing a Lying-in-Hospital, in Baltimore (Baltimore, 1789) was in GW’s library at the time of his death (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 36).

5GW replied on 24 Jan.: “I have been favored with the receipt of your letter of the 17th instant, together with its enclosure—As no determination has yet been taken respecting the erection of Hospitals for the reception of sick and disabled Seamen, the object, to which your letter relates, is not before me—and, as I have undeviatingly considered freedom of choice, in all nominations to office, essential to the public service, I am persuaded you will have the goodness to excuse an adherence to that sentiment on the present occasion, which forbids any previous engagement, however satisfactory the pretensions of the Gentleman, who wishes the appointment” (Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, dated 22 January. The letter-book copy of GW’s reply is dated 24 January).

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