George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Mease, 10 April 1792

From James Mease

Philadelphia April 10th 1792

May it please your Excellency

I have taken the liberty of addressing you on a subject of some importance, with regard to myself; and hope it will not be thought intruding on that time, which I well know is occupied with the consideration of much more weighty concerns, or be thought too arrogant, as what I have to offer is meant with the greatest humility and respect.

A few weeks since I applied to the Hble the secretary of war, for the post of a Surgeon in the hospital department, which I understood was to be a part of the medical establishment, in the army intended for the Westward; and accompanied the application with the certificate of my attendance, on the practice of the physicians & Surgeons, of the Pensylvania hospital; for three years and four months, referring him, at the same time, to that, given to me; with the rest of the candidates, last year; respecting our qualifications as surgeons, and also to the particular one, concerning myself, from my late preceptor Doctor John Jones, which were granted me on a wish that I expressed of entering the army; But on a more mature deliberation I was induced to relinquish the scheme, chiefly at the desire of Dr Jones, under whose care I thought I could obtain much more surgical knowledge than by accepting the commission of Surgeons mate.

The Secretary at War was likewise informed by Drs Shippen, & Hutchinson of my qualifications as a surgeon, and also of my having passed the examination for a degree of Doctor in Medecine, in the University of this City. I was greatly surprised therefore, on hearing yesterday evening, from several quarters, of my being in the list of those nominated for Surgeons mates,1 By this I am put on a footing with some of those who began the Study of medecine one year and a half later than myself, and who had neither the opportunities, nor advantages with myself, except being under the direction of a physician.

If, after nigh one year being spent, in New York, in devoting my time almost solely, to acquiring the rudiments of our profession, or the preperation & Composition of medecines; three years close attendance on the practice of the Pensylvania hospital; near a year longer, under the care of a private physician, part of the same time under Dr Jones for the express purpose of learning surgery; and after being thought worthy by the Medical professors of a doctors degree, which I shall take in about three weeks, & recieving a liberal education, from our College; The secretary at War has thought fit to represent me as only qualified for a surgeon’s mate; I would rather wish to decline accepting the commission.

I will urge as arguments in my favour, but would mention, the circumstances of my father, having been a citizen, of this place, for nigh forty years; his loosing a handsome independant property by joining in the late struggle for liberty, with two of my uncles; and my wishes to relieve the former, from the expense of maintaining me, which is a principal motive of my desire of entering the army; nor lastly, the circumstance of some young men being appointed to surgeon’s posts, who were in Great Britain during the whole war, none of whose family lived in this Country; and who have not had the recommendations, that I have brought forward. With the greatest respect and humility, I beg leave to subscribe myself your Excellency’s obedient servant

James Mease

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

James Mease (1771–1846), the son of shipping merchant John Mease of Philadelphia, received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of the State of Pennsylvania in 1787 and a master’s degree in 1790. In 1792 Mease was a member of the first class to graduate from the medical department of the newly created University of Pennsylvania. Having published in 1790 his first paper on rabies, in the American Magazine, he quickly became the leading American authority on the subject. Although afflicted with yellow fever during the epidemic of 1793, Mease survived and served as resident physician of the health office for the port of Philadelphia from 1794 to 1797. In 1800 he married Sarah Butler (c.1772–1831), a daughter of U.S. Senator Pierce Butler of South Carolina. Mease was actively involved in various Philadelphia learned societies, and he was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1802.

1For Mease’s appointment as a surgeon’s mate, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 9 April. The president accepted Mease’s declination of the commission, and on 3 May, he appointed Joseph Andrews of Massachusetts as a surgeon’s mate in Mease’s place.

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