|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
During his lifetime, Benjamin Rush served as a leading doctor, politician, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
Birth and Early Education
Born near Philadelphia to John Harvey Rush and Susanna Hall Rush, Benjamin was the fourth of seven children born to the couple. After his father's death, his mother sent him and his brother Jacob to live with an aunt and uncle in 1753, who would see to the boy's education. He and his brother attended the Reverend Samuel Finley's school in Cecil County, Maryland. From there he attended College of New Jersey, receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1761. Upon graduation, Benjamin apprenticed to Philadelphia Dr. John Redman until 1766. Redman encouraged him to continue his studies in Scotland at the leading medical university at the time, the University of Edinburgh. He earned an M. D. Degree from the University in 1768.
Doctor, Professor and Patriot
He returned to Philadelphia and opened a medical practice. He also received an appointment as Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. During this time, he wrote the first American textbook on chemistry as well as several medical books. The rising conflict between England and her colonies heightened during the 1760's and Rush became active in the Sons of Liberty. He advised Thomas Paine in his efforts to publish his influential booklet, Common Sense. The citizens of Philadelphia elected him a delegate to the Continental Congress that met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776. He became one of the signers of that document.
During the early stages of the Revolutionary War, Rush served in the Continental Army, seeing action at Trenton and Princeton. He received appointment as surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. During this time, he became involved in a dispute with General George Washington, after which he resigned and distanced himself from the war effort. He became a lecturer at the University of the State of Pennsylvania and part of Pennsylvania Hospital's staff. After the war, he helped found Philadelphia College of Physicians in 1787. Active as President Madison's United States Mint treasurer, he advised and trained Meriwether Lewis in frontier afflictions and cures as he prepared for the Corps of Discovery's explorations of the Louisiana Purchase. He gave Lewis fifty dozen of his Dr. Rush's Bilious Pills, a laxative to help them during their meat based diet during the expedition. The men of the expedition called them "thunderclappers." The high mercury content of the pills has helped historians track the expedition's route.
Death and Burial
On April 19, 1813 Rush died of typhus fever. He was interred at Christ Church in Philadelphia.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016