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Colonial American Doctors

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  • Dr. Jonathan Potts (aft.1745 - 1781)
    Dr. Jonathan Potts is a medical officer worth studying. He was born in Popodickon, Pennsylvania in 1747 and, with Dr. Benjamin Rush, attended the famous medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He retu...
  • Dr. George Glentworth (1735 - 1792)
    Founder of the College of Physicians Degree Doctor of Medicine from University of Edinburgh, Scottland Education Studied medicine under his brother-in-law, Dr. Peter Sonmans Occupation Physician Edu...
  • Peter Sonmans Glentworth (1765 - 1793)
    ~• married at Old St. Pauls'; a physician who died of yellow fever Graduation: 1786 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  • Dr. John Kearsley, the Elder (1684 - 1772)
    bio. at see also: James Durham [1] (May 2, 1762[2]—1802?), "also known as James Durham,[3] was the first African American to formally practice medicine in the United States,[4] though he never rece...
  • Dr. William Currie (1745 - 1828)
    William Currie, was a physician and commissioned Surgeon in Colonel Atlee's Musketry battalion in the spring of 1776 and served at the Battle of Long Island but had to resign because of ill health that...

Please add the profiles of the chirurgeons, physicans, midwives, apothecaries and bonesetters who were our earliest doctors. Collaborators, feel free to update the page and add resource materials.

Please note:

40% of the physicians in the early colonies were women. Midwives at this time were considered doctors.

18th Century American Medicine


In 18th Century England, there were three main classes of medical men: physicians, surgeons and apothecaries. Physicians were considered the elite among the three groups, holding medical degrees from universities and serving mainly the upper classes. In contrast, English surgeons and apothecaries rarely held medical degrees and often gained their training through apprenticeship. By and large the doctors of early colonial America were not English physicians but “ship’s surgeons”. They had learned their trade through apprenticeship or hospitals and often took on their own apprentices in America, which became the chief means of medical education at the time. While referred to as physicians or doctors, most colonists practicing medicine did not qualify as such back in England.

Colonial “physicians” practiced medicine, surgery and apothecary together as needed. As the colonies grew and prospered, some could afford to be trained at the universities abroad and earn their medical degree. Upon their return, however, colonists expected even European trained physicians to open the same general practices as their untrained countrymen. As might be expected, colonial physicians with formal degrees were often more prosperous and enjoyed greater prestige, but these were few and far between.

On the eve of the Revolutionary War it has been estimated that the colonies contained 3,500 physicians, only 400 of whom had undergone some sort of training, and about 200 of these actually held medical degrees.


doctors of interest