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Archer, John (1741–1810)

The first medical graduate in America, a soldier of the Revolution, medical teacher, statesman, a founder of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, John Archer was born near the present village of Churchville, Hartford County, Maryland, May 5, 1741, his father, Thomas Archer, having emigrated to America from the north of Ireland, and settled in Maryland as a farmer and agent for iron works. He was educated at West Nottingham Academy, in Cecil County. Here he had as classmate Dr. Benjamin Rush. In 1760 he received his A.B. at Princeton College and his A.M. three years later. In 1762 he projected a grammar school in Baltimore, but shortly after abandoned it to enter upon the study of theology under Presbyterian auspices. He progressed so far in this field as to preach his trial sermon, but failed to pass a satisfactory examination. This led him to turn his attention to medicine and in the spring of 1765 he became a pupil of Dr. Morgan, and in November following entered upon the initiatory course of lectures of the Philadelphia College of Medicine, begun then by Drs. Morgan and Shippen. In the summer of 1767, between his second and third course of lectures, he began to practise in Newcastle County, Delaware, staying there two years, taking his degree of M.B. at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, on June 21, 1768. This was the first occasion in America of the conferring of a medical degree after actual attendance.

Declining an offer of partnership made by Dr. Morgan, he returned to his native county in July, 1769, where he practised nearly forty years. He took active part in the great struggle for liberty, being a member of the local committees from November, 1774, and enrolling, as captain, the first militia company in the county, in December of the same year.

In the latter role he was forced to use a speaking trumpet on account of a severe throat affection. His sons were wont on every fourth of July to bring down this trumpet from the garret of Medical Hall and make the premises ring, but it has long been lost; his sword is still preserved in the family. In January, 1776, he was commissioned major of one of the local battalions of militia. In August following he was elected a member of the convention which framed the Maryland constitution and bill of rights.

After the Revolution he devoted himself exclusively to his professional work, including teaching. It is said that he trained about fifty students in his stone office near Medical Hall. These young men assisted him in his immense practice and compounded his prescriptions, forming a medical society, the reports of which, in manuscript, are preserved in the library of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty at Baltimore.

In 1799 he assisted in founding the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland and later became a member of its examining board and executive committee.

In 1800 he was elected a member of Congress and two years later was re-elected for a second term. It was at this time that his health began to fail, and a few years later, in consequence of a partial paralysis, he abandoned all active pursuits. He expired suddenly in his chair at his home in Harford County on September 28, 1810.

Dr. Archer married, in October, 1766, the daughter of Thomas Harris, of Pennsylvania, the family that founded Harrisburg. They had ten children, four of whom died in infancy. Of the remaining six, all sons, five studied medicine under their father, one of these dying young, the others graduating at the University of Pennsylvania. His youngest son, Stevenson, studied law, and became chief justice of Maryland, member of Congress and judge of the Mississippi Territory.

Dr. Archer was not a voluminous writer; several of his papers appeared in the Medical Repository, of New York. He introduced polygala senega as a remedy in croup.

There are several of his portraits extant: one in the court house at Belair, Hartford County, Maryland, a second in the Hall of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty at Baltimore, and a third in the State house at Annapolis.

The Johns Hopkins Hosp. Bull., Nos. 101–102, Aug., Sept., 1899.
Sketch of Harford Med. Soc., J. H. Hosp. Bull., vol. xiii, Nos. 137, 138, Aug., Sept., 1902.
Cordell's Medical Annals of Maryland.
The Medical and Chirurgical Faculty possesses his academic and medical diplomas and other relics of him.