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Barton, John Rhea (1794–1871)

J. Rhea Barton, the originator of resection of the joints for anchylosis, the son of Judge William Barton, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in April, 1794, and died in Philadelphia Jan. 1, 1871. He was a nephew of Benjamin Smith Barton, eminent botanist and professor of materia medica in the University of Pennsylvania. Before taking his degree he was appointed to an apprenticeship in the Pennsylvania hospital, according to the then custom of taking on young men beginning their studies for a five year period, and finding everything for them except their clothes; graduation took place as near as possible at the termination of the indenture. He took his medical degree in 1818, with Hugh L. Hodge (q.v.) and George B. Wood (q.v.). He worked under Physick, Dorsey and Hewson, and had as fellow internes Benjamin H. Coates, Rene La Roche, Isaac Hays, and John K. Mitchell (q.v.). He was made surgeon to the Philadelphia Almshouse in 1818.

In 1823 he was appointed to the surgical staff of the Pennsylvania Hospital. He had a high degree of mechanical dexterity and ingenuity which he directed towards the treatment of fractures. He devised the figure of eight bandage for the head, dispensing with the clumsy devices in vogue in dealing with fractures of the lower jaw. It was he who introduced bran dressings so extensively used in the treatment of compound fractures (and in the writer's experience a breeding place for myriads of bed bugs).

He published a paper (North American and Surgical Journal, 1827) "On the Treatment of Anchylosis by the Formation of Artificial Joints, a New Operation, devised and executed by J. Rhea Barton, M. D.;" in this he gives an account of a sailor who had a complete disorganization and anchylosis of the hip joint, following a fall, with a resultant position of the thigh at almost a right angle. Barton operated in public, assisted by Drs. Hewson and Parrish, making a crucial incision over the trochanter, and isolating and sawing through the neck of the femur to make the new joint. In the course of time the patient was able to walk freely with a cane, whereas he had previously gone about with crutches and a steel frame shoe, with the utmost difficulty. The operation was done in seven minutes! and "not one blood vessel had to be secured."

Barton's brother, W. P. C. Barton (q.v.), was at one time head of the United States Naval Bureau.

His widow Susan R. gave the University $50,000 to endow the professorship of the principles and practice of surgery in the University, in his memory.

The Medical Times, Phila., 1871, vol. i, 163.
North Amer. Med. & Surg. Jour., 1827, vol. iii, 279–292, 400. 1 pl.
Univ. of Penn., 1740–1900, J. L. Chamberlain, 1909.