American Medical Biographies/Cadwalader, Thomas

Cadwalader, Thomas (1708–1779)

Thomas Cadwalader was the son of John Cadwalader, who came to Pennsylvania from Wales in 1689, and of Martha, daughter of Dr. Edward Jones. When nineteen or twenty years of age, his father sent him to England and France to complete his medical education. In France he is said to have studied at Rheims University and in England to have spent a year studying and dissecting under William Cheselden, the distinguished anatomist and surgeon.

On his return to Philadelphia, he soon secured a large practice and became a very influential citizen. He was associated with Franklin in the establishment of the Philadelphia Library and was among the first to adopt the method of inoculation as a preventive against small-pox, in this country.

So far as now known, Thomas Cadwalader was the first teacher of practical anatomy in this country. According to Caspar Wistar, Cadwalader, upon his return from Europe, "made dissections and demonstrations for the instruction of the elder Dr. Shippen and some others who had not been abroad." According to Dr. Charles Winslow Dulles, the date of this instruction was probably 1730 or 1731, because this was the time of his return from Europe, and the1 time when the elder Dr. Shippen was eighteen or nineteen years old and engaged in his medical studies. The place in which these instructions were given, Wistar says, "was in a building on the back part of a lot, on which the Bank of Pennsylvania now stands."

In 1738 Dr. Cadwalader married Hannah, daughter of Thomas Lambert, Jr., of New Jersey, and for several years spent the greater part of his time in that state, near the site of the present city of Trenton, but about 1750 he appears to have returned to Philadelphia.

In 1742 he performed an autopsy said to be probably the first scientific one in this country. The only known publication of Dr. Cadwalader's is an essay, the title-page of which reads, "An Essay on the West India Dry Gripes, to which is added an extraordinary case in physics. Philadelphia. Printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin, MDCCXLV." This was one of the earliest medical monographs published in America.

Dr. Cadwalader was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and trustee of the Academy and College of Philadelphia. He was one of the original members of the Philadelphia Medical Society, and the first named of the three vice-presidents chosen when the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge was consolidated with the American Philosophical Society in 1768, of which Franklin was president. He died November 14, 1779, in Philadelphia.

The grace and attractiveness of his deportment, on one occasion, was the means of saving his life. In 1760 Lieutenant Bruluman of the Provincial militia was executed at Philadelphia for the murder of a young gentleman named Scull. The murderer was weary of life, and had resolved to shoot the first person he met and then give himself up to justice. He walked out with "a fusil in his hand." The commons, now Penn Square in Philadelphia, abounded with game. He met Dr. Cadwalader who bowed and said: "Good morning, sir; a fine day for your sport." Bruluman afterwards declared that though Dr. Cadwalader was an entire stranger there was in his manner something indescribable, which made it impossible to kill him. His resolution to kill someone, however, remained, and he killed Mr. Scull.

Dr. Cadwalader's professional services during the War of the Revolution seem to have been restricted to the occasional performance of duties laid upon him by Congress and assisting his friend and junior, Dr. Morgan, who was at that time director-general of the military hospitals. It is supposed that Dr. Cadwalader had from him some appointment, but I cannot find any satisfactory evidence of this. It is certain that Congress from time to time requested him to do for it certain things among which was one on January 30, 1775, that he inquire into the state of health of Gen. Prescott, a British prisoner, and the sanitary conditions in which he was placed in the jail. This duty Dr. Cadwalader performed so promptly and with such judgment and humanity that Gen. Prescott undoubtedly owed his life to him. Being paroled on April 9, he carried with him so great an appreciation of the services of Dr. Cadwalader, and so high a regard for him as a man, that when his son, Col. Lambert Cadwalader, was taken prisoner at the capture of Fort Washington, in November of the same year, Gen. Prescott secured his prompt release. Another son was General John Cadwalader, a warm friend of General Washington.

Life of Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, July, 1903. C. W. Dulles.
Univ. of Penn., 1740–1900. J. L. Chamberlain, i. p. 270.
Lives of Emin. Philadelphians now deceased. H. Simpson, Philadelphia, 1859.
Historic Trenton, by Louise Hewitt, Trenton, N. J., 1916. 98–100.
Eulogium on Dr. William Shippen, delivered befor [SIC] the College of Physicians, March, 1809. Caspar Wistar.
There is a portrait in the Sur-gen.'s Library, Washington, D. C.