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American Medical Biographies/Fleet, John

Fleet, John (1766–1813).

John Fleet was born in Boston, Massachusetts, April 29, 1766, and died there unmarried, Jan. 4, 1813, in his 47th year. His grandfather, Thomas Fleet, who came from England and settled in Boston, was a book-seller, printer and newspaper publisher, his paper, the Evening Post, being the best in New England and his "Fleet's Almanacks" a standard authority for many years. Another claim to notoriety was the fact that he was considered hy many as the original compiler of the "Mother Goose Melodies," but this claim is disputed. He died in Boston in 1758, leaving as his successors in business his two sons, Thomas and John, the latter, who died in 1806, being the father of John Fleet, junior, the subject of this sketch, a graduate of Harvard College in 1785 at the age of 19. After graduation he studied medicine in the Medical Institution of Harvard College and dissected under the guidance of Dr. John Warren (q. v.). No medical degree had been granted by the College before 1788 owing to jealousies and friction between the medical professors and the Massachusetts Medical Society, but in that year John Fleet and George Holmes Hall, students in Dr. Warren's Surgery, applied for degrees, which were granted on July 16 after considerable discussion on the part of the professors. The degree was M. B., called Bachelor in Physic, and Fleet's name coming alphabetically before that of his classmate Hall, was thus the first to receive a medical degree from Harvard. The bestowal of this new degree was referred to by John Quincy Adams in his Diary thus: "There was a new ceremony of giving a Bachelor in Physic. Two young fellows by the names of Fleet and Hall received these diplomas, and even the President (Willard) in giving them seemed to have the awkwardness of novelty about him.

Seven years later, in 1795, John Fleet was the first to receive the degree of M. D. from the College, having passed an examination and been approved by the medical professors and also having presented a thesis in Latin, which was printed by his brother Thomas. The title of the thesis was: "Observationes ad Chirurgiae Operationes Pertinentes." A copy of this is in the Boston Medical Library.

Another of his publications that has come down to us is a Discourse delivered before the Massachusetts Humane Society, of which he was a member, June 13, 1797, on "Animation," having reference to drowning. For this he received a vote of thanks of the Society and was asked for a copy for the press. Dr. Fleet was the first assistant appointed in the medical department of Harvard College, being made assistant to Dr. John Warren in 1793.

He was associated with the best medical men in Boston in his practice, and was one of the founders of the Medical Improvement Society in 1803. From this Society grew the first Boston Medical Library, instituted July 1, 1805, of which Dr. Fleet was the first librarian, the books being kept at his house in Milk Street until he was succeeded by Dr. Warren, in 1807.

He was librarian of the Massachusetts Medical Society from 1800 to 1813, the year of his death, and secretary of the Society from 1798 to 1802, at a time when it was in a most decadent condition, as is evidenced by the scanty entries in his handwriting in the records of the Society.

Proc. Mass. Hist. Soc., vol. vii.
Harvard Grads. Mag., vol. xvii.