American Medical Biographies/Hutchinson, James

Hutchinson, James (1752–1793).

James Hutchinson of Philadelphia, a fighter of yellow fever and a victim to that disease, was born in Wakefield, Pennsylvania, January 29, 1752. The son of Randal Hutchinson, a farmer and a member of the Society of Friends, his early education was under the tuition of Paul Preston, a distinguished teacher of the day, and he subsequently attended a school in Virginia. After the death of his father he went to live with an uncle in Philadelphia, Israel Pemberton by name, and attended the College of Philadelphia, from which he graduated with first honors. He began the study of medicine with Dr. Evans of Philadelphia, going from his tuition to the Philadelphia Medical College, where in 1774 he received a gold medal as a testimonial of his ability and attainments in chemistry.

At this time the entire country was stirred by the approach of the Revolutionary War, and the freedom of Dr. Hutchinson's ideas was such that his conservative uncle thought best to send him abroad; avowedly to study in London, under the celebrated Dr. Fothergill, but really to remove him from the impending contest. His return was hastened by the political events of the times, and he came home by way of France, in 1777, as the bearer of important despatches from Dr. Franklin, to his Government. The vessel on which he sailed was attacked by a British man-of-war, when off the American coast; fearing for the safety of his despatches, he left the ship in an open boat, and landed, under the fire of the enemy. Soon after the vessel which he had left was captured and everything he had was destroyed; his greatest loss being a medical library collected in England and France.

Immediately on his arrival in America, Dr. Hutchinson joined the army as surgeon and became surgeon-general of Pennsylvania, holding that position until peace was declared, he taking a most active and decided part in favor of America. In pursuing this course of action he was well aware of the consequent loss of favor of his uncle, a well-known and influential man, who would have introduced him to an extensive practice among the most wealthy of the Society of Friends. The Friends were inclined to expel him from their society for his breach of their favorite principle of non-resistance, but after he had shown them a letter from Dr. Fothergill, of London, advising him to pursue this course, they reconsidered their decision.

After the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British Army, Dr. Hutchinson was made one of the Committee of Safety, and was frequently called to headquarters at times of peculiar difficulties.

He was appointed one of the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania by the Legislature, at the early age of twenty-seven, was given the chair of professor of materia medica and after 1791, of professor of chemistry, by that institution, was elected a member of the Philosophical Society, and made physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital, continuing in all these positions throughout his life. He was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, 1779–89, and professor of materia medica and chemistry in its medical department, 1789–93.

His abilities as a physician were universally acknowledged. At the time of the epidemic of yellow fever, in 1793, his exertions, day and night, were unceasing, but beyond his strength, and he died of that disease on September 5, 1793.

Dr. Hutchinson was twice married. His first wife was Lydia Biddle, and after her death he married Sydney Howell, both of Philadelphia.

He was the first secretary of the College of Physicians.

He added a winning address and dignified but charming manners to unquestioned talents and opportunities for acquiring professional distinction and enlarging his field of usefulness, and his untimely death was universally mourned. Charles Biddle states in his autobiography (1883) that Dr. James Hutchinson was fat enough to act the character of Falstaff without stuffing." His portrait, which is in the Wistar and Horner Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, must have been painted before he attained such proportions, for he appears to be a handsome man of good figure.

Lives of Emin. Philadelphians Now Deceased. H. Simpson, 1859, 592–594. Portrait.
Institu. of Coll. of Phys. of Philadelphia, W. S. W. Ruschenberger, Trans. Coll, of Phys., Philadelphia, 1887, pp. 60–66.
Univs. and their Sons, pp. 289–290.