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Potts, Jonathan (1745–1781)

Jonathan Potts, member of the first medical class graduated in America, surgeon and a medical director in the Revolutionary War, was born April 11, 1745, at "Popodickon," the ancestral home of the Potts family named in honor of Popodick, an Indian chief, who was buried near the house, Colebrookdale, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Jonathan was the son of John Potts, who founded Pottsgrove, now Pottstown, Pennsylvania, whose father, Thomas Potts, came to Pennsylvania the latter part of the 17th century, and was a pioneer in the development of iron interests in that state; his mother was Ruth Savage.

Jonathan received his education at Ephrata and in Philadelphia and determined to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, so with Benjamin Rush, his friend and relative, sailed from Philadelphia August 31, 1766, and after a perilous voyage of fifty days, reached Liverpool in safety. His first duty was to communicate with Benjamin Franklin, who gave the young men recommendations to professors of the University of Edinburgh. He was engaged to marry Grace, daughter of Francis Richardson, and when he learned that his "dearest Grace" was ill and longed to see him, he relinquished his studies and returned to America, reaching Philadelphia in April, and was married in May, 1767. Wishing to continue his medical studies, he entered the Medical School of the College of Philadelphia, the faculty of which was made up of John Morgan, theory and practice of medicine; William Shippen, Jr., anatomy, surgery and midwifery; Adam Kuhn, materia medica and botany; Benjamin Rush, chemistry; Thomas Bond, clinical medicine. Potts was one of the ten graduates at its first medical commencement, June 21, 1768, to receive the degree of bachelor of medicine. The minutes of the Board of Trustees have the following entry: "An elegant valedictory oration was spoken by Mr. Potts on the advantage derived in the study of physic from a previous liberal education in the other sciences." The subject was selected by Franklin. At a commencement held on June 28, 1771, Potts had the second degree, that of doctor of medicine, conferred upon him, as well as on three other members of the first class—Jonathan Elmer, (q. v.) James Tilton (q. v.) and Nicholas Way. Potts's thesis was entitled, "De Febribus Intermittentibus potentissimum Tertianis" (among the intermittent fevers the most powerful is the Tertian).

He settled to practise at Reading, Pennsylvania. He was a delegate from Berks County to the provincial meeting of deputies, held in Philadelphia, July 15, 1774, and a member of the Provincial Congress in 1775. He was active in raising men and organizing forces in Berks County. On June 6, 1776, he was appointed by Congress physician-surgeon for the Army for Canada and Lake George. The terrible condition of the hospitals and of the army were markedly improved by the zeal and efficiency displayed by Dr. Potts in executing the orders issued to establish a different state of things. In April, 1777, he was appointed to supersede Dr. Samuel Stringer as deputy director-general of the General Hospital in the Northern department. For the unremitting attention and services of Dr. Potts and of his medical colleagues during the severe campaign, public recognition was made by Congress in a commendatory resolution passed November 6, 1777. Afterwards Congress appointed him director-general of the hospitals in the middle department.

It is not known what literary matter he may have written other than an article on smallpox printed about 1771 in Henry Miller's Philadelphia German paper, called the Pennsylvania Staatsbote.

He died at Reading, in 1781, and was buried in the Friends' burying ground at Reading. He had three sons and two daughters.