The SAR Magazine

Fall 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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12 SAR MAGAZINE 20 SAR MAGAZINE By Stacey Inglis D elawareans have become accustomed to being first. We have bragging rights. Caesar Rodney made certain of that when he rode through the night, signed his name and established Delaware as the first state. In fact, for five or so celebratory days, Delaware basked in the glory of being the only state. Pennsylvania was second, and New Jersey third, to ratify and claim statehood. Since the time of ratification and setting the standard of firsts, Delaware has had a series of them. Delaware's first permanent doctor was Tyman Stidham, a Swede who came over with Gov. Johan Risingh, landing at Fort Casimir (New Castle) on May 21, 1654. 1 On June 21, 1768, medical honors were conferred for the first time in America. Ten gentlemen received their Bachelor of Medicine degrees on this occasion, and three of the men were from what would become Delaware. We were not even a country yet—or a state for that matter—and we had three doctors in the first graduating class in the first medical school: John Archer of New Castle, James Tilton of Kent County and Nicholas Way of Wilmington. 2 One of those three men went on to achieve a lion's share of firsts. Dr. James Tilton is a name familiar to the medical community in the first state. Tilton was a founder and the first president of the Medical Society of Delaware, incorporated in 1789. 3 In a letter to President George Washington dated Feb. 15, 1787, Tilton shared the news with his friend, announcing to him that he had been elected the first president of the Medical Society of Delaware: 4 "Contrary to my opinion & inclination, the state society have hitherto continued to elect me their President." 5 Tilton was born on a farm in Duck Creek in Kent County, Delaware, which, at the time, was still one of the three lower counties of Pennsylvania. He studied medicine under Dr. Charles Ridgely, a prominent physician in Dover, until he entered the newly established medical department of the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1768, he established a practice in Dover but returned to earn his M.D. in 1771. As a response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the first Continental Congress declared a boycott of British goods in October 1774. The Committee of Correspondence and the Committee of Inspection took control of the Thirteen Colonies away from royal officials with a focus on non- importation agreements, which aimed to hinder the import of British manufactured goods. In 1775, Tilton was elected to the Committee of Inspection and the Correspondence Committee, along with Caesar Rodney, Vincent Lockerman and John Banning. They were charged with overseeing the Port of Wilmington. When the First Delaware Regiment, commanded by Col. John Haslet, was organized in December 1775, Tilton was appointed regimental surgeon. He served with the regiment through that year in the battle of Long Island, at White Plains. During the infamous Battle of Trenton, between 1777 and 1778, typhus cut down the Continental Army by nearly half. It was in Trenton that Tilton was able to test his theory that overcrowding was responsible for the high mortality rate in army hospitals. Tilton was able to give trial, with considerable success, to his pet scheme of building small, well-ventilated log huts, each capable of holding but six to eight patients. The huts had clay floors, crevices to bring in fresh air and fireplaces to expel bad air. 6 Dr. Thomas C. Stellwagen, an authority on medical history, wrote: "Probably without Tilton's devises for cleaning up hospitals, Washington's army would have been defeated; and we know only too well what great strits the country had been reduced by fever and epidemics. We believe that there would have been no hope of success if this scourage of typhus had not been arrested. 7 On April 3, 1777, Tilton was appointed hospital physician; on April 23, Congress passed the following resolution: "Resolved, that Dr. James Tilton be authorized to report to Dumfries in Virginia, there to take charge of all Continental soldiers that are or shall be inoculated against smallpox, and that he shall be furnished with the necessary medicines." 8 While inoculations for smallpox had been largely practiced since the beginning of the war, this resolution and others following, which called for the assembling of troops for inoculation, were the first actions taken by Congress on this matter. During the medical department's reorganization of 1780, Tilton's name was—you guessed it—first on the list of hospital physicians and surgeons. In this capacity, he conducted a hospital at Williamsburg during the Yorktown campaign. Tilton was largely instrumental in securing an action of Congress on Sept. 20, 1781 that provided for promotion by seniority of medical officers. This legislation placed hospital surgeons above regimental surgeons, who were given the same rank as hospital mates. 9 After Yorktown, the Delaware troops were brought back from duty in the Carolinas and went into camp at New Castle, awaiting discharge. The officers of this camp met with others at Wilmington and, following the example set by officers in other states, they formed the Delaware State Society of the Cincinnati on July 4, 1783. Tilton had fought with them on the battlefields and dressed their wounds; the soldiers elected him as the first president. He held this office until 1795 and was delegate to the general meetings of the Society of the Cincinnati from 1784 to 1793. 10 The College of Philadelphia reorganized in 1791 as the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. As an alumnus of its first graduating class, Tilton was offered and declined the chair of Materia Medica. He thought it more important to finish the work he was doing for his country. 11 Tilton was elected to the Continental Congress in 1783, along with Gunning Bedford Jr. Known for never taking "no" Dr. James Tilton in bronze Focusing on Firsts: Delaware Doctor Was First U.S. Army Surgeon General

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