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Chapter XI

Table of Contents




Dr. William Shippen, Medical Director of the Army

William Shippen, the son of a physician, was born in Philadelphia in 1736. Like Rush, he studied at Mr. Finley’s Academy, and later attended Princeton College. Here he became a fine classical scholar and also developed oratorical ability of a high order. He graduated under President Burr in 1754. The next three years were spent in the study of medicine with his father; and then in 1757 he embarked for Europe. He studied with John and William Hunter in London, and also with Sir John Pringle. He made a special study of anatomy, surgery and midwifery. He then went to Edinburgh, graduated in medicine there, and later studied in Paris, returning to Philadelphia in 1762. He soon began a course of lectures on anatomy, the forerunner of the medical school which he assisted Morgan in founding in 1765. This was the first medical school in America. Shippen was made professor of anatomy and surgery, and lectured regularly until 1775, when the college suspended on account of the war. In 1776 he entered the army as surgeon of the Flying Camp, and on October 9th was made Director of Hospitals west of the Hudson. In 1777 he became Medical Director of the army, which post he filled until 1781. From 1777 on he continued his anatomical lectures.

Dr. Shippen came of a distinguished family and was a cousin of the Peggy Shippen who married Benedict Arnold in 1777. He was said to have been of such beauty of countenance, elegance of person and ease and gracefulness of deportment as to have attracted the eye of every beholder. He was a fascinating speaker and admired by Whitfield. He had married a Miss Lee, daughter of Governor Lee of Virginia, and continued to move in the best circles of society. The statement that he was a fascinating


speaker leads one to wonder if he might not have been one of those who, as Lord Fisher says, had talked himself into a job. Yet he had the necessary ability and energy to do that job, had he so determined. That he made any such efforts to do it is not apparent from the records, leaving his character somewhat of a puzzle.

While Dr. Shippen viewed and helped to further the complaints against Dr. Morgan’s administration of the hospitals, he was no sooner installed in that officer’s position than loud and numerous complaints were heard against his own administration. And these complaints were even more reasonable; for if Dr. Morgan had been unable to secure satisfactory conditions in the army hospitals, he had at least been continually in the field, actively present at every battle, and energetically laboring in the hospitals afterwards; not infrequently with his own hands.

During the next winter of 1777-78, the hospitals were if possible worse than before, while Dr. Shippen, comfortably settled in quarters at Bethlehem, not only was present on no field of battle, but if we may believe several sworn statements of medical men, scarcely ever visited the suffering hospital in the small town where he dwelled; but, spent his evenings in social enjoyment; or even in gambling and convivialities. But that was not all; it was soon rumored, and stated with confidence by responsible men that he was dealing in hospital property, to his own profit while the sick suffered for the very stores he trafficked in. His reports were to say the least not frank and straightforward.

On November 24th, 1777 he made the following return of the sick to Congress. The statement that no fatal disease raged is misleading, as typhus, the most fatal of all diseases of the armies, was then prevalent in the hospital at Bethlehem, as well as at Princeton, and probably in nearly all the large hospitals:



An exact return of the Sick and Wounded in the American Army.





Burlington H





Trenton H





Princeton H










North Wales






































Eastern Dept. Hospitals


Northern Dept. 

no return




Dear Sir: I have the honor of sending your Excellency the above exact Return of the Sick and Wounded in the Armies of the United States, and you may depend on it there are not more than 2784 sick absent in the Middle Department, and there are never many allowed to continue long sick in Camp. If we can be furnished with Blankets and Cloathing our Sick will soon be again fit for Duty, as no fatal disease rages.
    I am Sir your very Humble and Obedient Servant,
                                        W. Shippen, Jr. D/G
To Henry Laurens
      Pres. Cont. Congress.

This return does not include the hospital at Ephrata, which had several hundred patients at this time. Nor does it include either the sick in regimental hospitals or the hundreds who had been allowed to go to their homes. The total was well over 5000 in an army of no more than 25000. The Southern Department is not included.

Saal and Sisters' House, Ephrata

At this time the Medical Director had charge of supplies as well as hospitals. Shippen had the opportunity, and men, even those not his enemies, as Tilton, believed that he profited by the occasion. He was soon charged with irregularities in handling hospital stores.


One of the first to report the irregularities was the most eminent medical man produced by the Revolutionary period, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Physician General of the Army. On December 8th, 1777, he addressed a letter to Mr. Duer, for the information of Congress. In this letter he strongly recommended that the business of the purveyor (purchasing agent) be separated from that of the medical director; a thing which shortly afterwards was done by an act of Congress. This recommendation, though containing no open charge, could not but mean that Shippen was profiting by the property passing through his hands. It should be said that such things were so common as to be almost customary in the British Army; Pepys winked at gifts; the first Lord Holland made his fortune as Paymaster General of the Forces; even the great Duke of Marlborough accumulated much wealth in manners not favored at the present day. Rush in his first letter only left an inference; he soon made direct charges.

    Letter of Dr. Rush.

Princeton, Dec. 8, 1777.

I beg leave to trouble you for a few minutes with some remarks upon the medical establishment, which in spite of the munificince of good intention of the Congress has not produced that happiness which was expected. The reason of it appears from my experience to be owing to your having deviated from the plans used in all European Armies and in particular from that most excellent one which is now in use in the British Army. It is as follows.

1. There is an Inspector General & Chief Physician whose only business it is to visit all the hospitals—to examine into the quantity and quality of the medicines—stores—instruments &, and to receive & deliver reports of the number of sick and wounded to the Commander in Chief.

2. There is a Purveyor general, whose business it is to provide hospitals and Medicines—stores—beds—blankets—straw & necessaries of all kinds for the sick and wounded. He is allowed as many deputies as there are hospitals. He has nothing to do with the care of the sick.

3. There are physicians and surgeons general, whose business it is to administer the stores provided by the purveyor general, & to direct everything necessary for the recovery—the convenience—and happiness of the sick. The purveyor is subject to all their orders, which are always made in writing, to


serve as vouchers, for the expenditures of the purveyor. As an additional check upon the purveyor, none of his accounts are payed until they are certified by the Physicians and Surgeons general. This renders it impossible to defraud the sick of anything prescribed or purchased for them. The Physicians and Surgeons general have deputies under them, who are called Seniors and mates.

This is a short account of the outlines of the British system which is said to be the most perfect in the world. I shall now compare it with the establishment now in use in the American hospitals.

The Director General possesses all the powers of the above officers. He is chief physician—Inspector general—Purveyor or Commissary general—Physician and Surgeon general. All reports come through his hands by which means the number if his wounded and dead may always be proportioned to his expenditures and to his fears of alarming Congress with all of the mortality of diseases. He can be present only in one place at a time, but is supposed to be acquainted with all the wants of his hospitals. This is impossible. The sick therefore must suffer for the surgeons of the hospitals have no right to demand supplies for them, the Director-General being the only judge of their wants. Lastly, his accounts are not certified by the Physicians and Surgeons general, so that the sick have no security for the stores & medicines intended for them. A Director General may sell them to the amount of a million a year, without a possibility of being detected, by your present establishment. All that the Congress requires of him are receipts for the purchase of the articles intended for the sick.

These ample and incompatible powers thus lodged in the hands of one man appear to be as absurd as if General Washington had been made quartermaster—commissary—& adjutant general of your whole army. And your having invested him with a power to direct the physicians and surgeons in everything, while he acts as purveyor, as absurd as it would be to give the commissary a power to command, your commander in chief. To do the duty of purveyor general only requires a share of industry and a capacity for business which falls to the lot of few men in the world. What can be expected then from one who, added to that office, is responsible for every life in the army?

Give me leave to mention what Dr. Monroe, the best writer on military hospitals in our language and who served during the whole of the last war in Germany at the head of the British hospitals, says upon this subject:

“The directing & purveying branches ought never to he entrusted to the same person, as the temptation for accumulating wealth has at all times & in all services given rise to the grossest


abuses, which have been a great detriment to the service, as well as to the poor wounded and sick soldiers, and has occasioned the loss of many lives.

    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *”
I do not mean by this comparison of our plan with the British system to point anything to the predjudice of the present Director general of our hospitals. All I shall say that if he possess the abilities of a Bacon, the industry of a Boyle, and the integrity of Aristides he could not exercise one half of the extensive power you have given him. The sufferings of the sick from the want of medicines—stores & bedding—their irregularity from the want of officers to command & guards to watch them—most of the mortality and all the waste—peculation—negligence & ignorance which have prevailed in our hospitals during the whole of this campaign, are to be in part charged to the very nature of the establishment. General Howe has exactly 1000 sick & wounded in his hospitals in Philadelphia.—Our army with no more battles—and exposed to no more hardships or causes of disease than Mr. Howe's has now upwards of 3000 sick & wounded in our hospitals. Trifling diseases are prolonged, and new ones often contracted by the negligence, ignorance & wants of our establishment.

No man can suspect I wish for any alteration in the System from a desire of holding a higher or more lucrative office in it than one I have received from Congress. I would not accept of the directorship of our hospitals upon its present footing for the riches of India. On the contrary I am resolved to retire as soon as the campaign is closed, since I cannot act agreeable to the dictates of my conscience & judgment. If you adopt the British plan (and without it you will waste your treasure to no purpose and destroy the lives of half your soldiers in another campaign) I wish you would call upon Dr. Walter Jones of your state (Virginia) to fill the office of Inspector general. For industry— humanity—and skill he has few equals in America. His integrity and impartiality where justice, and his country are at stake, cannot be called in question; and I am told he will not object to an honorable appointment in our department in the line of his profession. His health will be promoted by the gentle exercise and change of air which will be necessary for him in doing the duty as Inspector general.

Let me conjure you my dear sir by your love of human nature to direct your attention to this important subject. Our cause suffers—the Congress suffers by the many monuments of sickness and distress which are to be seen in most of the villages in Pennsylvania & New Jersey, destitute of a hundred of those necessaries & comforts with which our country abounds.


Dr. Shippen has taken pains to represent my complaints of the sufferings of the sick as intended to displace him. This method of rising into importance I know has been practiced with success in our department. But I despise it, and to that, I aimed only at the happiness of my distressed countrymen & the honor of my country. I shall seal my disapprobation of our medical establishment, as well as of its administration, with my resignation. A battle is inevitable. Nothing but a desire of assisting the poor fellows who are to suffer in it detains me a moment in the department.

With compliments to Mr. Morris and Mr. Duane (to whose good sense and impartiality I beg you would submit this letter) I am sir your most humble servant

            B. Rush.

A letter of December 13th following is similar. In it he speaks well of Drs. Craik and Bond.

On January 25th, 1778, Dr. Rush asked a hearing of Congress, and resigned on January 30th.

(His commission is in Paper of C/C. No. 78 XIX f. 209).

On January 3rd, 1778, a committee consisting of W. H. Drayton, Samuel Huntington and John Bannister, was designated to inquire into the charges (made more definite in the later letters) of Dr. Rush.

Dr. Shippen was informed of the complaints and, on January 18th, wrote the Congress in his own defense. The statement “that very few die—that no fatal disease prevails,” is now more irreconcilable with the facts that when made in December, for typhus was now at its height, and men were dying daily of it in the hospitals before his eyes at Bethlehem. At least they would have died before his eyes had he taken the trouble to visit the hospitals. Dr. Rush did “hit upon” one of them, the separation of the duties of medical director and purveyor, thus removing temptation from the director.

                                    General Hospital, Lancaster
                                        18th Jan 1778.

I am informed many complaints are made to the honorable Congress and General Washington against the hospital establishment, by Dr. Rush and by Governor Livingston, who has been imposed on by the Doctor's misrepresentation. Justice to my own and the character of my good officers calls loudly on me as


the Head of that department to wait on Congress to show them that there is not the least cause for these complaints, as far as the establishment or officers of it are concerned. If the physician and Surgeon general is of any use there may arise some cause of complaint at Princeton, from his long absence from his duty without leave at this important period. I think it my duty rather to run the risk of suffering in my reputation, than that the sick soldiers should suffer by my absence. Next week I shall do myself the honor of sending or carrying a return of all the sick & wounded—by which I flatter myself it will appear that our sick are not crowded in any hospital, that their number is not much if any larger than in my last return—that very few die—that no fatal disease prevails and that the hospitals are in very good order. These things being so, I rest satisfied that this hon’able body will not make any alteration in the medical department, or suffer measures to be adopted that may reflect on my own or any of my officers reputations, till I can be heard. I must add some amendments to our system may be made, but Doctor Rush, from his ignorance of the state of our Hospitals and not knowing his duty, has not hit upon any of them. If the Congress will give me leave I will point them out for their consideration next week.-

            I have the honor to be
            Dear Sir, with the most perfect respect
                Your and the Congress most devoted
                    and faithful servant
                        W. Shippen Jr.

Letter from Dr. Rush
    to Dr. James McHenry, January 19, 1780.

Dr. Shippen, I hear, is at last arrested. The public begin now to expect that justice from the army which they have in vain looked for from Congress. They expect soon to see that solecism explained—how the Director General of the Hospitals of the United States is enabled with 6 dollars a day to vie with the minister of France in magnificence of his Equipage & feasts. Dr. Morgan is so well furnished with evidence to support all his charges, that I am not sure that he will require my Attendance at his trial . . . . . . Some of Dr. Shippen's sycophants talk loudly of the liberal sentiments of the Gentlemen of the army, who will never condemn a man for trifles, such. as loving a good glass of wine, or a game of whist. True! But there are two crimes that never yet found pity or favor in our army—viz. Cowardice in an Officer of the line, and fraud in an


officer; Dr. Shippen’s guilt with respect to the last crime is as clear as the noonday Sun. The consequence of it you know has well nigh proved fatal at one time to our army & cause. But of this prepare yourself to hear tales that will make “each particular hair to stand on end” in a few weeks.

    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

            I am Dr Sir Yours
                    Benj. Rush.

    Dr. Rush, who had resigned on January 30th, 1778, addressed the following letter to Washington on February 25th. In the letter he was free to state in detail some of the irregularities in the hospitals and the faults of the Medical Director.

                                    Princeton, Feb. 25, 1778.

I should think myself inexcusable in leaving the army by resigning my commission without informing your Excellency that I was compelled to that measure by the prevalence of an opinion among some people that the distresses and mismanagement of the hospitals arose from a “want of harmony between Dr. Shippen and myself.” Next to the conviction of my own soul that this was not the case, I wish to have it known to Your Excellency that none of them originate in that cause.

So anxious was I to cultivate harmony with Dr. Shippen while in Office with him, that I laid none of the abuses which prevailed in the Hospitals directly at his door. But as my obligations to living in harmony with him upon that account have not ceased, justice to my country—a regard to the honor of the army, as well as my duty to your Excellency call upon me to lay the following facts before you.-

        Bethlehem Hospitals, Feb. 17th.

“This is to certify that the wine allowed to the Hospital at Bethlehem under the name of Madeira was adulterated in such a degree as to have none of the qualities or effects of Madeira.

That it was a common practice with the Commissary General to deduct one third—sometimes more—sometimes less from the orders for wine—sugar—molasses—and other stores ordered for the sick by the surgeon.

That none of the patients in the hospital under our care eat of venison—Poultry—or wild Fowl (unless purchased by themselves) and that large quantities of those articles were bought by Mr. Hasse, the assistant commissary of the hospitals, by order of the director General.


That the director General never entered the hospital but once during about six weeks residence in the village of Bethlehem, although the utmost distress and mortality prevailed in the hospital at that time.

That a putrid Fever raged for three months in the hospital— and was greatly increased by the sick being too much crowded, and by their wanting Blankets—Sheets—Straw and other necessaries for sick people.

That so violent was the putrid Fever in the hospital, that 9 out of 11 surgeons were seized with it—one of whom died— that one of 3 stewards 2 died and 3rd narrowly escaped with his life, and that many of the Inhabitants of the village caught and died with the said putrid Fever.

That there have died in this place 200 soldiers, 8/10 of whom with a putrid Fever caught in the hospital within the space of 4 months.

            (Signed) Wm. W. Smith (Dr) (Surgeon, Pa.)
                (Dr.) Sam'l Finley (Surgeon, Mass.)
                (Dr.) James E Finley (Surgeon, S.C.)
                (Dr) Robt B Henry (Surgeon, N.J.)

This is to certify that the return for the hospital at Bethlehem for the month of December was 420* Patients, and that there died within the same month alone 40.**

                        (Dr.) Samuel Finley.”

* The return of the Director General to the Congress for December was 320 in the Bethlehem hospital.

** The Director General's return of deaths in the same hospital for December was only 21.

Vouchers of the same kind have been collected from several other hospitals, all of which tend to show the negligence and injustice of the Director General, and of some of the officers connected with him.

I am not acquainted with the number of deaths in all the hospitals in the department for these last four months. In Reading there have died 100—in Lancaster 120—in Princeton between 80 and 90 (60 of whom died in December and January).

These returns are only from one fourth of the hospitals which have existed within the four last months. I think from the best general accounts I can collect that the number of Deaths in the hospitals from which I have obtained no returns, cannot amount to less than seven or eight hundred more.


This account will appear to be the more distressing when I add that the mortality was chiefly artificial, and not the consequence of disease contracted at camps. Eight tenths of them died with Putrid Fever, caught in the hospitals.

In the height of the calamities and mortality which have been enumerated, the Director General wrote a letter to the Congress with the following declaration, “No fatal disease prevails in the hospitals—very few die and the hospitals are in very good order.” This letter was dated on the 18th of January last.

This extraordinary mortality among our soldiers is not necessarily entailed upon military hospitals. Dr. (Jonathan) Potts lost only 203 men between the 1st of March and the 10th of December last, inclusive of all those who died of wounds. He suffered his patients (who were at one time very numerous) to want for nothing. The putrid Fever never made its appearance in any one of his hospitals.

What satisfaction can be made to the United States? What consolation can be offered to the Friends of those unfortunate men who have perished—or rather who have been murdered in our hospitals, for the injustice and injuries that have been done to them? One half of the Soldiers who have been sacrificed might have proved hereafter the pride of a victory that might have established the victories of America.

While our brave countrymen were languishing and dying from the total want, or scanty allowance of hospital Stores, I am sorry to add that the director General in a manner wholly unbecoming the dignity of his office and the liberality of his profession, is selling large quantities of Madeira wine, Brown and Loaf Sugar & &, which has been transported through the country in hospital waggons & received as hospital stores under the name of private property.

I have only to congratulate your excellency on the change which the Congress have made in the Medical System, whereby the business or providing for the sick is put into the hands of Dr. Potts, a gentleman of established character for integrity— humanity—and—capacity in the management of that part of the duty of a hospital.

I beg your Excellency's acceptance of the inclosed little pamphlet & am with warmest sentiments of regard and attachment, your Excellency's most affectionate humble servant

                                            B. Rush.

P.S. I beg your Excellency’s Pardon for not acknowledging before this time your ready attention to my application for General and a military inspector for each hospital. The instruction given by Your Excellency to the Inspectors are excellent & have already produced the most salutary effects in the hospitals.


This letter was forwarded by Washington to the Congress.

Another letter from Princeton, of date March 9, 1778, to a member of Congress, repeats the charges of the letter of February 25th, and gives some additional evidence.

                                    Lancaster, Feb. 12, 1778.
    “This is to certify,
        that I delivered to the hospital in Lancaster 120 coffins from Oct. 6th 1777 to Feb. 9, 1778: 32 in December and 36 in January 1778.”

                                    (Signed) George Buckhert.

The return of the dead in the Lancaster hospital by the Director General to the Congress, for December was 12.

Dr. Fred Kuhn, a senior surgeon of the hospital informed me that he stowed two pipes of Madeira among the hospital stores in Lancaster, by Dr. Shippen’s order, early last spring, in the fall, when Dr. Kuhn came to Lancaster to take charge of the hospital in the place, Dr. Shippen ordered him to make use of one of the pipes of Madeira for the sick in the hospital under his care—but to Dr. Kuhn's great surprise, when he went and demanded the wine, a friend of Dr. Shippen's came with an order from the Doctor and demanded the wine, as the Doctor's private property, and sold the two pipes for the Doctor at 400 pounds apiece.

Dr. Potts informed me that he knew of Dr. Shippen's having sold several hogsheads of brown sugar to a person in Reading.

Mr. Bryan (the vice president of Pennsylvania) asked me if loaf sugar was a useless article in our hospitals. I told him no—but that we could never get an ounce of it to use either in diet or medicines. He then informed me that the Director General of the hospital had sent 46 loaves of it from Manheim to a shopkeeper in Lancaster, to be sold upon his own account.

These facts are known to thousands in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The tale of “private property” will not go down with honest thinking men.

What would you think of a colonel of a regiment, or a commissary of provisions who traded largely in firearms or Bullocks at a time when his soldiers suffered for the want of them?


The sick of the army died from the want or scanty allowance of those articles, from the sale of which Dr. Shippen has made a fortune.”

Dr. Rush then repeats the number of deaths, estimating the total at thirteen to fourteen hundred. Of which he says, “Not more than 200 perished with disorders brought from the camp. The rest perished with want, or died of a putrid fever caught in the hospitals.” He goes on to say, “What would be the fate of a general officer who would throw away 1000 continental troops in a drunken frolic, or sell them to an enemy? He would expiate his crime with his life. And shall 1000 of your brave soldiers be lost ignobly in a hospital?”

After a considerable argument he concludes:

“I cannot omit to add here that Dr. Morgan cannot long be a stranger to the history of Dr. Shippen's directorship. Suppose he should charge him with some of his misconduct in print? The Doctor, as usual, would probably be silent under it. But would not the honor of the Congress require that their officer should indicate his innocence or suffer for his crime?” * * * .

Dr. Brown (my late colleague). assured me that in no case had he seen there for several months barrels with wine—sugar— molasses & come to a hospital without detecting upon examination a third—an half—and sometimes two thirds stolen from them.

I beg that this letter may be shown to Messrs Penn—Geary and Lovell—likewise to Mr. Clingham.
            With compliments to your good sisters &
            sincere wishes for your happiness
                I am my Dr Sirs with great regards

                                B. RUSH.

A postscript expresses his satisfaction at the action of Congress of February 5th—making the purveyorship a separate office.

In another letter from Princeton, dated April 20 and addressed to Wm. Dayton, James Huntington and John Bannister, members of Congress, he suggests a court martial for Dr. Shippen, offers to furnish a list of witnesses, and to appear as prosecutor.

Dr. Morgan was indeed cognizant of all these current reports regarding Shippen, but he was biding his time. Himself under the cloud of a dismissal, he was awaiting until that cloud


should be removed; for which consummation he was pressing Congress to long delayed action on his complaint.

The irregular methods of Dr. Shippen, as is generally the case, were diffused through other hospitals and followed by other officers. It is human nature that bad leaders be imitated as well as good. In the papers of the Continental Congress we find the following records, of date April 27th, 1779.

April 27.

The Committee on the Treasury report:

That information has been given to the Board of the Treasury that Alexander McKallaher, the deputy commissary of the hospital at the Yellow Springs, has made a practice of exchanging the hospital stores, such as sugar, molasses &c. for butter, poultry, eggs &c. for his own and the doctors’ table: that he keeps a blooded horse in the guardhouse, and a mare and a colt; that he entertains all people who come to the hospitals with wine and toddy, alleging that he is allowed to do so by Congress or Dr. Shippen, the informant is not certain which.

That these circumstances have given occasion to great clamours among the inhabitants in the very neighborhood.

That it is a convalescent hospital; That they have repaired the Farmer’s houses in the neighborhood for their own convenience, at the public expense; Whereupon,

Ordered: That the information of the Committee on the Treasury relative to Alexander McKallaher be referred to the Medical Committee, and that they take such measures for ascertaining the facts; and if properly supported for bringing him to tryal, as they shall judge expedient.

Yet nothing came of all these rumors and direct charges. Shippen was a politician with many and powerful friends; time had passed and the purchasing power had been given to another, Dr. Jonathan Potts. The affair seems to have quieted down by the spring of 1779, when it was again stirred up, and in a more forcible manner than before. What Dr. Rush had suggested, Dr. Morgan's intervention in the business, came about.

When in January 1777 Dr. Morgan was dismissed without assigned cause, he immediately began a series of protests and memorials, which he did not cease to press, with the utmost vigor until the matter was disposed of. Though the final outcome did not repair the great wrong done him, it did clear his reputa-


tion and restore his standing theoretically. His first memorial to Congress resulted in the following report by the medical committee. Its injustice will be apparent when it is recalled that in January 1777 and for two months previously the army had been west of the Hudson and not under Morgan's jurisdiction. East of the Hudson there was little complaint.

August 9, 1777.

Report of Medical Committee, to which Memorial of Doctor John Morgan was referred :-

“That though no cause is assigned for his discharge, yet, your committe in inquiry, find that the general complaints of persons of all ranks in the army, and not any particular charge against him, together with the critical state of affairs at that time (January 1777), rendered it necessary for the public good and the safety of the United States, that he should be displaced, and were the reasons for his dismission; and that the doctors memorial appears to your committee to be a hasty and intemperate production, notwithstanding which, as he conceives himself injured, and requests an enquiry into his conduct, your committee are of the opinion that a committee of Congress should be appointed for that purpose.

Resolved, That Congress concur in the said report.

This did not satisfy Morgan, and he renewed his protests, with no less insistence. The committee naturally put off an unpleasant matter, but Morgan again and again reminded them, and at last, more than two years after his dismissal, a report was brought in and approved.

On June 13, 1779, the committee brought in its report on Morgan's dismissal, and Congress passed a resolution which vindicated him in the most complete manner; but, as is so often the case, there was no attempt to right the wrong done him when so unjustly dismissed.

“* * * Whereas on the 18 of September last such a committee was appointed, before whom the said Dr. John Morgan hath in the most satisfactory manner vindicated his conduct in every respect as director general and physician in chief, upon the testimony of the Commander in chief, general officers, officers in the general hospital department, and other officers in the army, showing that the said director general did conduct himself ably and faithfully in the discharge of the duties of his office: Therefore,


Resolved, That Congress are satisfied with the conduct of Dr. John Morgan while acting as director general and physician in chief in the general hospitals of the United States, and that this resolution be published.”

It is a remarkable tribute to Morgan that, while out of office and powerless to make any recompense, he should have been supported (as against the incumbent) by the majority of the best medical officers of the army. Such men as John Warren, Philip Turner, and Isaac Foster, as well as James Tilton, afterwards Surgeon General of the Army; and Benjamin Rush, the greatest medical man in America at that time, supported him in his charges against Shippen.

NOTE:This committee consisted of Messrs Dayton, Harvey and John Witherspoon.

Dr. James Tilton

Three days after having been vindicated, Morgan addressed a letter to Congress charging Shippen with malpractices and misconduct, and declaring his readiness to produce the necessary evidence to prove the same. This letter was referred to the Commander in Chief for investigation.

Letter of Dr. Morgan to John Jay, President of Congress.


Congress having been pleased by its resolve of the 12th Inst, on the full and weighty evidence before them, to restore me, in the most ample manner, to my former fair and unsullied reputation, I thankfully acknowledge the honorable approbation which it has been pleased thereof to bestow on my conduct in the service of my Country. I consider it as a proof of the disposition of the House to render Justice to all Men, and to give me adequate reparation for the Injustice I have sustained from a faithful discharge of the truly difficult and important trust reposed in me by Congress.

As, in the execution of my duty in the station of Director General and Physician in Chief, the public good was my only pursuit, the prosecuting it now continues to be my favorite object, and on that object I still purpose to keep my views invariably fixed. Conscious I am, that it is incumbent on me, on every Servant of the Public, and on every free Citizen, to prosecute to conviction all persons in commission, who are guilty of misconduct in office and have abused the public trust. Being further stirred up to this needful measure by the loud & repeated Calls and Exhortations of Congress, particularly by its resolve of


June 30, 1778, and its late earnest address to the Inhabitants of the United States of America, May 1779. Assured moreover that it is the Intention of Congress vigorously to execute a Resolve of that Consequence, so warmly enforced in the constituents, without respect of persons, and that it will therefore give immediate orders for a Trial, free from the embarrassments of any tedious delay, from which innocent men sometimes suffer inconceivable hardships and distress and the guilty are enable to check and baffle the testimony of witnesses wearied out in a faithful attempt to bring them to Justice. I do hereby charge Dr. William Shippen, Jun. in the service of the United States with Malpractice and Misconduct in Office. And whereas Congress by a resolve of the House, has subjected a Director of the General Hospital on any accusation of Misconduct, to be tried by a Court Martial, I therefore now declare my readiness, to give before the proper Court having Jurisdiction, the necessary Evidence in the premises against the said Dr. Wm. Shippen.

I remain with warm devotion to my Country's Liberties and Welfare, Sir,

                Your faithful obedient Servant,

                            John Morgan.

June 15, 1779.

On July 19 Dr. Morgan again wrote the Congress.

To His Excellency John Jay Esq. President of Congress.
                                    Philadelphia, July 19, 1779.

In obedience to the Invitations and commands of Congress, I stepped forth, on the Principles of Love to my Country and the public good, and charged Dr. Wm. Shippen, jun. in the Service of the United States with Malpractice and Misconduct in office, and pledged myself to appear in support of the charges, when called upon before the proper court having Jurisdiction in the premises. I expected that on such declaration Dr. Shippen would have been immediately brought to trial. More than a Month however is since elapsed and the Movements of the Enemy have made it impracticable for the General to appoint an early Court Martial for that purpose. How long the state of affairs may occasion his trial to be postponed is not known. Perhaps it may be during the whole of the ensuing campaign. I therefore deem it my duty to represent to Congress that those charges which I mean to bring against Dr. Shippen (part of which are contained in the enclosed Papers, marked No. 1 and No. 2) appear to be of such a nature that for the Honor of Congress and the Service of these States, the putting in arrest and immediate Suspension of Dr Shippen from Office is absolutely necessary, being a practice founded upon the Usages of War in all old es-


tablish Governments, and in our own Army, that where a person of whatever rank is charged with Crimes of Office, and a Court Martial is called for, he be forthwith put under arrest, and suspended from all further Command and authority till he has undergone his trial and is acquitted. The Propriety of the Measure is founded in the dearest Reason and Nature of things. Can it be supposed just or rational that an officer accused of Breach of Trust shall still be continued in the exercise of that Trust as tho he were innocent?
    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
                    Your Excellency's
                            most obedient
                        and very humble serv't

                            John Morgan.

Learning of these charges made against him, Dr. Shippen, on July 28th, addressed the Congress, professing to be anxious for trial and asking for a copy of the charges.

Letter to Congress:
                                    West Point, July 28, 1779.


I have earnestly solicited his excellency general Washington to grant me a Court Martial, but he says the circumstances of the Army are such now, as to make it very inconvenient, & that General Arnold and Colonel Hooper are entitled to the preference (?) In this very disagreeable situation (for it is, Sir, disagreeable to lay even under ye imputation of supposed possible guilt, let the accuser be ever so malevolent & contemptible) I have only to pray the honorable Congress to order Dr. Morgan to furnish the Judge Advocate with a copy of the crimes he proposes to prove me guilty of, that I may know how to prepare my defense, & be ready on the first moment, that I can be indulged with a trial, to acquit myself with honor and bring my accuser to shame and disgrace.

I am sorry to be obliged to inform your excellency that we are in danger of losing all the physicians and surgeons of our Hospitals & Army unless Congress will immediately put them on the same footing with the rest of the army; I flatter myself they think this right & just & a longer delay will I fear be attended with fatal consequences.

I have the honor to be with perfect consideration & truth

                            your Excellency's faithful & most
                                        devoted servant

                                            W. Shippen Jr.


Dr. Morgan appears to have written to Benjamin Rush, asking him as to what testimony he could give regarding the misconduct of Shippen.

Rush replied, on July 17th, 1779, as follows:-

“You desire to know what matters I am willing to testify upon Oath respecting Dr. Shippen’s conduct in the Military Hospitals, while I am with him. To this request I shall answer in a few words.

(1)That he discovered a total ignorance of his Duty as the Director General of the Hospitals. This ignorance appeared in every part of his Conduct, but more especially in his manner of laying out the public money, which rendered the expences of the department four times greater than were necessary.

(2)I shall declare upon oath that he discovered (displayed) the. greatest Negligence of his Business. During the space of 9 months I never saw him but twice in any Hospital. All my letters and petitions to him for necessaries for the sick were treated with neglect. Many hundreds of our brave Countrymen died in the Hospitals for this cause, whose lives might have been saved, if they had the use of those necessary and comfortable things which the Congress allowed them.

(3)I shall prove upon Oath that Dr. Shippen traded largely in Hospital Stores—that he transported large quantities of Wine, Loaf and Brown Sugar, in public Waggons, through the different Villages of Pennsylvania, and afterwards sold them as private property. That our soldiers suffered and died for want of those Stores, at the very time he disposed of them, and that the Continent has been obliged to replace them at an immense Expense.

(4)I shall prove upon Oath that he deceived the Congress with false Reports of the number of Sick and Deaths in the Hospitals, and with false accounts of the Diseases that prevailed in the Hospitals, and the State of the Hospitals in General.

I wish you better success in your attempt to serve your Country and the Interests of Humanity, by bringing Dr. Shippen to Justice, than I met with when I impeached him in March 1778, and specified most of the Crimes I have mentioned in this letter. I have no personal resentment to gratify against him, and I was satisfied that my charges would appear well grounded, and that Justice would certainly take place when his accounts were called for. For I have good reason to think that he cannot produce vouchers for a quarter part of the Money that has passed through his hands.

                                    Your most humble Serv't,

                                            B. RUSH.”


As the matter seemed to drag, on October 25th Dr. Morgan again wrote to Samuel Huntington, President of Congress, regarding the charges. He stated that he had had a conference with Washington on the subject, and that he (Washington) said that he would order a court martial at the end of the campaign. He had also conferred with the Judge Advocate General and laid his charges and the evidence before him. He requested aid in procuring the attendance of witnesses.

As the affair did not move, he wrote again on November 2nd, and this time stated his charges against Dr. Shippen. His persistence is remarkable.-

                                    Philadelphia, Nov. 2nd, 1779.

To his Excellency Samuel Huntington, Prest. of Congress.

Sir. In my letter of July 19th last, after having impeached Dr. Wm. Shippen, Jr., of malpractice and misconduct in Office, I demanded his suspension, as the constant practice of other nations, and of our own army, and as a necessary rule of war. I showed, on sufficient evidence, that attempts were made to bribe and corrupt witnesses, to put it out of our power to appear against him. In September following, finding him still in office (unsuspended) I undertook a journey to camp, where he then was, with an intention among other matters, to charge him in person with crimes in office, and to confront him before witnesses. He knew of my coming and withdrew to Philadelphia. On my return to the city I solicited Congress to pass the necessary resolves to compell witnesses to attend a court martial, or to fall on some measure to give evidence on facts a due force, and prayed that the charges of the trial might be at the expense of the United States.

Congress was pleased to resolve that in cases not capital depositions may be given in evidence, provided the prosecutor and person accused are present at taking the same — but no provision is made to receive depositions as evidence, if the adverse party has reasonable notice of the time and place, and shall neglect to attend; nor is any mention made of defraying the expense of witnesses summoned to attend trial.

This loophole, of not being present at taking of depositions, was promptly taken advantage of by Dr. Shippen. He declined to attend the taking of them, and when the case came to trial, objected to the depositions on the ground that he was not present when they were taken. Dr. Morgan went on to remind Con-


gress that Dr. Shippen had not settled his accounts, although directed to do so two years previously. He then went on to state his charges.

“I now charge. Dr. Shippen, amongst other things, with behaving an a scandalous manner, unbecoming an officer and a gentleman; with fraud; with dealing in hospital stores on his own acc't; selling wine and sugar to hunters and tavernkeepers, whilst the sick and wounded suffered miserably for want of them, and of due care in Dr. Shippen to attend and provide for them, and they died in great numbers, under circumstances disgraceful to the United States and shocking to humanity.

I charge him with having refused to pay debts, contracted by the hospital commissaries & forage-masters, for the use of the sick, tho' he did not dispute the justice of their accounts; till it cost the creditors the whole amounts, or good part of the money, to recover same, & till it fell far below the value (due) to the rapid increase of prices for hospital stores & depreciation of the money; whilst great sums (probably belonging to the public), which he may call his money, was wasted in merchandising, which he sold on his own account and for his own emoluments.

And I charge him with employing public waggons for transporting these stores from place to place.

When I acquaint you, Sir, that a number of people, to whom these facts are known, are disgusted by them, and dissatisfied at every appearance of the delay of Justice, and are ready to prove these facts whenever Dr. Shippen is ordered to attend them.”

Dr. Morgan proceeded to urge a speedy trial, and says that with long delay Dr. Shippen will be able to remove witnesses by bribery and otherwise, wear out the prosecution and that in the end justice may fail. His foresight was quite accurate. Evidence was given that Shippen, or his friends, tried to suppress evidence, and the delay was accomplished.

The court martial was finally ordered, and on March 15th, 1780, met at Morristown, New Jersey. Morgan says that the trial had scarcely begun when Dr. Shippen found that he could not stand before the force of evidence there admitted, and resorted to evasive tactics. He objected to the depositions, on the ground that he had not been present when they were taken. He also asked for delay, on the ground that he had not been previously served with a copy of the charges. The court complied with these technical requested, and the trial was delayed.


Dr. Morgan then wrote Congress (on March 28th) as to new depositions, said that Dr. Shippen's course was evasive and unworthy a sincere man or a man of honor: using artifices to weary a prosecutor who had employed months of time when duty to his family required him to be at home.

The trial was finally held and Shippen was acquitted, for the reason that the charges were not clearly proved.

The Court having acquitted Shippen, the Commander in Chief sent the proceedings to Congress with the following letter:-

                                Headquarters, Papasick Falls,
                                            July 15, 1780.
I have the honor to transmit your Excellency in two packets, the proceedings of the Court Martial in the case of Dr. Shippen, Director General of the Hospital, for the approbation or disapprobation of Congress. The trial has taken place in consequence of their orders, this circumstance and the Doctor's station in the Army have induced me to think it most proper to refer the matter to their decision. I would beg to leave to observe, however, that the Medical Department is in much disorder already, and that it is of great importance that the affair should be brought to a conclusion in whatever way Congress may think proper, as soon as possible.

                            I am & &

                                G. Washington. President of Congress.

To Samuel Huntington Esq.,
     President of Congress

The proceedings were considered for many days, leading Shippen to write on August 18th, urging that action be taken, as Morgan had so often written before.

                                    Phila Aug 18 1780

Allow me to beg the attention of the honorable Congress to the deranged state of the medical department & to the sufferings of the sick and wounded in our hospitals, in consequence of no person having the direction; give me leave also humbly & earnestly to entreat that I may be relieved from my very distressing state of suspense. I have defended myself, Sir, against and acquitted myself of all the malicious charges made against me to Congress & trumpetted through every street of every state with an unparalleled and malignant industry. Will Congress longer deny me an opportunity of informing my countrymen & fellow


citizens of my innocence & my acquittal by the Court Martial? Will they not rather hasten to join their approbation of my faithful services? that I may maintain that unspotted character among my countrymen, I have so constantly & to the best of my abilities endeavored to deserve? I have the utmost confidence in the sense, justice & humanity of this honorable body & am with the most perfect consideration

                            your and their
                                most obedient &
                                    very faithful

                                        W. Shippen., Jr.

His Excellency S. Huntington, Esq.

The case was finally settled on August 18, 1780, in a manner which does not entirely vindicate Shippen. A motion was made to the effect “That the court martial having acquitted the said Doctor W. Shippen, the said acquittal be confirmed.” This motion, if passed, would have cleared him in the opinion of Congress. But it is evident that the majority of Congress did not agree with the court. Samuel Adams moved to strike out the words “the said acquittal be confirmed,” and to insert instead, “that he be discharged from arrest.” All the members present voted for this amendment, except three of the four from Pennsylvania and three others. A motion was then made by Abraham Clark to amend the motion by inserting, “excepting the part of the 2nd charge relating to speculating in hospital stores, in which the court judge him highly reprehensible.” It is not apparent how Congress could insert this clause in the findings of the court. This motion received but six affirmative votes. The first motion, as amended, was then passed with but six votes in the negative. Dr. Shippen was ordered discharged, but his acquittal by the court was not confirmed. It seems at this late date that the Congress believed him reprehensible in managing supplies; but that Dr. Morgan in prosecuting him was actuated largely by revenge; that the peculations were now several years in the past; and that it was impossible to secure his conviction by any court martial. The policy of delay until the evidence had lost its force, together with the strong political support of Shippen, saved him from the just consequences of his misuse of Government stores.


Although the case was finally disposed of in August, Dr. Shippen appears to have remained in Philadelphia as was his custom. On November 24th the Congress again took action:

“Ordered: that Dr. Shippen be directed to report to Headquarters and put himself under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief.”

The army was then in the Highlands of the Hudson. Shippen reported but remained only a short time in the camp, little more than one month.

The Medical Department of the army had been reorganized by a resolution of Congress of October 6th, 1780. Following this resolution Dr. Shippen was again elected Medical Director of the Army. In December he reported himself at Headquarters, but resigned his commission on January 3rd, 1781. His eulogists have said that he retained his commission until the independence of the country was secure and then resigned. The independence of the colonies was far from being determined in January 1781. It was not until the surrender of Cornwallis in October that independence could be thought within sight, and the treaty was not signed until nearly three years later.

Dr. Shippen had kept up his lectures even during his term as Medical Director. On resigning he returned to Philadelphia, resumed practice and continued to lecture on his favorite medical subjects. He had served as physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital 1778-9 and resumed this place in 1781, and held it until 1802. When the Philadelphia Medical College became a part of the University of Pennsylvania in 1791 he resumed his place as professor of anatomy and surgery and midwifery. A little later he helped found the College of Physicians and Surgeons and was its president from 1805 to 1808. After the death of a favorite son he seemed to lose interest in life, seldom lectured, and his practice declined; as Thatcher informs us. But as he was then a very old man this is not to be wondered at. He died at Germantown July 11th, 1808, aged 70 years.

His character is something of a puzzle. The best judgment is that he had marked ability, energy and public spirit; but his. mind was contemplative rather than creative; he was a scholar and preacher rather than a doer. His general moral and religious


habits of mind were far better suited to the peaceful life of a Quaker community than to the rough action of an army in the field. As to his peculations, they were not proven beyond a doubt. In any case his long and useful life must overbalance a single departure from the straight path of integrity.





Rank & File
















27,584 [sic]











Rank & File
























    The average for the two years is 31,099.
    This table does not include various bodies of militia which were called out as needed.


From Journals of the Continental Congress
    Sept. 25 to Dr. Jonathan Potts        $150,000
    March 10 to Dr. Jonathan Potts      $150,000
    April 16 to Dr. Jonathan Potts        $500,000
    Sept. 29 to Dr. Jonathan Potts        $221,144
    Jan. 16    to Dr. Isaac Foster            $75,000
    April 27 to Dr. Isaac Foster            $100,000
    July to    Dr. Isaac Foster                $150,000
    Nov. 25 to Dr. Isaac Foster            $150,000
    June 29 to S. Kennedy                        $5,000


    Further sums advanced by Pay Office $415,060

    Total                                               $1,516,204


From Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. VI, Appendix.

    Feb. 9 to Dr. Jonathan Potts        $ 60,000
    March 18 to Dr. Jonathan Potts      46,900
    June 26 to Dr. Jonathan Potts         50,000
    July 6 to Dr. Jonathan Potts            20,000
    July 21 to Dr. Jonathan Potts        200,000
    August 5 to Dr. Isaac Foster           40,000
    Oct. 30 to Dr. Thomas Bond          15,000


Other considerable sums, running into the thousands, wire also advanced.

    April 12 to Dr. Thomas Bond        $30,000
    April 13 to Dr. Thomas Bond            5,000
    May 2 to Dr. Thomas Bond              3,820
    May 23                                            2,599
    July 11                                            24,651


This total does not appear to include the whole appropriation for the year.