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Book and Media Reviews
July 6, 2011

Hugh Williamson: Physician, Patriot, and Founding Father

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Devon, Pennsylvania (joebvv2@live.com).

JAMA. 2011;306(1):102-103. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.933

Readers who enjoy learning about the Colonial period in America, the Revolution, or early patriots will appreciate George F. Sheldon's new biography of Hugh Williamson, who signed the Constitution for North Carolina. The book was 10 years in the making as Sheldon, chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of North Carolina and a history teacher before entering medical school, accumulated the facts about this interesting 18th-century physician.

Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1735, Williamson received a broad education, first at that county's New London Roads Academy and then at the College of Philadelphia (which became the University of Pennsylvania), from which he received an MA degree in 1760. In his career, Williamson became sequentially a preacher, a teacher of math, and eventually a physician. (He spent a year in Edinburgh, studied with John Hunter in London, and received his MD degree from the University of Utrecht in 1764.) Although Williamson initially practiced medicine for 9 years, Sheldon cites evidence that Williamson found it “emotionally exhausting” and devoted more time to scientific studies and his political endeavors than he did to seeing patients. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society at age 35 and was particularly interested in astronomy.

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