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Moments in Surgical History
July 2001

James Thacher and His Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War

Arch Surg. 2001;136(7):837. doi:10.1001/archsurg.136.7.837

ONE OF THE MOST interesting wartime journals penned by an American surgeon is James Thacher's Military Journal During the Revolutionary War (1823). Chiefly remembered for his contributions to medical history, Thacher (1754-1844) was among the most influential but least flamboyant practitioners of his time. Born in Barnstable, Mass, he apprenticed with a celebrated local physician, Abner Hersey (1721-1787). Having completed his medical education in mid 1775, Thacher entered the army as a surgeon's mate attached to the provincial hospital at Cambridge, Mass, under the command of John Warren (1753-1815). Thacher served with distinction in the Continental Army and was eventually promoted to the position of surgeon. At the termination of the war, he settled in Plymouth, Mass, where he resided until the day of his death. Extremely busy clinically, Thacher was also one of the most prolific medical writers of his era, his books were widely regarded for reflecting the best available medical information of the time. Among his texts are The American New Dispensatory (1810), Observations on Hydrophobia (1812), and American Modern Practice (1817). Thacher also wrote on nonmedical topics, including a Practical Treatise on the Management of Bees (1829) and an Essay on Demonology, Ghosts, Apparitions and Popular Superstitions (1831). As if all this were not enough, Thacher authored the first biographical dictionary of American physicians, American Medical Biography (1828), which contained a little-appreciated but well-documented history of medicine in the United States.

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