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April 28, 1978

Two Gentlemen of Tortola

JAMA. 1978;239(17):1777-1781. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03280440061017

THE HAUNTING beauty of the British Virgin Islands, located less than 160 km east of Puerto Rico, is well known to yachtsmen. Less well known is the fact that two remarkable physicians of Quaker descent were born on these islands in the 18th century—William Thornton (1759 to 1828) (Fig 1), who was born on Tortola, once "white with cotton" and lush with sugarcane, and John Coakley Lettsom (1744 to 1815) (Fig 2), who first saw the light of day on Tortola's near neighbor, Little Jost Van Dyke Island (cover).

William Thornton  William Thornton, whose life can be summarized more briefly than that of the older and more distinguished practitioner Lettsom, was born in Pleasant Valley, which reaches the coast at Road Town, where Sir Francis Drake is known to have anchored ship. After completing his medical training at Edinburgh, Thornton returned to Tortola to practice medicine briefly before going to