Monday, July 4, 2016

Revolutionary Doctors

At the time of the American Revolution, approximately 2,000 Jews resided in the colonies. A fair number of these Jews served in the Continental Army, and many others showed their patriotic fervor by raising funds and supplying the troops. Today’s Independence Day Jewish Treat takes a look at two Jewish doctors who joined the Continental cause.

Dr. John de Sequeyra did not serve in the army because he was 58 years old when the War of Independence began. As a resident of Williamsburg, Virginia, however, he was fairly well-connected to several of the nation’s Founding Fathers. For instance, in 1769, Dr. de Sequeyra treated Martha “Patsy” Park Curtis, George Washington’s step-daughter, for epilepsy. Dr. de Sequeyra was also credited by Thomas Jefferson for introducing the edibility of the tomato to the colonists.

Born in London (1719), Dr. de Sequeyra studied medicine at the University of Leiden (Holland). He came to Virginia in 1745 and immediately began practicing. His extensive patient notes, published as “Notes on Diseases in Virginia,” were recorded from 1745 until 1781. From 1773 until 1795, he was the visiting physician at the Public Hospital for the Insane (now Eastern State Hospital) located in Williamsburg.

Whereas Dr. de Sequeyra was a university trained physician, “Dr.” Phillip Moses Russell earned his title on the battlefield. A native of England who immigrated to Pennsylvania, Russell served as a surgeon’s mate and then as an assistant under-surgeon at Valley Forge. Under the most trying conditions, Russell treated soldiers ravaged by disease and exposure to the harsh elements. Eventually, he himself contracted camp fever, which affected his hearing and sight enough that he had to resign his commission in 1780. Before leaving the army, Russell, along with six other Jews, served as a guide during the colonial army’s unsuccessful attempt to retake Savannah, Georgia. After the war, Russell resided in Philadelphia, married and raised ten children. He passed away in 1830.

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