John Morgan (1735-1789)

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John Morgan (1735-1789), an early US graduate of Edinburgh University, was co-founder of the Medical College at the University of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the United States.

The son of a Welsh immigrant, Morgan was born in Philadelphia and educated at Nottingham Academy, Maryland, and the College of Philadelphia. He served as a surgeon on the British side in the Seven Years War then travelled to Europe, where, after studying under the Scots-born anatomist William Hunter (1718-1783) in London, he matriculated at Edinburgh University in 1761. Here Morgan studied Institutes of Medicine under Robert Whytt (1714-1766), Botany under John Hope (1725-1786), and Chemistry under William Cullen (1710-1790), whose lasting friendship he gained. Intent on a academical career, he also thought it useful to attend Hugh Blair's lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Outside the university, Morgan enjoyed the patronage of Sir Alexander Dick of Prestonfield (1703-1785), President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and of George Drummond (1688-1766), six-time Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who bestowed upon the status of Freeman of Edinburgh.Morgan graduated MD in 1763 with a thesis De puris confectione, which influentially established that pus is a true secretion generated in certain states of inflammation.

In the course of his studies Morgan became determined to establish a Medical School in Philadelphia on the Edinburgh model. On his return to Philadelphia in 1765, Morgan joined with another Edinburgh graduate, William Shippen (1736-1808), in persuading the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania to found the first medical school in the Original Thirteen Colonies. The school was to be modelled after Edinburgh, with a university-type faculty, rather than imitating the practitioner-oriented London hospital schools. It opened in Autumn that year, offering classes in Anatomy and the Theory and Practice of Physic. Morgan followed the example of Edinburgh in supplementing lectures with bedside teaching at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Morgan was also a founding member of the founded the American Philosophical Society in 1766 in Philadelphia. He later served as Chief Physician and Director General of the Continental Army (forerunner of the Surgeon General of the US Army).

Related Pages


  • Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., John Morgan: Continental Doctor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965)
  • John Z. Bowers, 'The Influence of Edinburgh on American Medicine', in Medical Education and Medical Care: A Scottish-American Symposium, ed. Gordon McLachlan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 3-23.
  • The Journal of Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia: From the City of Rome to the City of London, 1764, ed. Julia Morgan Harding (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1907)