John Moultrie (1729-1798)

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John Moultrie (1729-1798)
John Moultrie (1729-1798) was the first US-born graduate of Edinburgh University, qualifying M.D in 1749.


Moultrie was born in South Carolina to a Scottish father, John Moultrie (1702-1771), himself a graduate of Edinburgh University, who was both a general practitioner and an indigo planter.


Moultrie arrived in England after a perilous 32-day voyage, towards the end of which his ship was chased and almost captured by a Spanish vessel. On 16 July 1746, he wrote to his parents from London to say that he 'had employment all the way over', tending to the ship's captain and some of the crew who had fallen ill with fever. He prepared to set out for Edinburgh with some trepidation, noting that 'poor Scotland is in a bad condition' in the wake of the 1745-46 Jacobite Rebellion, and 'whole familys die famished'. On arrival in Edinburgh on 25 August, however, he found the city 'easyer than I thought it would be after the Rebellion, only the ladys are always squabling for there is a number of them Jacobites'.

The one hardship that Moultrie suffered as a result of the conflict was the impossibility of finding a 'surgeon lad' to act as his assistant, as all had left the capital to serve the warring armies. He was sorry to learn too of the death of Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746), Professor of Mathematics, partly as a result of his exertions in fortifying the city as a voluntary military engineer.

Moultrie took up lodgings with 'seven, sober young students' on the advice of the recently retired Professor Andrew Sinclair (c1698-1760) who 'takes some pains about me'. He studied Anatomy under Alexander Monro ''primus'' (1697-1767), the Practice of Physic under John Rutherford (1695-1779) and Institutes of Medicine under Sinclair's replacement Robert Whytt (1714-1766) who 'gives great satisfaction to all his hearers'. Moultire was among the first students to benefit when Rutherford innovatively introduced clinical lectures into the curriculum in 1748. He writes (2 February 1748):

'We have a new Class set on footing here this winter, by our Professor of ye Practice of Physic, which is to lecture on the Cases of ye Patients in the Infirmary, in which he gives the Diagnosis, Prognosis and Method of Cure, which Lectures are reckon'd very valuable and serviceable.'

Moutrie graduated in 1749 with a thesis on yellow fever: 'De Febre maligna biliosa Americae'. His name appears on the printed roll as 'Joannes Moultrie, ex Carolina Meridionali provincia'. Moutrie's thesis was soon recognized as the most authoritative work on yellow fever to date and a study for which there was a pressing need. Known as the 'the Terror of the South', yellow fever ravaged the Atlantic coastline for over a century. Moultrie himself had already survived three epidemics of the disease before travelling to Edinburgh. A further edition of Moultrie's thesis was published in Langensalza, Germany, in 1768, and it was subsequently translated into French and German.

Later Life

On his return to the United States, Moultrie practised his profession in Charleston, and became a major planter and slave-owner. He played an active role in the legal, political, and military life of the province. In 1756, he was appointed Justice of the Peace. In 1750, he was elected representative of St. James, Goose Creek, in the General Assembly of South Carolina. In 1761 he participated as a major of militia in the First Cherokee War.

When Florida became a British province following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Moultrie took up land grants there, developing sugar, indigo, and rice plantations, and building a stone mansion for himself four miles south of St. Augustine. Meanwhile he rose to become Lieutenant-Governor of East Florida in which role he oversaw an extensive programme of road-building.

He fought on the the British side during the American War of Independence which pitted him against his brothers Thomas and William, both patriots. When Florida was returned to Spain following the defeat of the British forces, Moutrie lost much of his property. He went into exile in England, settling in Shifnal, Shropshire, where he died in 1798.

The First of Many

Moultrie was the first of 117 American students to graduate from Edinburgh's Medical School by the end of the eighteenth century. These included his second son James Moultrie (1766-1813), the third generation of Moultries to qualify M.D. at Edinburgh.

Related Pages


  • 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. 1-23.
  • 'Letters from a Colonial Student of Medicine in Edinburgh to his Parents in South Carolina, 1746-1749', University of Edinburgh Journal, 4 (1930-31), 270-74.
  • J. B. Morrell, 'Medicine and Science in the Eighteenth Century', in Four Centuries: Edinburgh University Life, 1583-1983, ed. Gordon Donaldson (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1983), pp. 38-52.
  • Eleanor Winthrop Townsend, 'John Moultrie, Junior, M.D., 1729-1798, Royal Lieutenant-Governor of East Florida', Annals of Medical History, 3rd Ser., II (1940), 98-109.