Fothergill, John, 1712-1780

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John Fothergill was an English Quaker physician and naturalist, and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1770.

From the description of Letters, 1737-1750, to Charles Alston. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 86165478

Physician Joseph Carson taught medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The College of Philadelphia's Medical School, founded in 1765, became known as the University of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Medicine In 1779.

From the guide to the Joseph Carson letters, 1789-1858, 1789-1858, (American Philosophical Society)

Quaker physician, botanist and natural philosopher.

From the description of Papers, 1755, May 2 and May 14. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 35073003

Peter Collinson (1694 – 1768) was an English merchant and botanist.

From the guide to the Peter Collinson papers, 1560-1811 (inclusive), 1713-1811 (bulk), Bulk, 1713-1811, 1560-1811, (American Philosophical Society)

John Fothergill (1712–1780, APS 1770) was a British physician, naturalist, and philanthropist. A Quaker and a London physician, he published widely on medical topics, including an essay that offered the first accurate description of diphtheria. His studies in the natural sciences focused on conchology and botany. He was an acquaintance of many eminent figures who shared his passion for natural science, including Peter Collinson (1694–1768), John Bartram (1699-1777, APS 1768), and Benjamin Franklin. Even though Fothergill never visited the New World, he took an active interest in North American developments.

Fothergill was born in Yorkshire, the son of the farmer and Quaker John Fothergill and his wife Margaret Hough. His father traveled extensively as a preacher, including three times to North America. John attended a distinguished grammar school before being apprenticed to the well-known apothecary, bookseller, Quaker minister, and botanist Benjamin Bartlett. With Bartlett’s encouragement, Fothergill studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He subsequently opened a practice in London.

In 1747 Fothergill published an Account of the Sore-Throat Attended with Ulcers which included the first detailed description of diphtheria. The book was an immediate success, and Fothergill soon became one of England’s richest physicians. Over the following years, he produced over fifty papers on topics such as migraine, angina pectoris, obesity, epilepsy, and coffee. Among his close friends were the banker David Barclay and the merchant and botanist Peter Collinson. The latter introduced Fothergill to the work of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778, APS 1769) and to John Bartram. After Collinson’s death, Fothergill became the recipient of seeds sent by Bartram to London from North America. Collinson also introduced Fothergill to Benjamin Franklin. When Franklin fell ill after his arrival in London in 1757 he became Fothergill’s patient, and the two became close friends. Fothergill was also an acquaintance of Franklin’s friend George Whately.

In 1767 Fothergill was a leading figure in the movement to force the Royal College of Physicians to include licentiates in its government. Fothergill did not take part in the riot that ensued in June of that year, but he did assist the cause by raising funds for a legal challenge. This episode and the dismissal of the case in 1770 led to the formation of a rival society, the Society of Collegiate Physicians.

The success of his medical practice allowed Fothergill to acquire a large estate in Upton in Essex. There he maintained an extensive botanical garden as well as a large collection of insects, shells and drawings. In his studies of plants Fothergill was deeply influenced by the ideas of his friend Linnaeus, who later gave the scientific name Fothergilla to an American genus of witch hazel that Fothergill had introduced into England. The physician John Coakley Lettsom, one of Fothergill’s protégés, eventually published a catalog of the plants in his garden.

Fothergill’s interest in the North American colonies is evident in several of his activities. He corresponded on behalf of the English Friends Meeting with the Philadelphia Meeting, and he was a trustee of the Pennsylvania Land Company. In 1771 he raised funds for the New York Hospital. He opposed the Stamp Act, and he and Franklin encouraged the theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804, APS 1785) to publish an essay in defense of the revolution. In 1777 he attempted with Barclay and Franklin to negotiate an agreement between the colonies and Britain in an effort to avert war.

Throughout his life Fothergill was a strict Friend, which is reflected in his many philanthropic endeavors. He consistently used his medical expertise, influence and personal wealth to improve the lives of the poor and oppressed. His services included free medical care to the poor and monetary donations to charitable causes. Furthermore, he did not hesitate to support what were then considered radical causes, such as the abolition of the slave trade, prisoner’s health, the diet of the poor, and public baths. One of his final projects was the founding of the Ackworth School in Yorkshire which he intended as “a school for a plain education” of the children of Quakers.

In 1754 Fothergill was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Seven years later he became a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1770 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Fothergill never married. In 1780 he died of a urinary retention possibly caused by prostate cancer. Upon Fothergill’s death Benjamin Franklin remarked that “I think a worthier man never lived.”

From the guide to the John Fothergill letters, 1737-1778, 1737-1750, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Fothergill, John, 1712-1780. Papers, 1755, May 2 and May 14. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
creatorOf Fothergill, Alexander, 1709-1788. Fothergill Family Papers, ca.1763-1995. Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
creatorOf Marshall, Humphry, 1722-1801. Humphry Marshall Papers, 1721-1863 (bulk: 1760-1800). William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Fothergill, John, 1712-1780,. Copy of letter from John Fothergill to unidentified recipient, April 25, 1758 [manuscript], after 1758. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn John Bartram correspondence, 1735-1775, 1735-1775 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf John Fothergill letters, 1737-1778, 1737-1750 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Rush, Benjamin, 1745-1813. Travels through life: or an account of sundry incidents and events in the life of Benjamin Rush...written for the use of his children, [1800]. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Shippen, William, 1736?-1808. Journal, 1759 July 19-1760 Jan. 22. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Logan, Maria Dickinson, 1857-1939,. Family papers, 1671-1890. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn Sharpless, Isaac, 1848-1920. Papers, 1876-1987 (bulk 1884-1920). Haverford College Library
creatorOf Joseph Carson letters, 1789-1858, 1789-1858 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Benezet, Anthony, 1713-1784. Letter, 1773 April 28, Philad[elphi]a to "Dear Friend John Fothergill" / [Anthony Benezet]. Haverford College Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Library. Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection. 1668-1983. American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Pemberton family. Papers, 1641-1880. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Fothergill, John, 1712-1780. Miscellaneous manuscripts, n.d. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Cox-Parrish-Wharton Papers, 1600-1900. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn Logan, James, 1674-1751. Papers, 1670-1749 (inclusive), 1734-1749 (bulk). Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn James Hutchinson papers, 1771-1928, 1771-1928 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Humphry and Moses Marshall papers, Marshall, Humphry and Moses papers, 1721-1863 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Logan, James, 1674-1751. Collection of Logan family papers, 1711-1821. Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
referencedIn Betsy Copping Corner papers, 1935-1974, 1935-1974 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Sir Joseph Banks papers, 1763-1830 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Bartram family. Collection, 1721-1814 (inclusive), 1765-1803 (bulk). Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn Logan-Fisher-Fox family papers, 1703-1940. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Peter Collinson papers, 1560-1811 (inclusive), 1713-1811 (bulk), Bulk, 1713-1811, 1560-1811 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Dorothy Merriman Schall papers, 1686-1897 Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections
referencedIn Banks, Joseph, 1743-1820. Sir Joseph Banks papers, 1763-1830 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Carson, Joseph, 1808-1876,. Letters, 1789-1858. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Sir Joseph Banks papers, 1763-1830 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Marshall, Humphry, 1722-1801. Humphry and Moses Marshall papers, 1721-1863. William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Travels through life:or an account of sundry incidents and events in the life of Benjamin Rush...written for the use of his children, [1800], Circa 1800 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Penn, Thomas, 1702-1775. Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1765-1768. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Fothergill, John, 1712-1780. Letters, 1737-1750, to Charles Alston. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Sharp, Granville, 1735-1813. Copies of letters received, 1763-73. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Corner, Betsy Copping, 1888-1976. Papers, 1935-1974. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Collinson, Peter, 1694-1768. Papers, 1560-1811 (inclusive), 1713-1811 (bulk). American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Pennsylvania Hospital (Philadelphia, Pa.). Financial records, 1724-1971 (bulk 1751-1920). Pennsylvania Hospital
referencedIn Hutchinson, James, 1752-1793. Papers, 1771-1928. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Dreer, Ferdinand Julius, 1812-1902,. Miscellaneous letters, 1703-1883. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn William Shippen journal, July 19, 1759 - January 22, 1760, 1759-1760 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Morris family. Papers, 1684-1935. Hagley Museum & Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Bard, John, 1716-1799 person
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associatedWith Bartram family. family
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correspondedWith Benezet, Anthony, 1713-1784. person
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associatedWith Booth, Christopher C., (Christopher Charles), 1924- person
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associatedWith Corner, Betsy Copping, 1888-1976. person
associatedWith Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899 person
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associatedWith Cuvier, Georges, Baron, 1769-1832 person
associatedWith Darlington, William, 1782-1863 person
associatedWith Dobbs, Arthur, 1689-1765 person
associatedWith Dreer, Ferdinand Julius, 1812-1902, person
associatedWith Edison, Thomas A., (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
associatedWith Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603 person
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associatedWith Genth, F. A., (Frederick Augustus), 1820-1893 person
associatedWith Gmelin, Johann Georg, 1709-1755 person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
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associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
associatedWith Hewson, William, 1739-1774 person
associatedWith Hollyday, Henry, 1870- person
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associatedWith Johnstone, James, 1730?-1802 person
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associatedWith Logan, Maria Dickinson, 1857-1939, person
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associatedWith Marshall, Moses, 1758-1813 person
associatedWith McClurg, James, ca. 1746-1823 person
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associatedWith Morris family. family
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associatedWith Rush, Benjamin, 1745-1813. person
associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
associatedWith Sharp, Granville, 1735-1813. person
associatedWith Sharpless, Isaac, 1848-1920. person
associatedWith Shippen, William, 1736?-1808. person
associatedWith Singer, Charles Joseph, 1876-1960 person
associatedWith Sloane, Hans, Sir, 1660-1753 person
associatedWith Smith, William, 1727-1803 person
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith University of Edinburgh. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of Medicine - Faculty. corporateBody
associatedWith Wager, Charles, Sir, 1666-1743 person
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
associatedWith Wistar, Caspar, 1761-1818 person
associatedWith Witt, Christopher, 1675-1765 person
associatedWith Wright, Edward person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Natural history
Medicine--Formulae, receipts, prescriptions--Manuscripts
Plants--Collection and preservation
Society of Friends--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
Medical education--United States


Birth 1712-03-08

Death 1780-12-26





Ark ID: w6wd42nw

SNAC ID: 25946203