James Derham was amazing. He was the first African American to practice medicine in the United States. James Derham was born in Philadelphia in 1762 where he was enslaved by a prominent Philadelphia physician. In 1788 he was sold to a prominent surgeon in New Orleans. Derham worked as a doctor’s assistant until he purchased his freedom in 1790.

He continued to study medicine and he was highly regarded for his knowledge. Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was a well-respected physician in the late 1700s. Benjamin Rush visited New Orleans where he met and became friends with James Derham. Benjamin Rush was quoted as saying “I thought I could give him information concerning the treatment of disease, but I learned more from him than he could expect from me.”

I can imagine James Derham felt a real sense of pride as leading doctors consulted with him about their patients. James Derham was called in to examine Benjamin Franklin during his final illness. James-Derham-large


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