Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19




Doctors and Diseases

on the Ohio Frontier



Nineteenth century Ohio historian Samuel Hildreth ob-

served that "As a class no order of men have done more to pro-

mote the good of mankind and develop the resources and natural

history of our country than the physicians. . . ." Hildreth likely

referred to professional contributions in the field of natural

science, yet doctors also played an integral part in bringing

civilization to the frontier. Whether drawn by spirit of adven-

ture, prospect of personal gain or increasing Eastern competition,

they accompanied every major wave of western migration.2 Many

abandoned medicine for more lucrative pursuits, but a sizable

remainder divided their energies between fulfilling medical com-

mitments and assisting in the cultural and commercial develop-

ment of their infant communities.

The pioneer physician needed to be innovative, adaptable,

and possess great powers of physical endurance. An example of

such a man was Jabez True, whose life and career typify that of

the early frontier doctor. During the early summer of 1788,

True left his medical practice in New Hampshire to begin life

anew in the Ohio Country. True never attended a medical col-

lege, yet he became the first resident physician in the vast area

now comprising the seventeenth state.3 His professional cre-



Marilyn Van Voorhis Wendler is Official City Historian for the

City of Maumee, Ohio, and is a Ph.D. candidate and teaches Ohio history

at the University of Toledo.



1. Edmond C. Brush, "The Pioneer Physicians of the Muskingum

Valley," Ohio Archeological and Historical Society Quarterly, 3 (1890),


2. Ibid. See also U.S. Department of Health, Education and Wel-

fare, Medicine on the Early Western Frontier, no. (NIH), 78-358 (1978).

3. Samuel Hildreth, Memoirs of the Pioneer Settlers of Ohio (Cin-

cinnati, 1852), 330.