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James McClurg, a Revolutionary surgeon, was the son of Dr. Walter McClurg, a wealthy citizen and noted physician of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, who also served his country as a surgeon in the Virginia State Navy in the Revolution.
About 1762, he entered William and Mary College, from which he was graduated several years later. At William and Mary, McClurg was a classmate with Thomas Jefferson In 1770, McClurg took his degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
After some time spent in leading schools on the continent and in London, in 1773 Doctor James McClurg returned to Virginia and entered on the practice of his profession in Williamsburg, where he came into competition with such men and practitioners as Arthur Lee, and others of like caliber. In a very short time, however, he made way to the head of his profession in the state, a position which he held for fifty years. A professorship of anatomy and medicine having been created at William and Mary, he was elected in 1779 to the chair, but it is not known that he ever gave any instruction in these subjects.
He married Elizabeth, daughter of Cary Seldon.
During the war of the Revolution he served as a surgeon in the earlier years, and later as a medical director, making for himself a great reputation.
He was a member of the Constitutional Convention which framed the Federal Constitution, and was one of a group of three physicians (The other two were James McHenry and Hugh Williamson) at the convention. Other members of the Virginia delegation to the Convention were John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, Edmund Randolph, George Washington, and George Wythe. At the conclusion of the convention, he chose not to sign.
For many years he was a counsellor of the state of Virginia. A member of the Medical Society of Virginia, he was elected its president in 1820 and 1821, though then too feeble to take any part in its proceedings.
When Richmond became the seat of government, Dr. McClurg removed from Williamsburg to that city, and was for the succeeding forty years its leading physician, the latter period of his life being almost entirely given up to consulting practice, a fact that showed well his high standing with both the profession and the laity.
"The Philadelphia Journal of Medical and Physical Sciences" was in 1820 dedicated to "The Elegant Scholar and Accomplished Physician, Dr. McClurg." This shows that his reputation extended beyond the confines of his own state.
He was the author of Experiments upon the Human Bile, London, 1772 [see No. 389], Reasoning in Medicine, published in the Philadelphia "Journal of the Medical Physical Sciences." John Esten Cooke published in his "Virginia Comedians" verses by Dr. McClurg, Belles, of Williamsburg, written in 1777.
He died in Richmond, July 9, 1825, at the age of seventy-seven, and it may truly be said of him that of the many eminent physicians Virginia has given to our profession, none stood higher than he.
His inaugural essay entitled "De Calore" was regarded as an original and profound production, but was never published. It is said to have contained suggestions from which were thought to have originated some of the opinions afterwards demonstrated by the founders of the French school of chemistry. While residing in London he. published a paper entitled "Experiments upon the Human Bile and Reflections on the Biliary Secretions, with an Introductory Essay" (London, 1772), which attracted much attention both on account of its originality and charming and elegant style. He made several contributions to the "Philadelphia Journal of Medical and Physical Sciences."
The collection of portraits in the Library of the Surgeon-general contains one of Dr. McClurg.
- A Biography of James McClurg 1746-1823
- A cyclopedia of American medical biography: comprising the lives of eminent deceased physicians and surgeons from 1610 to 1910
- We the People
- A Trial Bibliography of Colonial Virginia, Volumes 1-2