Portrait Gallery

Elisha Cullen Dick

Personal Reminiscences

by Samuel C. Busey, 1895, Pages 144-147.

Elisha Cullen Dick was born of a distinguished and wealthy Colonial family in Pennsylvania in 1752. He studied medicine with Rush and Shippen, and graduated Bachelor of Medicine in the class with Caspar Wistar in 1782. He selected Charleston, South Carolina, as the location to practice his profession, and on his way thither stopped in Alexandria, Virginia, to renew his acquaintance with a relative, who introduced him to many of the prominent and wealthy families of that city, by whom he was advised to locate in that city, at that time not numerously supplied with physicians. Flattered by the opportunities so courteously offered him, he returned to Pennsylvania, sold out his estate, married, and returned to Alexandria in October, 1782, where he began the practice of medicine, and died in 1825, after forty-two years of active professional life. It seems probable that he adopted the middle name — Cullen — after graduation, as his name on the roll of graduates of the University of Pennsylvania is simply Elisha Dick. After he became a resident of Alexandria he invariably signed his name as Elisha C. or Elisha Cullen Dick.

Dr. Dick was one of the founders of the first lodge of Masonry in Alexandria, which was chartered in 1783, and of which he was elected Worshipful Master in 1785, and annually thereafter, until the new charter in the name of Alexandria Lodge, No. 22, was obtained in 1788, from the Grand Lodge of Virginia, in which General Washington was named as Worshipful Master. After the retirement of General Washington, in 1789, he was again re-elected, and continued to hold the office until 1795, when he declined a re-election, but was again elected in 1797, and served until December, 1799. This review of his official connection with the Masonic Order is preliminary to the statement of the fact that he conducted the Masonic ceremonies at the laying of the corner-stone of the "Ten Miles Square," or District of Columbia, on April 15, 1791, at Jones' Point, at the mouth of Hunting Creek, below Alexandria. He was Worshipful Master in 1793, when the corner-stone of the Capitol was laid, on which occasion he marched arm-in-arm with Washington, and took part with him in the ceremonies. He also conducted the Masonic services at the funeral and burial of General Washington, and presided at the Lodge of Sorrow.

When he joined the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, in 1817, Alexandria was included in the territorial area of the "Ten Miles Square." This was during the preliminary organization, but his name does not appear among those who petitioned Congress for the charter, nor among those named in the act of incorporation passed in 1819; nor does it appear that he ever took any active interest in the Society, which was probably due to his age (sixty-seven) and the distance of his residence (eight miles) from the place of meeting.

His biographer. Dr. J. M. Toner, from whose sketch of his life and history the foregoing details have been obtained, characterizes him as a man of learning and an accomplished physician, who enjoyed the confidence of a very large clientele, and was beloved by the community in which he practised his profession for such a long period of time.

Dr. Dick was one of the two consulting physicians and the first to arrive in the last sickness of General Washington, and remained with the illustrious patient during the last nine hours of his life, striving with his colleagues, Craik and Brown, to save the life of the "first citizen of the Republic."

He was an austere man, with correct habits, courtly manners, a high sense of honor, but somewhat erratic in his religious faith. He was born and raised an Episcopalian, afterward joined the Presbyterian Church, and finally became an enthusiastic member of the Society of Friends, in which faith he died.

His life is chiefly interesting to the medical profession as one who was so intimately associated with Washington, laid the corner-stone of the District of Columbia, and, together with Washington, that of the Capitol in 1793, and was one of the original members of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, dating the beginning of his membership with the first year of its preliminary organization.

The historic events with which he was so prominently associated directly connect the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and the profession of medicine with several of the most noteworthy and conspicuous occurrences in the early history and foundation of this District. Before going from Alexandria to Jones' Point he invoked the blessing that the stone to be laid might "remain an immovable monument of the wisdom and unanimity of North America," and after the return of the Commissioners and others to Alexandria he offered the following sentiment: "Brethren and Gentlemen: May jealousy, that green-eyed monster, be buried deep beneath the work which we have this day completed, never to rise again within the Federal District."