Portrait Gallery

Elisha Cullen Dick

A Cyclopedia of American Medical Biography, Comprising the Lives of Eminent Deceased Physicians and Surgeons from 1610 to 1910 Volume 1, By Howard Atwood Kelly, 1920.

Dick, Elisha Cullen (1762-1825)

Elisha Cullen Dick, the elder of two sons, only children of Archibald and Mary Barnard Dick, was born on his father's farm in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, about 1762. His father was a farmer of abundant means, a man of influence and culture who contributed largely to the fund for the support of the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1771. A slave owner, he emancipated and made provision for his slaves by his will. He was assistant deputy quarter-master general of the army during the War of the Revolution.

The boy's educational advantages were excellent, as he continued at school until he became a good classical scholar.

He studied medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush, and later with Dr. William Shippen, attending lectures at the University of Pennsylvania, and graduating B. M. March 21. 1782, receiving later his M. D. Two days after this his father died and he fell heir to one-half the paternal estate.

Dr. Dick selected Charleston, South Carolina, in which to practise, but stopped over in Alexandria on his way, and was persuaded to remain in that city.

After the organization of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia he became a member, but having reached an advanced age, declined all positions of honor. He was elected Mayor of Alexandria in 1804 and filled the office for several terms; was colonel of a cavalry regiment, and commanded in what is known as the Whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania.

His eminence as a physician is attested by the fact that his services were constantly sought by his brother physicians, and that he was called in consultation with Dr. Craik in the last illness of the illustrious Washington. With Drs. Craik and Brown, the other consultant, he stood at the bedside of the "Father of his Country" when he breathed his last. He had the faculty of winning the confidance of his patients, being a man of polished manners, of musical and sympathetic voice, and quick in diagnosis and treatment. He rather avoided surgical cases. A great reader, he was familiar with obscure and rare cases, and the latest and best remedies.

Dr. Dick married October, 1783, Hannah Harman, daughter of Jacob Harman of Darby, Pennsylvania. Of the three children born to them, two lived to maturity, Archibald and Julia. Archibald graduated in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1808.

In his later years the doctor purchased a farm near Alexandria, and lived there until his death in 1825. He was buried in the Friend's burying-ground in Alexandria, the grave being unmarked, as he had a great abhorrence of ostentation and wordly pride.

Only two articles on professional subjects are known to have been published by Dr. Dick. The first of these, "Yellow Fever at Alexandria," appeared in the New York Medical Repository, vol. i, 1803, and is an account of the epidemic of yellow fever which occurred in Alexandria in 1803. The second, "Facts and Observations Relative to the Disease Cynanche Trachealis, or Croup," was written in 1808, and was published in the Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal, vol. iii, p. 242.

There is in the library of the surgeon-genera! an autograph letter "On Treatment of a Case of Enterocolitis, called Cholera of Infants," by Dr. Dick, which is dated July 27, 1815, and is addressed to James H. Hooe, Of Prince William County, Virginia.

A profile portrait likness of the doctor, taken by St. Menin, is preserved in the gallery of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge, and another is in the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington.

The original copper-plate, engraved by St. Menin, was in the possession of Mrs. Arthur Crisfield, of Washington, great-granddaughter of Dr. Dick. There is still another portrait in the library of the surgeon general of the army in Washington.

Robert M. Slaughter

Sketch of the life of Cullen Dick. M. D., by J. M. Toner. M. D. Trans. Med. Soc. of Va., 1885, Vol. XVI.

Reminiscences. S. C. Busey, 1902, vol. II.