Primary tabs

Bayley, Letter from Dr. Morgan to Samuel Adams, member of the Medical Committee of Congress: The Medical Department in Canada displays one scene of confusion and anarchy; nor have the Congress made any provision for a General Hospital there; our disgrace and misfortunes in Canada are owing, m a great measure, to the shameful proceedings of the Surgeons in spreading the small-pox, by inoculation, amongst the soldiery, in the face of the enemy



New-York, June 25, 1776.

SIR: The state of the Army in Canada, according to Dr˙ Lind' s account, (who is just arrived from thence, by order of General Sullivan, for a supply of medicines,) is truly deplorable. I have seen no return of the sick, but he assures me that, in the beginning of this month, there were no less than eighteen hundred men down with the small-pox, and the total of sick and unfit for duty amounted to three thousand three hundred men; and he says they have no medicines. Such a report is scarcely credible; but you may learn the particulars yourself from him, as he intends going to Philadelphia.

General Gates sets out to-morrow to take the command of the Army in Canada. Dr˙ Potts will accompany him. I have therefore given orders to supply him from the General Hospital with a large chest of such medicines as I can best spare, and which can be got ready to-morrow before his departure. Upon looking into Dr˙ Potts' s commission, I find he is appointed Physician and Surgeon in the Department of Canada; but whether it be of a regiment or in the Hospital, is not specified; nor does it show whether it is the intention of Congress to vest him with the power of a Director in the General Hospital; nor can I learn what appointment Dr˙ Stringer has, or what is the nature of his commission.

From all I am able to learn, everything in the Medical Department in Canada displays one scene of confusion and anarchy; nor have the Congress taken upon itself to establish, or vested any person whatever with a power sufficient to establish, a General Hospital in Canada.

The Congress cannot, in my humble opinion, be too speedy in determining what steps are to be taken for this purpose, and for settling a due subordination amongst the Surgeons there. It would be of particular use that the intentions of Congress were made known in respect to Dr˙ Stringer and Dr˙ Potts, whether either of them is to be considered as Director, by appointment of Congress, and which of them; or whether they are both to be looked upon as Surgeons depending on, and acting by instructions from me. I have never seen Dr˙ Stringer' s commission. In either case they will require more help than they have at present; and in the latter, I suppose I ought to have the appointment of three or four more Hospital Surgeons, an Apothecary, and a sufficiency of mates in that department, without diminishing the number I have allowed me for the Army at New-York, as I have none here that are superfluous. Other officers, as a Storekeeper, Steward, and Matron, are also wanted in Canada, with nurses and occasional labourers. Whatever is determined on in respect to these matters, I should be glad to know immediately; till then, my hands are tied up, and the Army suffering for want of help.

I am not sure that our disgrace and misfortunes in Canada are not owing, in a great measure, to the shameful proceedings of the Surgeons in spreading the small-pox, by inoculation, amongst the soldiery, in the face of the enemy. Instead of inoculating the soldiery under like circumstances before Boston, General Washington, upon my representation, continued to keep in pay a Surgeon and Mate to attend all that fell ill of the small-pox. A Hospital was fixed for their reception only, in a retired place, and a guard set round it, and all communication between it and the Army was cut off; and so soon as any one was seized with the infection, of whatever rank, he was sent to the small-pox Hospital. By this means every inconvenience arising from the appearance of the small-pox was prevented, and the Army effectually secured from danger from that quarter.

Had there been a General Hospital in Canada there would have been better order, and some subordination observed, which is now wholly wanting; and it is to be feared that whilst the Congress, occupied in a multiplicity of weighty concerns, can proceed but slowly on this matter, the opportunity may be lost. Rather than postpone, however, so important a concern, would it not be right to place full confidence and power in a proper person capable to arrange these matters as they ought to be, with ample authority for the purpose, rather than suffer a loss of men, to the discouragement of the whole Army, for want of a due provision being made for the sick and wounded?


If the Congress will fix on the means and manner of establishing a General Hospital at Canada, it will ease me of much trouble; but if they are not at leisure, or not sufficiently acquainted with what is the proper manner, and will order me to do it for them, giving me such power as they think adequate, I will do the best I can to effect this desirable end immediately. Excuse, sir, my dwelling so earnestly on this subject; it is of the utmost consequence to the service, and delays are dangerous. I cannot expect to receive instructions on this matter from General Washington; he supposes that I understand the affairs of this department, and relies wholly on me for everything which relates to it. But I neither durst nor will I presume to meddle in affairs out of my province, or that are beyond the sphere in which I suppose I was designed originally by Congress to move. Such, I imagine, is the arrangement of Hospital affairs in Canada, and the undertaking to supply the Surgeons there with what is necessary for a General Hospital, without fresh instructions or more ample power than I now have, either from the Congress or Commander-in-Chief, as my commission directs me to look to them for orders.

I wait impatiently for an order from Congress to empower me to demand such a proportion of the Continental medicines left in the care of Messrs˙ De Lancey & Smith, as they may think fit to allot for this department. In determining that proportion, they will please to consider (if we can trust to Dr˙ Lind' s account) that there is not an article of medicine in Canada in the hands of any surgeon on that expedition.

June 26, 1776. — Since writing the above, Dr˙ Potts having received a supply of medicines from the General Hospital store, Dr˙ Lind as set off with General Gates and him for Canada.

I remain, with great esteem, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,


To the Honourable Samuel Adams, Esq˙, Member of the Medical Committee of Congress.