Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dr. Ben Rush: Fearless

              As I researched further into Dr. Benjamin Rush as a follow-on to last week’s article, it troubled me that his contributions to the United States and to the world have gone largely unnoticed, or at the very least, dismissed.

I received a number of encouraging responses to the article, “What a Rush!” including a descendent by the name of Rush who has been on my Roots in Ripon distribution list for some time.

What follows is a series of facts about this ingenious man, Benjamin Rush.

He was personally involved in helping the Rev. Richard Allen found the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). “He (Allen) was a minister, educator, and writer, and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. He opened his first AME church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church in 1816.” Allen was born into slavery but bought his freedom from his master who was convinced of slavery’s evil after hearing a traveling preacher, Reverend Freeborn Garrettson. Garrettson had freed his own slaves in 1775, and became a firebrand preacher, strongly encouraging other slave owners during the late 1700s and early 1800s of the sinfulness of holding slaves.

After Benjamin Rush signed the Declaration of Independence, he served in the Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War he performed his duties as the Surgeon General in the Continental Army.Rush accompanied the Philadelphia militia during the battles after which the British occupied Philadelphia and most of New Jersey and the Continental Congress fled to York, Pennsylvania. The Army Medical Service was in disarray, between the military casualties, extremely high losses due to typhoid, yellow fever and other camp illnesses, political conflicts between Dr. John Morgan and Dr. William Shippen, Jr., and inadequate supplies and guidance from the Medical Committee. Nonetheless, Rush accepted an appointment as surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army. Dr. Rush's order ‘Directions for preserving the health of soldiers’ became one of the foundations of preventative military medicine and was repeatedly republished, including as late as 1908. However, Rush's reporting of Dr. Shippen's misappropriation of food and wine supplies intended to comfort hospitalized soldiers, under-reporting of patient deaths, and failure to visit the hospitals under his command, ultimately led to Rush's resignation in 1778.”

Dr. Rush was not without further controversy. For instance, he found himself at cross-purposes with General George Washington over the handling of the war effort. In two separate letters, one to Patrick Henry and another to John Adams, Rush openly criticized Washington and his Continental Army, saying, there are “complaints inside Washington's army, including about ‘bad bread, no order, universal disgust.’” This did not endear him to the “Father of Our Country.”

Years later, Rush wrote another letter to John Adams requesting that the letters of criticism and gossip about Washington he had previously written be expunged from future history records. Recognizing George Washington’s great contribution to this fledgling nation, he wrote, “Washington has so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him to be a general and a soldier from among 10,000 people. There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a valet de chambre (a manservant) by his side.”

One area for which Dr. Rush has borne some criticism is in the field of medicine. He was far ahead of his contemporaries in medical practice, helping to eradicate devastating illnesses such as yellow fever, typhoid, and the like. However, he held stubbornly to the antiquated practice of “bloodletting,” also called “bleeding.” This practice had been discarded by most doctors, with the belief that it was ultimately harmful, not helpful, to patients. He was even accused of bringing about the early death of his friend, Benjamin Franklin, through bleeding, although Franklin was quite elderly for that time, reaching the age of 84. Certain other medical approaches were commonplace which he engaged in, but we know today to have been barbaric.

Let me conclude this brief foray into the life of Dr. Benjamin Rush by sharing some of his thoughts on matters of faith and religion. He described himself like this: “I have alternately been called an Aristocrat and a Democrat. I am neither. I am a Christocrat.”

Typhus Fever was slowly taking his life. During his final illness he wrote, “My excellent wife, I must leave you, but God will take care of you. By the mystery of Thy holy incarnation; by Thy holy nativity; by Thy baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Thine agony and bloody sweat; by Thy cross and passion; by Thy precious death and burial; by Thy glorious resurrection and ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, blessed Jesus, wash away all my iniquities, and receive me into Thy everlasting kingdom.”

A good prayer for us all!

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