Researching the American Revolution

Your source for information on the American War of Independence

Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush painted by Charles Willson Peale, 1783 In the Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, gift of Mrs. Julia B. Henry

Born to a Quaker family in Philadelphia, Rush became one of our nation’s founders by signing the Declaration of Independence.  An ardent patriot, Rush volunteered as a physician in the Continental Army.  Unfortunately in this capacity he engaged in political fights with his superior medical officer.  Most damning, he heavily criticized the military capabilities of George Washington and became entangled in efforts to oust him from leadership of the Continental Army.  Forced to resign or be fired by the Continental Congress, Rush returned to private medical practice in Philadelphia.
After the war, his contributions to the field of medicine were highly beneficial.  Courageously, Rush remained in Philadelphia to treatshundreds of patients during the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic.  As a medical director, he sought new treatments for the mentally ill and implemented many innovations to improve patient care in hospitals.  Truly a pioneer physician, his legacy is eponymously honored at a Chicago hospital and university.

Primary Sources

Rush, Benjamin, George Washington Corner, and Benjamin Rush. The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush: His Travels through Life Together with His Commonplace Book for 1789-1813. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1970.

Secondary Sources

Brodsky, Alyn. Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician. 1st ed. New York: Truman Talley Books, 2004.

A good account of Rush’s life.  Later biographies have the benefit from access to additional Rush correspondence and documents.

Fried, Stephen. Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. First paperback edition. New York: B\D\W\Y Broadway Books, 2018.

Do not recommend the Fried book on Rush as it contains extraneous information, numerous errors and misinterpretations of facts.  Fried’s work reads like a novel and unfortunately, in some places it is fiction.

Hawke, David Freeman. Benjamin Rush – Revolutionary Gadfly. Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1971.

The moniker in the title of this biography “gadfly, is the best characterization of Rush’s views and actions as a military officer during the Revolution.  However, Rush contributed significantly to the study of medicine which is not covered as comprehensively in Hawke’s volume as by later biographers.

Unger, Harlow G. Dr. Benjamin Rush: The Founding Father Who Healed a Wounded Nation. First Da Xapo press edition. New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 2018.

Recommend Unger’s biography as the most authoritative source for information on Rush.  Highly readable with excellent scholarship and eminently readable.

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