James Craik bigraphy, stories - American surgeon general

James Craik : biography

1730 - 6 February 1814

James Craik (1730 – 6 February 1814) was Physician General (precursor of the Surgeon General) of the United States Army, as well as George Washington's personal physician and close friend.

Inter War years

After the war's end, Craik opened another medical practice at Port Tobacco, Maryland, and on 13 November 1760, he married Marianne Ewell, daughter of Captain Charles Ewell of Bel Air, Prince William County, Virginia, a Virginia woman who would later become the great-aunt of Richard S. Ewell. They had six sons and three daughters. In 1760, he moved to Charles County, Maryland, where in 1765, he built La Grange near La Plata, Maryland. In both 1770 and 1784 he went on surveying expeditions with Washington, examining military claims in Pennsylvania and what is now West Virginia.


James Craik was born on the estate of Arbigland in the parish of Kirkbean, County of Kirkcudbright, near Dumfries in Scotland. His father, Robert Craik, a member of the British Parliament, had a gardener, John Paul, whose son, born on the estate emigrated to Virginia and under the name of John Paul Jones became America's most famous naval hero. James Craik is said to have been an illegitimate son, but was acknowledged, protected, and educated by his father. He took his academic and medical training at the University of Edinburgh, joining the medical service of the British army immediately after graduation. In 1751 he went to the West Indies as an army surgeon but resigned soon thereafter, settling in Norfolk, Va., where be began medical practice. Later he removed to Winchester, a frontier village and the base for military operations to the West. On March 7, 1754, he was commissioned surgeon of the Virginia Provincial Regiment, commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry. With this force, later commanded by George Washington, he participated in the capture of the French force at Great Meadows and in the surrender of Fort Necessity to the French. In this campaign began the lifelong friendship of Craik and Washington. In 1755 Craik was with Braddock's army in the ill-fated advance against Fort Duquesne, was in the thick of the battle in which the English were routed by the French under Beaujeu and their Indian allies under De Langlade. He dressed the wounds of Braddock on the field and attended upon him until his death on the following day near Great Meadows. He accompanied the retreating army to Fort Cumberland and later accompanied Washington to Winchester, Va. Here from 1755 to 1758 Washington was in command of the Virginia provincial forces charged with the protection of the Virginia and Maryland frontier from the depredations of hostile Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos from the valleys of the Allegheny, Muskingum, and the Scioto branches of the upper Ohio. Craik was the chief medical officer and shared in all the hardships and privations of these hardy troops until the fall of Fort Duquesne on November 25, 1756. Following this event and the consequent cessation of Indian raids, Craik retired from the army and bought a plantation at Port Tobacco, Maryland, where he established himself for medical practice and built himself an imposing home. Here he brought his bride, Marianne Ewell, of Prince William's County, Virginia, whom he married on November 13, 1760. She was the great-aunt of General Richard S. Ewell of the Confederate army. In 1770 he accompanied Washington on a trip into the Ohio valley for the purpose of examining lands subject to military claims. They journeyed by horseback to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio by canoe to the mouth of the Big Kanawha, and back by the same route. In 1784 after the close of the Revolution they made a similar journey, this time striking by horseback directly across the Appalachian mountains to the Ohio, thence up that river and the Monongahela, thence southward through the mountains, emerging into the Shenandoah valley near Staunton.

In the midst of his practice at Port Tobacco, Craik took an active interest in the stirring events leading up to the Revolutionary War. As early as 1774 be took an active part in a meeting of Charles County citizens at Port Tobacco in which resolutions were adopted protesting against the blockade of the port of Boston and pledging aid in commercial reprisals against the British. His first service with the Continental Army began in 1777 when Washington tendered to him a choice between the positions of physician and surgeon to the hospital or assistant director general in the Middle Department. He chose the latter which gave him the opportunity of serving close to his oldtime friend during the war. It was he who in 1778 warned Washington of the so-called “Conway Cabal” to make General Gates Commander-in-Chief. He attended the wounds of General Mercer on the battlefield of Princeton and of Lafayette at the Brandywine. When the French under Rochambeau landed at Newport, R. I., Craik established the hospital service for their sick and wounded. In 1780 a reorganization of the medical department made Craik the senior of four holding the title of chief hospital physician and surgeon. With the resignation of Director General Shippen in 1781, Craik was Washington's choice for the succession but the place went to John Cochran, Chief Physician and Surgeon of the Army, and Craik was advanced to second place with the latter title. In this capacity he served until the close of the war, participating in the final campaign against Yorktown.

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