Saturday, January 15, 2022

James Durham- First African American Physician

Born a slave in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1762, James Durham was a young black boy who was taught to read and write and brought up in the ways of Christianity. This gift of knowledge wasn't bestowed on many slaves in that day. 

This picture could also be James Mccune Smith as Wiki 
and many other sites use the same photo for both people.

At a young age, James was sold to a new owner, Dr. John Kearsley Junior. Dr. Kearsley found the intelligent young slave helpful in the area of medicine, and on occasion used him to compound medicines as well as see to some of the less desirable tasks when seeing to patients. When Dr. Kearsley passed away, the young James Durham became the property of several more slave owners before falling into the hands of the sixteenth British regiment surgeon, Dr. George West in 1776 at the age of fifteen years old. 

Dr. West took the young James in and helped him expand his medical knowledge. He allowed the young slave to help in some of the minor tasks of medicine while America fought for her freedom against England. The war for America's freedom drew to a close and Dr. West sold James to Dr. Robert Dove/Dow (both spellings are used, however the Dove spelling is used in a 1788 letter), of New Orleans. The new owner was a highly respected Scottish-born physician who now lived in New Orleans. Robert, though he was the slave owner, became good friends with James. It is not clear if James was given his freedom or if he purchased it from the earnings he had saved. But with the growing friendship Robert eventually freed James after two or three years. James Derham grew in his knowledge of medicine and upon his release, he had become so knowledgeable in the art of medicine that he began to practice in New Orleans. By this time, James was twenty-six and a husband, making three thousand dollars a year. 

Durham had good knowledge of the diseases in his area. He was a respected physician and became well known for his treatment of diphtheria patients. He spoke fluent French as well as some Spanish. Durham began practicing medicine independently in New Orleans, specializing in throat medicine. 

Durham's success and notoriety caught the attention of Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was the most prominent physician in the United States at that time. Rush was so impressed with Durham that he tried to convince him to return to Philadelphia and continue his practice there. But Durham chose to stay where he was and continued to see his patients who were of all races. 

Eventually he went back to Philadelphia where he continued seeing patients. Though James had proved himself as a physician, Pennsylvania made new regulations in 1801 that kept anyone from practicing medicine without a formal medical degree. James practiced for one short year after the new regulation, then he disappeared, never to be seen again.

Deirdre Mackenzie has spent her life hiding from her father and hating the English. However, when she is caught stealing from an English laird, his unexpected kindness begins to melt away her hatred and strums lonely heartstrings longing for love. Bryce Warwick discovers the “boy” caught with his livestock is actually a young woman. After several attempts to lure the truth from her, he determines she is as deceitful as his late fiancĂ©e who nearly cost him his life. But the woman is the least of his worries with the turbulence brought on by threats of another border war and by King Richard's distrust of the nobles. 

With old wounds in need of healing and adversaries who would ruin their chances at true love, both must learn to trust in a way they never knew possible.

The stakes are high, secrets prevail, and treason is just a kiss away.

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's 
#1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She writes in the medieval/renaissance period as well as 19th century. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 4 horses, 3 dogs, a miniature donkey, and 7 1/2 pekin ducks.


  1. Thanks for posting today! I was so intrigued by your last sentence that I googled this man. How can someone just disappear? Didn't his wife report him missing? I know that they didn't have DNA testing and things like that back then. Sounds like a novel in the making or a cold case to be solved, Debbie Lynne!

  2. Why is it when I look up James McCune Smith the same photo is used that comes up for James Durham? James McCune Smith was born in 1813.