According to tradition,
Peter Middleton was born in Scotland, studied medicine and graduated at
the University of Edinburgh, became a physician, and emigrated to New
York City soon after he took his degree. He died on the 9th January,
1781, at his residence in the City of New York.
On his arrival in this
country he rapidly attained celebrity in the then Province of New York
and became one of the most eminent physicians of the eighteenth century.
As early as 1750 he appears as having assisted Dr. John Bard in making
the first dissection on record in this country, and in 1767 he succeeded
in establishing a medical school in New York, in which he acted as
Professor of Pathology and Physiology from 1767-1776, and of Chemistry
and Materia Medica from 1770-1776. This school was later incorporated
with King’s (now Columbia) College, and Dr. Middleton became a governor
of the latter institution from 1770-1780, and the medical school
bestowed upon him the degree of M.D. in 1768. He published a letter on
the “Croup” in the Medical Repository, Volume IX, and an essay,
“Historical Inquiries into the Ancient and Present System of Medicine,”
which he read at the opening of the Medical School in 1769.
In 1774 he was chosen
physician to the New York Hospital, and gave this institution his
faithful attendance and service for seven years, resigning in 1781.
Owing to his decided
opinion on the right of the Crown to rule her colonies and his strong
support of the Royal Government, he became the favorite practitioner
among the notable Royalists and Tory families of the city. He was,
moreover, the physician to the royal Governor, William Tryon, and at the
commencement of the Revolutionary War was permitted by the Provincial
Congress in New York to visit His Excellency on hoard the ship Duchess
of Gordon on the 13th February, 1776, and on the 21st February, he was
allowed to continue his professional visits “until further order of this
Doubtless these visits
were utilized to plot against Congress, for on the 26th April, 1776, Dr.
Middleton, “in company with Lord Drummond, John McAdam and Henry
Nicholls” was forced to sail suddenly for Bermuda, leaving his house,
library, instruments and bills receivable in the hands of Mr. Varick and
his fellow-student, Charles Mitchell. It was undoubtedly on account of
his Tory attitude that Dr. Middleton was compelled to seek safety in
flight and remain in temporary exile, while his family removed to
Flushing, Long Island. It appears that Mr. Varick and Mr. Mitchell were
studying medicine under Dr. Middleton, and a letter written by John
Varick, Jr., to Capt. Richard Varick, Secretary to General Schuyler at
Albany, dated New York, June 25th, 1776, refers to him as follows:
“Last Friday I had the
pleasure of receiving a letter from the Doct. dated Bermuda, May 13th.
He makes mention that he intended to return in a few weeks, but I am
inclined to think that He’ll avoid coming to this City if he hears how
the Tories have been treated here, till matters are in Some measure come
to a Determination. From what he writes and from the Things he has left
behind Him I have great reason to conclude that he really intended to
return at the Time limited, notwithstanding the Intimations of those who
pretended to know to the contrary, for I was satisfy’d that it was incon^
sistent with that Frankness which the Doctor is distinguish’d by, that
he should be guilty of such Deceit toward Us. When to expect Him I am at
a Loss, but I am determined to send his Medical Books and Surgical
Instruments to Hackensack, that if I should, in short get clear of the
Army, and the Doct’r not return, I may have them at my Command and the
Perusal of them.”
After the occupation of
New York by the British, Dr. Middleton returned before 1780 and once
more practiced his profession until his death. The Royal Gazette (James
Rivington) issue of Wednesday, the 10th January, 1781, contains the
“Yesterday at five
o’clock in the morning died Dr. Peter Middleton, a native of
North-Britain, and a Physician of eminence in this city; he was a
valuable member of society, and a gentleman of a very extensive
acquaintance, by whom, as well as the numerous poor of this country (to
whom he was very kind) his death is most sincerely lamented.”
Dr. Middleton was one of
the founders and original members of Saint Andrew’s Society in 1756;
served as an Assistant from 17571762, 1763-1764, and 1773-1775; as
Vice-President from 1764-1766; and as President from 1767-1770.
A few further facts can
be learned from his will, dated the 1st November, 1780, and proved and
recorded in the New York County Surrogate's Office on the 15th January,
1781, in which he mentions his daughter, Susannah Margaret Middleton,
and leaves her a gold watch and seals, three silver waiters, a pearl
brooch, and all his rings except two, all his paintings and an iron
chest to preserve papers in, and such books of history and entertainment
as his executors may think best to select for her amusement and
instruction. He gives to his pupil, John B. Middleton, all his wearing
apparel, except a large camblet cloak, all his arms, medicines,
furniture, instruments, medical books and manuscripts, and his lands
lying in the Unadilla Branch of the Susquehanna River in what is
commonly called Col. Craghen's Purchase, amounting to five thousand
acres, together with one-fifth of his personal property and twenty-five
guineas. He gives to his daughter-in-law, Ann Burgess, £300, and also
twenty-five guineas to purchase mourning; and to Marguerite Burgess (now
Mrs. Sniythies) twenty-five guineas for mourning; to his sister-in-law,
Mrs. Jane Harrison, a gold brooch set with red and white stones; to the
Hon. Andrew Elliott, Esq., his large camblet cloak and Scots Peeble
Ring; to Goldsbrow Banyor, Esq., his red cornelian seal ring; to Robert
Auchmuty, Esq., “my gold mason's jewel and my apron.” He bequeaths to
his daughter, Susannah M. Middleton, the rest of his real estate and the
remaining four-fifths of his personal property, his old wench, Heig, and
his negro-lad, Fortune, provided his daughter release to John H.
Middleton all her right to the negro lad James. He names as executors
his friends, the Hon. Andrew Elliott, Esq., Robert Auchmuty and
Goldsbrow Banyor, the witnesses to the will being Lambt, Moore, George
Webster and John King, Jr.
A codicil to this will,
dated the 14th December, 1780, directs that his daughter Susannah is to
be in charge of Ann Burgess, and as he had two gold watches recently
left him, he gives one gold watch to Ann Burgess and the other to his
daughter. He also gives Mr. Willian Smythies ten guineas, and to his son
Carlton, five guineas more. He gives his old friend. Dr. John Bard, his
“Scots Horn Snishing Mull" and gives mourning rings to his friends. Dr.
Mallet, Dr. S. Bard. Dr. Michlais and Dr. Bavley. He gives to his good
friend, Anthony Wan Dam, a gold-headed cane, and to his good friend,
William Seton, his Grand Master Mason jewels and small mason’s apron and
his Highland Dirk, naming Anthony Van Dam and William Seton as executors
in this codicil.
Dr. Middleton married in
November, 1766, Susannah Burges, widow of John Burges and daughter of
Richard Nicholls, Esq., of the City of New York. He was thus a
brother-in-law of Alexander Colden, the Sixth President of the Society.
He had known issue: (1) Susannah Margaret; (2) a son, name unknown, who
died in infancy.
No portrait of Dr.
Middleton has ever been found.