The Chronology of a True American Doctor


The name “American Doctor” applies to Dr. Bartow White due to services he performed throughout his life as a physician and congressman.  Bartow White’s life in very unique because he represented the people of this region, in a way unmatched by those we hear a lot about such as Samuel Bard or David Hosack.  Dr. White is different because he lived in the rural setting and represented the rural people.  He was not an English bred erudite residing in New York City, or a patriot but with an ongoing lack of respect for the poor and unprivileged.   Bartow White could have gone this way in his life but he didn’t.   Instead he moved to Fishkill, New York and began to practice medicine in a farming community at the end of the post-Revolutionary war depression, and just before the next series of military interactions began to develop.

Dr. White’s reason for moving to Fishkill may have something to do with the history of this town with regard to the war and its outcomes.  It may be a decision he made because he had learned, perhaps from his father, that the one old-time physician of this village setting was about to retire.  He may have already realized that living in Fishkill provided him with a much better chance of avoiding the numerous yellow fever epidemics prevailing in New York City for several years, and during the next decade to come.

Whatever the reason, Dr. Bartow White’s choice to reside in Fishkill put him in touch with a number of medical and social issues that he probably never planned to become involved with.    Dr. White’s reputation and career are linked to the Corn Act of Great Britain, which was implemented under King John in the late 1600s, and the Woolen Act of the early 1800s.  He is also linked to an act involving a completely different natural resources, the Woollen Act, the passage of which by England had a similar effect upon the economy of American people and the quality of life for poor.  Dr. Bartow White was one of the primary reasons John Jacob Astor could further develop his entrepreneurial activities, such as the establishment of a fur trade company meant to take advantage of the new resources made available to us by the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition; Dr. White’s work and family provided Astor with advice and perhaps another financial resource he could turn to when necessary.

Bartow White also worked as a physician totally devoted to the theory of disease based on the sciences of topography and natural history.   This medical topography field was by now the newest belief in disease behavior and disease prevention.  Other theories out there at this time were the germ theory of disease, still generations away from any complete understanding of the germs and animalcules associated with disease to the fullest extent, and the theories for disease related to other forms of Lamarckian philosophy.

By becoming as involved as he did regarding the obstacles to rural life in the Hudson Valley that existed during the first years of this century, he pretty much came to represent a physician and later members of congress in touch with his community and its community needs, not his personal needs or the needs of the rich.

Born at the dawn of the Revolutionary War, deceased around the dawn of the Civil War, Bartow White grew up to witness many of the most important changes in American history to take place at the level of the social class and the equality the citizens of this country faced and did not face, depending on their origins.  Once the Revolutionary War was over and the depression of the economy that ensued due to the war subsided, there was a period of recovery that not every citizen of this new country was able to lift a hat to or feel so jubilant about.  Poverty had taken its toll on those citizens who in some ways were the bread and butter of this country literally.  The rural poor were victims of poverty and victims of exploitation of their goods.  The wealthy families residing most of the time within the urban setting also had ownership of a lot of the services that the poor helped to provide to the richest of debutante, often without the sense of thankfulness they had hoped to receive.  This social attitude about wealth and personal status had circulated around the world from England, the most common place of origin for many of these attitudes of social inequality, to New York and the Mid-Atlantic States where much of this country’s wealth, business and economical ingenuity were housed and waiting for another opportunity to grab hold of another set of reigns for guiding the poor.

One of the reasons the wealthy were not in tune with the rural poor was their lack of daily experiences within these living settings.  The mansions that were erected and the tendency for the upper class to only interact with others of their social class and cultural background made it difficult for any old-time families raised in poverty and the new families that came to this country as part of the first waves of immigration to become one of similar philosophy and sense of inclusion with the newly abounded nation.  Until the War of 1812, there were few events that managed to place stresses upon the wealthy in the United States.  Once that relatively small skirmish was over, it was time for the wealthy to once again replenish their lost goods and belongings, and to make still more investments in the local economy and trade relationships that they themselves had come to depend so strongly upon.

Just what were these investments that made the rich so much richer during these times?

The most important growths to take place at this point in American history were industrially based and land based.  As this country expanded its boundaries to make claims to areas that once were considered parts of New Spain and New France, quickly became the property of the United States and its governing body.  Thus the resources of these new lands also became the property of the United States government and people, such as the waterways that could be travelled, woods that could be harvested and lands that could be mined and settled.  There was no stone untouched so to say with whatever new opportunities the expansion of a former struggling set of colonies afforded the most active members of this new society.  So while Great Britain was beginning to suffer quite severely the consequences of forever increasing population density, with the attached needs for food and clothing, the United States was struggling with the same only because it had yet to fully take advantage of its precious good still out there to be discovered and then used to develop more businesses, more young communities out there in the outskirts or hinterlands, and ultimately more money.  From the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 on, the rich continued to get richer and the poor tended to multiply in size and number, but not necessarily in productivity.

Once again, the Hudson Valley newspapers, in particular the Poughkeepsie Journal, provides us with some of the best evidence for this.  Following the outbreak of a serious yellow fever epidemic in New York City, the local decided it was time to commit to a project designed to aid those who were suffering in the city of New York, and ship to the city large stores of produce needed by those taken to ill to work, and with increasing need for food and clothing.  One note of how and when this event took place appeared in the Journal in 1815.  It made mention of plans to ship as much milk, eggs and other produce to the city to meet its needs during this period of  dire need.   This may have appeared all and well for the time that it happened, but once the yellow fever epidemics were over and the poor were back to living the life of the poor in this rural setting, the reality of poverty once again took hold as local families lost their children to the environment, poor nutrition, and disease, and other members at times due to the recurring patterns of  poor living that pretty much infiltrated all of the life in this part of the valley.  Except for the privileged still living in their large homes overlooking the city,  there were few people or families able to find their way out of their current living state, by making better use of the business they spent their life engaged in the domestic industries like farming, livestock raising, and the growth and manufacturing of foods, fabrics, and numerous other staples that even the poorest of households depended upon.

This is where Bartow White’s life came to play an important role in the establishment of Dutchess County as a successful part of the Hudson Valley between 1799, about the time he first moved to the valley to reside in the town of Fishkill, and 1863, the year of his departure.  Between these two years, White managed to establish several local industries important to the local economy, produce a number of programs in order to provide special services to the poor, invest his money in industries that help further the American economy and ability to be self-sustaining in spite of the war history it has had to endure,  and the ability to make the best use of its resources and potential resources, namely the local farmer, foreign immigrants with the need for recovery from a life of poverty in Great Britain or Prussia, and the need to explore and find new avenues to ethically, morally, legally, and governmentally, make important advances at every level possible during his years as a member of Congress.

For a physician, these activities are quite impressive.  But there were other members of congress at the time who were physicians.  Bartow White was not unusual due to his degree status.  What made Bartow White so unique was that he remained a resident of his home town rural setting throughout the years of his life.  He was not the type of politician who represented a certain class of people but engaged himself only with the upper echelons.  He was more an example of an individual with a mindset directed mostly towards the needs of the lower class citizens whom he was voted in to represent as a member of the Whig party.   It is unfortunate in some ways that his endeavors led him fall victim to his own overwork habits and high degree of  involvement with so many activities.  White was ultimately forced to leave his governmental position when he was struck by a Jacksonian form of epilepsy.  This left him to spend the rest of his life in Fishkill as a physician, still engaged as a believer in medical climatology and a observor of the local weather.  But most importantly, he lived in a region where he could continue to benefit from the progress he had made years before as a landowner, sheep herder and promoted the local programs devoted to charity for the poor.

Time Line

1776, November 11.  Birthdate.  Father: Ebenezer White, Yorktown, Westchester County.

Attended common schools and completed his preparatory studies programs.

Began his study of medicine under his father.

Removed to New York to learn under Dr. Valentine Seaman until 1799.

Attended lectureship programs provided by the New York Medical College during this time.

1799/1800.  Moved to Fishkill, NY; commenced practice.

1804.  March 14.  Listed as “Bartow White, surgeon, vice Abraham Halsey, Resigned, whose resignation is accepted.”  [Council of Appointment of the State of New York.  Military Minutes of the Advice of the Council of the State of New York, vol. 1, p. 723.

1804.  Married Ann Schenck.

1805.  Constructed a house which he called “Avenue Home”.  Federal Writers Project, 1975 (p. 81) described it as “A frame building, 2 stories high, with a service wing at the east end.”  According to the house belonged to Jonathan Terbush [Henry D. B. Bailey and John W. Straight.  Local Tales and Historical Sketches. p. 358.]

Article published about him by a student in Fishkill Isaac Van Vorkies

Other students of his included John Cooper, Stephen Rapalye, Cornelius Depew.

1815.  Had an influence on the schools.  The Von Reisenkampff-Ulrich Family History, Europe and the United States, described the influences he had upon a family member Katherine Louise, who then 15 years of age, went to the Fishkill School “where they found good, faithful teachers, and a circle of young friends, especially in the large family of Dr. Bartow White.”   Dr. Bartow White and family also had an important influence upon this family due to the association of the Ulrichs with the local woolen industry then developing.  This would later impact two of Dr. Whites decisions regarding his involvement with the Astor family and the establishment of a woolen factory nearby in Glenham, and the sponsorship of a German family to attend to his stock of sheep.

1824.  Elected to serve in the 19th Congress, serving from March 4, 1825 to March 3, 1827.

Assisted in providing the funding for a sheep wool factory to be built in Gresham.

1826/7.  Nationalist involved with the Passage of the Woolen Bill, a bill to secure and stabilize the economy behind the local woolen mills opening in low income rural settings.

1827.  Resumed practice of medicine in Fishkill.  Honored for his work with establishing and having passed the Woollen’s Bill [Nile’s Register, July 7, 1827, p. 315.].

1835.  Established a “corporation” known as “Fishkill Education Society” along with Van Wycks, Brinckerhoofs, and others.

1840.  President Elector.  Whig Party.

1844A Review of the Elementary Spelling Book, compiled by Aaron Ely, and published under the name of Noah Webster, LLD, extracted principally from Cobb’s Critical Review.  Bartow White is on list of “Presidents” sponsoring this educational system, for a Committee in the town of Fishkill.

1845.  Received an Honorary Degree for Doctorate of Medicine from the Regents of the University of New York [Ref: The University of the State of New York.  The University Manual.  p. 158. “Honorary Degrees” section.]

Wife involved with New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.  Founded 1843, incorporated 1848.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_for_Improving_the_Condition_of_the_Poor.

1846/7.  Suffered from “Epilepsy, forcing him to resign from many of his duties.”  Another brief biography misidentified this as Erysipelas.  So, alternatively, if suffered from Erysipelas in 1846/7, as reported (misreported) by a writer,  in 1848-50, he could have then developed a seizure problem, known as Jacksonian Epilepsy.    Th recipe in Dr. Osborn’s vade mecum has a recipe for Jacksonian epilepsy, in different handwriting.  Dr. White trained Dr. Osborn’s son Thomas and nephew Cornelius Remsen, in medicine.  Dr. White served as a delegate representing the Dutchess County Medical Society during this year.

1851.  Elected permanent member of Medical Society of the State of New York

1862, December 12.  Died in Fishkill.  Referred to in his obituary published by the Medical Society as “a twin child of Liberty”

A Case of Tetanus was written about by White and preserved by the society.


Dr. White’s former office and clinical setting, ca. 1805 on, after working under Dr. Hunting Sherrill, who turned it over to White on retirement.  Today, it is a funeral home.