Although there are varying accounts, James Derham is recognized as American’s first Black physician. His exact birthday isn’t known but some historians list May 2, 1762 as the date.
Derham was born into slavery in Philadelphia, Penn., and was owned by several doctors across the region. One doctor taught Derham to read, write, and how to speak multiple languages when he was a teenager. At 21, he was sold to a New Orleans doctor who mentored him and allowed him to work with patients of races, a first, according to historical documents.
In the early 1780s, Derham purchased his freedom and was urged the doctor in New Orleans to continue practicing and honing his skills in treating throat ailments. His prowess in medicine, including his treatment of yellow fever, caught the attention of another doctor, Benjamin Rush, known as the father of modern medicine, who urged Derham to return to Philadelphia and open his practice there.
In 1801, a regulation in the city barred anyone without a medical degree to practice.
In 1802, Derham mysteriously disappeared and his whereabouts were never discovered. Some speculate that he took up residence and practiced elsewhere, while others believe he may have been lynched due to his skin color
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