In recognition of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, I’m honoring Dr. James Tilton (June 1, 1745—May 14, 1822) an American physician and soldier from Dover, Delaware. He attended the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) earning his medical degree in 1771. He was an infantry Lieutenant in the Kent County militia. When the Revolutionary War began, his militia became part of the 1st Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army in which he was quickly appointed the regimental surgeon. He saw action at the battles of Brooklyn, White Plains, Trenton, and Princeton. His unit was virtually destroyed in the Battle of Princeton in January 1777.
Tilton remained in service with the Continental Army as the head of military hospitals. He was a delegate for Delaware in the Continental Congress of 1783 and 1784, and served as Surgeon General of the United States Army during the War of 1812. He is credited with saving thousands of lives because of his interest in the fledgling field of “medical geography.” Tilton helped the Army avoid pitching military encampments in places that were known to be prone to disease (like swamps). It seems obvious to us now, but it was novel at the time. Tilton, whose name is not a familiar one, served his young country with great courage as a soldier and a physician. He was a man who was able to connect the dots and understand the bigger implications of the bits of evidence in front of him. I suspect, if we knew more about his work as a regimental surgeon and the head of a military hospital, that he also practiced a lot of wound care.