A little internet sleuthing has uncovered the role one of Columbia’s earliest medical students had in an important landmark in the history of American paleontology – the discovery of the most complete mastodon skeleton found up to that time.
James G. Graham (1749-1815) of Walkill, Ulster County, New York, attended the King’s College Faculty of Medicine (now Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons) in 1773-74. Our Graham Family Papers, purchased circa 1940, include the notes Graham took of the lectures given by professor of medicine Samuel Bard which are among the very few to survive from the two pre-revolutionary medical schools in the Thirteen Colonies. They show Bard covering a wide variety of diseases – smallpox, inflammation, measles, and “jayl fever,” to name just a few. The notes are an important record of how medicine was taught at King’s in the 1770s.
Graham never received a medical degree from King’s but nevertheless practiced medicine in his native Ulster County. No doubt he, like the majority of American physicians of the era, received most of his education through an apprenticeship with a practitioner. Graham seems to have been a notable figure in his community, serving as a militia colonel in the American Revolution and later being elected to both the New York State Assembly and Senate in the 1790s.
His small but crucial role in the history of paleontology occurred in 1800 when Graham wrote a letter to Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchell, a Columbia University medical school professor who was the editor of the Medical Repository, the first American medical journal. In a time when there were practically no American scientific publications, the Medical Repository published articles in a wide range of disciplines. Read More→