George Gilmer

George Gilmer (1743-1795)[1], Thomas Jefferson's friend and physician, was the son of Scottish physician George Gilmer and Mary Peachy Walker, the sister of Dr. Thomas Walker. Born the same year as Jefferson, in Williamsburg, he was a student at the College of William and Mary and studied medicine with his uncle Dr. Walker and at the University of Edinburgh.

In December, 1766, Gilmer announced that he planned to pursue "the practice of medicine and the art of midwifery" in Williamsburg. He married his first cousin Lucy Walker and moved to Charlottesville before the Revolution. By 1782, they were established at Pen Park, a few miles north of town.

According to his son-in-law, William Wirt, George Gilmer was not only an eminent physician but also "a very good linguist--a master of botany and the chemistry of his day--had a store of very correct general science--was a man of superior taste in the fme arts--and to crown the whole had an elevated and a noble spirit, and was in his manners and conversation a most accomplished gentleman."

Gilmer supplied Jefferson with a letter of introduction to Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia, where Jefferson went for smallpox inoculation in September, 1766. Morgan may have contributed to Jefferson's appreciation of art and architecture by making his collection available during Jefferson's visit.

From his arrival in Albemarle County, Dr. Gilmer was attending physician to Jefferson and his family (his services from 1771-1775 are itemized in his Day Book in the University of Virginia Library.) He also attended Dabney Carr in his final illness in May 1773. The Gilmers of Pen Park and the family at Monticello maintained warm relations for many years. George Gilmer's youngest son, Francis Walker Gilmer was a particular favorite of Jefferson's and served as his commissioner for securing professors for the University of Virginia in England.

George Gilmer was a delegate at the Fifth Virginia Convention in Williamsburg in 1776, acting in Jefferson's stead. Jefferson expressed his personal wishes that he not be re-elected as a delegate to Congress to Gilmer and to Convention president Edmund Pendleton. Despite pleas for relief by Edmund Randolph, Jefferson was reelected.

During the Revolution, Gilmer was a Lieutenant in the Albemarle County First Independent Company of Gentleman Volunteers and a military surgeon. On 9 August 1780, Jefferson wrote to his friend of his intention, as Governor, to contribute rice and money to his hospital.

Many letters illustrate the friendship between the statesman and the physician. It was to Dr. George Gilmer that Jefferson wrote from Paris on 12 August 1787, "I shall he very happy to eat at Pen-park some of the good mutton and beef of Marrowbone, Horsepasture and Poisoned feild, with yourself and Mrs. Gilmer and my good old neighbors. I am as happy no where else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello." Writing to reassure his friend after a serious illness on 11 May 1792, Jefferson planned, "the next spring we will sow our cabbages together."

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on KKO, Monticello Research Report, October 13, 1992.

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