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George Gilmer

George Gilmer (1743-1795), 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 May 1766, George Gilmer supplied Thomas Jefferson with a letter of introduction to Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia, where Jefferson went for smallpox inoculation.1 The following December, 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.

From his arrival in Albemarle County, Dr. Gilmer was attending physician to Jefferson and his family. Gilmer's services to the Jeffersons, from 1771-1775, are itemized in his personal "day book."2 He also attended Dabney Carr in his final illness in May 1773.

In the summer of 1776, George Gilmer attended the Fifth Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, acting in Jefferson's stead.3 During the Revolution, Gilmer became a Lieutenant in the Albemarle County First Independent Company of Gentleman Volunteers and a military surgeon. On August 9, 1780, Jefferson wrote to his friend of his intention, as Governor, to contribute rice and money to his hospital.4

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.5

Many letters illustrate the friendship between the statesman and the physician. It was to Dr. George Gilmer that Jefferson wrote from Paris on August 12, 1787, "I shall be 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."6 Writing to reassure his friend after a serious illness, on May 11, 1792, Jefferson planned, "the next spring we will sow our cabbages together."7

According to his son-in-law, William Wirt, George Gilmer was not only an eminent physician but "he was, moreover, a 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 fine arts, and, to crown the whole, had an elevated and a noble spirit. In his manners and conversation, he was a most accomplished gentleman ...."8

- KKO, 10/13/92

Further Sources

  • 1. Gilmer to Morgan, May 11, 1766, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. See Malone, Jefferson, I:99. Fiske Kimball suggests that Morgan may have contributed to Jefferson's appreciation of art and architecture by making his library and art collection available during Jefferson's visit. See Kimball, "Jefferson and the Arts," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 87 (July 1943): 238-39.
  • 2. Gilmer-Skipwith Papers, 1767-1925, Accession #6145, 6145-a, 6145-b, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.
  • 3. Jefferson expressed his wish to Gilmer not to be re-elected to Congress and also wrote to Convention president Edmund Pendleton. Despite pleas for relief by Edmund Randolph, Jefferson was reelected to Congress. Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, [ca. June 30, 1776], in PTJ, 1:408. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Malone, Jefferson, I:240.
  • 4. Jefferson to Gilmer, August 9, 1780, in PTJ, 3:538. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 5. Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, November 25, 1823, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 6. Jefferson to Gilmer, August 12, 1787, in PTJ, 12:25-26. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 7. Jefferson to Gilmer, May 11, 1792, in PTJ, 23:492. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 8. J. Pendleton Kennedy, Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt, Attorney-General of the United States, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1850), 147.
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