American Medical Biographies/Porcher, Francis Peyre

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Porcher, Francis Peyre (1825–1895)

A distinguished physician and botanist, he was born December 14, 1825, and was descended from Isaac Porcher, a French Huguenot who emigrated from France at the time of the persecution of the Huguenots by the Romish Church. He graduated from the South Carolina College in 1844 with the degree of A. B. and took his M. D. from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1847. His thesis, entitled: "A Medico-botanical Catalogue of the Plants and Ferns of St. Johns, Berkley, South Carolina," was published by the faculty of the college. This work proved to be the forerunner and groundwork of a very remarkable series of books, as follows: "Sketch of the Medical Botany of South Carolina," 1849; "The Medicinal, Poisonous, and Dietetic Properties of the Cryptogamic Plants of the United States," being a report made to the American Medical Association at its sessions held at Richmond, Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri, 1854; "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests" (war volume), 1863; second edition, 1869.

In addition to these large works he wrote, in 1860, a prize essay entitled "Illustrations of Disease with the Microscope: Clinical Investigations," with upwards of five hundred original drawings from nature and one hundred and ten illustrations on wood. For this, a prize of $100 offered by the South Carolina Medical Association was awarded to him.

The first edition of "The Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests" was published by order of the surgeon-general of the Confederacy. It was a medical botany of the Confederate States. After graduating in medicine he spent two years in France and Italy, perfecting himself in the refinement of his profession. Dr. Porcher returned to Charleston, South Carolina, and assisted in establishing the Charleston Preparatory Medical School. He was subsequently elected professor in the chairs of clinical medicine and of materia medica and therapeutics in the Medical College of the State of South Carolina. He was for five years one of the editors of the Charleston Medical Journal and Review, and also assisted in editing and publishing four volumes "new series" after the War between the states.

Dr. Porcher, with his two brothers, served throughout the War, a third being killed in 1862. He was surgeon to the Holcombe Legion; to the Naval Hospital at Fort Nelson, Norfolk Harbor, and to the South Carolina Hospital at Petersburg, Virginia. His contributions to medical literature have been numerous and valuable. Some of his most important contributions have been upon "Yellow Fever," "Diseases of the Heart" ("Wood's Hand-book of the Medical Sciences"), reports of sixty-nine cases of paracentisis of the chest walls in case of effusion, on the medical and edible properties of the cryptogamic plants, on gastric remittent fevers," etc., etc. A partial list of Dr. Porcher's works will be found in the Index Medicus of the surgeon-general's office in Washington.

Dr. Porcher was an ex-president of the South Carolina Medical Association and of the Medical Society of South Carolina, ex-vice-president of the American Medical Association, member of the Association of American Physicians, and an associate fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him in 1891 by the University of South Carolina.

He was first married to Virginia, daughter of the Hon. Benjamin Watkins Leigh, of Richmond, Virginia. His second wife was Margaret, daughter of the Hon. J. J. Ward, of Georgetown, South Carolina. He had five children by his first wife and four by his second. One of his sons became a physician. Dr. Porcher was a man of wonderful capacity for work. He had no higher ambition than the advancement of his profession. It may truthfully be said of him that he "scorned delights and lived laborious days."

During a long illness from paralysis a plant was brought to him which he immediately detected to be a specimen of "Trillium Pumilum," and he announced that it had not been seen before in one hundred years. He was supported in this statement by the most distinguished authorities. So great was his ambition to excel as a physician that he almost gave up botany in his latter years fearing that his reputation as a botanist might excel his reputation as a physician. He might easily have acquired wealth had his mind been so directed, for he had stated in his book in 1849 that oil from cotton seed was exceedingly valuable, sufficiently so for exportation, and in 1870 others began to accumulate enormous sums from this source.

He died November 19, 1895, leaving to his children that great heritage, a name untarnished.

Trans. South Car. Med. Asso., Charleston, 1896.