American Medical Biographies/Potter, Nathaniel

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Potter, Nathaniel (1770–1843)

Author and teacher, Nathaniel Potter, founder of the University of Maryland and for thirty-six years professor of medicine there, was born at Easton, Talbot County, Maryland, in 1770; his ancestors came from Rhode Island, and his father, Dr. Zabdiel Potter, served as surgeon in the Revolutionary Army. He was educated at a college in New Jersey and studied medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia. He graduated M. D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1796, his thesis being "On the Medicinal and Deleterious Effects of Arsenic." In 1797 he settled in practice in Baltimore and continued in active professional work until his last illness. On the organization of the College of Medicine of Maryland (later the University of Maryland), December 28, 1807, he became professor of principles and practice of medicine and continued in the occupancy of this chair until he died. The other positions which he held were: Dean of the College of Medicine, 1812, 1814; president, Baltimore Medical Society 1812; president Medical Society of Maryland, 1817; one of the editors of Maryland Medical and Surgical Journal, 1840–1843. Among his more important writings were: "An Account of the Rise and Progress of the University of Maryland," 1838; "Memoir on Contagion," 1818; "On the Locusta Septentrionalis," 1839; American editions of Armstrong on "Typhus Fever," 1821, and (with S. Calhoun) "Gregory's Practice," two volumes, 1826 and 1829 (two editions).

Professor Potter was of medium height, full figure and ruddy complexion. There is an oil painting of him at the University of Maryland, pronounced a faithful likeness. He was an implicit believer in the resources of medicine; and relied especially upon calomel and the lancet, carrying the use of both far beyond what would be considered allowable at this day. He did not believe in the vis medicatrix natura, and is said to have told his pupils that if nature came in the door he would pitch her out of the window. Potter was a man of wonderful skill in diagnosis and of national fame. He showed his courage by making himself the subject of experiments with the secretions of yellow fever patients, thus establishing the non-contagiousness of that disease. In this he combated the view of Rush. His later years were embittered by pecuniary embarrassment and the expenses of his burial were borne by his professional friends. He died suddenly, during a fit of coughing, January 2, 1843, in his seventy-third year. His remains repose in Greenmount Cemetery, unmarked by stone or device.

He married twice, but his family is now extinct.

Quinan's Annals of Baltimore, 1884.
Cordell's Historical Sketch, 1891.
Cordell's Medical Annals of Maryland, 1903; and Cordell's History of the University of Maryland, 2 vols., 1907.
There are several portraits of Dr. Potter, two in oil, a third a profile by St. Mérwin.