Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wistar, Richard

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WISTAR, Richard, merchant, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 20 July, 1756; d. there, 6 June, 1821. He was the grandson of Caspar Wistar, who came to this country from Germany in 1717 and established near Salem, N. J., what is believed to have been the first glass-factory in the colonies, in the management of which his son was also associated. In early life Richard turned his attention to commerce, in which he was eminently successful. He built a large four-storied store in 1790, where he conducted an iron and hardware business, and with the profits of this undertaking purchased lands and houses in the vicinity of Philadelphia, which became exceedingly valuable. During the Revolutionary war he advocated the defence of his property by arms, which resulted in his being disowned by the Society of Friends. He was an inspector of prisons, and was one of the early friends and supporters of the Philadelphia library company and the Pennsylvania hospital. —

Appletons' Wistar Richard - Caspar.jpg
Appletons' Wistar Richard - Caspar signature.jpg

His brother, Caspar, physician, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 13 Sept., 1761; d. there, 22 Jan., 1818, was educated at the Friends' school in his native city, where he received a thorough classical training. His interest in medicine began while he was aiding in the care of the wounded after the battle of Germantown, and he made his first studies under the direction of Dr. John Redman. He attended lectures at the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, and received the degree of bachelor of medicine in 1782. After spending a year in England, he went to Edinburgh, where, in 1786, he received his doctorate. While in Scotland he was, for two successive years, president of the Royal medical society of Edinburgh, and also president of a society for the further investigation of natural history. He returned to this country in January, 1787, and entered on the practice of his profession in Philadelphia, where he was at once appointed one of the physicians to the Philadelphia dispensary. He was professor of chemistry and the institutes of medicine in the College of Philadelphia from 1789 till 1792, when the faculty of that institution united with the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, of which he was adjunct professor of anatomy, midwifery, and surgery until 1808. In that year, on the death of his associate, Dr. William Shippen, Jr., he was given the chair of anatomy, which he retained until his death. His fame attracted students to his lectures, and he was largely the means of establishing the reputation of the school. Meanwhile he was chosen physician to the Pennsylvania hospital, where he remained until 1810. His ability as an anatomist was increased by his description of the posterior portion of the ethmoid bone with the triangular bones attached, which received universal recognition as an original treatment of the subject. It was his habit to throw open his house once every week in the winter, and at these gatherings students, citizens, scientists, and travellers met and discussed subjects of interest. These assemblies, celebrated in the annals of Philadelphia under the title of Wistar parties, were continued long after his death by other residents of that city. The College of physicians elected him a fellow in 1787, and he was appointed one of its censors in 1794, which place he retained until his death. He was elected a member of the American philosophical society in 1787, was chosen its vice-president in 1795, and on the resignation of Thomas Jefferson, in 1815, succeeded to the highest office, which he filled during the remainder of his life. On the death of Dr. Benjamin Rush, Dr. Wistar succeeded to the presidency of the Society for the abolition of slavery. The well-known climbing-shrub, wistaria, which grows wild in the western and southern states, was named in his honor. Dr. Wistar contributed papers to the “Transactions of the College of Physicians” and to the “Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,” and was the author of “A System of Anatomy, for the Use of Students of Medicine” (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1814, originally published in parts). — His son, Isaac Jones, soldier, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 14 Nov., 1827, was educated at Haverford college, Pa., adopted the profession of law, and practised in Philadelphia. He entered the National army in 1861, as a captain in a regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers, and served in Maryland and Virginia, his commission as brigadier-general of volunteers, dated 29 Nov., 1862, being granted for services at Antietam. After the war he resumed practice, and is now president of a canal company and several coal companies in Pennsylvania.