From The Old Dominion Journal of Medicine and Surgery, Alumni Society. Volume 5, No. 3. Richmond: August 1906, pp. 65-66



Assistant Librarian of the Surgeon-General’s Library.

Dr. James Brown McCaw, the oldest physician in the city of Richmond, if not in the State of Virginia, died in Richmond on the morning of August 13, 1906, at the age of 83. His great-grandfather, the founder of the family in America, was James McCaw, a surgeon from Newton Stewart, Wigtonshire, who came to Virginia in 1771, and who, on the outbreak of the Revolution, was commissioned by Lord Dunmore as a captain of militia. He took part as a loyalist in the early skirmish known as the “Battle of the Bridge.” His house was plundered and destroyed by the Virginia revolutionists, and he was compelled to take refuge with the British fleet in the Chesapeake Bay. He took his family to England, but returned to America and died in New York. His son, Dr. James Drew McCaw, was educated in Scotland, studied surgery with Benjamin Bell in Edinburgh, and became an M. D. of Edinburgh in 1792, his graduating thesis being “De rheumatism acuto.” Returning to Virginia, he practiced his profession in Richmond until his death in 1846. His son, Dr. William Reid McCaw, father of the subject of this sketch, was also a practitioner of medicine in Richmond.

Dr. James Brown McCaw was born in Richmond, July 12, 1823. He was educated in Richmond, and taking up the study of medicine, graduated from the University of the City of New York in 1844, being a pupil of Dr. Valentine Mott. After some study and hospital work he returned ot his native city and commenced practice, retiring from active life after fifty-seven years of professional work in 1901, on which occasion [66] a banquet was tendered him by the Academy of Medicine and the united profession of Richmond, and in token of the esteem and honor in which he was held by his fellow townsmen he was presented with a loving cup. During his lifetime he was successively Professor of Chemistry and of the Practice of Medicine in the Medical College of Virginia for many years, served as Dean of the Faculty for twelve years, and at the time of his death was President of the Board of Visitors of the College. He was also a charter member and one of the founders of the Medical Society of Virginia, and at one time President of the Richmond Academy of Medicine. For many years he was President of the Mozart Society of Richmond, and it is said that few have done more to stimulate interest in music and art in his native city than he.

In 1861, after the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. McCaw was made Surgeon-in-Charge and Commandant of the famous Chimborazo Hospital at Richmond. He practically developed the institution from the bare ground to one of the largest military hospitals the world has ever known, in which, during the four years of the war no fewer than 76,000 soldiers were treated. Here, with poor facilities and scant medical supplies, the success in operating and the number of recoveries was remarkable, and when Richmond was entered by the Federal troops the hospital was turned over to them in perfect working order. A full account of the history of Chimborazo Hospital and its medical officers will be found in the Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly, 1904-5, IX, p. 148, et seq.

Dr. McCaw was editor of the Virginia Medical Journal from 1853 to 1861, and in 1864 he became editor of the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal, of which only fourteen numbers appeared (1864-5). This was the only medical journal that appeared under the Confederacy. Dr. McCaw was a typical Virginia gentleman of the old school, devoted to the highest interests of his native city and State, and few practitioners have been so universally beloved in their community as he.
Dr. McCaw married in 1845 Miss Delia Patteson, of Richmond, and of this marriage nine children were born, of whom six survive. Of these two sons – Dr. David McCaw, of Richmond, and Major Walter D. McCaw, surgeon U. S. Army – are members of the medical profession, representing the fifth generation of a remarkable line of Virginia practitioners. Major W. D. McCaw is at present librarian and officer in charge of library of the Surgeon General’s office, having succeeded the late Walter Reed in this position in 1903.

Go to top