Cadwalader Evans, MD

Dr. Cadwalader Evans (1716-1773) was born in Gwynedd to John and Eleanor Evans, who settled in Gwynedd from Wales. The Evans were descended from one of the earliest families in Gwynedd. Cadwalader, along with his brother Rowland, were members of the American Philosophical Society.

In 1742, Cadwalader came to Philadelphia to study medicine. He was trained by Dr. John Kearsley*, a physician and an amateur architect.

*NOTE: Read about how Dr. Kearsely helped influence James Durham into becoming one of the first black doctors!

Cadwalader was one of Dr. Thomas Bond's first students. After learning under Dr. Bond, he sailed in Edinburgh for further study in 1748. During his ship ride to England, his ship was targeted by a Spanish privateer. This was the time of King George III's war, making the seas dangerous for travelers for people like Cadwalader.

He caught a severe fever, and he was treated in Kingston, Jamaica. After meeting Quakers there, Cadwalader thought about setting up practice in Jamaica. It lasted for 2-3 years before he returned in Philadelphia. Cadwalader didn't end up trying to go to Edinburgh after catching a fever.

His neighbor in Philadelphia was Benjamin Franklin, who became a good friend of his. Cadwalader thought that electricity might be put to practical uses in the medical field. Franklin was experimenting it during the time with his kite.

A 24 year old woman suffered from a violent convulsive fits. She had been suffering it for 10 years. It happened 40 times a day. There were times 3 men would restrain her. Bleeding, blisters, anodine, and "nervous medicine" were ineffective.

I was almost grown desperate, being left without hope of relief ... as a person reduc'd to the last extremity, is glad to catch at anything; I happen'd to think ... [electricity] might be useful to me.

24-year-old patient to Dr. Evans

In September 1752, Cadwalader administered electric shocks to the patient. Franklin was an acting technician.

I receiv'd four shocks morning and evening; they were what they call 200 strokes of the wheel, which fills an eight gallon bottle, and indeed they were very severe. On receiving the first shock, I felt the fit very strong, but the second eventually carry'd it off; and thus it was every time I went through my operation; yet the symptoms gradually decreased, 'till at length they entirely left me.

24-year-old patient

The treatment continued for 2 weeks. The woman used a globe and a bottle to electrify herself for 3 months. With all that, her fits disappeared, and her cramps ceased.

I now enjoy such a state of health, as I wou'd have given all the world for. ... I have great hope it will continue.

24-year-old patient to Dr. Evans, February 1753

Cadwalader was delighted with the results that he shared it with European physicians who published it in the Medical Observations and Inquiries of 1757.

He tried again to travel to Edinburgh, and it was a successful trip. He stayed in Edinburgh for a year, then to London where he met Dr. John Fothergill.

In 1755, Cadwalader returned to Philadelphia to practice medicine again, and was appointed to the staff of the Pennsylvania Hospital, replacing Dr. Samuel Preston Moore. Being at PA Hospital and growing his practice, he ended up marrying Jane Owens in 1759.

In 1765, when Thomas Bond had a minor illness, Cadwalader became in charge of the PA Hospital. He was interested in enlarging the hospital's library. He informed Franklin about the new library, and "the latter requested a catalog of the books in the library so that he might solicit additions from his medical acquaintances in England. Cadwalader realized that the PA Hospital needed funding, and should rely on donations, and delay any purchasing.

He apprenticed James Hutchinson in 1771 who attended his shop and practice for 2 1/2 years.

Fun Fact: Cadwalader was involved in the John Morgan-William Shippen, Jr. dispute over establishing a medical school

  • It was Evans who communicated the first accounts of the observations of the Transit to Benjamin Franklin in England

  • It was Evans who communicated a draft of a register to regulate heat invented by William Henry, the Lancaster armorer

  • It was Evans who informed Franklin of the perpetual "rancour of party" which threatened the American Philosophical Society

As an overseer of the latter organization, Evans wrote to Franklin and others in Europe for information on how best to cultivate silk, nursed his own mulberry trees, and encouraged colonial efforts to build silk culture into a thriving enterprise.

Cadwalader died in 1773, and Benjamin Franklin reacted to this:

I grieve to hear of the death of my good friend, Dr. Evans, I have lost so many, that I begin to fear I shall find myself a stranger among strangers when I return.

How Dr. Cadwalader Evans impacted Philadelphia:

Dr. Evans would be remembered by Philadelphians as one who sustained his final illness 'with the Composure and Resignation of Mind which are a certain; Evidence, and a happy Consequence of having filled the Sphere of Life allotted to him with Rectitude and Integrity.... In his Sentiments he was liberal, in Argument solid, acute, and fastidious, but above all, in his Friendships he was ardent, steady, and sincere'

Read more letters between Dr. Cadwalader Evans and Benjamin Franklin!


Klein, Randolph Shipley. "Dr. Cadwalader Evans (1716-1773): Physician and Friend of Benjamin Franklin." Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia 35, no. 1 (1967): 30-6.

#pahistory #lowergwynedd #doctor #physician #medicine #benjaminfranklin #philly #philadelphia #electricity #electricshock #jamaica #edinburgh #Wales #Welsh #quaker #americanphilosophicalsociety #evansfamily

12 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All