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Dr. Thomas Cadwalader (1707-1779)

University Affiliation:
  • Trustee 1751-1779
Biographical Summary:
  • Physician
  • A founder of Pennsylvania Hospital and founding trustee of Penn's medical school
  • A First Burgess of Trenton
  • Member of Philadelphia Common Council and Provincial Council of Pennsylvania
  • Supporter of the American Revolution


Thomas Cadwalader was born into a Quaker Philadelphia with a background in business, teaching and medicine. After studying medicine with his uncle Dr. Evan Jones, he traveled to London to study medicine.

After his return to Philadelphia in 1731, he became active in inoculating people during the smallpox epidemic of the late 1730s. He also performed dissections when opportunities arose. His best known published medical work is his 1745 tract describing lead poisoning and including three case studies; Cadwalader believed that many people became poisoned through Jamaican rum, which was distilled in lead pipes. In 1751 he became one of the original subscribers and physicians of Pennsylvania Hospital; and later, when Penn opened its medical department in 1765, Cadwalader was elected a trustee.

In addition to his work as a physician, Cadwalader was politically active. In 1746, while a resident of Trenton, he became its chief burgess. After returning to Philadelphia, he was elected in 1751 to the city's Common Council. He served on Pennsylvania's Provincial Council from 1755 until the Revolution. During the French and Indian War, he was a strong supporter of military defense. He felt strongly enough about the necessity for armed forces that he donated a large sum of his own money to the purpose, which the nonviolent, Quaker-controlled Assembly refused to allot. When the American Revolution erupted, he was a strong supporter of the American cause despite his advanced age. He, with Doctors Bond, Rush and Shippen, formed a committee to examine all candidates for positions as surgeons in the Navy.

Cadwalader was active in cultural affairs. Besides his active roles in the College of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Hospital, Thomas Cadwalader was a founder and director of the Library Company, a member of the American Philosophical Society and of the Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge.

His sons Lambert and John Cadwalader attended the Academy and College of Philadelphia; John, like his father, would serve as a Penn trustee.


Matriculates, Alumni Record, American National Biography, Dictionary of American Biography, University of Pennsylvania 1740-1900

Portrait of Thomas Cadwalader




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