Physician, medical editor. Born in St. John’s Berkeley Parish on November 4, 1817, Cain received his earliest schooling in Charleston. He then attended South Carolina College in Columbia for undergraduate studies before graduating with an M.D. from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1838. Like many other ambitious antebellum American physicians, Cain went to Paris for the continuation of his medical career. Drawn by the opportunities of anatomical and clinical study afforded at the great Parisian medical schools and hospitals, he spent four years as an assistant to some of the leading figures in French clinical medicine.
When he returned to the United States, Cain quickly came to enjoy a prominent position among Charleston’s physician elite, occupying significant posts at public and private medical institutions in the city, as well as operating a lucrative private practice. In 1849, as recording secretary for the South Carolina Medical Association, he helped organize the group’s annual meeting in Charleston. Catalogs, circulars, and advertisements list Cain as an instructor at the Medical College in 1850, while in 1852 he taught at the Charleston Preparatory Medical Institute. Cain also served as president of the Medical Society of South Carolina in 1861. Another significant landmark in Cain’s professional career in Charleston was his joint editorship, with Francis Peyre Porcher, of the Southern Journal of Medicine and Pharmacy (later the Charleston Medical Journal and Review) from 1850 through 1855. Other highlights in Cain’s medical career included his appointment as an attending physician to the city’s Marine and Roper Hospitals and his operation, with Dr. Julian John Chisolm, of a private hospital “for the treatment of the diseases of Negroes.”
In addition to his editorial duties, Cain was also a prolific medical journalist, contributing articles to almost every volume of the Charleston Medical Journal and Review from 1846 to 1860. Perhaps inspired by his graduate training in Paris, some of Cain’s submissions to the Charleston Medical Journal and Review were composed of detailed clinical observations, such as “Case of Fracture of the Vertebrae” (1850), “A Case of Ulceration and Stricture of the Esophagus” (1848), and “Observations on Pseudo-Apoplexy, with Permanently Slow Pulse” (1849). Cain’s other principal medical writings included his contribution to a history of Charleston’s 1854 yellow fever epidemic, published in 1856.
Following the Civil War, Cain continued his practice in Charleston, enjoying a reputation as one of the most popular family physicians in the city. In 1869 he moved to Asheville, North Carolina, for health reasons. Toward the end of his life Cain went to live in Aiken with his daughter. He died in Charleston on March 12, 1888, while on a consultation visit to his longtime colleague and personal physician Francis Peyre Porcher.
Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 2, 1825–1900. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1967.