Physician, planter, political leader. Moultrie was born in Charleston on January 18, 1729, the son of the Scottish-born physician John Moultrie and Lucretia Cooper. He began training as a physician under his father and in 1746 traveled to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, from which he received his M.D. in 1749. He was the first native-born American to graduate in medicine from Edinburgh, which was then emerging as the leading medical school in the western world.
Moultrie’s Latin dissertation on yellow fever, De Febre Maligna Biliosa Americae (On the American Malignant Bilious Fever), is notable as one of the earliest clinical descriptions of the disease to come from North America. The work was based on careful observations of the Charleston epidemic of 1745, made while he was assisting his father as an apprentice, and his own experience with a mild attack of the disease. The underlying causes of yellow fever, he claimed, were excessive heat, miasma (putrid air) from the swamps and poorly drained areas, and heavy consumption of spiritous liquors. He noted that the epidemic subsided as the weather cooled; that it was especially common among the poor, those who worked in the sun, sailors, heavy drinkers, and strangers; and that it was rare among those from the West Indies, the wealthy, young children, the temperate, African Americans, and Native Americans. Moultrie’s dissertation was not a major contribution to medical knowledge, but its precise clinical descriptions attracted a great deal of attention. It was translated into German and French and published in numerous editions into the nineteenth century.
Moultrie returned to Charleston after receiving his medical degree and seems to have practiced medicine for some years. His marriage on April 28, 1753, to Dorothy Dry Morton, a wealthy heiress, freed him from the financial necessity of medical practice and may have spurred his political career. They had two children, both of whom died in infancy. Dorothy died in 1757. On January 5, 1762, Moultrie eloped with Eleanor Austin, the daughter of George Austin, a wealthy merchant and Royal Navy captain who initially opposed the marriage. Moultrie’s second marriage produced six children.
Moultrie’s political life began when the governor appointed him a justice of the peace in 1756. During the French and Indian War, he joined the militia and rose to the rank of major. In 1761 he served under Lieutenant Colonel James Grant, a British regular, during an expedition against the Cherokees. In the same year he was elected to the colonial assembly. In 1764 Grant, now governor of East Florida (newly acquired from Spain), appointed Moultrie to his council. Moultrie moved to Florida and soon became the council president. In 1771 Grant named him lieutenant governor. Moultrie prospered as a planter in Florida and amassed a large amount of land and numerous slaves. During the Revolutionary War he remained loyal to the crown. When Great Britain returned control of Florida to Spain in 1783, Moultrie lost his position and fortune and moved to England, where he died on March 19, 1798. He was buried in Shiffnal Churchyard, Shropshire.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
Townshend, Eleanor. “John Moultrie, Junior, M.D. 1727–1798.” Annals of Medical History, 3d ser, 2 (1940): 98–109.
Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. 3 vols. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1964–1971.
———. “John Moultrie, Jr. M.D., Lieutenant Governor of East Florida, His Thesis on Yellow Fever.” Journal of the Florida Medical Association 54 (1967): 772–77.