Physician, botanist. Porcher was born in St. John’s Berkeley Parish on December 14, 1824, the son of William Porcher, a physician and planter, and his wife Isabella Sarah Peyre.
Porcher completed his preparatory education in Winnsboro at the Mt. Zion Academy, where he excelled in Latin and the Greek classics. In 1844 he graduated with honors from South Carolina College and entered the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in Charleston. Awarded the M.D. degree in 1847, Porcher received the first prize for his thesis, an exemplary scientific work that was published in the Southern Journal of Medicine and Pharmacy as “A Medico-Botanical Catalogue of the Plants and Ferns of St. John’s, Berkeley, South Carolina.”
In 1849 Porcher became coeditor of the Charleston Medical Journal and Review, and three years later he went abroad to study medical procedures in France and Italy. Upon returning to Charleston in 1854, he again became the journal’s coeditor, serving through 1855. Meanwhile, in 1852, before he left for Europe, Porcher helped to establish the Charleston Preparatory Medical School, and he taught materia medica (medical remedies) and therapeutics there from 1854 until 1860. In 1855 he and a colleague established a hospital for African Americans, and three years later Porcher accepted appointment as physician to the Marine Hospital in Charleston, where he also served as a clinical professor for the medical college. Already the author of several articles, Porcher completed a forward looking treatise in 1860 that was published the following year by the South Carolina Medical Association as Illustrations of Disease with the Microscope.
A slaveowner and supporter of secession, Porcher volunteered as a surgeon for the Confederate army in 1861, serving first in an army hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, and later in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1862 Samuel Preston Moore, the surgeon general of the Confederate states, commissioned Porcher to compile a work on the useful botanical resources of the South. A year later Porcher produced a large volume titled Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, which won considerable praise as a contribution to the war effort. Porcher later revised the book and reissued it in 1869.
After the war, Porcher returned to private practice and continued to write medical articles. He was appointed as professor of clinical medicine at the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1872, and in 1874 he was made professor of materia medica and therapeutics. He held these positions until 1891, when he resigned over a dispute with the dean. Meanwhile, Porcher published many more articles, made contributions to the state medical society and the American Medical Association, once again served as a coeditor of the Charleston Medical Journal and Review (1874–1876), and wrote numerous columns for newspapers. Long interested in yellow fever, he advanced knowledge of that disease and promoted understanding of public hygiene.
Porcher married Virginia Leigh on April 25, 1855. Eleven years after her death in 1866, he married Margaret Bentley Ward on March 2, 1877. He had five children with his first wife and four with his second. The University of South Carolina awarded Porcher the LL.D. degree in 1891. Porcher died in Charleston on November 19, 1895, and was buried in Trinity “Black Oak” Cemetery, Berkeley County. His remains were later reburied in St. Stephen’s Protestant Episcopal Cemetery.
Townsend, John F. “Francis Peyre Porcher, M.D. (1824–1895).” Annals of Medical History, 3d ser., 1 (March 1939): 177–88.
Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 2, 1825–1900. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1967.