Dale, Thomas

ca. 1700–September 16, 1750

To the merchants and planters of Charleston, Dale appeared as an embodiment of the virtues of civility: he was learned, witty, and sociable.

Physician, author, entrepreneur. Dale was born in Hoxton, England, into a family of pharmacists. He learned medicine from his father, Francis Dale, and pharmaceutical botany from his uncle, Samuel Dale of Braintree, one of Britain’s premier plant men. His medical education was completed in the Netherlands at Leiden, where he earned an M.D. in 1723. Dale attempted to establish a practice in London, specializing in urinary and reproductive tract disorders, but found the city glutted with doctors. He supported himself by translating Latin medical treatises into English for London booksellers. Dale’s London career collapsed in 1732 with his marriage to an older woman, Marie, with a lurid reputation.

Dale and his wife abandoned London for South Carolina, arriving in March 1732. He came just as yellow fever began spreading through the city, and his services were put to use immediately. In August, Dale’s wife died of the fever. Once more a bachelor, on March 28, 1733, he entered the elite circle of colonial society through a marriage to Mary Brewton, daughter of Colonel Miles Brewton (ca. 1675–1745), a successful goldsmith and powder receiver of the colony, and patriarch of a family rapidly ascending in Charleston society. Advocate General Charles Pinckney brokered the match. Mary Dale died in 1737, and Dale would subsequently marry two more times: in 1738 to Anne Smith (d. 1743) and in 1743 to Hannah Simons (d. 1751). Dale’s marriages produced five children.

To the merchants and planters of Charleston, Dale appeared as an embodiment of the virtues of civility: he was learned, witty, and sociable. A regular communicant of the Anglican Church, he was respectably religious. Yet he promoted worldly arts, such as the theater, providing prologues for the first professional theater productions in the city. Having tasted failure in the metropolis, Dale managed his affairs in Charleston to insure his triumph in Carolina. He destroyed the reputation of his rival pharmacist in the colony, James Kilpatrick, in a literary paper war over Kilpatrick’s treatment of smallpox. He applied his pharmaceutical knowledge to the manufacture of gin flavoring and became a successful distiller. He undertook special medical services for the colony, treating the queen of the Catawbas. He contributed greatly to the establishment of the colony’s first insurance scheme and the formation of the Charleston Library Society. His ability and trustworthiness were such that in 1734 Governor Robert Johnson appointed him a judge, despite Dale’s lack of formal legal training. He retained his seat on the bench until his death. He was elected to a term in the Commons House of Assembly in 1749.

Throughout his life Dale regarded himself as a participant in the transatlantic republic of letters. He corresponded with and sent specimens to naturalists in England and the European continent, particularly Johan Frederic Gronovius of Leiden. He knew many of the London booksellers personally, imported quantities of the latest imprints, and served at times as the Carolina agent for major literary projects, such as Bayle’s Encyclopedia. He supplied essays for the South-Carolina Gazette under several pseudonyms. He occasionally sent poems and essays overseas to his friend Thomas Birch, the historian, for publication in metropolitan periodicals. It is for his poems, his writings, and his witty letters to Thomas Birch that Dale is best known today. Dale died in Charleston on September 16, 1750. His son Thomas Simmons Dale later became a significant physician in Britain.

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.

Shields, David S. Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Dale, Thomas
  • Coverage ca. 1700–September 16, 1750
  • Author
  • Keywords Physician, author, entrepreneur, pharmaceutical botany, Anglican Church, Governor Robert Johnson, Commons House of Assembly
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 18, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 21, 2022
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