Returning to South Carolina in 1769, he found the city full of quacks: “It is Sufficient for a man to call himself a Doctor, & he immediately becomes one, & finds fools to employ him,” he complained to Rush.
Physician. Fayssoux was born and grew up in Charleston, the son of Daniel Fayssoux, a Huguenot émigré, and his wife Frances. In 1766 Fayssoux went to medical school in Edinburgh, where he was a classmate of Benjamin Rush. Returning to South Carolina in 1769, he found the city full of quacks: “It is Sufficient for a man to call himself a Doctor, & he immediately becomes one, & finds fools to employ him,” he complained to Rush. On January 29, 1772, Fayssoux married Sarah “Sally” Wilson, who died in 1776. The following year, on March 29, 1777, Fayssoux married Ann Smith Johnston. The marriages produced thirteen children, six of whom died in infancy or early childhood.
Early in the Revolutionary War, Fayssoux attended the sick on James Island and provided advice on extracting salt from seawater. By 1778 he was serving as “senior physician” of the South Carolina branch of the Continental army, having been appointed by Dr. David Oliphant, director of the hospital. Fayssoux was with General William Moultrie at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776. In 1779, when Moultrie repulsed a British force threatening Beaufort, Fayssoux was given the task of remaining with the sick until Moultrie could supply the necessary carriages to remove them. In 1780 Fayssoux was named physician and surgeon general of the Southern Department. Captured at the fall of Charleston, he was released in order to attend to the sick and wounded in the city. After the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, the responsibility for the wounded fell to Fayssoux. At the end of the war Fayssoux was treating the sick and wounded in Camden, where he stayed until March 1782.
After the war Fayssoux became a member of the Faculty of Physic in Charleston, which was the first evidence of organized medicine in South Carolina. Along with Alexander Baron and David Ramsay, Fayssoux comprised the organizing committee charged with reporting a plan to improve “the Science of Medicine…amongst the Practitioners in this City.” He was a founding member and the first president of the Medical Society of South Carolina, which held its first meeting at Fayssoux’s home on December 24, 1789. Though he made no literary contributions to medicine, his leadership in the early organization of medicine and his contributions to the Revolution placed him among the major medical figures of his time. His peers described Fayssoux as “possessed of a clear discriminating judgment” and as a skillful practitioner of “the Healing Art.”
In 1786 Fayssoux was elected to the General Assembly, where he represented St. John’s Berkeley Parish until 1790. He voted against ratification of the federal Constitution in 1788 but afterward accepted the new government amicably. In addition to his medical and political activities, Fayssoux was involved with the Charleston Library Society, the Charleston Museum (as a curator), the Society of the Cincinnati (founding member), and the St. Cecilia Society. He died on February 1, 1795, of apoplectic stroke and was buried in the churchyard of First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, Charleston.
Davidson, Chalmers G. Friend of the People: The Life of Dr. Peter Fayssoux of Charleston, South Carolina. Columbia: Medical Association of South Carolina, 1950.
Waring, Joseph I. History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 1, 1670–1825. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1964.