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Memorial of Doctor William Patterson

John McCaffrey
Mt. St. Mary's College, July 1876

Doctor William Patterson, whose death occurring on the 27th of May last, was announced in the news-papers then, was a man whose merits as a member of society and as a physician should not pass unrecorded. It is now, especially in this Centennial year, a matter of interest and some importance to collect and preserve memorials of those who have been useful citizens and benefactors to others.

Dr. William Patterson was born May 24th, 1802, in Emmittsburg District, Frederick County, Maryland, in which vicinity he spent his long and meritorious life. His father, William Wood Patterson, was a descendant of one of the Scotch families that first settled in middle or western Pennsylvania, or in the adjacent parts of Maryland. Most of his neighbors and associates, like himself, were Presbyterians of the strictest and purest type, inheriting, in a high degree, the virtues of those sturdy colonists. He was married to Miss Eleanor Porter, of respectable family and connections.

As a farmer with considerable property, and most estimable qualities, he was a man of influence in his neighborhood. We remember well the occasion on which he was called upon to preside at the first democratic mass meeting held in Emmittsburg in favor of the election of General Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans. It may be added as noteworthy just now, that William Wood Patterson was born on the 4th of July, 1776. His son was always true to the political principles of his father, and though never a busy or noisy politician was still, when he saw reason to exert himself, a power in his own district and county. After a` common school education, such as then could be got at home or in the country school house (often much better than is commonly given now-a-days in our public schools), he was sent to Gettysburg to the academy taught by Rev. Mr. Dobbin, a Presbyterian minister, distinguished as a teacher of classics and humanities, from whose school went forth a number of men eminent in the various professions or other walks of life.

Afterwards he studied medicine in the town of Emmittsburg, under Dr. Robert Moore. This learned and amiable Doctor, with his brother Daniel Moore, Quakers by origin, had come to Emmittsburg from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They immediately obtained a large practice and high consideration; and a number of young men who became afterwards most respectable and successful physicians studied under them, among these Dr. Leonard Smith of Louisiana. At the same time the venerable Dr. Robert Annan, a leading practitioner, was training youths in the same science and transmitting his knowledge and skill in his own family down to a third generation.

One of his pupils was Dr. Samuel Annan, so well known in Baltimore, where he became a founder of one of the medical schools, and also as a Professor in a similar institution in Kentucky. Dr. Wells, who first attended the Sisters of Charity near Emmittsburg, and also Mount St. Mary's College, both institutions then in their beginnings, had removed to what is now Carroll County, where he also has left a son and grandson among the most approved and esteemed for science and skill in the healing art.

Dr. William Patterson attended during the full term the lectures and practical teachings of the Baltimore University Medical School, where he graduated with honor in March, 1826. It was delightful to hear him in later life recounting his reminiscences of that to him eventful period. A man of active, vigorous and ever inquisitive intellect, he had the great advantage of appreciating the talents, and thus profiting to the largest extent by the instructions of his learned professors.

He was full of memories of Dr. Potter, of Professors David, Debuts, and others; of Dr. Geldings, who soon afterwards removed to Charleston, S. C., and whom he considered probably first in genius, and second in anatomy and surgery only to the illustrious Dr. Nathan Smith, still shedding honor on his noble profession and that school of medicine which he has adorned for more than half a century by his talents, learning and scientific discoveries and improvements. Never had the Medical University of Baltimore a more devoted and enthusiastic admirer and friend. He was equally attached to the Medical Society or Faculty of Maryland, with which he remained connected till death. He kept himself always in communication with the first authorities among his old professors or associates, gathering and imparting information.

After graduating he associated himself in practice in the town of Emmittsburg with Dr. James A. Shorb, a graduate of the old Philadelphia Medical School, who had come to this place from Littlestown, Penn. Both soon acquired high esteem and ample patronage, Dr. Shorb succeeding to Dr. Robert Moore as the physician of Mount St. Mary's College and St. Joseph's Academy. Neither of them will soon be forgotten by the students, teachers or patrons of those Institutions. For the last twenty years or more Dr. Shorb having retired wholly or partially from professional labors in the neighborhood, Dr. Patterson, besides a large general practice, was devoted to the care of the health of both College and Academy.

St. Joseph's being the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity in these United States, with branches from Boston to New Orleans or Mobile, from Baltimore to Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco ; with a Novitiate in which hundreds of candidates are prepared for their beneficent labors; with a boarding school for young ladies, who come to it from every part of the country; with a hospital in which the enfeebled, the superannuated and the dying come back if possible to die at home--afforded the doctor a large field for benevolent exertion and observation. With ample means to live comfortably, and feeling the advances of age and infirmity, he had limited his practice as far as he could without deserting old friends.

It happened within a few weeks of the battle of Gettysburg, that one-third of the town in which he lived was burned down, whether by accident or incendiarism. His medical library which he had long been gathering, which he cherished and used so well, perished along with his house. From that time he dwelt in a building adjacent to St. Joseph's, which was in fact the original convent, near to so many of his patients when they needed his assistance. Gathering a new collection of guides and authorities, the devoted and enthusiastic friend of those good Sisters, admiring no less the beautiful holiness of their lives than their admirable charity, their defender against all assailants, and consequently a most thorough advocate of the great monastic institutions of the Church, he spent the evening of his days still studying his favorite art, peacefully, tranquilly doing good to others, and looking forward to the eternal life before him.

When we first became acquainted with Dr. Patteron we were inclined to consider him a rather timid practitioner, and sometimes excessively slow and cautious. But we discovered in the course of observation that he was prompt in emergencies, quick as lightning in the moment of need, resolute, determined, sometimes we fancied wrong-headed or at least obstinate. We learned afterwards to change our mind and to judge better of him. When new and to us almost unheard-of diseases were approaching, diphtheria for example ; or when in our immediate neighborhood genuine typhoid fever sprung up and spread about (the present of the battle of Gettysburg), we found him brave, assured, certain that under such favorable conditions as surrounded us we need fear no fatal results. I am speaking of what I saw in the two institutions and partly elsewhere. Under our eyes more than fifty cases of diphtheria, some of them most alarming, were cured by him, none within my knowledge ending fatally, while many were dying around. As to various other maladies, such as dysentery, prevalent in rural districts during the season of unripe fruits and excessive summer heats, his theory was that no one would die of them who was duly attended to and cared for in time. Scarlatina, probably less malignant in our mountainous district than in large cities, visited us repeatedly, and some-times tens or scores were taken down with itónot one in our institutions was ever lost. In cases of pulmonary or heart diseases we learned to regard him as oracular.

In his relations with his brother physicians, while he was kind, friendly and communicative, his observance of the laws of honor governing the profession was exemplary. In this respect he was the best adviser and model of the young practitioner. He quarreled with no one ; if blamed or otherwise assailed by those he was perhaps even then befriending, he would smile, and leave it to time and Providence to right everything.

He married happily at an early period of his medical life the only daughter of Patrick Lowe, of Emmittsburg, a pupil of St. Joseph's Academy, and the granddaughter of James Hughes, who was one of the founders of Emmittsburg, the builder of the first house there, and of the original Church of Mt. St. Mary's College, a venerable patriarch whose house for long years was the home of every Catholic priest attending Emmittsburg.

Dr. Patterson was a devoted and loving husband, and to all connected with or depending on him a true friend, liberal, and even generous. His association with members of the Catholic Church, his acquaintance with Father Brute, a physician before he became a priest, his practice in Catholic institutions, his reading and reflection, all led him to study the great question: What shall I do to be saved?

For years he had availed himself of the Sacraments of the Church, and in his last hours was strengthened and consoled by receiving them, no doubt humbly and devoutly. Nearly his last words to a friend watching and praying by him were to this effect: " God has been very good to me, and it seems now has led me by the hand during all my life."

He died on Saturday, the 27th of May, the clergy of the mountain and of Emmittsburg assisting him, and the good Sisters of Charity watching by his bedside. His corpse was taken on Monday to the beautiful chapel of St. Joseph's, and lay in state until Mass had been celebrated for him, the Sisters, novices and school girls kneeling by his remains, and sending up their fervent prayers to heaven for the eternal repose of his soul. The same morning a solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated for him, the Reverend President officiating, all the College attending, in Mt. St. Mary's Church.

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