Sue Young Histories

Hans Burch Gram 1786 - 1840

February 17, 2008

Hans Burch Gram 1786 – 1840Hans Burch Gram 1786 - 1840 was the first homeopath in America. (*photo used courtesy ofHoméopathe International by Sylvain Cazalet at PHOTOTHÈQUE HOMÉOPATHIQUE)

He was born in Boston to Danish parents, and returning to Denmark on family matters, he studied medicine and then homeopathy with Hans Christian Lund, who had studied with Samuel Hahnemann. He was a colleague of Holger J FangelJohann Carl Ludwig Pabst, Serke, and Hans Thomsen.

Gram was the ultimate proselytizer of homeopathy in America. As a result, innovators like John Franklin GrayAmos Gerald Hull, William Channing and Abram D Wilson were all in place to treat the 1832 cholera epidemic with homeopathy.

Gram was a Swedenborgian (based on the works of Emanuel Swedenborg), which embedded this doctrine at the heart of American homeopathy.

From The pioneer of Homoeopathy in America. He was a son of Hans Gram, whose father was a wealthy sea captain of Copenhagen. Mr. Gram (father of the doctor) when a young man was private secretary to the Governor of the Danish Island of Santa Cruz.

While traveling in the United States, in 1782 or 1783, he became interested in the daughter of the proprietor of a hotel in Boston where he was staying. The lady’s name was Miss Burdick. He married her, much to the displeasure of his father, who immediately disinherited him, but repented on his death-bed and left him the bulk of his fortune.

Mr. Gram resigned his position as secretary and settled in Boston, where he passed his life. The records are very meagre ; it is not known just when in 1786 his eldest son, Hans Burch, was born, nor is it known where Mr. Gram lived at that time. Later on he was known to have lived on Cambridge street, and was an organist by profession. Afterwards he lived on Common street, where he died in 1803.

His death occurred soon after the had learned of the death of his father and the fact that he had left him his inheritance ; he had made his plans to sail for Copenhagen, but the night before he was to sail he was taken suddenly ill and died in a few hours. His widow survived him but two years, and Hans Burch, at the age of eighteen. went to Copenhagen (in 1803) to secure the large property which had been left to his father.

He did not obtain it all, but enough to give himself a superior education. Dr. John Franklin Gray says, in the Homoeopathic Examiner, that he arrived in Copenhagen in 1808, but Dr. H. M. Smith gives an earlier date.

It is likely that he reached Denmark about 1806-7. He found relatives, who favored him. **Prof. Fenger, physician in ordinary to the King, was his uncle and through his favor young Gram received every advantage. His friends placed him in the Royal Medical and Surgical Institution of the Danish kingdom. **Pr. Fenger gave him every advantage of the schools and hospitals of northern Europe. Within a year after his arrival in Copenhagen Gram received the flattering appointment of assistant surgeon in a large military hospital from the King.

Previous to his admission into the Academy of Surgery he had to sustain an examination in Latin and Greek and Natural Philosophy, and this hospital appointment was also preceded by a rigorous examination in anatomy and minor surgery. He was officially connected with this hospital during the last seven years of the Napoleonic wars, residing in the edifice much of the time as assistant in surgery.

In 1814 Gram resigned his place in the military hospital, having acquired the rank of surgeon and won the highest grade of merit in the Royal Academy of Surgery, with the degree of C. M. L., the highest of three degrees. He now devoted himself to general practice in the city of Copenhagen, and he was so successful that at the age of forty he had acquired a competence for his own future support and to enable him to render assistance to the younger members of his family, all of whom had remained in the United States.

Gram had tested the method of Samuel Hahnemann during the years 1823 and 1824, fully and most cautiously, as well on his own person, with reference to the verity of the pharmacodynamics, as in his extensive practice with reference to the truth of the maxim of Homoeopathy, ” Similia similibus curentur.”

He did not, however, feel settled ; his family was in America ; besides he no doubt wished to introduce this new method of healing into the land of his birth. He returned to America in 1825, landing during the early spring of 1825 in New York city. He came home a most thorough general and medical scholar, having rendered himself fit for the society, and became a much loved friend of the most learned and eminent men of the Athens of Europe. Callisen (*Henrik Callisen 1740

  • 1824), Bang (?Johan Bang 1737 - 1808 medical writer), Muenter (?Friedrich Christian Carl Heinrich Munter 1761 - 1830), Schumacker (?Heinrich Christian Friedrich Schumacher 1757 - 1830), Oersted (?Hans Christian Ørsted (often rendered Oersted in English) 1777 - 1851), and **Fenger (Professor Christian Fenger Gram’s uncle and Surgeon in Ordinary to the King) were his daily associates and warm personal friends.

In New York he resided with his brother, Neils B. Gram, at 431 Broome Street. It was not long after his arrival before he lost his fortune by endorsing notes for his brother, and was compelled to return to the practice of his profession. He opened an office in New York, but it was several years before he became much known to his professional brethren…

Gram had not been long in New York before he published a translation of an essay of Hahnemann entitled “Geist der Homöopathischen Heillehre”, or Spirit of the Homoeopathic Healing. This he dedicated to Professor and President of the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons and Professor of Theory and Practice in that institution, David Hosack, an eminent physician of New York.

He says in his dedication : The doctrines of Homoeopathia are not in unison with those generally accepted and promulgated by medical men. The subject is a new one tending not only to reformation in theoretical and practical medicine, but threatening to invalidate many of the doctrines, which at present, are admitted as correct. and propagated as indispensably necessary in the study and practice of medicine.

This new doctrine is already considerably advanced in Europe, and the number of its adherents is daily increasing. An examination of its principles will show that it is not to be condemned but that it deserves serious consideration, especially so as its propagators contend that not only theory and reasoning but experience establishes its truth.

This pamphlet was written for the profession and was distributed gratuitously, especially to the officers of the medical schools.

Unfortunately, Gram’s long disuse of the English language, comprising over twenty years of his residence in Denmark, gave his pamphlet so quaint a construction and style as to render it a very difficult task to read it intelligently.

John Franklin Gray expresses a doubt as to whether any one of the gentlemen to whom it was sent ever did read it and says that Dr. Hosack, with whom he conversed on the subject of Homoeopathy two years later, had not done so.

It excited ridicule also in the minds of some of the profession. Gram was greatly disappointed that the truth he was so enthusiastic about met with so little welcome, and this pamphlet of only twenty-four pages was the only thing he ever published.

Dr. H. M. Smith says that Dr. Metcalf was not able to obtain a copy ; that Constantine Hering had never seen a copy, and even doubted the existence of the pamphlet. But that he (Dr. Smith ) had obtained a copy through the kindness of Mrs. Wilsey, who gave him the copy of Dr. Ferdinand L. Wilsey, one of Gram’s colleagues.

But Dr. Gram was a very earnest Royal Arch Freemason, and through this channel soon after his arrival, formed several valuable friendships with influential people. He met Robert Benjamin Folger 1803 - 1892 (an orthodox Physician who became a patient of Gram and converted to homeopathy in 1827) at a Masonic lodge an May 25, 1826. It is said that he was an officer of the Jerusalem Chapter No 8, and took part in the exaltation of Robert Benjamin Folger 1803 - 1892 at an extra meeting held for that purpose.

A very close friendship was formed between these men, and twice they nearly became partners. Dr. Gram loaned to Robert Benjamin Folger 1803 - 1892 a manuscript article on the “Pharmacodynamic Properties of Drugs,” which Robert Benjamin Folger 1803 - 1892 afterwards lost. It is not likely to be in existence.

Robert Benjamin Folger 1803 - 1892 introduced Gram, in September, 1826, to a ***Ferdinand L. Wilsey (a wealthy merchant and manufacturer who became a patient of Gram), who was a prominent Mason and master of a lodge, in order that Gram might instruct Ferdinand L. Wilsey in certain important Masonic points. Ferdinand L. Wilsey at that time was a merchant, a patient of  John Franklin Gray. Dr. Gram frequently visited Ferdinand L. Wilsey’s place of business, and they soon became intimate.

Dr. John Franklin Gray says of this :

"One of my patients, Ferdinand L. Wilsey, a merchant, who afterwards studied medicine, introduced me to Dr. Gram in 1827. I had treated Ferdinand L. Wilsey for an inveterate dyspepsia a long time, and with such poor success that he besought me to consult with a stranger who had brought from Germany an entirely novel mode of practice.

“With much reluctance I consented, and the result was that the patient passed into Dr. Gram’s care entirely, experiencing early and marked benefit from the change, which I ascribed to his improved diet.

“But as I could not answer Gram’s arguments in support of the new method, and as my training, reading and experience, which had been unusually extensive for so young a man, had failed to inspire me with confidence for any past or, existing plan of therapeutics, I was soon ready to put the method of Hahnemann to the test of a fair but rigorous observation.

“Moreover, Gram’s inimitable modesty in debate, and his earnest zeal for the good and the true in all ways and directions, and his vast culture in science and art, in history and philosophy, greatly surpassing ill these respects any of the academic or medical professors I had known, very much shortened my dialectic opposition to the new system.

“I selected three cases for the trial : the first, haemoptysis in a scrofulous girl, complicated with amenorrhoea ; the second, mania puerperalis of three months’ standing and the last, anasarca and ascites in an habitual drunkard.

“Following Gram’s instructions, I furnished the proper registry of the symptoms in each case. He patiently and faithfully waded through the six volumes of Materia Medica (luckily we had no manuals then), and prescribed a single remedy in each case.

“The first and third cases were promptly cored by a single dose of the remedy prescribed and the conditions as to diet and moral impressions were so arranged by me (Gram did not see either of the patients) that, greatly to my surprise and joy, very little room was left for a doubt as to the efficacy of the specifics applied.

“The case of mania was perhaps the stronger testimony of the two. The patient was placed under the rule of diet for fourteen days, previous to the administration of the remedy chosen by Gram. Not the slightest mitigation of the maniacal sufferings occurred at that time.

“At the time of the giving of the remedy, which was a single drop of very dilute tincture of Nux vomica in a drink of sweetened water, the patient was more furious than usual, tearing her clothing off and angrily resisting all attempts to soothe her. She fully recovered her reason within half an hour after taking the Nux vomica, and never lost it afterwards.

“Fourth case was soon after treated with success, which had a worse prognosis, if possible, than either of the others. It was one of traumatic tetanus. During the first year of my acquaintance with Gram I subjected only my incurables and the least promising instances of the curables to Dr. Gram’s experiments : but this was simply because I could not read the language of the “Materia Medica,” and it was impossible to do any more without a knowledge of the German.

Dr. Federal Vanderburgh, another of the physicians converted by Gram, gives the following account of their first meeting:

“I was attending a gentleman on Pearl street, one of whose toes were set at right angles with his foot by a contraction of the tendon. I wished him to have it divided, and he assented unwillingly.

“The next day Dr. John Franklin Gray and myself met according to agreement, when he discharged us both. Thirty days afterwards I met him walking the street with his toe adjusted. I asked him how it was done, and he said Dr. Gram had given him sugar, pellets the size of a mustard seed, and thus straightened the toe.

“Having no prejudice to encounter, I straightway introduced myself to Dr. Gram. I found him using a gigantic intellect with the simplicity of a child, entirely unconscious of its power. He seemed to be learned beyond the books and with his capacious mind was working out the problems and primal facts of science from his own standpoint.

“I saw at a glance that he dwarfed my proportions immeasurably, and that I had been creeping in a labyrinth while he was walking in the noonday sun. My first trial of his skill was remarkable.

“A lady, aged 36 years, came from Hudson to consult me on board a steamer. She had been for four years ill with what she called black jaundice; I had lost a sister with the same disease. I took a careful record of her case and on my return home I met Gram at his door and asked him to read the record.

“He said she had been poisoned with bark, and Chamomilla would cure her. I said I had prescribed that and Arsenic besides. He said that the Arsenic was wrong ; that in three days after the Chamomilla was taken the old chill of four years ago would reappear, but so feebly that she would recover without another. His prophecy proved true.

In 1828, Gram was elected a member of the New York Medical and Philosophical Society, and a year afterwards was the president. He was now recognized as a man of vast scientific and literary attainments.

John Franklin Gray says :

“Gram failed in health completely jest as the new period began to dawn upon us. Broken in heart by the misfortunes, insanity and death of his only brother, upon whom he lavished all the estate he brought with him from Europe, he was attacked with apoplexy in May, 1839, from which he awoke with hemiplegia ; after many months of suffering he passed away on February 26, 1840.

Abram D Wilson and I tenderly cared for him, and Curtis watched him as a faithful son would a beloved father. He was an earnest Christian of the Swedenborgian faith, and a man of the most scrupulously pure and charitable life I have ever known.

“In the presence of want, sorrow and disease, secluded from all observation of the world, he ministered with angelic patience and with divine earnestness.

Gram was buried in St. Mark’s Burial Ground, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets, New York city, but on September 4. 1862, his old-time friend and pupil, Dr. John Franklin Gray, removed the remains to his own lot in Greenwood Cemetery.

In the October number of the American Hom. Review for 1862 articles were published by both Drs. Smith and Barlow concerning Gram…

At a meeting of the New York State Homoeopathic Medical Society held at the Cooper Institute in New York, September 4, 1869, Dr. John Franklin Gray asked the Society to take measures for a more public commemoration of the labors of Dr. Gram. The Society, on motion of Dr. Henry D Paine, appointed a committee on the erection of a monument in Greenwood Cemetery over his remains.

Of interest:

  • Is it possible that Henry James Senior met Hans Burch Gram in New York and chatted to him about his amputated leg, and his two years in bed as an invalid? Hans Burch Gram had extensive experience of such injuries from the Napoleonic wars in Europe whilst working as a surgeon at the Royal Military Hospital in Copenhagen, and he was also a personal friend of Henrik Callisen 1740 – 1824 Scandanavian Journal of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery 18: 7-9, 1984. The History of Burns Treatment in Denmark. Mogens Thompson, The Department of Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit, Hvidovre Hospital, The University of Copenhagen. “It was not until 1788 when Callisten (1740- 1824) published his text book on surgery in Latin that an original Danish contribution to the subject appeared.”

**Bradford tells us that Fenger is Gram’s uncle and Physician in Ordinary to the Danish King - Professor Christian Fenger was actually the Surgeon in Ordinary to the king (and he had his portrait painted in 1825). Subsequently, the Fenger family of Copenhagen is most influential, though Gram’s uncle Professor Christian Fenger is not properly written up on Google or anywhere else - to date:

Christian Fenger 1840 - 1902 was a Danish-born surgeon, pathologist, and medical instructor. In the later half of his life, he worked at several medical institutions in Chicago, and became one of the most highly regarded surgeons in the United States.

Carl Emil Fenger 1814 - 1884 was a Danish physician and politician, who was finance minister for three laps and later mayor of Copenhagen. He was the brother of John Ferdinand Fenger 1805 - 1861 (Danish clergyman and theological writer), Peter Andreas Fenger 1799 - 1878 (a Danish priest) and Rasmus Fenger Theodor Fenger 1816 - 1889 (a Danish priest).

***Ferdinand L Wilsey was a wealthy merchant and manufacturer who became a patient of Gram and who became a lay homeopath, he trained as a medic and qualified in 1844, and he remained with Gram as his companion until his death. Ferdinand L. Wilsey established a lucrative homeopathic practice in New York, and he lived at 33 Fulton Street, New York where he knew William Cullen Bryant and many of his influential friends. Ferdinand L. Wilsey was an adherent of the diet prescribed by Sylvester Graham.


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