Sue Young Histories

John Franklin Gray 1804 - 1882

March 19, 2008

John Franklin Gray 1804 -
1882John Franklin Gray 1804 - 1882 was an orthodox doctor who converted to homeopathy to become the second homeopath in America. Gray was so impressed with homeopathy he became one of the prime movers of homeopathy and President of the Hahneman Medical Society. Gray was also a spiritualist.

At the weekly meeting of New York Conference on July 21, 1857, homeopathic physician and spiritualist, Dr. John Franklin Gray, set the question for discussion. As reported in the minutes, it was

“What is the difference between being a medium, so-called, and those who are not mediums? What is Mediumship, or wherein do Mediums differ from the rest of us?”

One of these to discuss this was Walt Whitman, who spoke at this session as well as the session of August 4.

of New York city, was born at Sherburne, Chenango county, N. Y., in September, 1804. His grandfather founded the town of Sherburne, and occupied a conspicuous and useful position among the early citizens of the county. His father was a judge in the County Court, and his mother was a daughter of the Rev. Blackleach Burritt ; A. M., of Yale, a Presbyterian clergyman of unusual learning and force of character.

His father and mother were born in the State of New York, but they were both of New England parentage ; and so the church and the schools of Sherburne, in which our subject was educated, were of the New England order.

The public library of Sherburne -a small but well-selected treasury of English literature- was kept by his grandfather, and young Gray spent most of his leisure hours in the study of history and the reading of standard British poets, under the guidance of his revered relative, under whose roof he resided two years, from the age of twelve years.

During this period he resolved to devote his life to medicine. His father lost his little estate in 1816, when the son was in his twelfth year, and thus his resolution to study medicine was formed with a full knowledge of the difficulties to be surmounted by his own unaided efforts.

Judge Gray earnestly remonstrated against his son’s plan of life as impracticable. He did not wish his boy to become a half educated physician ; insisting that an academic culture ought to precede the study of medicine, and that the latter must he pursued or, at very worst, finished by courses of lectures and demonstrations in some medical college. Both inevitable requisites of the proposed career, as the case presented itself to the father, seemed to him equally insurmountable obstacles.

But to his persevering son they did not so appear ; he felt equal to the long and arduous task. The mother, whose favorite brother -the late Dr. Ely Burritt, of Troy, had, under exactly such circumstances, made himself a Bachelor of Arts and an accomplished physician, some fifteen years before- joined the son in pleading for his consent that the attempt might be made.

The father gave way to the wishes of the son and entreaties of the mother, and endowed the resolute student with the fullest control of himself at the early age of fifteen years.

The family removed to a small farm in Chautauqua county, N. Y., some thirty-five miles south of Buffalo. Young Gray commenced his studies in classics and medicine simultaneously, in January, 1820, with Dr. Peter B. Havens, at Hamilton, N. Y., where there was an academy, now Madison University. Dr. Havens gave him board and tuition in return for acting as his apothecary, office boy and book-keeper.

After a year Gray taught a primary school in Hamilton for one quarter, and then removed to Dunkirk, Chautauqua county, where he founded and taught a private school and continued studies under the tuition of Ezra Williams, M. D., a surgeon of excellent character and skill in his profession. With Dr. Williams he remained three years.

In 1824, he went to New York to complete his studies in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. In passing through Albany he called on the Governor -De Witt Clinton- with a letter of introduction from a friend of his father, and he received letters from the Governor to Drs. David Hosack and Francis, Professors in the College, which procured for him an immediate adoption into their private classes without fees, and proved otherwise very serviceable to him after his graduation.

Through Governor Clinton, Gray also received the tender of an appointment of Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy during his first course of lectures in the College of Physicians and Surgeons ; and to qualify himself legally for its acceptance, he went before the Censors of the County Medical Society of New York, and sustained an examination for the Licentiate in Medicine, which he obtained in February, 1825.

But, at the earnest suggestion of his preceptor, Dr. David Hosack, he declined this appointment and determined to remain in New York for life.

At this time the funds he had gathered by his long work as a teacher in Hamilton and Dunkirk were exhausted, and notwithstanding his most rigorous economy in living, he would have been compelled to abandon the college and postpone his doctorate till his practitioner’s license should enable him to pay for another year of student life and an other college course, if a double vacancy in the staff of the New York Hospital had not occurred that spring ; an event which had never before happened.

This vacancy made it necessary for the Trustees to hire a physician from the city to fill the post of resident practitioner, at a remunerative price. Through the influence of Dr. David Hosack, then decidedly at the head of the profession in the State, aided by letters from Governor Clinton, the place was awarded to Gray, after an examination which was ordered by the Trustees, and was in effect a competitive trial of his qualifications for that responsible position.

This success not only put an end to his long pecuniary trials, but furnished him an invaluable field for experience in clinical medicine, in consultations repeated daily upon a large variety of cases.

At the close of his hospital term, in March, 1826, he received the degree of Doctor from the University of the State. This was his second diploma and his third examination, and it closed the curricula of a pupilage which lasted fully six years.

Immediately on retiring from the hospital, he opened an office in Charlton street, then far up town. In acquiring his practice he was assisted by his future father-in-law, Dr. Amos Gift Hull (Gray married Elizabeth, the sister of Amos Gerald Hull), of New York, by Dr. David Hosack, and by Dr. Watts of the Hospital, who had opposed his election in that institution from predilections in favor of another candidate, a pupil of his own.

Dr. Gray’s success in obtaining patients and social patronage was very strong and rapid ; so much so, that in his first year he was enabled to get married and to support a moderate house comfortably, and in his second to sustain a doctor’s horse and gig.

Soon after starting in private practice he began the study of the French language, and carried it far enough to read medical authors ; and two years later he began the German, and kept at it till he could read it fluently and even speak it with palpable scope and accuracy of diction.

In 1827, one of his patients, ***Mr. Ferdinand L. Wilsey, a warm personal friend, introduced him to Dr. Hans Burch Gram, the pioneer of homœopathy in America.

This learned and very able physician had just returned from a residence in Denmark of twenty years, where he had completed his professional education and resided in practice till 1825, when he became a convert to homœopathy, and resolved to return to his native laud for its practical diffusion.

Hans Burch Gram had already translated Hahnemann’s powerful epitome of the new doctrine (“Geist der Homœop. Heillehre”) and distributed a few copies of it in printed form to the profession, as a letter to Dr. David Hosack of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in this city.

But no review or other notice of his pamphlet had appeared in our journals, and probably not one in a thousand of the profession in this country had seen the work in this version.

Gray reluctantly consented to be introduced to Hans Burch Gram by ***Ferdinand L. Wilsey, and not till he had carefully studied the letter to Dr. David Hosack could he treat him with the respect clue to his unquestionable professional attainments.

However, after some months of daily discussions with Hans Burch Gram, he resolved to test the truth of Hahnemann’s maxim, similia similibus curantur, in a few of his incurable cases. His tests were conclusive in some of these and unfavorable in none.

The trials were made in 1827, with the diligence and care due to their importance, and they were most patiently aided and supervised by Hans Burch Gram, who had not yet acquired much practice of his own.

In 1828, Dr. Gray adopted homœopathy as the major rule in his practice ; but he did not exclude the useful means and expedients of his former practice in all those cases, too often recurring, in which the apparatus of the new Materia Medica did not, in his judgment, furnish a true simillimum.

To this position he has steadfastly adhered throughout his long career of over forty-five years’ connection with homœopathy. He holds the law of cure, in every real drug cure, to be demonstrably the homœopathic law, and he agrees with the founder that the two opposite maxims of art cannot be harmonized ; but he does not hold, with many, that when a homœopathic remedy is not attainable, the use of medical expedients which the uniform experience of physicians has found safely palliative ought to be abandoned.

He is not a believer in two kinds of pharmacology, but he does earnestly hold to a practice derived from pure observation, in all that large field of practice which still lies outside the precincts of scientific therapeutics. This he thinks cannot justly be called an allopathic position ; it ought to take the name of loyal empiricism, in the right technical meaning of the term.

His avowal of homœopathy had very disagreeable social consequences. In the first place it brought upon him the censure of his beloved preceptor, Dr. David Hosack, whom he loved for his many kindnesses and revered for his great erudition and abounding skill as a teacher of clinical medicine ; and secondly, it placed him in painful relations with nearly every one of his large circle of fellow students and brother physicians.

Moreover, it very soon began to alarm and detach his best informed and most influential patients and patrons -a state of feeling toward him which was by no means allayed by the remarks of his immediate medical colleagues among his lay adherents.

The chagrin and sorrow which fell to his lot by the withdrawal of his preceptor and his other professional associates, which he describes as most poignant and lasting, was accompanied and succeeded by serious defections and losses in his practice and its revenue.

From 1830 -two years after he avowed his adoption of homœopathy- till 1838, his income was too small to support his family pleasantly, and much of that long and gloomy period he was compelled to abandon his carriage and do his work on foot. There were no omnibus conveyances nor street cars.

The poorer classes of his patients adhered to him as a rule ; and this hard pedestrian work, with very small and precarious fees, was his additional trial in the thorny path of his unquestionable duty.

In 1829, the second convert -Dr. Abram D Wilson - joined Hans Burch Gram and took his place as a homœopathist with Gray, ready to encounter the same losses and trials as he had to do and did. Next came Dr. William Channing, Dr. Amos Gerald Hull, and Dr. Federal Vanderburgh ; but each of these with less opposition from the profession and less losses in professional income, and by 1834, the band of the new faith was large enough to break up the loneliness of position which Abram D Wilson and Gray had felt so keenly till they were so reinforced.

Besides, Constantine Hering came to the United States in 1833, and other men of learning and talent in Pennsylvania very soon joined him, making there a powerful compensation for New York ostracism. Gray’s joy at these accessions was very great. He often went over to see and confer with Hering and his Philadelphia colleagues.

In 1832, Gray proposed Hahnemann’s name for the diploma of honorary membership in the New York County Medical Society, and in 1833, the Society elected him. Just ten years later that Society voted to recal the diploma ; but their rescinding came too late ; Hahnemann had gone from earth before the notice of it could reach him.

In 1834, Dr. Gray, with his able and since most justly distinguished pupil, Dr. Amos Gerald Hull, published the first journal of the new school of America. They issued only four monthly numbers, when they had to suspend its publication for want of funds.

In 1839, it was resumed tinder the name of The Homœopathic Examiner, and was printed quarterly in royal octavo form. It reached its fourth volume of several hundred pages each, and it was well sustained by the profession.

Dr. Gray had the review department, besides contributing some few miscellaneous papers ; but the bulk of that very laborious work was executed by his younger colleague, Dr. Amos Gerald Hull.

In 1835, the first society of the new school was formed in New York. Gray was its first President and Dr. William Cullen Bryant its last.

The publications in which Dr. Gray assisted Dr. Amos Gerald Hull, besides the American Journal and the Examiner, were ”Jahr’s Manual,” several editions, ”Everest’s Popular Survey,” by Thomas Roupell Everest, ”The Symptomen Codex,” and ”Lawrie’s Domestic Practice.”

He delivered also several addresses, which were printed for distribution in the profession at the several periods of their origin ; the first of which was published in 1833, being an argument against monopoly in teaching medicine.

Again, in 1850, he treated this topic in an inaugural address to the Hahnemann Academy of Medicine, entitled ”The Duty of the State in Relation to Homœopathy.”

In 1870, Dr. Gray, as Chairman of the Bureau of Education in the Homœopathic Medical Society of the State of New York, reported a memorial for presentation to the Legislature, asking for the appointment of Boards of Examiners in Medicine by the Regents of the University of the State.

The candidates were to be classically educated men, and were to be examined in public in all departments of medicine. This examination -in both schools- was to be the sole testimony as to merit. Diplomas were to issue from the University of the State.

The bill failed to become law only by the veto of the Governor. In 1872, Dr. Gray, as President of the State Society, renewed the topic, and persevered so successfully that the proposed reform became law on the 16th of May, 1872.

The University has already appointed one Board of Examiners. Among his pupils and those whose professional education was shaped by him were Dr. Amos Gerald Hull (dec’d), Henry D. Paine, Fowler, Baner, Quin, Millard, of New York ; Taft and Burritt of New Orleans ; Gilbert and Schley of Savannah.

In his earlier professional life he devoted much time to the acquisition of the German and French languages, and in his later years to the reading of philosophical and medical writings in the Latin tongue ; this latter doubtless led to his receiving his honorary degree from Hamilton College in 1871.

Our subject has been of service to his profession by his fostering kindness to his pupils, from whom he received no fees, and students of medicine who needed pecuniary aid ; and to the school of practice in which he was an early pioneer.

By Robert Séror: Dr. Gray was born in 1804, in Sherburn, a village of central New York, of which his grandfather was the pioneer and founder.

These arguments were now more effective than before from the fact that he had formed an engagement of marriage with the accomplished lady who afterwards became his wife - the daughter of Dr. Gerald Hull, a well-known surgeon of New York, and the father of our late honored associate, Dr. Amos Gerald Hull.

At the first outbreak in New York of the Asiatic cholera in 1832, (this small band) constituted, as is believed, the whole homoeopathic force in that city. Though so few in numbers, and with no public hospitals under their administration, the comparative results of the different modes of treating that fearful disease produced a powerful reaction in favor of Homoeopathy among the people, and a new impulse was given to the examination of its claims by numbers of the medical profession.

This inquiry was greatly facilitated by the publication of translations into French of Hahnemann’s ” Organon,” the ” Materia Medica Pura,” and a few other necessary works.

A number of physicians of good repute were soon added to the homoeopathic ranks, and added strength and encouragement to the movement. From the date of the first publication in French and English, its safety and stability were assured, and by the time the second epidemic of cholera occurred, in 1834, there was a considerable force of homoeopathic physicians in the city ready to contest the field.

In the meanwhile Homoeopathy had obtained a foot-hold in Philadelphia and vicinity, where Drs. Ihm, Bute, Wesselhoeft and Hering occupied the ground - these honored pioneers being all natives of Germany and earnest propagandists of the new medical faith - and having the advantage of access to the whole range of homoeopathic literature, their example and teaching exerted a more rapid influence than was the case in New York, where the accessions were, for many years, altogether from the native professional ranks, and growth was comparatively slow.

But with the translation and importation of expository and practical works in the English language, the knowledge of homoeopathic principles was more rapidly disseminated, and in a few years its practitioners began to be heard of in other cities.

On July 2, 1843, in the City of Paris, Gottlieb Heinrich Georg Jahr was summoned by Madame Hahnemann to the bedside of the failing Dr. Hahnemann.

Upon arriving, Gottlieb Heinrich Georg Jahr found Hahnemann already at his end. Gottlieb Heinrich Georg Jahr was later to notify the Homoeopathic community in a death notice written by him, which can be found in Volume 24 of the Journal Allgemeine Homoeopathische Zeitung, beginning with the Statement, “Hahnemann is Dead!”

The news of Hahnemann’s death reached other parts of Europe, England and the United States. In his biography of Hahnemann, Thomas Lindsley Bradford, the Homeopathic historian from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, mentioned that the “New York Homoeopathic Physicians Society, immediately after the news of Hahnemann’s death had been received, call a special meeting,” and that Dr. John Gray was “selected to pronounce, at a future occasion, a eulogy upon the illustrious man.”

About 1843 the number of homoeopathic physicians had so largely increased, not only in New York and Philadelphia, but in various other places, that there was felt a necessity for a more intimate union and co-operation among them.

Dr. Gray advocated in the New York Homoeopathic Physicians Society that year, the calling of a convention of all the practitioners of the school to consider the matter. A committee was appointed, a correspondence was opened, and a meeting was held in New York on the following anniversary of Hahnemann’s birthday, April 10 th, 1844, a day ever memorable as the beginning of the American Institute of Homoeopathy.

Dr. Gray was most active in securing the success of the undertaking, which some feared might be premature. Nearly fifty physicians from different States were either present in person or by proxy.

During the remainder of his long and useful lift, Dr, Gray was constantly engaged in the duties of an unusually large and lucrative practice. and verified in a remarkable degree, though in a different way, the predictions of his early patrons who recognized his genies and were assured of his future eminence.

In various ways he continued his interest and efforts in behalf of the cause whose inauguration once cost him so dear, but the enumeration of which would extend this memoir far beyond the limits that could reasonably be demanded.

It has been the object of the writer to dwell chiefly upon those features of his early experience, and especially his connection with the introduction and first planting of Homoeopathy in this country, that are not generally known.

For several years our venerable friend had suffered from a chronic affection of the bladder, but notwithstanding the distress and weakness that at times assailed him, he devoted himself with a persistency to his calling that continually, surprised his friends, till within a short period of his death.

Of interest:

In 1838, Alexander Hamilton Burritt left Illinois and relocated to New York City and became a student of his celebrated and distinguished cousin, John Franklin Gray for two years of study of the principles and practice of homeopathy.

After completing his studies in 1840, **Alexander Hamilton Burritt** moved to Pennsylvania and was the pioneer practitioner in Crawford County, where he devoted himself to the study of homeopathy.

**Alexander Hamilton Burritt** also practiced at Conneautville, Ohio and then went to Burton, Ohio in 1840, being the pioneer homeopathic Physician in northern Ohio. He was a founder of the Western Homeopathic College in Cleveland, Ohio and received an appointment from the trustees of the College to the chair of the Obstetrics Department.

He resigned his professorship in 1854 due to his health and removed to Canandaigua, New York and from there to New Orleans, Louisiana where he became one of the leading physicians of the South. It was said that he was a man of great ability as a practitioner and physician as well as a writer.

**Alexander Hamilton Burritt** died in New Orleans of paralysis on October 9, 1877.

***Ferdinand L Wilsey was a wealthy merchant and manufacturer who became a patient of Hans Burch Gram, was a prominent Mason and master of a lodge. He who became a lay homeopath, he trained as a medic and qualified in 1844, and he remained with Hans Burch 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.


Any views or advice in this site should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment, especially if you know you have a specific health complaint