Detached Hospital
The Brigade of the American Revolution, Southern Department
The British Brigade


Home | Overview | Establishment | Recreation| Primary Sources | Secondary Sources | Event Schedule | Photo Gallery | Contact | Links of Interest

An Overview of the history and listing of documentary sources for the Detached Hospital as recreated for membership in The Brigade of the American Revolution

Mike Williams, Commanding Officer

"0ctober 19th 1775

"I received my commission on the staff as Surgeon to his Majesty's detached Hospital in North America with orders from the War office to hold myself in readiness to embark the 20th of November for America but for what part we are not informed.

"This staff consist of a Physician - a Purveyor, who is to act as Physician extraordinary, two Surgeons, i.e. myself and another, two Apothecaries, and eight assistants"

With these words written by Thompson Foster in his journal begins the history of the Detached Hospital for the British Forces in the American Revolution. The journal, which covers the period from 19 October 1775 to 23 October 1777, is in the possession of the Foster family. For the recreation of the Detached Hospital I am working from a copy that was transcribed in 1938.

What we are attempting to do by recreating the Detached Hospital is to focus on the vital role of medicine and surgery during the war and to illustrate its history to the public. Far too many times medicine has been overlooked when portraying the various facets of the American Revolution. This has led to myths replacing fact, so that the public has a false and distorted picture of the practice of medicine during this pivotal time in American history. This organization will correct these misconceptions and allow the 20th Century person to compare experiences that they have had to those of the 18th Century person. The members of the Hospital have an advantage over the typical living historian in that not every visitor may have served in the military or have seen a firearm. Almost every person has at one time been to a Doctor or Dentist. This allows the visitor to compare today's medical care to what was practiced over 200 years ago.

The recreated Detached Hospital gives us the ability to educate the public on many topics: not only Colonial Medicine and Surgical Practices, but the logistic nightmare of receiving supplies and transportation of the wounded and sick in a time of war, the role of women in health care, and how the practice of Medicine was affected by being in a Military setting.


When attempting to reproduce the equipment of a Doctor/Surgeon of the colonial period there are certain benefits. Most of the commonly used tools have been preserved in museums and private collections. There have been several studies on the history of, and development of surgical tools and medical instruments. I have referred to these studies as I and the membership of the hospital continue to work on our presentation. A list of works frequently referred to is displayed here.

In the journal of Thompson Foster, very little is mentioned regarding supplies or equipment. This journal was more one of personal observations. Foster states he has a "surgical journal" which, if found, would serve as gold mine for medical historians since it would no doubt have such information in it. What I have done is to look at typical lists or inventories of surgeon's chests and reproduced what I believe was commonly issued.

I have at this time been unable to locate a list of contents for a British Surgeon's medical chest but have found information on an American Chest. I do not believe that the equipment differed that much since the surgeons/doctors were educated in the same manner and sometimes from the same sources. As a British Surgeon, supplies would have been easier to obtain and I believe that a British chest would have had more of what was required since the supply problem was not as critical as the Americans had to face. I use a booklet entitled "Drug Supplies of the American Revolution" by George B. Griffenhagen as a starting reference point as to what kinds of drugs to have in my medicine chest. The booklet has a full listing of the medicine chest that were issued by the Continental Congress to the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion, Samual Kennedy, Surgeon by the Marshall pharmacy of Philadelphia in May of 1776 and the Northern Department chest compiled in the "medical store" for Thomas Tillotson, Surgeon & Physician General to the Army at Fort George in 1778. I don't feel the need to carry the amounts of drugs that a Surgeon would have normally carried during the war, so I only carry representative amounts. I do not carry drugs that are almost impossible to obtain such as Opium. I also do not carry extremely lethal drugs such as arsenic. The dry drugs I keep in tin containers; the liquids, in glass. My tin containers are reproductions of the tin canisters as shown in Newman's, the glass ware is representative of that commonly used in the mid 1700's.

The surgical tools used in demonstrations are for the most part reproductions. They are copies of tools that are illustrated in the Surgery section of the Encyclopaedia Brittannica of 1768. I am making improvements to add a little refinement to each tool as my time allows. Sutlers have a somewhat limited selection of surgical tools available for sale, so I have added several additional items that were commonly carried and used by Surgeons. These items have been reproduced by skilled craftsmen using detailed photos and line drawings. Before inclusion in my surgical kit, I must have seen the individual tool in a set that is documented as having been used during the colonial period, or if the individual tool in question has a significant historical pedigree, i.e.: the spring lancet at Monticello used by Jefferson.

The techniques that I describe and show to the public are taken from the works of Dr. John Jones of King's College New York and John Ramby, Surgeon General of the British Army in the Seven Years War. The copies of their works are reprints that were originally published in Philadelphia circa 1776. I have also referred to the writings of Rush, Potts, Sharpe, Van Swieten, Lind, Pringle, Hunter and other medical professionals of the period, as well as Hippocrities, Galen, Pare', Wiseman, Woodall and other historic medical writers that would have been studied by Doctors of the 18th century searching for tools to deal with the injuries and illnesses of their patients.


"January 23rd 1776

"Lord Cornwallis is now determined to wait a few days for the Pigot's coming from Crookhaven to the cove of Cork; we wait at Cork for his Lordship's orders and to get our uniforms made, which he ordered us to get done directly, it is handsome and decent, scarlet turned up with a deep blue velvet."

The above quote from Foster's journal is the only description that I as of yet have found of the clothing for members of the Detached Hospital. This is fairly vague when you are attempting to recreate such a uniform. Based on my studies of the royal warrants 1768 and other sources, I am inclined to think that the uniform was similar to what was worn by engineer officers. Button placement could be single, or double since there is very good documentation for surgeons in the army of Frederick the Great having uniform buttons placed in twos on their uniforms. It may be a “leap of faith” but there was a tendency to admire and emulate Frederick’s Army by members of the British Army, so it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to assume that that could have carried over to the medical staff. The following will be the recommended uniform for Surgeons, Physicians or other high ranking staff of the Detached Hospital. This is conjecture at this time and subject to change as more information comes to light.

Hat - Black tricorn bound with black silk tape and black cockade
Neckstock - Black velvet or horsehair, red edging optional, with appropriate buckle.
Shirt - White linen, ruffles at neck and cuff optional.
Waistcoat - White or cream colored wool with small gold buttons. Linen optional, but discouraged.
Britches - White or cream wool with small gold buttons. Linen optional, but discouraged.
Coat - Scarlet wool with blue velvet facings, cuffs, and collar. Large Gold buttons spaced singly or in doubles. Interior will be lined in white/natural wool or linen. The coat will have no epaulets or lace around button holes.
Stockings - White wool or cotton
Shoes with buckles or Riding boots
Small Sword
Wigs - The use of wigs by personnel to be strongly encouraged.

This is not to say that this will be the only clothing worn by members of the Detached Hospital. I believe that the uniform described was worn only by The Physician and Surgeons and a great deal of the time for formal dress only. Based on my further studies, I also think that civilian clothing was worn quite a bit for the day to day operation of the hospital, not only by the original members of the Hospital, but by other staff members, primarily loyalist civilians who joined the hospital on its arrival in America. There would have more than likely been some other different types of Military clothing worn as well, since there is documentation of various medical staff being transferred from various British regiments to the Detached Hospital. All clothing, whether civilian or military, that will be worn by the personnel of the recreated Detached Hospital will be made using either Brigade of the American Revolution patterns or those approved by the Brigade with proper documentation. In setting these standards we can make a very good effort at portraying the clothing that might have been worn by members of the Detached Hospital in the 1776-1777 time period.

However, I would be somewhat remiss in not discussing evidence that there might be another uniform worn by members of the Detached Hospital in a later period. At the time that the membership of the recreated Detached Hospital was first getting organized, we were told by several people that the uniform worn by members of the original Detached Hospital was red faced with red. When these sources were asked for documentation they could not provide any. However, one gentleman was able to provide me with a portrait that I believe might have been the source for this belief. American artist Henry Benbridge painted a portrait of Benjamin Loring sometime between May 1780 and May 1781. Benjamin and his brother Joshua Loring, who served as commissary of prisoners for the British army, were in Charleston, South Carolina to transfer prisoners of War to St. Augustine, Florida. It is believed that the portrait was done in St. Augustine. In this portrait Benjamin is wearing a Red faced Red coat with gold buttons and fine gold lace around the button holes. We know that Benjamin served in the Detached Hospital from late 1775 in Rhode Island and was later listed as a surgeon with the “King’s hospital” in South Carolina.

What does this tell us? Unfortunately, not that much. We know what a particular coat looked like, but we do not have any firm evidence that this was the uniform for the hospital. It may have been a frock that Benjamin owned and wanted to be painted in, or even a uniform from another military unit he may have been attached to. Based on the lack of corroborative facts regarding the red faced red coat, the recreated Detached Hospital will continue to recommend that all parties obtain the scarlet coat with blue velvet facings if they wish to have a formal uniform.

revised 06-26-05