Thursday, February 6, 2014

Richard Sprigg Steuart (1797-1876)

As I was working on the biographies of the Faculty members who had been involved in the War of 1812, I was polishing up the details of my ancestor, Richard Sprigg Steuart and soon found myself down the rabbit hole.

Dr. Steuart came from a long line of Marylanders, even at that point in time, and was a son of Dr. James Steuart.

At age 17, Dr. Steuart volunteered to be an Aide-de-Camp at the Battle of North Point in 1814, under the direction of his older brother, Captain (later Major General) George H. Steuart. Following the war, he was educated at St. Mary's College, Baltimore and was a pupil in law, under General William H. Winder who led the Battle of Bladensburg. When he studied medicine, he was a pupil under Dr. William Donaldson and practiced with him for most of his career. He received an honorary M.D. from the University of Maryland in 1822, as did many of his contemporaries.

He became a Professor of the Practice of Medicine at the University of Maryland in 1843, but never lectured. In 1848-49 and again in 1850-51, he was President of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. Dr. Steuart was an Orator at Medical and Chirurgical Faculty in 1829. He was a Vice-President, American Medical Association in 1849. In 1874, Dr. Steuart reorganized and became the President of the Alumni Association at the University of Maryland.

Early on however he began to specialize in the relatively neglected field of mental illness, and in 1834 he became President of the Board of Visitors of the Maryland Hospital for the Insane. This is possibly because two of his brother’s sons suffered from mental illness. Dr. Steuart was a founder and Superintendent of the Hospital from 1828 to 1842 and 1869 to 1876. It was known as one of the largest and best appointed Insane Asylums in the United States.imageThis later became Spring Grove in what is now Catonsville, Maryland. Dr. Steuart devoted his life and means to the relief to the insane.

Steuart’s home in Baltimore was known as Maryland Square and it had been the family’s home from 1795 until 1861, when it was seized by Union forces, and used as a hospital until after the war. It later became a boys’ school and was named Steuart Hall. It was located at what is now the corner of Monroe and West Baltimore streets. 800px-Old_steuart_hall_1868Dr. Steuart inherited Dodon, a tobacco plantation south of Annapolis, and left the practice of medicine in 1842 to farm the property. Although he held slaves, he was not in favor of owning them and believed that they should be freed and returned to Africa, most likely the new state of Liberia. During the war years, he was a fugitive and traveled between the Maryland counties and Baltimore. He was relieved of his position at the Maryland Hospital for the Insane after he declined to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union Army.

After the war, he was reinstated as the Superintendent at the Hospital for the Insane, and was in charge when it moved to its present location in Spring Grove, just outside of Baltimore City.Richard_Sprigg_Steuart

He was “an enlightened physician and alienist and a gentleman of most courteous manners.” He died on July 13, 1876. His daughter painted the portrait from which the top picture is taken.

Oddly enough, in the past week, I have come across references to two connections to Steuart’s life. A friend has a painting of the Maryland Hospital for the Insane, and I was speaking to him about it. I recently met someone who works at the Dodon Vineyards, which is the plantation where Steuart’s family farmed. You can read a little of the farm’s history here.

For a more detailed account of Richard Sprigg Steuart’s life, click here

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