History Bytes: Dr. Hunter and Outlander

January 4, 2019

Warning! This History Byte contains spoilers if you’ve not read Echo in the Bone (book 7) and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book 8) of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. For reference the popular show on Starz has only caught up to book 4, Drums of Autumn.

Fans of the Outlander series of novels will be familiar with Dr. Denzell Hunter, a Quaker written out of meeting after deciding to join the Continental Army as a surgeon. His sister Rachel Hunter (and love of Ian Murray, Jr.) works alongside him as a nurse. Denzell trained in London under his relative Dr. John Hunter. While there he met Lady Dorothea Grey (goddaughter to Lord John Grey), with whom he will reconnect and marry in America.

Dr. John Hunter of Scotland (1728-1793) was a real person and he was the cousin of another Scottish surgeon, Dr. William Hunter, who shares more than a surname and profession with Dr. Denzell Hunter of the Outlander series. William Hunter is deserving of his own fanbase with a history and exploits that could have been ripped out of the pages of Gabaldon’s novels.

A circa 1750 English ceramic pharmaceutical bottle made of tin-glazed Earthenware or “delft,” NHS Collection.

Dr. William Hunter of Scotland (c. 1729 – 1777) came to America in 1752 and established a medical practice in Newport, Rhode Island where he ran an apothecary (which would turn into the famed Caswell and Massey) and gave some of the first public lectures on anatomy in the Colonies. He reportedly studied anatomy and surgery under Dr. Alexander Monro at the University of Edinburgh. Like the fictional Denzell Hunter, William also treated soldiers in war time. He is said to have served as a surgeon’s mate at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Fans of Outlander know that the fictional Jamie Fraser fought as the Jacobite Red Jamie and was severely wounded at Culloden. William Hunter’s war service did not end when he came to America. He was appointed surgeon to Rhode Island troops during the Seven Years War (1761-1768) and Revolutionary War (1776-1783). Like Denzell Hunter, he married a woman of means, Deborah Malbone, the youngest daughter of Godfrey Malbone, a wealthy Newport merchant. And like Denzell he spent time at Fort Ticonderoga. The similarities end there. Unlike Denzell, William Hunter remained a staunch supporter of the British Crown. He was a member of Newport’s Church of England, Trinity Church, and was deemed by Congregationalist minister, and supporter of American Independence, Ezra Stiles as being an extreme Tory. Dr. William Hunter died in 1777 after contracting a fever while tending to prisoners of war.