The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
few specimens collected by Francis Peyre Porcher; all are from South Carolina.
According to the Harvard University Herbaria’s
database of botanists, herbaria that hold F. P. Porcher’s
material include Charleston Museum (CHARL), National Botanic Gardens, Dublin,
Ireland (DBN), Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland (E), and United
States National Arboretum (NA). A
search of sernecportal.org in November, 2017 revealed that the University of
South Carolina Herbarium (USCH) also curates some specimens collected by
Francis Peyre Porcher.
Francis Peyre Porcher
Image courtesy of the Waring
Medical College of South Carolina
Rutkow, Ira M. (1991) Francis Peyre
Introduction to a reprint of Resources
of the southern fields and forests, medical, economical, and agricultural
/ by Francis Peyre Porcher. Originally published: Charleston:
Evans & Cogswell, 1863. San
Francisco: Norman Publishing.
Francis Peyre Porcher was born in St. John’s, Berkeley County, South
Carolina, on December 14, 1825. Among
his paternal descendants were Isaac Porcher, a French Hugenot
physician, who left France at the time of the revocation of the Edict of
Nantes (1685) and eventually settled in South Carolina. Porcher’s father
William was also a physician, and his mother was Isabella Sarah Peyre. One of his
mother’s grandfathers was Thomas Walter, a well-known English botanist, who
came to South Carolina during the eighteenth century and made a study of the
plants in the region.
Porcher received his elementary, secondary, and
college education in his native state.
He first attended Mount Zion Academy and then went to South Carolina
College where he received his A. B. in 1844.
Three years later Porcher graduated from the
Medical College of the State of South Carolina as valedictorian in a class of
seventy-six. His fifty-five-page
thesis, “A Medico-Botanical Catalogue of the Plants and Ferns of St. John’s,
Berkeley County, South Carolina” (Charleston:
Burges & James, 1847), would prove to be the forerunner and
foundation of a remarkable series of pamphlets and books on similar
subjects. From fall 1847 through
winter 1849, Porcher pursued post-graduate medical
studies in Paris and Florence.
In 1849, Porcher returned to Charleston where he began
to practice medicine. That same year
he presented a lengthy report at the annual meeting of the American Medical
Association entitled “A Sketch of the Medical Botany of South Carolina”
(Philadelphia: T.K. & P.G.
Collins, 1849). Settling into practice,
Porcher eventually joined with another physician,
Belin Flagg, and established the Charleston Preparatory Medical School in
Porcher continued his botanical studies and in 1854
presented another extensive report to the American Medical Association, which
was entitled “The Medicinal, Poisonous, and Dietitic
Properties of the Cryptogamic Plants of the United
States” (New York: Baker & Godwin,
Porcher served in the Civil War from the beginning,
first as surgeon to the Holcombe Legion until March 1862, then at the Naval
Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, and finally in the South Carolina Hospital at
Petersburg, Virginia. He was among the
most well known of Confederate physicians.
Shortly after the hostilites [sic]
commenced, he was asked by Surgeon-General Samuel P. Moore (1813-1889) to
prepare a treatise on southern botany.
Porcher’s 594-page Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical and
Agricultural; Being Also a Medical Botany of the Confederate States; with Practical
Information of the Useful Properties of Trees, Plants, and Shrubs
(Charleston: Evans & Cogswell,
1863) was the culmination of the research that Porcher
had started while in medical school and is considered among the most
important medical works to be published in the Confederacy. This book has been credited with
maintaining the Southern war effort for many months longer than if it had not
been written. It was Moore’s hope that
the volume would enable medical officers to supply many of their drug needs
through the preparation of medicines from plants indigenous to the southern
states. The content proved so popular
that southern newspapers published extract from the book to encourage the
collection of plants and the preparation of botanical remedies. It was considered of such value that a
revised edition of 733-pages was issued in 1869.
Following the end of the war, Porcher returned to
Charleston where he was on the staff of the City Hospital from 1866 to
1887. He resumed his academic chairs
and continued his prolific contributions to medical journals. From 1873 to 1876, he again served as
editor for the Charleston Medical
Journal and Review. Porcher was identified with a number of learned societies
… he was a member of the Elliot Society of Natural History…
He was first married to Virginia Leigh of Richmond in 1885. They had five children, one of whom became
a physician. Following Virginia’s
death, Porcher married Margaret Ward of Georgetown,
South Carolina. They had four
suffered a paralytic cerebrovascular event in the fall of 1895. He died on November 19 of that year and was
interred in Charleston.