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Meet John Van Surly – The first Black American to gain admission into the US Medical Society.



John Van Surly

Born in June 1825, the late John Van Surly DeGrasse was the first black to gain admission to a United States Medical Society. During the American war, he made it to the Union Army as a commissioned physician. Besides his medical practice, he was a committed abolitionist, actively involved in the organization of vigilante groups with the principal aim of intercepting slave hunters, subsequent tothe passing of the Fugitive Law in 1850.

DeGrasse was 15 years old when he enrolled in OneidaInstitute in New York, after which he joined Aubuk College in Paris to study medicine. In 1849, he graduated with a medical degree from Bowdon College’s Medical School of Maine in Brunswick, ultimately making him the second Black American to attain a medical diploma in the US. Afterward, DeGrasse went back to practice in Paris with the well-known French surgeon, A.L.M. Velpeau for two years.

DeGrasse returned to the US in 1951, and a year later he tied the knot with Cordelia L. Howardin Boston. DeGrasse decided to establish his medical practice in 1854, in Boston, and not too long after, he was admittedto a US medical society. A year later on December 5, the couple had their first and only child, Georgina Cordelia DeGrasse.

In appreciation of his services in the Union Army, first as a volunteer, then six months later, as an assistant surgeon, DeGrasse was awarded a gold-hilted sword by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew. He served with the 35thUnited States Colored Infantry. He was among the eight black Americans to serve as surgeons in the Union Medical Corps and the only one to servein South Carolina with his regiment.

DeGrasse was the son to Count George DeGrasse and Maria Van Surly. He passed on at the age of 43 onNovember 25, 1868

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