- David S. Shields
Dale, Thomas (1700–16 September 1750), physician, jurist, and poet, was born in Hoxton, England, to a gentry family with medical interests. His parents’ names are unknown. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford University, from 1717 to 1720 and in 1721 began study at the University of Leyden, from which he received a medical degree on 23 September 1723 for Dissertatio medico-botanica inauguralis de Pareira Brava et Serapia officinarum, which was published that same year. He established his medical practice in London. Dale’s mastery of Dutch, German, French, classical Greek, and Latin enabled him to supplement his income with fees for translating medical texts. Mounting debt and familial opposition to his marriage prompted his removal to Charleston, South Carolina, in summer 1732. Dale’s wife, Maria (maiden name unknown), died shortly after their arrival. They had no children.
Dale’s credentials, sociable manner, and professional ability gained him immediate access to the highest levels of Carolina society. Governor Robert Johnson and Attorney General Charles Pinckney advanced his interest by arranging a marriage in 1733 with Mary Brewton, daughter of Charleston’s foremost merchant, Miles Brewton. The couple had two sons, neither of whom lived to adulthood. Despite Dale’s lack of legal education, Governor Johnson appointed him assistant justice in 1733. During the 1730s Dale became a fixture in the public life of Charleston. He served as steward of the St. George’s Society, the private association charged with easing the assimilation of English immigrants into Carolina society, and he became a justice of the peace in 1737. He was an administrator of the slave detention workhouse and an overseer of the public markets. In 1739 he was elevated to a judgeship on the court of general sessions. Dale was a moving force in the creation of the colony’s first insurance plan, which failed because of the devastations wrought by the great fire of 1740. He also served a term in 1749–1750 as an elected representative for St. Peters Parish in the royal assembly.
As a physician, Dale waged war against the multitude of uncredentialed practitioners who passed as doctors in Charleston. In 1735 he established a laboratory in the province, manufacturing medicines and distilling gin. The botanical interests displayed in his Leyden dissertation were reanimated by proximity to one of the richest collection areas in North America. He supplied his botanist uncle, Samuel Dale, with a steady stream of specimens. With the 1738 outbreak of smallpox in Carolina, Dale entered into a controversy with James Killpatrick (later Kirkpatrick) over the practice of inoculation and wrote two medical polemics, “The Case of Miss Mary Roche,” published in the South Carolina Gazette on 2 November 1738, and the satirical “The Puff; or, A Proper Reply to Skimmington’s Last Crudities,” published in the South Carolina Gazette on 25 January 1739. Dale’s animosity toward Killpatrick was as much political as medical. Killpatrick was a supporter of the Georgia colony, while Dale was a champion of Carolina’s prerogatives.
During the 1730s Dale was the chief spokesman of the group of cosmopolitan wits who congregated in the Court Room of Shephard’s (later Gordon’s) Tavern. The group promoted the establishment of a theater in Charleston, sponsored public balls and concerts, instigated the jailing of the evangelist George Whitefield when he preached against dancing in Charleston, and satirized Whitefield when he was released. Several of Dale’s poems have survived, including “Prologue to the Orphan … ,” South Carolina Gazette (8 Feb. 1735), announcing the transit of arts to South Carolina; “Prologue Spoken to the Orphan … ,” South Carolina Gazette (8 Feb. 1735); “Epilogue to the Orphan … ,” South Carolina Gazette (22 Feb. 1735); “Epilogue to the Recruiting Officer,” Gentleman’s Magazine (6 May 1736), and his most widely published poem, “The Congratulation. Humbly Address’d to the Rev. Mr. Whitefield on His 68 Preachments in Forty Days, with the Great and Visible Effect of Meat and Money that Ensued Therefrom, &c,” which appeared anonymously in the South Carolina Gazette (26 June 1740). Dale and Killpatrick were the finest poets in the Carolinas during the first half of the eighteenth century.
Dale survived three wives and two children. The memory of his second wife lives on in a Charleston ghost story; she haunts the Dale House on Church Street. His third wife was Anne Smith. His fourth wife, Hannah Simons, who survived him, presided over a tea table of female wits. Thomas Simons Dale, the sole surviving offspring of Dale’s four marriages, became a notable physician in Scotland. Dale died in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dale’s letters of the 1730s to Rev. Thomas Birch survive in the Thomas Birch Papers, British Library, London. Personal information on Dale is in A. S. Salley, Register of St. Philip’s Parish, Charleston, 1720–1758 (1904). Dale’s medical career is detailed in R. E. Seibels, “Thomas Dale M.D., of Charleston, S.C.,” Annals of Medical History 3 (1931): 50–57. His legislative career is in Walter Edgar and N. Louise Bailey, Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, vol. 2 (1977). His literary career is discussed in A. Franklin Parkes, “Thomas Dale,” in American Writers before 1800: A Biographical and Critical Dictionary, vol. 2, ed. James Levernier and Douglas Wilmes (1983). See also the chapter titled “Gaining Admission” in David S. Shields, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (1997).