Henry Detwiller 1795 – 1887

Henry Detwiller 1795 – 1887 MD (Detweiller) (Detweiler) (Detwiler) (Dettwiler) was a Swiss orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy, immigrated to America, to administer the very first homeopathic prescription in America on 23.7.1828, and he was a founding member of the Allentown Academy of homeopathy, a founding member of the American Institute of Homeopathy, and a founding member of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, President of the Lehigh Valley Homeopathic Medical Society,

In 1836, Henry Detwiller visited Samuel Hahnemann in Paris, and he was a colleague of William Wesselhoeft,

Henry Detwiller was born in Langenbruck in 1795. He studied first with private tutors before taking up medicine at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

In the spring of 1817, lured by the call of the wild, he took a position as ship’s doctor on the John of Baltimore and set sail for the USA. Having originally intended to continue on to India, he wound up staying in America.

Detwiller landed in America in 1817, and signed his Declaration of Intention on 16.5.1818, stating that he was an orhphan, he settled in Lehigh, and he became a Naturalised American citizen in September 1823.

This biography is extracted from the book of Thomas Lindsley Bradford: The Pioneers of Homeopathy 678 pages, Boericke Tafel (Philadelphia, 1897). Pages 226 to 232. Although there have been many biographical and obituary notices of the death of this distinguished man, the following, which appeared in the Hahnemannian Monthly, for May, 1887, combines the information in them all and is quoted here verbatim:

The following notice of the late Henry Detwiller, MD, of Easton Pa., the man who, on July 23d, 1828, made the first homeopathic prescription in the State, we copy with but slight alterations from the Northampton Democrat of April 29th, 1837.

After seventy two years of active medical practice Dr. Henry Detwiller, having attained the venerable age of ninety two years, and the distinction of being the oldest homeopathic physician in the United States, if not in the world, has at last ended his long and useful career.

About three weeks ago he arose at an early hour, as has been his habit from childhood, took his regular morning walk, and near the corner of Fourth and Northampton streets had the misfortune to fall upon the pavement, striking his forehead.

He was assisted to his feet and returned to his office, partook of his customary lunch, and went to Bethlehem to attend several patients ; the following day he made professional calls at Frenchtown, N. J., and in the evening of the third day he began to feel the effects of the fall. From then until Thursday morning of last week, April 21, at about seven o’clock, when he died, he has been confined the greater portion of his time to his room.

Always accustomed to an outdoor life, his confinement irritated him, but while consciousness lasted he still gave minute directions as to the treatment of his patients, and superintended the preparation of medicines until through weakness he lost the power of articulation.

His career has been a marvelous one. He was born in Langenbruch, Canton Basel Landschaft, Switzerland, on the 13th day of December, 1795. His parents were named Henry and Verena Detwiller. He attended the village school in his boyhood days, where he showed great aptness for learning so much so that when he arrived at the age of thirteen he was sent to a French institute at St. Immier, where he pursued his studies until he was fifteen years old.

He then became the private pupil of Laurentius Senn, MD, a graduate of the celebrated school of Wurzburg. He remained under his tutelage for three years and prepared for matriculation in the medical department of the University of Freyburg, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, to which institution he was admitted in the spring of 1814, where he prosecuted his studies for five consecutive semesters.

After leaving the university, having barely reached his majority, and being fond of natural science, he felt a strong desire to penetrate the mysteries of this broad field of interesting and useful knowledge, and yearning for new scenes and impressions, he determined to cross the seas and explore the regions of the new world.

He left Basel in the spring of 1817; several hundred emigrants accompanied him to Amsterdam. On this passage he acted as physician to the company. When they arrived at Muyden, near Amsterdam, he was requested to present himself to a medical board at the latter city for examination, which he did, was found competent, and was appointed physician on the ship “John,” an American vessel from Boston.

It was an old “three master” upon its farewell trip, almost worn out, and unseaworthy then, but it took on board over four hundred human beings, then, women and children.

Too closely packed in the vessel, extreme heat, perhaps improper food, caused great suffering among the passengers. Disease overtook them, the medicine chest became empty, and the young doctor was called upon, not only for his medical skill, but the contents of his private medicine stores, to save life.

On board the ship was no less a distinguished personage than General Vandame, one of the officers of Napoleon, who had become a political refugee. In the latter part of July, 1817, the vessel reached the port of Philadelphia.

Many of the passengers who were sick when they arrived. with the sick of another vessel, were put in charge of Dr. Detwiller by the port physician.

While thus detained he became professionally acquainted with Dr. Munges, an eminent French physician, by whom he was frequently called in consultation in the families of General Vandame and other French refugees of rank.

At the suggestion and persuasion of  Joseph Bonaparte and Dr. Munges, he was dissuaded from going West, as he at first contemplated, and determined to begin practice in some German locality. Having letters of recommendation from high sources, he started out on a prospective tour.

His first visit was to Allentown, where he arrived in the early autumn of 1817, and soon entered the office of Dr. Charles W Martin, then a prominent physician in that county, where he remained as assistant for about seven months, during which time he displayed so much real knowledge and skill in his profession that he at once gained the confidence of all.

During the winter following and after there was much sickness in the country, puzzling in its nature the skill of physicians generally, and causing much distress in the locality. The young German doctor soon discovered that the disease was caused by lead poisoning. The drug being in form of the malate of lead, produced by keeping fruits in the earthen jars then in common use, and in the manufacture of which litharge was employed. Dr. Detwiller at once applied the proper antidotes and gate the necessary instruction to warn the people against the danger and the disease disappeared.

Of course, the successful treatment at once made the young doctor very popular among these people, and from various localities came urgent invitations to establish himself among them.

Finally, in the spring of 1818, he moved to Hellertown, in Northampton county, and opened an office there. Having thus settled himself, he soon made the acquaintance of au estimable lady named Elizabeth Appel, to whom he was married in December of the same year. They lived happily together for seventeen years, when Mrs. Detwiller died, leaving three sons and four daughters to mourn her loss.

[In the year 1828, William Wesselhoeft, and Henry Detwiller, were practicing near each other, the former at Bath, Pa., the latter at Hellertown, twelve miles south of Bath. They met frequently in social life and in professional consultation.

At one of their meetings William Wesselhoeft mentioned that he had received from his father and John Ernst Stapf, in Germany, some books on Homeopathy and a box of homeopathic medicines. William Wesselhoeft asked Dr. Detwiller to examine with him the new system of medicine. Dr. Detwiller complied by studying up a case he then had on hand, of retarded menstruation with severe colic, and found Pulsatilla indicated.

He administered it – the first homeopathic dose in Pennsylvania, July 23, 1828, and was rewarded by a speedy and complete cure…

Transactions of the World’s Homeopathic Convention, 1876, Vol. 11, p. 773: From that time until his death he has been the unwavering student, practitioner and champion of the principles of Homeopathy.

In 1836 he paid a visit to his native land, accompanied by his eldest son, William Detwiller, whom he placed in one of the institutions of learning there to pursue his studies under the guardianship of a professional friend.

During his stay in the old country he formed the acquaintance of many learned men of Europe, among the rest such celebrities as Samuel Hahnemann, Profs. Shoenlein, Oken, Shintz, and others.

During his sojourn he visited his Alma Mater, presented his certificate of examination (absolutorium) executed in the fall of 1816, when he had not attained his majority, or the age required by the statutes for the holding of a degree. So, after an absence of twenty years, he applied to the medical faculty for an examination, and, if found worthy, for the grant of a diploma. The faculty met, and, after subjecting him to a rigorous examination, he was rewarded with that to which he would have been entitled twenty years before had he been of age, namely, a diploma of Doctor Medicinae, Chirurgiae et Artis Obstetriciae.

In 1853 he removed to Easton, where he has since resided. During an his years of extensive practice he was ever able to devote himself to his favorite scientific studies. He collected Flora Sauconensis, the name by which he called his herbarium, the specimens being collected principally in Upper and, Lower Saucon. (Many botanical excursions were made in company with his friends, Dr. De Schweinitz and, Dr. Hubner). The ornithological specimens, the mammals, reptiliae, cheloniae, etc., collected and, prepared by him, represented, with but few exceptions, the whole fauna of Pennsylvania. A large number of them were sent to the University of Basil, while he was corresponding member of the National Historical Society there.

He was elected a member of the Medical Faculty of the Academy of the Homeopathic Healing Art at Allentown, in 1836, and, in 1844 assisted at the organization of the American Institute of Homeopathy in New York City, and, retained his membership in the society until the close of his life.

In 1866 he assisted in the formation of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, and, continued his relations as member until his death.

In September, 1886, he attended the dedication of the new Hahnemann College and, Hospital in Philadelphia, and, was described by one of the city journals as follows:

“A bright eyed and rosy faced, but bowed and gray haired man, sat in one of the airy halls of the beautiful Hahnemann College and Hospital buildings last night, looking smilingly around him on hundreds of men and woolen.

It was Dr. Henry Detwiller, of Easton, and the one man who in all that throng had spoken to the great apostle of Homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann himself.”

He was always interested in educational institutions, and for fourteen years held the position of school director in Lower Saucon township. He took an active interest in many business enterprises, and has accumulated a large fortune. He was President of the North Penn Iron Company during its successful operations, and connected with other furnaces, rolling mills, etc. He was for many years a communicant member of the Third Street Reformed church. He was the oldest member of the Masonic fraternity in this part of the State.

His family consisted of three sons, all of whom were physicians, and four daughters, as follows: Dr. Charles Detwiller, deceased; Dr. William Detwiller, of Hellertown; Dr. John J Detwiller, of Easton, who for years past has been associated with his father in practice; Henrietta Heller, widow of C B Heller, of Hellertown; Matilda Martin, widow of Charles H Martin, of Allentown;
Cecelia Detwiller, wife of Jacob Detwiller, of Jersey City; Lucinda Lilliendahl, wife of J A Lilliendahl, of Jersey City.

In addition to these children he leaves twenty seven grandchildren, twenty one great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren.

The funeral of the late Dr. Henry Detwiller, took place on Monday, from his residence in Centre Square, and though of a private character, was largely attended.

The aged physician, who was not only the oldest man in our city, but the oldest practitioner of medicine of his school in the world, and as far as information can he obtained, the oldest of any school, had many friends.

In looking upon him resting in his coffin it was difficult to believe that for three quarters of a century he had engaged in active professional life.His remains which had been placed in the spacious parlors of his residence, were visited during the morning by a large number of people. They were enclosed in a handsome casket. The floral tributes were very beautiful. At the head of the casket were two sheaves of wheat with a sickle composed of white rosebuds, and a large pillow of lilies and roses. At his feet were a wreath of laurels and a cluster of lilies.

The services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Kieffer, of the Third Street Reformed church, in accordance with the beautiful ritual of the German Reformed church, to which the dead man was so greatly attached, and to which his direct ancestors had adhered for the last 300 years.

The choir sang ” Asleep in Jesus” and “Abide With Me.” At the conclusion of the services the body was borne to the hearse by eight pall bearers: Dr. H. Heller, of Hellertown; Constantine H Martin, of Allentown ; Norton Martin, Esq., of Allentown; Harry Lilliendahl, Esq., William Lilliendahl and Clarence Detwiller, of Jersey City; Henry Detwiller, of Bethlehem, and William Detwiller, of Easton, all grandchildren of the deceased.

The interment was private and was only winessed by the immediate relatives. At a special meeting of the Lehigh Valley Homeopathic Medical Society, held at the office of Dr. Doolittle, Easton, April 25, at which there was a full attendance, the following resolutions were passed:

WHEREAS, After a long and useful life, it has pleased Divine Providence to remove from us Dr. Henry Detwiller, au ex President of this society:

Resolved, That in his death this society has lost a faithful and a most useful member.

Resolved, That while we most deeply deplore his loss, we are truly thankful that he was allowed to live so many years among us.

Resolved, That by his seventy two years of active practice, his great devotion to his professional duty, his kindness and courtesy to those of us who came in professional contact with him he has established among us for himself a perpetual remembrance and left us an example worthy of emulation.

Resolved, That we extend to the bereaved family our sincere sympathy.

Resolved, That we attend the funeral in a body.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the family of the deceased, to each of the papers of this city, to the North American Journal of Homoeopathy and to the Hahnemannian. E D Doolittle MD, F J Slough MD, Daniel Yoder MD. (Cleave’s Biography. N. Am. Jour. Hom., vol. 35, P. 383. Hahn. Mo., vol, 22, p. 299. Med. Adv., vol. 18, p. 596. Hom. Phys., vol. 7, p. 212. World’s Con., vol. 2, p. 655. Trans. Am. Inst. Hom., 1887. Trans. Pa. Hom. Med. Soc., 1887).

Detwiller’s Obituary is in the British Homeopathic Review in 1887, and also in the same year in The Doctor,

Of interest:

Isaac C Detweiller 1830 – 1900 was the oldest homeopathic physician in Pennsylvania in 1900 vowed to give every dollar he earned from his practice to charity, having already made a fortune in building. Isaac had already donated a large sum of money to troops during the Spanish American War. Isaac had two brothers who were also physicians who sadly drowned, and two other brothers and two sisters.

Wellington C Detweiler was a teacher of medicine and homeopathy in the 1880s:

William M Detweiller

of Findlay, O., was born on the 23d day of August, 1832, in Mifflin county, Pa., of German descent, his ancestors coming hither from Germany before the revolutionary war, and settling in Pennsylvania. He was early apprenticed to a plasterer, but moving to Findlay, O., in 1851, he entered the Findlay Academy, and remained under instruction about three years. He then settled on a farm in Illinois, but finding the business unremunerative, returned to Findlay after an absence of two years.

In 1854, he was married, in the latter place, to Miss Harriet Fritch, and in 1859, commenced the study of medicine under the instruction of Dr. C. Oesterlen, and during the winter of 1860-61, attended the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College.

On the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, he enlisted in the 21st Regiment of Ohio Infantry Volunteers, and served three years, chiefly as Hospital Steward, in which position he gained a knowledge of surgery, for which he is now so celebrated.

Returning home in 1864, he engaged in general practice for two years, and graduated with great honor in 1867.

He is an occasional contributor to the homeopathic periodicals, and by his great success has obtained a practice second to none in northern Ohio, while by his integrity and uprightness he has gained the esteem of the community in which he lives.

William K Detweiller mentioned in the Directory of homeopathic physicians in 1925.

8 thoughts on “Henry Detwiller 1795 – 1887”

  1. re: Dr. Henry Detweiler

    I lived in Easton, PA for 35 years. During that time I founded the city’s historic
    preservation initiative to help identify, save and restore Easton’s heritage. One
    of the most prominent houses on Centre Square was the home of Dr. Henry
    Detweiler. The 4-story mansion is prominently featured in the educational Historic Easton Walking Tour brochure so that local residents and tourists now know about the work of Dr. Detweiler,early founder of homeopathic medicine in the United States.

    His house in owned by a responsible real estate investor who has restored the
    upper floors of the Detweiler House. Unfortunately, the first floor houses a commercial Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. Just realized the irony of that!

    Be well,
    Toni Mitman
    Falls Church, Virginia (USA)
    [email protected]

  2. Hi Toni

    Thanks for this fascinating tid bit, Dunkin’s Donuts and all!

    You have such an astonishingly rich homeopathic heritage in America, you could scratch around anywhere and find a wealth of detail – several books that need to be researched and written?

    I am so pleased Henry Detweiler’s house is saved and cherished!


  3. Toni,

    Thank you for your appreciation of the work of my great-great grandfather Henry Detwiller, MD. You may also be interested to know that Dr. Detwiller’s earlier home in Hellertown, PA is now the municipal Building on Detwiller Plaza. I have the original drawing of it as it appeared in the 1820s showing all the rooms, his apothecary, gardens and barns. We also have a few copper cholera disks worn to ward off the disease, among a few others of his items; these include his letter home in 1819 that tells of his voyage and settlement in America. I’m not sure he would like his Easton home being a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the coffee is OK – as long as you don’t eat too many Munchkins! We also have a photo of him standing in front of the house in Easton in 1874, before it became a Dunkin’ D…!

    Regards, Rick D.

    P.S. Thanks also to Toni Mitman for founding the preservation initiative!

  4. Rick, I am the grandson of Albert K. Detwiller MD, we have 1826 letter Henry sent to his brother John in Switzerland on whether or not to come to America. (He came, went to Ohio) Love to see the picture of Henry in front of the house where my grandfather grew up thks, we also have the book “the origins of the Detwiller family”, let me know if you are interested regards tom

  5. This isn’t a reply to the post above, but I don’t see where to start a new topic. Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that Dr. Emily Gay of the Hopedale Community (a Utopian socialist commune in Hopedale, Massachusetts, USA, which was established in 1842 and lasted until 1856) was a physician in the Community. I was recently sent more information on her, and I noticed that in the 1870 US census she was listed as a homeopathic physician. Here’s a link to a page I did on her. http://hope1842.com/GayEmilyCensusRecords.html
    The mention of homeopathic physician is in the last line on the page.

    Dan Malloy

  6. Great-great-great grandson of Henry, here. Nice thorough read re: the famous Henry. I’m one of the many great-grandchildren of Col. Albert Knecht Detwiller MD of Easton (not to mention 1st cousin once removed with prior poster above, Tom Detwiller).

    Son of John Jacob Detwiller MD (one of Henry’s three sons, a prominent Easton physician who married Arabella Knecht and lived in the Centre Square house until his death in 1916), Albert Knecht Detwiller was born and raised in Easton. He was, I believe, the only one of J.J.’s children to pursue medicine. He went to Columbia for his MD, had a practice in NYC, wed an Irish immigrant, Margaret Janet O’Dowd, had a stint in France during WWI, had 7 children, lived many years in Rockaway Beach on Long Island, and died in 1971 at the age of 91, having nearly reached his grandfather’s above cited “venerable age of 92 years.” His two youngest children, Mary Ursula and Laura Agnes, still live.

    Albert is buried with his wife Margaret and their daughter “Peggy” (killed in a car accident at the age of 11) in the Detwiller plot in the Easton cemetery. I know John Jacob is also buried there.

    Albert was 7 years old at the time of his grandfather Henry’s death. It’s possible that it’s Albert’s older brother, William “of Easton”, who is listed above as one of the eight pall bearing grandsons of Henry.

    Though named Albert, he insisted that his wife and friends call him “Pete,” after the stableman (if I’m not mistaken) at the Centre Square house that he had befriended as a child.

    That’s great that you have an actual photo of Henry, Rick. I’ve never seen one myself… only the drawing above (which IMO, actually does bear a strong resemblance to my great-grandfather Albert). I have seen a few pictures of John Jacob and I have his medical school portrait (He went to UPenn). Of which of Henry’s sons are you a descendant, Rick? Just wondering if John Jacob is the closer common ancestor that we share…

    Albert too had an interest in the history of his roots. He saved family items/letters/medical paraphernalia from before and during his lifetime (I have a decent amount of his medical equipment, some of which is old enough that it likely belonged to John J.) And thankfully, he was a great documentarian. He made it to Switzerland later in life and visited his grandfather Henry’s birthplace in Langenbruck, sending back postcards to family members. He always wrote detailed descriptions on the back of photographs taken during his lifetime. He wrote out an extensive Detwiller family tree (I knew I’d seen the name “Verena” somewhere before!). What a blessing all of this diligence has been for his many descendants.

    I just read this under family-knecht.tripod.com: “He donated Detwiller Plaza area to the Borough of Hellertown for public use and as a memorialto his distinguished grandfather.” I know of and have seen pictures of Detwiller Plaza, but did not realize that he was responsible for donating it…

    Can anyone tell me where Henry’s remains are? Is he too interred in the Easton Cemetery?

    A big thanks to my uncle Cornelius ‘Neil’ Rogers (son of Elizabeth Jean Rogers nee Detwiller (1914-2000), Albert’s oldest child and my grandma. [Albert had an older sister Elizabeth whom John Jacob likely named after his own mother Elizabeth (Appel) Detwiller]) for sending this biography of Henry my way. And to Neil’s wife, my aunt Martha, who took the time to organize treasured family pictures/letters and the aforementioned handwritten family tree into one helluva scrapbook! AKD would surely be proud-

  7. I have an entire family history slideshow on Henry Detwiller, including photos of the family going back to 1847, old prints, drawings, watercolors and other family items. We have portraits of Drs. Henry, John J. and Albert K. Detwiller as well as the photo of Henry’s Easton home. An architectural drawing of Henry’s 1820s Hellertown House shows his apothecary, gardens, barns, etc. I was named for cousin Frederick Knecht Detwiller, former artist in residence at Lafayette College. The family history was done in 1909 by Jacob J. Detwiller, fireworks manufacturer. Henry Det’s brother John Detwiller’s home in Delaware Ohio, is said to have been designed by Jacob J. Det ca. 1855. I am gr. grandson of Jacob J. Det, grandson of Charles H. Det, son of C.H.Detwiller. Jr.

  8. Hello to all of the kind Detwiller family members who wrote remembrances. I am now living back in Easton, Pennsylvania just a half block from the beautiful Detwiller house on Centre Square. Can you confirm that there used to be peacocks in the yard? What a magnificent residence it must have been…and still is.

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