Early Evansville Portraits And Biographies
From History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana
by Brant & Fuller

John William Compton

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JOHN WILLIAM COMPTON, M. D., standing for nearly a quarter of a century in the front ranks of those who have attained special prominence in the general practice of medicine in the city of Evansville, was born near Hardinsburg, Breckinridge county, Ky., July 22, 1825.

His father, Jeremiah Dabney Compton, was born near Culpepper Court House, Va., in 1801. He was a farmer by occupation, and a fine type of the Virginia gentleman of that day, tilling his farm in the summer and teaching the village school in the winter months. He married Miss Nancy, daughter of John Ball, of Culpepper Court House. She was born in 1804, and received a liberal education, and careful reading had given her a well stored mind and a love for literature. She became an extensive writer on religious subjects, leaving a large book of manuscripts, which, for want of press facilities in that day, were never published.

The Comptons, of English extraction, were among the old and reputable families of Virginia. The progenitor of the family was Matthew Compton who came to Virginia from England long before the time of the Revolution. William, a son, was Dr. Compton's grandfather, and removed to Kentucky at an early day, and was a pioneer and prominent citizen of Breckinridge county.

The early life of Dr. Compton was not unlike that of most of the youths of that time, being passed upon his father's farm. He received his education at a common school, and under the tutelage of a Prof. Fabrique, of his native village. While his advantages for obtaining an acquaintance with books were to some extent limited, his studious habits, quick perception and retentive memory enabled him to advance rapidly, and at length to possess a greater store of information than was common among the lads of this time and locality.

At the age of sixteen he was so far advanced as to be employed as a teacher, and continued so occupied for four years. At the end of this time he decided to make the practice of medicine his life's work, and entering the office of Dr. Norvin Green, now president of the Western Union Telegraph Co., in 1847 commenced the study of medicine under the instruction of that distinguished physician, and in 1849 took a course of lectures in the medical department of the University of Louisville, and later graduated in the medical college of Evansville.

In the early part of the year 1850 he established himself in the practice of his profession in Knottsville, Ky. The city of Owensburg, Ky., however, offered superior inducements and he removed there in 1852, where he remained in active practice until the breaking out of the war in 1861 Unswerving in his loyalty to the Union, he was commissioned assistant surgeon of the Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry. In March, 1863, while in camp at Nashville, Tenn., he resigned his commission to accept the position of surgeon of the board of enrollment of the Second District of Kentucky, and in that capacity actively served until the close of the war in 1865.

In October of that year he came to Evansville, where he formed a partnership with that distinguished practitioner, Dr. James P. DeBruler, and has since remained actively engaged in the practice of his profession. The doctor soon took a leading position among his medical brethren, and shortly after taking up his residence here was elected president of the Evansville Medical Society. In 1872 he was appointed county physician for Vanderburgh county. In 1875 he was appointed to the chair of materia medica and therapeutics in the Evansville Medical College, clinical surgeon for diseases of women, in the college dispensary, and staff surgeon to St. Mary's Hospital.

As a teacher of materia medica he adopted change in the mode of instruction, by leaving to botanists and others the technical description of medicines, and by confining his lectures more particularly to the therapeutic indications and the good that might be accomplished by the judicious administration of remedies and their application to diseases. He became a popular and instructive lecturer. In 1881 he became a member of the Indiana state board of health, and at its first meeting was unanimously elected its president. He filled this position four years, when the demands of his practice became so imperative that he was obliged to tender his resignation. He is at present a member of the board of health of the city of Evansville.

He is prominently identified with many of the leading medical societies of this country, such as the American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, Mississippi Valley Medical Association, Indiana State Medical Society, and is an honorary member of the Mitchell District Medical Society and the Southwestern Kentucky Medical Association. In 1882 he was appointed a member of the United States board of examining surgeons for pensions, at Evansville, and served as its president until 1885.

He is a charter member of Farragut Post, No. 27, G. A. R., and has been surgeon of the post continuously since its organization. While the duties of his official positions and his practice have been onerous, he has made many valuable contributions to medical, scientific and general literature, notably: "The Geological, Geographical and Climatic Influences and Pre- vailing Diseases of the Second District of Kentucky," (reported to the war department and printed in the medical statistics of ths provost marshal general's bureau), "Injuries to the Brain," "Solution and Absorption of Medicine," "Chemical compounds in the Nutrition of the Human Body," "Diseases of the neck and body of the Uterus," "Paralysis from pressure of displaced uterus on sacral plexus of Nerves," "State medicine and Hygiene," "Ante-partum Hemorrhage," "Precautions requisite in the administration of Ergot," and others which were read before different society meetings and published in leading medical journals; he has also written articles in extenso for current magazines and on many important medical and sanitary topics, but lack of space forbids their enumeration.

But few physicians in this part of the country are more extensively or favorably known than Dr. Compton, and justice to him requires the statement that but few have been more successful in all the varied departments of life. Early thrown upon his own resources, with indefatigable zeal he overcame every obstacle, and through his own personal efforts, unaided by the adventitious circumstances of wealth and influential relationships, has advanced to his present position.

His record as a physician and a private citizen is honorable in all its details, and his career is worthy of emulation. Politically he is a republican, active in local politics, but in no sense a politician. He is a member of the First Cumberland Presbyterian church and takes a lively interest in all benevolent enterprises.

In 1853 he was married to Miss Sallie, daughter of David Morton, a well known citizen and merchant of Owensboro, Ky. Of this union four children are now living: Margaret O., (now Mrs. Ira D. McCoy), Morton J., Frederick S. and John W., Jr.