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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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McRee, James Fergus

by Jean Poole, 1991

18 Nov. 1794–9 Aug. 1869

An engraving of James Fergus McRee from 1892. Image from Fergus McRee, physician, was born at Lilliput plantation, Brunswick County, the son of Major Griffith John and Ann Fergus McRee and the brother of Colonel William McRee. He received a medical degree from the Medical College of New York in 1814 and established a practice in Wilmington about 1819. McRee also studied botany under Dr. Nathaniel Hill in Wilmington, specializing in medical botany. He is credited with having introduced to North Carolina such food plants as tapioca, rhubarb, cantaloupe, and artichokes, and he collaborated with Moses Ashley Curtis and Hardy Bryan Croom in botanical investigations.

Participating in local affairs, McRee supported the building of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad and was one of the organizers of the New Hanover County Medical Society, of which he was also president. He received high praise for his work among victims of a yellow fever epidemic that struck Wilmington in 1821. McRee retired first in 1834 or 1835 and settled at Rocky Point as a planter and a student of botany. He resumed his practice in 1837, however, until a second retirement in 1846.

McRee married Mary Ashe Hill on 14 Nov. 1816. She was the daughter of William Henry Hill, one of President John Adams's "midnight judges" and a brother of Dr. Nathaniel Hill, under whom McRee studied botany. They were the parents of two sons: Griffith John, the historian, and James F., a physician and surgeon in the Confederate army. McRee was a vestryman of St. James's Church, Wilmington. He died suddenly in Wilmington at age seventy-five.


William Carter Mebane, Jr., medical history in Wilmington Daily Journal, 10 Aug. 1869.

New England Historical and Genealogical Register 28 (1874).

New Hanover County Medical Auxiliary, The Lonely Road: A History of the Physics and Physicians of the Lower Cape Fear, 1735–1976 (1978).

Clyde Wilson, "Griffith John McRee: An Unromantic Historian of the Old South," North Carolina Historical Review 47 (January 1970).

Thomas F. Wood, "James Fergus McRee, M.D.: A Biographical Sketch with Portrait," North Carolina Medical Journal 29 (January 1892).

Additional Resources:

Henderson, Archibald. "James Fergus McRee." Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina Diamond Jubilee Seventy-Fifth Annual Session Held At Pinehurst, North Carolina April 30th, and May 1st and 2nd. [N.C.:1928]. 95-101.

Wood, Thomas Fanning. Sketch of the botanical work of the Rev. Moses A. Curtis. Raleigh [N.C.]: Edwards, Broughton & Co., Power Printers and Binders. 1885. 12.

Image Credits:

Gutekunst, F. "James F. McRee, M.D., Born Nov. 28th, 1794, Died Aug. 9th, 1869." North Carolina Medical Journal 1, no. 29 (January 1892). Frontispiece.

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