Felix Pascalis
Source: NYAM Library

Felix Alexander Ouvière Pascalis (1762 – 20 July 1833) was a French-born “renaissance man,” a scholar, physician, cleric, naturalist, and horticulturist, who settled in Philadelphia, and later New York City. There he took up the practice of medicine, and served as a physician of Bridewell and the Jail and Consulting Physician to the Alms House.

In 1801-2, Pascalis was a Vice-President of the Chemical Society of Philadelphia, founded in 1792. He was also a founder and President of the New York branch of the Linnean Society of Paris.

In 1809, Pascalis was one of the signatories, alongside his orthodox colleagues William J. MacNeven and David Hosack, who awarded a diploma to future homeopath, Hunting Sherrill, attesting to his medical skill and ability.

Towards the end of his life, Pascalis took up the study and practice of homeopathy.

Felix Alexander Pascalis Ouvière was born in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1762, the son of surveyor Jean Francois Ouviere (b. 1711) and Anne Francoise Pascalis.

Although he had an abiding early interest in the physical sciences and medicine, Pascalis studied divinity for three years and entered adult life as a prelate, holding a clerical benefice that had been gifted to the family. However, with the onset of the French Revolution, Pascalis issued a treatise on clerical marriage that resulted in his excommunication by Cardinal Jean Baptiste de Belloy.

Pascalis was obliged to leave France and, resolving on a career in medicine, in 1790 he followed a royal surgeon, very likely the Abbé Joseph Benoît Peyré, a founder member of the Cercle des Philadelphes scientific society, to the colony of Saint Domingue.

In Saint Domingue, Pascalis was caught up in the 1793 Haitian Slave Revolt. As a mediator, Pascalis was dispatched to France to petition the King for support in ending the revolt but, just two months after his arrival in Paris, the King was arrested. In the revolutionary tumult that ensued, Pascalis fled once again, arriving first in London, then Jamaica. After an interrogation, the British governor understood Pascalis’ situation and put him aboard a British ship bound for the United States. However, as the British vessel neared the American coast a French republican frigate closed in. Recognizing the danger of being caught by the Republicans, Pascalis destroyed his personal papers, changed to his maternal name and, with just some food, clothing, and letters of introduction from French men of distinction, joined several other passengers who took to a small boat before the British ship could be captured.

Pascalis landed near Philadelphia, and was soon welcomed in to the city’s medical fraternity. There he set up in private practice. Within months of his arrival, however, a severe outbreak of yellow fever swept the city. The hospital was under the care of another refugee from Saint Domingue, Dr. Jean Devèze, an expert on treating yellow fever. Pascalis, who had studied the disease and wrote on the subject, became an associate to Devèze during the crisis. It was owing to Pascalis’ letters, and his promotion of the anti-contagion theory of yellow fever, that the Pennsylvania Legislature changed their quarantine law in 1802, and appointed Pascalis to the Philadelphia Board of Health.

Over the next few years, Pascalis traveled under US protection around Europe, investigating the sites of the worst yellow fever outbreaks. On his return, he published a number of scientific research works on the disease, and settled in New York City, where he was appointed as a physician to the alms house and prisons.

In 1812, Pascalis became joint editor of the Medical Repository, the first American medical journal. He continued with this endeavour for five years, establishing correspondence with medical scientists around the world.

Beginning in 1826, Pascalis turned his attentions to the cultivation of silk. In 1828, he was sent from Paris three rooted cuttings of Chinese mulberry, the first ever imported into the United States. His final notable scientific contribution was a two-volume work on the techniques of successfully cultivating silk, published in 1829 – 1830 under the auspices of the American Institute, of which he was a member.

Dr. Felix Ouviere Pascalis, a naturalized Frenchman, was an eminent naturalist, scholar and researcher. He researched silk horticulture, corresponded with noted scientists of his generation, joined an abolitionist society in Philadelphia and researched and published on such disparate subjects as yellow fever and peach production. In 1803, he sent an interesting letter to Thomas Jefferson about the Louisiana territory that the United States had recently acquired from France. Pascalis wrote the president that the United States needed to encourage settlement in the territory and further commented that in order

to procure a perfect description of Louisiana, it would require the enterprizing [sic] perseverance of men of prudence and of general information. They should be acquainted with all the branches of public Economy, and especially with the comparative results of Commerce and Agriculture. Natural philosophers and tried friends to the Federal governement [sic] they might be like political missionaries, capable of influencing a people perhaps corrupt by Loyalty and priesthood. They should be versed in the French and Spanish Languages.

It is interesting to note that Pascalis’s letter of August 18 mirrored President Jefferson’s thoughts, as he had just dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famed “Voyage of Discovery” in June 1803. Dr. Pascalis had been involved with the Haitian Revolution and abolitionism in Pennsylvania and never owned a slave. In 1801, while living in Philadelphia, he married Elizabeth Harris McKlintock. Therefore, it is ironic that his widow and son would invest his bequest in a slave plantation in South Carolina.

The Renaissance man Dr. Felix Pascalis, in a handwritten will dated May 21, 1833, named his son, Cyril, as the heir to his estate. Dr. Pascalis died on July 22, 1833, in New York City. His daughter and son-in-law also died in
1833. Consequently, in 1835, Pascalis’s widowed mother [recte wife] Elizabeth acquired 790 acres and built a home, known as Pascalina, for herself, her son and her two orphaned grandchildren in the Aiken area. In 1850, she is listed as a seventy-year-old farmer in Barnwell District. By 1860, the Nova Scotia native lived alone and owned real property valued at $5,600 and personal property (including slaves) worth $1,260.

Born and educated in southern France, Felix Pascals Ouvrière (1762-1833) spent several years in the West Indies and arrived in Philadelphia in 1793 shortly before the yellow fever outbreak. He investigated and wrote essays and treatises on yellow fever, including An Account of the Contagious Epidemic Yellow Fever, which Prevailed in Philadelphia in the Summer and Autumn of 1797, published in Philadelphia in 1798. He excluded contagion as the means of communicating the disease. As vice president of the Chemical Society of Philadelphia, Pascalis delivered the society’s annual oration in January 1801. He concluded with praise for fellow member Joseph Priestley. In 1805, Pascalis traveled to southern Spain, Gibraltar, and South Carolina to study the nature of yellow fever. Upon his return, he settled in New York City, where he remained the rest of his life. He worked closely with Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill. Pascalis published numerous letters and articles in the Medical Repository, ranging from his findings on yellow fever to “Peach Trees becoming diseased.” In 1812, he became co-editor of the journal with Mitchill and Dr. Samuel Akerly. He also published in the Philadelphia Medical Museum and the American Medical and Philosophical Register. He was active in the New York state and county medical societies, where he served as a corresponding secretary and as a censor for licensing physicians. Following his interest in botany, he founded and served for a time as president of the New York branch of the Linnaean Society of Paris. In 1823, he wrote an influential pamphlet on the dangers of interments in cities (Pascalis, Annual Oration, Delivered before the Chemical Society of Philadelphia, January 31st. 1801.

It is not clear when Pascalis first embraced homeopathy but, in 1831, he participated in an investigation conducted by the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York into conspiratorial activities by orthodox medical men in the state who were excluding and alienating homeopaths from professional practice. According to a summary of the committee’s findings, in an address given by Benjamin Franklin Bowers in 1871, the eventual manifestation of this “secret exclusive association, called the Kappa Lambda Society,” was the creation of the orthodox, and partisan, New York Academy of Medicine:

So long ago as 1831, Philip E. Milledollar M.D., Felix Pascalis M.D., Abraham D. Wilson M.D., Hans B. Gram M.D., were appointed, by the Medical Society of the City and County of New York, a committee “to investigate the subject of the existence of a secret association of medical men in New York, said to be for purposes derogatory to the profession and injurious to the public.” They presented a full and interesting report, which was approved, almost unanimously by the society, consisting of two hundred and ninety physicians, in which they say: That it originated in selfishness, and has been continued for the purpose of advancing the pecuniary interest of, and making professional reputation for its members, without submitting to fair, open competition, which decided talents and honorable minds never wish to avoid.

The death of Pascalis’ only daughter, Francesca, in May 1833, was a bitter blow, and he lost the will to live. Two months later, on 20 July 1833, Felix Ouvière Pascalis died, aged 70.

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Francesca Anna Pascalis Canfield (1803 – 1833), only daughter of Felix Pascalis, was an American poet and painter. She caught tuberculosis at 19, and spent the remaining ten years of her life slowly succumbing to her sickness. In 1899, her son, Felix Pascalis Canfield (1828 – 1916) was sentenced to life imprisonment in Boston, Massachusetts, for the second-degree murder of his second wife, Grace Eaton Homer (1857 – 1899).