Richard Sprigg Steuart

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Richard Sprigg Steuart
Richard Sprigg Steuart.jpg
Photograph of Richard Sprigg Steuart
Born November 1797
Baltimore, Maryland
Died July 14, 1876
Dodon, Anne Arundel County, Maryland
Education St Mary's College, Baltimore
Known for Spring Grove Hospital Center
Spouse(s) Maria Louisade Bernabeu (m. 1824; d. 1883)
Relatives George H. Steuart (politician), grandfather
George H. Steuart (militia general) brother
George H. Steuart (brigadier general) nephew.
Medical career
Profession Physician
Specialism Mental Illness

Richard Sprigg Steuart (1797–1876) was a Maryland physician and an early pioneer of the treatment of mental illness. He was instrumental in the expansion and modernisation of The Maryland Hospital for the Insane, now known as the Spring Grove Hospital Center, which became his life's work. Spring Grove continues to treat mental illness today, and is the second oldest institution of its kind in the United States. Steuart was relieved of his position as superintendent of the hospital at the start of the American Civil War, because he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union, but he was reinstated at the war's end, and remained superintendent almost until his death in 1876.

Early life[edit]

Steuart was born in Baltimore in November 1797, younger son of the physician Dr James Steuart and his wife Rebecca. He was the fourth of eight siblings, of whom two died in infancy, of scarlet fever.[1] He was raised at the family mansion at Maryland Square [2] and educated at St Mary's College, Baltimore.

War of 1812[edit]

During the War of 1812, at the age of seventeen, Steuart volunteered his assistance as aide-de-camp [3] to the Washington Blues, a company of militia raised and commanded by his older brother, Captain (later Major General) George H. Steuart (1790–1867), and served at the Battle of North Point on September 12, 1814, where the Maryland Militia were able to hold off a British attack long enough to shore up the defence of Baltimore.[4] As he later recalled in his memoirs:

"I found my little knowledge of surgery very useful. One of the soldiers had been shot through the thigh wounding the femoral artory, so...I made a tourniquet, arresting the flow of blood, to place him in my wagon and bring him to the Maryland hospital. Here surgeon Gibson received him and finally amputated his leg."[4]

Medical career[edit]

Medicine case of Richard Sprigg Steuart.

After the war, Steuart began the study of law under Brigadier General William H. Winder,[3] who had commanded the United States forces at the Battle of Bladensberg and was court-martialled afterwards. However, Steuart abandoned law in favor of medicine, which he studied under Dr William Donaldson in 1818 at Maryland Medical University. He graduated with his M.D. in 1822, publishing in the same year a work On the Action of Arteries.[3] After graduation he went into partnership with Donaldson at his general medical practice in Baltimore for seventeen years and, after Donaldson's death, succeeded to the practice. Early on however he began to specialize in the relatively neglected field of mental illness, and in 1834 he became President of the Board of Visitors of the Maryland Hospital for the Insane.[3]

In 1843 Steuart was elected to the Professorship of the Theory and Practice of Physic at the University of Maryland.[5] Later, in 1848-49, and again from 1850–51, he served as president of the Medical and Chirurgical faculty of the State of Maryland.[6]

By 1853 he was described by the American Journal of the Medical Sciences as "well known as one of the most eminent physicians of this city [of Baltimore]",[7]

Maryland Hospital for the Insane[edit]

1853 architect's rendering of the new buildings for the Maryland Hospital for the Insane at Spring Grove.
Dorothea Dix lobbied for reform of the treatment of mental illness in Maryland.

Steuart's most notable contribution to the field of mental illness was his work for the Maryland Hospital for the Insane (founded in 1797), where he became President of the Board and Medical Superintendent, and which became his life's work. By the mid-nineteenth century The hospital's bed capacity was no longer adequate, and Steuart managed to obtain authorization and funding from the Maryland General Assembly for the construction of a new, larger facility at Spring Grove. In co-operation with the social reformer Dorothea Dix, who in 1852 gave an impassioned speech to the Maryland legislature, Steuart chaired the committee known as the Commissioners for Erecting a Hospital for the Insane, that selected the Hospital's present site in Catonsville.

The cost of purchasing 136 acres (0.55 km2) of land for the hospital was $14,000, of which $12,340 was raised through private contributions, with Steuart himself personally contributing $1,000, a very large sum at the time. The purchase was completed in 1853, but construction of the new buildings was delayed by the Civil War, and the hospital was not finally completed until 1872,[8] when it was described by one contemporary as "one of the largest and best appointed Insane Asylums in the United States".[9]

Steuart's brother, Major General George H. Steuart, had two sons who suffered from mental illness,[10] and it is possible that this was one of the causes of Steuart's particular interest in Spring Grove Hospital and the treatment of mental illness.

Tobacco planter and gentleman farmer[edit]

Steuart's Plantation house at Dodon, on the South River near Annapolis.

In 1842 Steuart inherited from his uncle William Steuart a tobacco plantation comprising around 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of land and about 150 slaves, at Dodon, near the South River in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.[11] Dodon had been purchased by Steuart's grandfather in around 1740, and the inheritance made Steuart a wealthy landowner and slaveholder. As a result, Steuart gave up his general medical practice, after what he described as "23 years of hard professional life"[12] in order to concentrate on managing his new estate.

The problem of slavery[edit]

Cape Palmas, a colony for free blacks founded in Liberia by the Maryland State Colonization Society.

Like many Southern slaveholders, Steuart held conflicting views on the question of slavery. Although he recognized that the South's "peculiar institution" could not continue indefinitely, he was hostile to abolitionist efforts to end it by force.

From 1828 Steuart served on the Board of Managers of the Maryland State Colonization Society, of which Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, was president. Steuart's father, James Steuart, was vice-president, and his brother George H. Steuart was also on the Board.[13] The MSCS was a branch of the American Colonization Society, an organization dedicated to returning black Americans to lead free lives in African states such as Liberia.[14]

In an open letter to John L. Carey, in 1845, published in Baltimore by the printer John Murphy, Steuart asked rhetorically:

"is there a man in Maryland, is there a single man connected with slavery who does not feel its existence to be a curse upon our beautiful land? Is there one who has not many a time...expressed a fond hope that he might live to witness...the entire exodus of the negro race from among us? If there is such a man, I have never met with him here...indeed it is impossible for a man of sound judgment and behold the power and prosperity of Pennsylvania and comparison with our own state, and not feel the deepest regret for our deficiencies."[15]

Steuart was envious of the greater relative prosperity of the Northern States, and especially their much greater population growth. In Maryland, he argued, slavery held back economic progress:

"It is a matter of common observation that white laborers will not settle where slaves occupy the soil, however partially they may do so among free negroes. The white man shrinks from a union of labor with those who are regarded by their masters as an inferior race, and gradually he comes to regard labor itself as degrading, and fit only for those whom heaven has stamped with a color darker than his own."[16]

Much though he may have opposed the institution of slavery in principle, Steuart was strongly opposed to the radical agenda of the Abolitionists. Instead, he recommended voluntary emancipation by the slave holders, leading to the repatriation to Africa of free black settlers:

"The colored man [must] look to Africa, as his only hope of preservation and of will be found that this course of the removal of the great body of the African people from our State. The President of the Maryland Colonization Society says "the object of Colonization is to prepare a home in Africa for the free colored people of the State, to which they may remove when the advantages which it offers, and above all the pressure of irresistible circumstances in this country, shall excite them to emigrate."[17]

Civil War[edit]

Baltimore riot of April 1861.

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 found Steuart and his family sympathetic to the Southern cause, though Maryland did not secede from the Union. Pre-war loyalties in Maryland were divided between North and South, but the Northern cause prevailed. In April, the city was shaken by the Baltimore riot of 1861, as Union soldiers travelled through the city by rail. Steuart wrote:

"I happened to be in Baltimore on the night of the 19th April 1861, and witnessed the outburst of feeling on the part of the people. Generally, when the Massachusetts troops were passing thru the city of Baltimore, it was evident to me that 75 p.c. of the population was in favour of repelling these troops. Instinctively the people seemed to look upon them as intruders, or as invaders of the South, not as defenders of the City of Baltimore. How or by whom the first blow was given can not be now ascertained, but the feeling of resistance was contagious and powerful. The Mayor of the City, nevertheless, thought it his duty to keep the peace and protect these troops in their passage thru Baltimore." [18]

Steuart was among those who placed pressure on Governor Hicks to summon the state Legislature to vote on secession, following Hicks to Annapolis with a number of fellow citizens:

"to insist on his [Hicks] issuing his proclamation for the Legislature to convene, believing that this body (and not himself and his party) should decide the fate of our state"...if the Governor and his party continued to refuse this demand that it would be necessary to depose him".[19]

On April 22 Governor Hicks finally announced that the state legislature would meet in a special session in Frederick, a strongly pro-Union town. In the end, Steuart's efforts to persuade Maryland to secede from the Union were in vain. On April 29, the Maryland Legislature voted 53–13 against secession. and the state was swiftly occupied by Union soldiers to prevent any reconsideration.


The political situation remained uncertain until May 13, 1861 when Union troops occupied the state, restoring order and preventing a vote in favour of Southern secession, and by late summer Maryland was firmly in the hands of Union soldiers. Arrests of Confederate sympathizers soon followed, and Steuart's brother, Major General Steuart, fled to Charlottesville, Virginia, after which much of his family's property was confiscated by the Federal Government.[20] The family's Baltimore residence, Maryland Square, was seized by the Union Army and Jarvis Hospital was soon erected on the grounds of the estate, to care for Federal wounded.[21]

Steuart's nephew, Confederate Brigadier General George H. "Maryland" Steuart.

Dodon was not confiscated by the Union but, during the course of the war, horses were raised and trained and then smuggled south for Confederate forces, as well as medical supplies such as quinine. As a result, Dodon was often raided by Union troops, frequently forcing Steuart to flee into hiding.[22] According to a family memoir:

"Dr Steuart was constantly away from home, avoiding the raiding parties from the Northern soldiers who sought to capture him, because of the help he gave the South by secretly sending supplies of quinine, and other the Southern hospitals. the dead of night, [his wife Maria] dressed quietly and...admitted the Northern soldiers, and then stealing past the sentries, walked half a mile to the 'quarters', and sent a trusty messenger to warn his master not to return. Old William Hawkins, when a soldier put a pistol to his head saying 'tell us where your master is', replied 'I'd rather be dead than tell'."[11]

Steuart's support for the Confederacy came at a high price. He was relieved of his duties at the Hospital after he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union.[23] Later that year, the Baltimore resident W W Glenn described Steuart as a fugitive from the authorities:

"I was spending the evening out when a footstep approached my chair from behind and a hand was laid upon me. I turned and saw Dr. R. S. Steuart. He has been concealed for more than six months. His neighbors are so bitter against him that he dare not go home, and he committed himself so decidedly on the 19th April and is known to be so decided a Southerner, that it [is] more than likely he would be thrown into a Fort. He goes about from place to place, sometimes staying in one county, sometimes in another and then passing a few days in the city. He never shows in the day time & is cautious who sees him at any time. He has several negroes in his confidence at different places." [24]

After the war[edit]

After the war, in 1868, Steuart was eventually reinstated to the hospital as superintendent, and remained in charge when its operations moved to the newly completed hospital at Spring Grove in 1872, thereby living to see the fulfillment of his life's work and ambition.[8] However, he was once again removed in 1875 when the board, under his leadership, mortgaged the hospital to a group of private investors, after the Maryland Legislature had failed to fully fund its operations.[23]

He gave an address in 1876 to the Alumni Association of Maryland Medical University,[3] but died the same year on July 13, and is buried at his family estate of Dodon in Maryland.[1]


Richard Sprigg Steuart, painted by his granddaughter Maria Louisa Steuart.[25]

On January 25, 1824 Steuart married Maria Louisa Bernabeu (1800–1883). They had nine children, of whom six survived to adulthood:[1]

  • Dr James Aloysius Steuart (1828–1903). Steuart became a successful physician in his own right, rising to become Health Commissioner of Baltimore in around 1876.[26]

His daughter, Maria Louisa Steuart (1852–1938) painted her grandfather's portrait.[27]

  • John Baptiste de Bernabeu Steuart (1831–1877)
  • William Donaldson Steuart (1834–1931)
  • Emily Steuart (c1835-1905)
  • Richard Sprigg Steuart Jr (1836–1920)
  • Isabella Clara Steuart (1841–1921)


Steuart's building at Spring Grove (known at various times as "The Main Building", "The Center Building" or "The Administration Building,") remained the main hospital facility for almost 100 years, though it was eventually demolished in 1963, when it was replaced by more modern construction.[8] Spring Grove continues to treat psychiatric illness to this day, and is the second oldest institution of its kind in the United States. However, possibly because of Steuart's enthusiastic support for the Confederate "Lost Cause", no building at Spring Grove Hospital Center bears his name.[23]


  1. ^ a b c Nelker, p.70
  2. ^ Nelker, p.133
  3. ^ a b c d e Quinan, John Russel, p.163, Medical Annals of Baltimore from 1608 to 1880 BiblioLife (2008) Retrieved Jan 2010
  4. ^ a b Nelker, 136, Memoirs of Richard Sprigg Steuart.
  5. ^ p.391, Maryland Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 3 Retrieved March 11, 2010
  6. ^ Transactions of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland Retrieved March 8, 2010
  7. ^ p.547, The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, Volume 26 (1853). Retrieved March 11, 2010
  8. ^ a b c History of Spring Grove Hospital Retrieved March 8, 2010
  9. ^ Quinan, John Russell, p.50, Medical Annals of Baltimore from 1608 to 1880 Retrieved March 8, 2010
  10. ^ archive of the Maryland Historical Society Retrieved Jan 13 2010
  11. ^ a b Nelker, p150
  12. ^ Nelker, p137, memoirs of Richard Sprigg Steuart
  13. ^ The African Repository, Volume 3, 1827, p.251, edited by Ralph Randolph Gurley Retrieved Jan 15 2010
  14. ^ The African Repository, Volume 14, p.42 Retrieved March 10, 2010
  15. ^ Richard Sprigg Steuart, Letter to John Carey 1845, p.4. Retrieved Jan 21 2010
  16. ^ Richard Sprigg Steuart, Letter to John Carey 1845, p.5. Retrieved Jan 21 2010
  17. ^ Richard Sprigg Steuart, Letter to John Carey 1845, pp.10-11. Retrieved Jan 21 2010
  18. ^ Mitchell, Charles W., p.101, Maryland voices of the Civil War. Retrieved February 26, 2010
  19. ^ Mitchell, p.71
  20. ^ Brugger, Robert J., p.280, Maryland, A Middle Temperament: 1634-1980 Retrieved Feb 28 2010
  21. ^ Nelker, p.120
  22. ^ Nelker, 150
  23. ^ a b c Helsel, David S., p.19, Spring Grove State Hospital Retrieved February 26, 2010
  24. ^ Mitchell, Charles W., p.285, Maryland Voices of the Civil War Retrieved February 26, 2010
  25. ^ Nelker p69.
  26. ^ Hanson, George A., p.275, Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland Retrieved January 2012
  27. ^ Nelker p71.

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