William Swift was born in Dorchester, Mass. on 11 September 1779 and graduated from Harvard College in 1809, and from the Harvard Medical School in 1812. In that same year, he entered the United States Navy as a volunteer on board the frigate Chesapeake. Swift was on the Chesapeake when it was captured by the British frigate Shannon in the outer harbor of Boston on 1 June 1813. He was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a prisoner and when he returned to the United States with the American wounded, he was commissioned a surgeon's mate on 24 July 1813. Swift was promoted to the rank of surgeon in 1814 and assigned to the brig Syren. His ship was captured off the coast of Africa in July 1814, but he continued to serve in the Navy, finally retiring in 1861.
In addition to this surgeon's kit, the Massachusetts Historical Society holds the William Swift papers, 1794-1864.