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Paul Revere is best known as a patriot, and as a gold and silver smith, but he turned his talents to many enterprises including copper plate engraving. His most famous engraving, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street in Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment, is a masterpiece of Revolutionary propaganda, but Revere also engraved bookplates, trade cards, book illustrations, and certificates including this one, which is signed with his entwined initials at the lower right hand corner within the decorative border. The bust at the top of the certificate is of Galen, the second-century Greek physician who had emphasized the importance of human dissection in the study of medicine. The man on the examining table has a halter around his neck indicating that he was an executed criminal and a fit subject for dissection. As the other surviving copy in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society shows, this certificate remained in use after the founding of Harvard Medical School, with the text altered in manuscript to reflect Warren's new status as Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the "University at Cambridge."
Prior to the Revolution and the founding of Harvard Medical School in 1783, only two medical schools existed in the American colonies--the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and King's College (now Columbia University). Although a small number of American physicians studied in London and Edinburgh during the colonial and early national period, most were trained as apprentices to practicing physicians. In addition to the lack of formal academic training for doctors, autopsies and dissections were rare and subject to violent public criticism. It is perhaps because of this public prejudice that few traces of Warren's anatomical lectures exist except for this certificate.
John Warren was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1753. He graduated from Harvard College in 1771, supported in part by his older brother, Gen. Joseph Warren, a patriot leader who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Dr. John Warren was a member, if not the founder of the "Spunke Club"-a semi-secret organization of Harvard students and graduates who collected animals and, perhaps, cadavers, for anatomical study and dissection. He served as a Continental Army surgeon during the Revolution and was the director of the military hospital at Boston (the American Hospital) when he began his anatomical lectures there in 1780. In addition to helping to found Harvard Medical School, Warren was also a founding member of the Boston Medical Society and the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Israel Keith was born in Easton, Massachusetts, in 1751. He also graduated from Harvard College in 1771, and studied law before the Revolution. In 1775, Keith joined the Army, serving as a volunteer aide de camp to George Washington and deputy adjutant general in Boston. After the War, Keith resumed his study of law and was admitted to practice in 1780. During Shays' Rebellion, he was adjutant general of the Massachusetts state forces with the rank of brigadier general. In the 1790s he moved to Pittsford, Vermont, where he developed iron furnaces and continued to practice law until his death in 1819.