John H. Rapier, Jr.’s Letter to the Medical Director of New Orleans

In June 1864, John H. Rapier wrote a letter to the Medical Director in New Orleans, Louisiana, applying for a position as an acting assistant surgeon. In the letter he identifies himself as a “quadroon” [one-quarter Black by descent] of Southern birth and a graduate of the University of Iowa (Keokuk Medical College). Rapier’s self-identification as a “quadroon” from the South in this letter compared to his self-identification as a man of color from Jamaica when applying for medical school, reveals his understanding of the advantages of a light complexion and a foreign residence, and his willingness to use that for his own advancement.

Letter from John H. Rapier, Jr. to the Medical Director of New Orleans, June 23, 1864, Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Transcription – Letter from John H. Rapier to the Medical Director, New Orleans, LA, June 23, 1864

Washington, D.C. June 23rd 1864

Med. Director

New Orleans La

Sir. I would most respectfully wish an engagement with you as A.A. Surgeon U.S.A. I am an under graduate of the University of Mich and a graduate of University Iowa.

It may be irrelevant to state that I am a quadroon of Southern birth.

Hoping that you may find it convenient to engage me, and trusting to hear from you soon.

I have the honor

to be your Obt Servt

John H. Rapier M.D.

care of H. Calmorgan, Esq.

St. Louis, Missouri