Dr. Samuel Ford McGill was the first person of African descent to graduate from a medical school in the United States. Born in Baltimore Maryland, United States, he arrived in Liberia as a child and spent his adolescent years in Liberia. He was over the age of twenty years when he left for further studies in the United States and after completion returned to Liberia where he spent the rest of his life. When he graduated from Dartmouth Medical School in 1839 at the age of 26 years, he was one of the few university graduates of African descent in the medical profession in the world, almost a decade before Dr. David J. Peck and twenty years before the two Nigerian-Sierra Leoneans, James Africanus Beale Horton and William Broughton Davies, who both trained in Scotland before returning to West Africa.
Dr. McGill’s achievement was the result of hard work and extreme perseverance under very difficult conditions. The Liberian colony was just seventeen years old and many years away from declaring independence as a Republic. The slave trade was still rampant in Africa. In the United States, slavery was legal, and the vast majority of blacks were still in chains.
Born in January 1815, Samuel Ford McGill sailed to Liberia aboard the Brig Doris's Company in February 1827, with his father, Rev. George R. McGill, a lay Methodist minister. Rev. McGill was born a slave in 1787 in the state of Maryland but succeeded in purchasing the freedom for himself and his family. In 1819 he led a group from to Haiti, the newly-independent black-ruled Republic. The country’s government had revoked its decision to transport African American emigrants free of charge. Disappointed, Rev. McGill returned to Baltimore. Back home in Baltimore, he gave his six-year-old son, Samuel Ford, a copy of Sir James Barskett’s “History of the Island of St Domingo” a book that had a profound influence on Samuel Ford. Altogether, Rev. McGill’s family included his wife Angelina B. and their children, Samuel Ford ( 1813), Sarah Elizabeth (1815), James B. McGill (1817), Roszelle S. McGill (1821), and Urias Africanus McGill (1823). All were born in Baltimore, Maryland. [Condensed and edited]