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Webster during his trial in 1850

John White Webster (May 20, 1793–August 30, 1850), born in Boston, Massachusetts, was a professor of chemistry and geology at Harvard Medical College. In 1849-1850, he was involved in the infamous Parkman–Webster murder case.



Webster was from a well-connected family: his grandfather had earned a fortune as a merchant; his mother Hannah (White) Webster was a Leverett; his wife's sister married into the Prescotts; he was friends with the Shaws; and his Unitarian pastor was the Reverend Francis Parkman Sr. (brother of George). However, as he grew up, his father Redford Webster, an apothecary, offered him only a small allowance, which later caused him to claim that he never understood money.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1811 and Harvard Medical College in 1815. In 1814 he was among the founders of the Linnean Society of New England, and was appointed cabinet-keeper of the society's quickly growing collection of specimens in Joy's Buildings in Boston.[1]

Around 1815 he went to London for further study. At Guy’s Hospital he was a surgeon’s pupil, a physician’s pupil, and a surgeon’s dresser. He then went to São Miguel Island in the Azores (1817–18). There he practiced medicine, published his first book, and met the daughter of the American vice-consul on the island, Harriet Fredrica Hickling, whom he married on May 16, 1818. She would give him four daughters.

Once he returned to Boston, he entered private medical practice, but a lack of success prompted him to change careers. In 1824, he was appointed a lecturer of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at the Harvard Medical College, and three years later he was promoted to the Erving professorship.

He wrote A Description of the Island of St. Michael (1821), was associate editor of the Boston Journal of Philosophy and the Arts (1824–26), compiled A Manual of Chemistry (1826), and brought out editions of Andrew Fyfe's Elements of Chemistry (1827) and Justus von Liebig's Animal Chemistry or Organic Chemistry (1841).


Parkman–Webster murder case

See main article: Parkman–Webster murder case.


  1. ^ Augustus Addison Gould. Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, v.9. 1863; p.336-337.

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