Thomas Dudley Isom

(1816–1902) Pioneer and Physician

In 1835 Chisolm, Martin, and Craig, a trading firm located in Pontotoc, Mississippi, was looking to establish new trading venues with the Chickasaw. To do so, the firm sent partner John J. Craig’s nephew, Thomas Dudley Isom, born in Maury County, Tennessee, on 5 April 1816, to a part of Mississippi known as the Ridge. Isom built a three-room log cabin at what is now the site of the Oxford square and set up a successful trading business, winning the confidence of his Chickasaw neighbors and becoming the first white settler in what was to become Lafayette County.

The trade business waned after the 1832 Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, which removed most of the Indians from Mississippi. But Isom’s friendship with Chief Toby Tubby and Princess Hoka led the Chickasaw to deed a large tract of land to Chisolm, Martin, and Craig. The firm immediately donated fifty choice acres to Lafayette County to serve as the county seat. Isom suggested that the new town be named Oxford, hoping to entice a state university to rival the famous namesake in England.

With no further business to transact, Isom chose to pursue a career in medicine. He first trained at Transylvania College and then earned his degree in medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He returned to Oxford, where he set up practice in the small log cabin that had served as his trading post. In 1840 Isom met Sarah McGehee of Abbeville, South Carolina, who was visiting her sister in Lafayette County. He followed her back to South Carolina and married her in 1841. The new couple returned to Oxford. Their children included Sarah Isom, who became the first woman to hold a teaching position at a coeducational college or university in Mississippi.

Over the next twelve years Isom’s medical practice and reputation prospered. In 1860, he and L. Q. C. Lamar represented Lafayette County at the state secession convention in Jackson. Isom made a strong plea to maintain the Union, but he voted for secession after recognizing that his voice was in the minority.

At the start of the Civil War, Isom enlisted in the 17th Mississippi Infantry as the company surgeon and accompanied the unit to Virginia. He was soon recalled to Oxford and placed in charge of the University Hospital, where he treated Confederate wounded from the Battle of Shiloh. When it appeared that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army would invade Oxford, Isom, operating under the cover of darkness, led an evacuation of the hospital and all eighteen hundred patients to Granada, thus preventing their capture by Union forces. In 1863 he was called to Jackson and appointed to the Army Medical Board, serving until the end of the war.

With the collapse of the Confederacy, Isom returned to Oxford to resume the practice of medicine. He received renown for his innovative medical treatments. In 1869 he was elected vice chair of the Mississippi State Medical Association. In 1883 he served as a delegate to the American Medical Association convention in New Orleans. He died at his Oxford home on 5 May 1902.

Further Reading

  • “Isom Place,” Skipworth Historical and Genealogical Society, Oxford, Mississippi
  • Oxford Eagle (8 May 1902)
  • Harris D. Riley, Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association (May 1999)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Thomas Dudley Isom
  • Coverage 1816–1902
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date February 20, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 14, 2018