Dr. Charles Duncombe was the first physician known to have come to Sacramento, arriving in 1843, just four years after the arrival of John Sutter. Born in Connecticut, Duncombe moved to Canada, where he distinguished himself as a physician and was involved in a rebellion which forced him to flee the country. Duncombe began practicing medicine in Sacramento in 1851 and eventually served in the state legislature.
Though little-known now, Charles
Duncombe was one of a few people who could rightly claim to be a legend in his
own time. Born in Connecticut, Duncombe moved to Canada in 1819. There, he
served as a member of Parliament and was a founder of Ontario’s first medical
school, the Talbot Dyspensary at St. Thomas.
In 1837, Duncombe and the hospital’s co-founder, Mr. Rolf, were among
the leaders of the William Lyon McKenzie Rebellion.
When the rebellion failed,
Duncombe and the other rebels were wanted for treason and went on the run.
During his time as a wanted man, Duncombe had numerous daring escapes in which
he narrowly avoided capture. In one instance, he hid in between a man and his
wife in their bed as their home was searched. In another, he disguised himself
as an elderly woman, and had militia guards escort him across a frozen river to
safety. Upon reaching the other side, he yelled to the soldiers that they had
unwittingly piloted Duncombe across the river.
Eventually Duncombe made his way
to the United States, arriving in Sacramento in 1843, just four years after
John Sutter’s arrival in the area, although he apparently did not practice
medicine until 1851. He was elected to the state legislature in 1858, but was
refused his seat because he was not a citizen. In 1862, after becoming a
naturalized citizen, he was again elected to the legislature.