Dr. Samuel Guthrie, Jr.

The Family Focus is on . . .
Dr. Samuel Guthrie Jr. & Sybil Sexton
of Lenox & Brimfield, Massachusetts and Sackets Harbor, New York, USA.

The Guthrie family of Lenox, Massachusetts faithfully served the Patriot cause from the signing of the colony’s Covenant in 1774 in defiance of the crown’s taxation policies to the war that followed. The American Revolution was nearly at its end by the time Samuel Guthrie Jr (1782-1848) joined the first generation born under the flag of the United States. Being the eldest son of a physician and grandson of a prominent farmer, he was a privileged child with a keen mind, possessing a curiosity about the workings of the natural world, and opportunities to pursue those varied interests.

Dr Samuel Guthrie Sr settled with the family on the outskirts of Brimfield, Massachusetts purchasing their homestead on the banks of the Quinnebaug River on 29 February 1796, a leap year. Choosing to follow in the footsteps of his father, a physician and surgeon, Samuel Guthrie Jr made medicine his profession. The majority of his training was at his father’s side, or by studying texts written by medical experts. In later years he supplemented his education by attending lectures at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and the University of Pennsylvania

Dr Samuel Guthrie Jr pursued medical and scientific knowledge. “His reading was varied and extensive; embracing nearly every department of knowledge and literature, except works of fiction for which he had no taste. He was a constant and attentive reader of the medical periodicals of the day, and took a lively interest in everything pertaining to the progress or improvement of medical science.”

That avid pursuit of knowledge would lead to discoveries and inventions producing world-changing effects in the future. Throughout his lifetime Dr Guthrie occupied himself as a physician, surgeon, chemist, distiller, cultivator, and inventor. Along the way, he put the latest medical research into practice.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, smallpox was one of the more virulent diseases brought in by immigrants from Europe with Boston being one of the country’s major ports. Numerous outbreaks and epidemics caused thousands of deaths. Survivors were often left with other medical conditions and permanent scarring. This led to Massachusetts using mass isolation and inoculation techniques against its spread, something we are all too familiar with due to our own recent pandemic.

Edward Jenner had developed a new technique he called vaccination; Cambridge physician Dr Benjamin Waterhouse reproduced the studies and in 1802 published recommendations to aggressively inoculate Americans against smallpox. Having been introduced to these concepts as a medical student, Dr Guthrie utilized the new techniques to inoculate his neighbors during a smallpox outbreak. Sarah Guthrie, a cousin who assisted him as a nurse during that time, was his first subject. This most likely occurred in Smyrna, Chenango, New York where Samuel Guthrie met and married his wife, Sybil Sexton in 1804. His first property purchase there occurred in 1810.

Not only was Samuel Guthrie a local physician for Smyrna, but he apparently functioned as its Postmaster for a time. The family moved to Sherburne in the same county where other extended Guthrie family members lived in the area. Samuel and Sybil purchased property there about 1812 and lived on Sherburne West Hill.

During the War of 1812 and a few years following, Dr Guthrie served as an examining surgeon for the United States Army between 1812-1817, including the Battles of Sackets Harbor (1st Battle & 2nd Battle) and Niagara Falls. Soon afterward, he moved with his family to Jewettsville in the township of Hounsfield about a mile from Sackets Harbor, Jefferson County, New York. Continuing his medical practice, he also established a laboratory where he manufactured chemicals, a vinegar-house and whisky distillery, and a powder mill, distributing products for local sale to the nearby military unit at the Madison Barracks (now Fort Drum), and in New York.

Dr Guthrie was the earliest of three independent researchers to discover chloroform. This was not a planned venture to create a medical anesthetic as there was no such thing in 1831. Chloric ether was a colorless, highly flammable liquid that was already in use as treatment for ailments such as cholera, scurvy, and pulmonary inflation. He planned to create a cheaper method for its production.

Guthrie’s Chloroform Still
(Image Credit: Brimfield Public Library)

“Dutch whisky” was a concoction of whiskey and chlorinated lime, but Guthrie’s method created something else worth further trial and study. Refinement produced a new substance now called chloroform, which he sent to a colleague at Yale for confirmation. Its discovery would have significant contributions to the field of medicine in the future. Early applications were experimental and even added to medications such as cough syrup to improve the taste. It was not until 1847 that Sir James Young Simpson determined the anesthetic properties of chloroform pioneering its use for surgeries and midwifery. Chloroform could be used to ease pain-induced contractures, as a numbing agent during childbirth, but most importantly to reduce or alleviate pain during surgery.

Pfizer, 1849

Chloroform required greater skill to administer than ether as a little might produce pain-free surgery, but too much could paralyze the lungs. American military doctors began using ether as an anesthetic on the battlefield during the Mexican-American War. Although chloroform’s use during surgeries had been discovered by this time, it was not yet in widespread use. Tragically, Dr Guthrie’s son, Capt. Edwin Guthrie, suffered two agonizing amputations during that conflict, ironically without the benefit of his father’s discovery. A letter by Dr Guthrie to his daughter informing her about the anesthetic properties of chloroform also sent news of her brother’s death.

During the Civil War, chloroform became more popular due to its faster-acting nature and a large number of positive reports of its use during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Chloroform was used whenever it was available to reduce the pain and trauma of amputation or other procedures. Years later, writing Dr. Guthrie’s grandson, Ossian Guthrie, from the War Department on 24 May 1887, John Moore, the Surgeon General of the United States estimated that during the 4 years of the Civil War from 1861-1865 over 1 million pounds of chloroform had been used for medical procedures and surgeries.

Amongst other more prominent discoveries was the conversion of potato starch into a sugar resulting in molasses.

The Buffalo Whig & Journal
Wednesday, 6 May 1835

Guthrie’s extensive research with gunpowder led to the development of the Percussion Pill, sold as “Water Proof, Percussion Priming” a form of percussion powder for firearms and the punch lock to ignite it, making the flintlock musket obsolete. It was used by the U.S. Army until the end of the Civil War.

In January 1991, the Guthrie Ambulatory Health Care Clinic at Fort Drum, NY was named in honor of Dr Samuel Guthrie. The Jefferson Community College offers science classes in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, and zoology at the Guthrie Building.

Guthrie Family Group: GFG2A – Branch F
Parents: Dr Samuel Guthrie, Sr (1756-1808) and Sarah (MNU)
Birth: 1782 in Brimfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, USA
Occupations: Physician, Surgeon, Distiller, Chemist, and Inventor
Marriage: Sybil Sexton in 1804 in Smyrna, New York, USA
Military Service: War of 1812 – Examining Surgeon
Death: 19 October 1848 (aged 65-66) at Sacket’s Harbor, New York, USA
Burial: Lakeside Cemetery, Sacket’s Harbor, Jefferson, New York, USA

Parents: Elijah Sexton (1754CT-1839NY) and Sybil Spencer
Birth: 3 Apr 1787 at Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, USA
Guthrie Children: Alfred (1805), Edwin B (1806), Harriet (1810), Cynthia (1823)
Death: 16 Feb 1840 (aged 52) at Jewettsville, near Sacket’s Harbor, Jefferson, New York, USA
Burial: Lakeside Cemetery, Sacket’s Harbor, Jefferson, New York, USA


1727: John Guthrie and Abigail Coe, the great-grandparents of Dr Samuel Guthrie were married 11 June 1727 in Stratford, Fairfield, Connecticut. John was reportedly born in America in 1700, the youngest of 4 Guthrie sons of Scottish immigrant John Guthrie, Sr, who was in the iron manufacturing business.

1755: James Guthrie Sr, the grandfather of Dr Samuel Guthrie was born on 5 April 1732 in Stratford, Fairfield, CT. He married Abigail Betts on 17 July 1755 in Woodbury, Litchfield, CT. They were parents to nine children, the eldest of which was Dr Samuel Guthrie, Sr, the father of our subject.

1771: James & Abigail Guthrie moved their family from Connecticut to Lenox, Berkshire, Massachusetts where they joined the First Congregational Church. James Guthrie, Sr was a farmer, but involved in local politics. His descendants credit him with helping to draw up important town documents, and he is one of the signers of the Lenox Covenant of 1774, a Non-Importation pledge considered to be a precursor to the Declaration of Independence.

1775 – 1783: During the American Revolution, the Guthrie family took up arms against the British to fight for the patriot cause. James Guthrie Sr, eldest son Samuel (the father of our subject), James Jr, Joseph, and Benjamin are listed among local militia men and colonial army regulars.

Near the end of the war, presumably prior to 1782, Samuel Guthrie married Sarah, whose maiden name remains undocumented. Samuel studied medicine and became a local physician and surgeon.

1782: According to family memoirs, Dr. Samuel Guthrie Jr was born in Brimfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, as was his brother James Guthrie in 1784. “The Guthrie homestead was pleasantly located in the outskirts of Brimfield village, nearly opposite the ancient cemetery on the banks of the Quinnebaug river, which is spanned nearby with a bridge long known as Guthrie’s bridge.” This purchase was made 29 Feb 1796. If the family was living in Brimfield in 1782, it is not reflected in the local deeds.

House at Brimfield where Dr. Guthrie was born, 1782.

Their mother Sarah died between 1784-1789. The widower remarried to Mrs. Anna (Bicknell) Wickmal on 9 August 1789 in Stafford, Tolland, Connecticut. She brought a daughter, Anne, into the family whom Samuel adopted and had baptized under the name Anne Guthrie on 26 Dec 1802. They had two sons of their own, Rufus (1792) and Alfred (1798).

1796: Dr Samuel Guthrie Sr was also a Freemason and one of 12 Masons from the vicinity of Brimfield and Monson to petition the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for the establishment of a lodge in Monson, which was granted. A charter was enacted on 13 Dec 1796 under the name of Thomas Lodge, and signed by the Most Worshipful Grandmaster, Paul Revere. Dr Guthrie was selected as its first master, “an office he filled until 1802 with credit to himself and to the lodge.”

1804: Marriage of Samuel Guthrie Jr to Sybil Sexton. She was the daughter of Elijah Sexton and Sybil Spencer of Smyrna, Chenango, New York. After the Revolutionary War, his grandparents, James & Abigail (Betts) Guthrie and most of their family had moved to Chenango County, NY, but Dr Samuel Guthrie, Sr had remained in Massachusetts.

Samuel Guthrie Jr studied medicine at his father’s side.

1805: Birth of Son – Alfred Guthrie

Alfred Guthrie was born 31 March 1805 in Sherburne, Chenango, New York. He was 18 at his marriage to Nancy Piper, a daughter of Thomas & Hepzibah (Jewett) Piper. They had 5 children: Eveline (1824), Ossian (1826), Samuel (1828), Wardell (1831), and Sybil.

Both his education and his father’s experimentations developed his interest in engineering. They moved west to Chicago, Cook County, Illinois in 1845. Alfred designed the Hydraulic Works of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This supplied the 30-mile-long summit level canal with water from Lake Michigan. They were considered among the most successful public works of their time.

A series of terrible steamboat disasters in 1851 brought about Albert’s idea of creating national legislation for safety protocols controlling the construction and management of steam-vessels. After researching, illustrating, and detailing the specifications, he drafted a bill which led to the United States Steamboat Law. Demonstrating the effectiveness of this legislation are the following statistics: In 1849 there were 1,656 steamboats on the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Forty-five percent (736) of these were lost to disaster (sinking: 419, fire: 104; explosions: 168; collision: 45). The explosions alone killed 4,660 people. In 1882, the number of lives lost was comparatively only 700, or one for each 55,714 persons carried.

Nancy (Piper) Guthrie died 10 July 1855 at 50 years of age. She is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. Alfred married again nearly two years later on 31 March 1857 in Sherburne, Chenango, New York, to a cousin Phoebe Almira Guthrie, a great-granddaughter of James Guthrie and Abigail Betts. She was 28 at the time and a spinster. They had three sons, the middle son dying in his infancy. Alfred (1858) was the eldest and Chauncey Joseph (1867) the youngest.

Alfred Guthrie died in Chicago, IL on 17 August 1882 at 78 years of age.

1806: Birth of Son – Edwin B Guthrie

Edwin B Guthrie was born on 11 Dec 1806 in New York. He married Adaline Jewett (1809-1884) on 9 Sep 1827. Her father, Nathan Jewett, was the founder of Jewettsville, Jefferson County, NY. They had two sons: Southwick (1830) and John W (1831).

Like his brother Alfred, he “caught Western fever” and moved from New York to Iowa. Edwin B. Guthrie was the first Justice of the Peace in Fort Madison serving as the Warden of the Fort Madison Penitentiary. In 1847, Edwin B Guthrie helped organize a company of one hundred men to fight in the Mexican-American War. He was commissioned Captain of Company K, which joined the 15th U.S. Infantry at Veracruz, marching under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott. On 20 June 1847, Company K was part of a five-mile-long column of reinforcements marching from Xalapa to Puebla with supplies and $350,000 in gold and silver coin. They were ambushed by 700 Mexican irregulars at La Hoya, a high pass in the Sierra Madre. The American forces prevailed, but Guthrie was wounded in the knee by a guerrilla. For a month, he lingered in a military hospital at the Castle of Perote, suffering two agonizing amputations (ironically without chloroform), and died on July 20, 1847. He wrote to his brother Albert in his final hours telling him of his wounds and that he was to die in Mexico. His body was returned to Fort Madison, Lee County, Iowa and buried at the city cemetery.

Guthrie County, Iowa was created on 15 January 1851. The county was named by Theophius Bryan, sheriff and later a county judge, in honor of his friend Captain Edwin B Guthrie, commanding officer of that company of Iowa volunteers during the Mexican-American War. The county seat is called Guthrie Center.

1808: Dr Samuel Guthrie, Sr died on 23 August 1808 in Brimfield, Hampden, Massachusetts. He bequeathed his son Samuel Guthrie the sum of $1 to be paid to him should he request it, and Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Medical Inquiries and Observations” in five volumes, and a set of silver catheters.”

1810: Birth of Daughter – Harriet Guthrie

Samuel & Sybil’s eldest daughter was born in 1810 in Smyrna, Chenango, NY. She married Thaddeus Sterns Chamberlin on 12 February 1832 when she was 22 years old. They had 1 daughter, Harriet (1833), and 3 sons, Edwin (1836), Thaddeus Samuel (1847), and Sterns. Her husband died on 19 Oct 1848. There is a note at Find-a-Grave stating he was reinterred on 21 Nov 1867 into Section B Lot 409 Space 3. Harriet lived until 3 Sep 1864 and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery, Cook, IL.

1810-11: College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York City – Attended a course of medical lectures.

In 1807 the Regents chartered the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, which later merged with the Medical Department of Columbia (formerly King’s College) in 1813.

1812 – 1814: War of 1812 – Examining Surgeon, US Army

1815: University of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Attended a course of medical lectures

1817: Family Moves to Jewettsville, near Sacket’s Harbor, New York.

Sackets Harbor is located along the cliffs of Lake Ontario along Black River Bay. Dr Samuel Guthrie Jr bought land there and built a large stone distillery. He was well known in the area for his production of “Guthrie’s sweet whisky”. The distillery also produced 120,000 gallons of vinegar in 1831. Guthrie created alcohol by fermenting potato skins, molasses, and yeast yielding 100.000 gallons of distilled spirits called potato molasses.

1823: Birth of Daughter – Cynthia Guthrie

The youngest child of the family was Cynthia Guthrie, who was born at Sacket’s Harbor on 2 June 1823. She was only 17 at her marriage to Frances Farewell Burt, a farmer. They had nine children: Sybil Catherine (1842), Anna Elizabeth (1843), Cynthia Carolina (1845), Samuel Guthrie (1847), Edwin Francis (1849), George Tisdale (1852), Mary Margaret (1857), and twins Caroline Cynthia & Maude Louise (1862). Francis died in 1880. Cynthia died on 24 July 1884 in Madison, Dane, Wisconsin. She is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Cook, Illinois.

1831: Discovery of Chloroform

1839: Death of Wife – Sybil (Sexton) Guthrie

“His wife died in 1839 and deteriorating finances plagued the family. Guthrie’s years of exposure to explosives and chemicals caused various physical ailments which led to his decline.” (NY Almanack)

Find-a-Grave lists Sybil’s death on 15 Feb 1840 at Sackets Harbor with her burial at Lakeside cemetery.

The New-York Commercial Advertiser on Monday, 17 Feb. 1740, Vol. XLIII, Page 3 includes the following:
“At Jewettsville, near Sacketts Harbor, on the 10th inst. Mrs Sybil Guthrie, wife of Dr Samuel Guthrie, aged 52 years.”

1848: Death of Dr Samuel Guthrie Jr

Guthrie died at Sacket’s Harbor on 19 October 1848. He is buried at Lakeside Cemetery.

New-York Commercial Advertiser
Thursday, Nov 16, 1848
Vol. L1, Page 3


BOOK: Guthrie, Ossian. Memoirs of Dr. Samuel Guthrie and the history of the Discovery of Chloroform. Geo. K. Hazlett & Co., Printers, Chicago, 1887.

BOOK: Pawling, J. R. (1947). Dr. Samuel Guthrie: Discoverer of Chloroform, Manufacturer of Percussion Pellets, Industrial Chemist (1782-1848), Brewster Press, Digital Repository: Hathi Trust

ARTICLE: Noted Army surgeon, inventor, manufacturer lends his name to Guthrie Ambulatory Health Clinic‘ by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

WIKIPEDIA BIO: Samuel Guthrie (physician)

MAP: Map of Sackets Harbor by Philip May

ARTICLE/BIO: Ewars, Dr Wiliam V.”Samuel Guthrie, Discoverer of Chloroform

BIO/WIKISOURCE: American Medical Biographies – Samuel Guthrie

ARTICLE & PHOTO: The Chloroform Still of Dr. Samuel Guthrie Jr“, by George S. Bause, M.D., ASA’s Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, Schaumburg, Illinois, and Clinical Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OhioAnesthesiology, December 2014, Vol. 121,1235

WEBSITE: History of Jewettsville, Town of Hounsfield, Jefferson County, New York.

ARTICLE: Edward Jenner and the History of Smallpox and Vaccination“, by Stefan Riedel, MD, PhD, National Library of Medicine.

ARTICLE: Smallpox Vaccinations and the Waterhouse Experiments.”

ARTICLE: Massachusetts Medical Society “The Story of Smallpox in Massachusetts” by Samuel Bayard Woodward.

SPECIAL COLLECTIONS: Samuel Guthrie Collection, 1828-1932

ARTICLE: Ether and Chloroform” History.com

WIKIPEDIA BIO: Benjamin Rush, Founding Father, Physician, Politician, Social Reformer, Humanitarian, Educator and Founder of Dickinson College

REFERENCE: Guthrie County, Iowa – Name Origins

ARTICLE ARGUING CASE of SAMUEL GUTHRIE AS 1st DISCOVERER of CHLOROFORM: The New York Journal of Commerce, Thurs. 13 January 1848, NY, Page 2.

HISTORIC PHOTOS: 1958 Press Photo – Samuel Guthrie Monument – West Side Medical Center Clinic – Rock with Inscribed Dedication to Samuel Guthrie

MAP: Historical Map of Sacket’s Harbor showing the Madison Barracks – Library of Congress

NOTICE: Daily Albany Argus. Tuesday, 31 October 1848, Albany, NY, Page 3

ARTICLE: New England Farmer – 4 January 1832 (Newspapers.com) “Sugar from Potatoes

Postcards for Sale: US Dr Samuel Guthrie Medical Medicine Sackets Harbor New York Postcard (HipPostcards)

PAMPHLET:Souvenir of the Sherburne centennial celebration and dedication of monument to the proprietors and early settlers ” (PDF)

ARTICLE:American contributions to chemistry. An address delivered on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of chemistry, at Northumberland, Pa., August 1, 1874.” Library of Congress.

PUBLICATION SERIES: American Journal of Science and Arts conducted by Benjamin Silliman, M.D. L.L. D.

The American Journal of Science (AJS) is the United States of America’s longest-running scientific journal, having been published continuously since its conception in 1818 by Professor Benjamin Silliman, who edited and financed it himself. Until 1880, it was also known as the American Journal of Science and Arts, but its focus was always on natural sciences and especially on geology and related subjects. In early years, the journal was often referred to as “Silliman’s Journal”, and the publication became associated with Yale University due to his long tenure there (1804–1853). The editorship long remained in the family of Professor Silliman, as he was assisted by his son, Benjamin Silliman Jr., from 1838. (Wikipedia)

Volume XXI – January 1832 – Notice of the Vaporization of Mercury in the Fumes of Nitric Ether–also of various chemical products, by S. Guthrie, p.90 and the Appendix.
Volume XXII – July 1832 – On Pure Chloric Ether, by Samuel Guthrie, p.105

DEED (GRANTEE) – Hampden County, Massachusetts:
FHL Film # 007460658 – Deed Book 34 – pp. 16-17 – Samuel Guthrie (Grantee) – Thomas Cooley & c (Grantors)

DEED (GRANTOR) – Hampden County, Massachusetts:
FHL Film # 007460670 – Deed Book 47 – p.504 – Samuel Guthrie (Grantor) – Oliver Clark (Grantee)
Consideration 800 dollars. Land deeded to Samuel Guthrie by Dinah Haynes widow and administratrix of Joseph Haynes, decd.

DEED (GRANTOR) – Hampden County, Massachusetts:
FHL Film # 00746067 – Deed Book 50 – p. 722 – Anna Guthrie (Grantor ) – Luther Carter, Trustee Thomas’ Lodge (Grantee)
The Thomas Lodge was the Freemason Lodge that Dr Samuel Guthrie Sr had been its first Master Mason.


  1. do you ever sleep? you are magnificent at this Guthrie stuff, thank you for all your help, study and support of us Guthries !

    • When I do sleep I am probably dreaming about genealogy. Clan Guthrie USA asked me to get involved with the build up to Arlo Guthrie’s big Guthrie Gathering to be held this month in Massachusetts at the Guthrie Center. Now I am focusing on getting back to expanding on the generational info for the individual Guthrie Family Groups. That is slow-going as I try to do some research on everybody as I go. Everyone should feel free to help fluff up the family stories and data on your part of the site. This is a place for all of us to learn more about our Guthrie families and how we fit (or don’t fit) together. Also, if anyone has suggestions for future Family Focus stories, other blog topics, or want to collaborate on something, use the Contact form above.

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