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Your Silent Neighbors: Chauncey Griswold, Pharmaceutical Manufacturer

June 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Canton Town Historian

Chauncey Griswold (1792-1864) was a schoolteacher who serendipitously became a maker of medicines beginning in 1841. He was born in what is now Canton or Bloomfield (the record is unclear), one of thirteen children. At age 24, he married Ruth Mills whose father had suggested the name “Canton” when the town was created in 1806. He is said to have taught school in Ithaca, New York, Hartford and Wethersfield.

One Independence Day, a son of Griswold was badly burned by gunpowder that ignited in his pocket, according to Dr. Larry Carlton’s story in the book Canton Remembers. Having heard of a man two or three miles distant who had a salve good for burns, he obtained some. The results were so good that Griswold supposedly purchased the formula for $5. Originally made in small quantities in a skillet, after trial and error Griswold succeeded in producing about two dozen rolls of salve at a time.  Nevertheless, “his wife often told him that if he expected to get their living from making that stuff, she guessed they would go hungry more than once,” Dr. Carlton wrote.

The recipe was given in a family diary as follows: “To one gallon of hot sweet oil put in five pounds of hot read lead (red precipitate), 2 and 1/4 pounds rosin and a big clam shell of Venice turpentine.  Lift out before boils over, plunge into tub of cold water, move and lift onto oiled table. Pull, cut and roll.”  It was boiled outside in a large iron kettle and then brought into the cellar where the final ingredients were added before in was placed into a wooden tub of cold water. The cooled material was stretched, rolled, cut into six inch pieces and wrapped in paper. The resulting stiff stick of salve was applied by melting it with a match and allowing it to drip directly onto the skin or a piece of gauze applied to the affected area.

At first Griswold went from house to house selling his salve out of a basket or carpet bag. As business improved, men with wagons were hired to take the medicine out of state. By 1848, the salve was being manufactured behind Griswold’s home in Canton Center. It was said to be good for corns, boils, burns, calluses, insect bites, hangnails and warts.  Later, Griswold also made a product called Griswold’s Family Pills and used the honorific “Doctor.” After his death, Griswold’s successors in the family business eventually sold the formula to the Sisson Drug Company of Hartford which produced and marketed the product until 1955. Samples of the salve can be viewed at the Canton Historical Museum.

Years after his death, Griswold’s brother wrote to his widow: If ever a man was fitted for a blessed immortality by a life of earnest, active, devoted piety, he was one.” Chauncey Griswold is buried in the Canton CenterCemetery on Cherry Brook Road.

For more about Griswold, see Canton Remembers: Incidents in Local History, Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence S. Carlton, editors, p. 65, “Chauncey Griswold and his Salve.” Also see Canton Sesquicentennial 1806-1956, A Short Illustrated History of Canton, Canton Sesquicentennial Committee, Inc., p. 97.

“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past. It will appear on the first and fifteenth of each month. Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today. Any suggestions, questions, or corrections should be addressed to Town Historian David Leff at onktaadn@comcast.net

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