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Chauncey Gay Griswold PDF Print E-mail

Chauncey Gay Griswold, son of Elijah Griswold and Lydia Adams Griswold, was born Sept. 16,1792. It is not clear whether he was born in West Simsbury (Canton) or Wintonbury (Bloomfield), Connecticut. He was one of 13 children. At an early age he took responsibility for his younger siblings as illustrated by two stories handed down in his family: once Edwin, his younger brother by two years, chopped down a small tree in the Griswold yard. Chauncey dragged it away into the woods to prevent their father from finding it. Whether Chauncey followed up by emulating young George Washington, we have no record. On another occasion, Chauncey was mowing and had a younger brother with him. His brother complained of being hot, so Chauncey told him to take off his coat and go sit under a shade tree. When the mowing was finished Chauncey looked for the little fellow and found him sitting under a dead, spindly peach tree complaining, I did take my coat off and I did sit under a tree, but I'm hotter than ever!

Chauncey Griswold became a school teacher and at age 24 he married Ruth Mills, daughter of Ephraim Mills, the man (also a school teacher) who suggested the name Canton for the newly-formed town in 1806. As a school teacher, Chauncey moved around with his growing family quite a bit. There are records of his living in Ithaca, NY, Hartford, CT and Wethersfield, CT. The Griswolds had nine children, three of whom died while still quite young. As a schoolmaster Chauncey occasionally had to resort to the common and accepted corporal punishment of that day, namely spanking. He called it going to Boston, and sometimes wrote Boston on the blackboard as a visible reminder and warning. One day on coming ito the classroom he discovered written in large letters on the blackboard, Boston, boys, Boston! C. G. Griswold, driver! He never tried to find out the culprit but took it as a good joke on himself.

Helen Griswold Humphrey Sweeton, great-granddaughter of Chauncey Griswold, recounted how, once when Chauncey lived on Albany Ave., Hartford, where their house and a neighbors house looked much alike, Chauncey returned late from a prayer meeting, opened the gate, entered the hall, took off his coat and hat. Then he opened the door to the sitting room only to find himself in the midst of his neighbor's family. I guess at times, Chauncey was an absent-minded professor. Now we come to the story of the famous Griswold's salve. Again I quote from Mrs. Sweeton's account:

One Fourth of July one of his sons was badly burned by the ignition of some gun-powder he was carrying in his pocket. It was so bad that some of the flesh came off with his clothing. Doctors were few and far between in those days, but they heard of a man, two or three miles away who had a salve that was good for burns. They got some of it and were so much pleased with the result that Chauncey determined to try to buy the recipe, which he did for a small sum (reportedly $5).

It was for a very small quantity at a time in an iron skillet. He began to experiment with it, trying to make it in larger quantities so that he could sell it. He made many unsuccessful attempts and met with many failures. 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. He finally succeeded in making about two dozen rolls in one preparation, which quantity was what he always made thereafter. The process as described by his grandson, William G. Humphrey, was as follows:

It was boiled out of doors in an iron kettle over a charcoal fire, taken to the cellar at just the right stage, the last ingredients added; then poured into a big wooden tub of cold water, where it formed a ball. This ball was taken out on a table where it was stretched and pulled (like molasses candy) until it was ready to cut. Pieces were cut off and rolled into a long roll. Then these were rolled in turn under a roller which made them uniform in diameter. This long bar was left to cool while another one was started. Then they were cut into six inch pieces and wrapped in red paper. Later the long white wrappers were put on and fastened in place with a drop of sealing wax on either end and in the center. In use, the stick of hard salve was melted with a match and the tarry substance allowed to drip onto the affected skin.( For the formula, see article on The Story of Griswold's Salve printed elsewhere). At first Chauncey made it in only small quantities and went from house to house selling it from a market basket. As business improved he hired men with wagons to take it even out of state; by 1860 Hiram Barber was selling it as far as Provincetown, Cape Cod. Orders came in from far and wide. Griswold's Salve became a standard item in nearly everyone's medicine chest. Chauncey, himself, being a sincere Christian, attended church and prayer meetings wherever he happened to be and made many sales when folks asked him what his business was Later he added Griswold's Family Pills to his pharmacopeia and adopted the title of doctor. His manufacturing plant after 1848 was in Canton Center, where Ruth Case now lives (1997). Recently the formula for Griswold's Family Pills has come to light: Aloes 8 lbs, Rhubarb 2 lbs, African Red Pepper 1/2 lb, Gamboge 2 lbs, Castile Soap 1 lb. The soap to be grated fine; all the materials to be of the first quality, well mixed. The pills to be made as small as the machine will admit. Put into bran(?) to prevent them from flattening. Wet with a liquid containing valuable medicinal properties know only to the inventor. (This was Essence of Peppermint, according to a family diary).

In 1862 he and his wife moved in with daughter Lydia and her husband , Alfred Humphrey, about a mile north and Alfred took over the business on shares. Eventually he sold it to the Sisson Drug Co. of Hartford, CT, who continued to make and distribute it until 1955. Since the formula contains oleate of lead there is a potential for toxicity and it can no longer be produced. Doctor Griswold lived only two years after the move; his brother some years later, wrote to the widow, God has been very good to you in making your pathway down the vale of years so smooth and pleasant. You are doubly blest in your good daughter and her husband. I think many times of the hardships you and my sainted brother endured all through your active life, struggling with poverty, and yet not depressed but bright and hopeful. If ever a man was fitted for a blessed immortality by a life of earnest, active, devoted piety, he was one. Do you know that I most firmly believe that your impressions are true, that his spirit does hover around you by night and by day, to guard and cheer and comfort you? Mrs. Griswold lived to 1880, well cared for by her loving daughter and family. The Griswold graves are in the Canton Center Cemetery.


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