History lesson: Famous physician has ties to Fort Drum

History lesson: Famous physician has ties to Fort Drum
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 6:01 AM EST
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FORT DRUM, New York (WWNY) - On Fort Drum, the Guthrie Healthcare Clinic provides just about every service needed for soldiers and their families.

Some visits require anesthetic, for which the clinic can thank its namesake.

“Our medical clinic is named after Dr. Samuel Guthrie,” said Col. Evelyn Vento, who’s deputy director for clinical service. “Dr. Guthrie was not only a physician, but also a soldier in the Army, and he served in the War of 1812 and resided just up the street in Sackets Harbor.”

During the war, Guthrie saw how much pain soldiers were in during surgeries. Anesthetics at the time were unreliable.

“Surgeons had to use whatever they had and would sometimes underdose soldiers and they’d wake up during surgery,” Vento said, “or they’d overdose them, and they wouldn’t wake up.”

He knew there had to be a better way. With experiments, he came up with chloroform.

“Chloroform was used in surgeries and during childbirth, so it helped pave the way to research and development for anesthetic that we use in our surgeries now,” Vento said.

He didn’t stop there. In Sackets Harbor, residents got used to hearing explosions coming from Guthrie’s property as he experimented with explosives, alcohol — and potatoes.

Those experiments resulted in his invention of the percussion pill for firearms, a version of molasses derived from potato starch and a distilled vinegar that he supplied to the whole area.

Other scientists would go on to further develop these inventions, but Guthrie gets remembered, still helping injured soldiers 200 years later.