New Hampshire’s "Father of Naturopathy," and "Father of American Herbalism," Samuel A. Thomson (1769-1843)

In New Hampshire’s colonial history, herbal medicine (or sometimes doing nothing at all) was the safest course to remedy an ailment.  Many doctors prescribed purgatives, violent cathartics, and sometimes poison (such a mercury and strychnine) for their patients.  Often physicians “bled” their patients (sometimes to death), believing it would help them.

This was an era when it was not necessary to attend a school of medicine in order to call oneself a doctor. Alternative medicine in the form of herbal remedies began to thrive. Concoctions and poultices were prepared from plants found in local fields, or combined with natural ingredients imported from Europe.  An herb quickly garden became an essential part of the household garden.

On 2 March 1813, Samuel A. Thomson was able to obtain a patent on “Thomson’s Improved System of Botanic Practice of Medicine.” This action, although well intended, probably jump-started the practice of creating and selling “patent medicine.”

Samuel Thomson’s actions also were the introduction of what is now called “naturopathy” in America. His medical system marked the beginning of the botanical medicine movement.  Ultimately this led to the creation of early pharmaceutical companies, and eventually to the pharmaceutical industry itself.

Thomson was a New Hampshire native who lived in Alstead, in Cheshire County. His “system of health” recommended the use of hot baths and steam to produce sweating. This, combined with taking certain herbs, and specific diets were recommended to produce health. And he was against the practice of bleeding. He wanted “to make every man his own physician.”

In 1809 he was accused of killing a patient with this “method,” but he was acquitted. Later many states passed laws prohibiting the sale of patent medicines, but many of those same laws were repealed by the 1820s.


*Additional Reading*

Narrative of the Life &c. of Samuel Thomson

History of Naturopathy

-New Hampshire Glossary: Patent Medicine-

(Family surname spelled various ways)

John Thompson (1535-?) & — res. Frieston, Lincolnshire, England
James Thompson (1593-1682) & Elizabeth — (1596-1643) res Woburn MA
Simon Thompson (1618-1658) & Mary Converse (1622-1659) res. Woburn MA
Jonathan Thompson (1654-1691) & Susanna Blodgett (1637-1698) res. Woburn & Mendon MA
Benjamin Thompson (1684-1750) & Sarah Aldridge (1683-1690) res. Mendon MA

William Thomson, son of Benjamin & Sarah (Aldridge) Thompson, b. 16 Apr 1713 in Mendon, Worcester Co MA and d. in Grafton, Worcester Co MA. He m. 25 Oct 1740 in Uxbridge, Worcester Co MA to Mehitable Hilliard. She b. 22 Nov 1721 in Southampton, Hampshire Co MA and d. 20 Nov 1811 in Jericho, Chittenden Co VT.
Children of William & Mehitable (Hilliard) Thompson:
1. William Thompson, b. 13 Jan 1742 in Uxbridge, Worcester Co MA
2. +John Thomson, b. 19 Jan 1743 in Uxbridge MA
3. Methitable Thomson, b. 1746 Uxbridge MA
4. Eunice Thomson, b. 14 July 1748 Uxbridge MA
5. Jeremiah Thomson, b. 1749 Uxbridge MA
6. Benjamin Thomson, b. 1751 Uxbridge MA
7. Joanna Thomson, b. 8 March 1752 Uxbridge MA
8. Joseph Thomson, b. 22 Dec 1753 in Uxbridge MA, ?twin
9. Mary Thomson, b. 22 Dec 1753 in Uxbridge MA, ?twin
10. Martha Hannah Thomson, b. 1756 Uxbridge MA
11. Sarah Thomson, b. 1762 Uxbridge MA

John Thomson, son of William & Mehitable (Hilliard) Thomson, b. 19 Jan 1743 in Uxbridge, Worcester Co MA, and d. Aug 1819/1820, aged 76 in Boston, Ohio. He m. abt 1765 in MA to Hannah Cobb, dau of Edward & Hannah (Allen) Cobb. She was b. in Medway MA 7 March 1738, and d. 13 May 1790 in Alstead, Cheshire Co NH. Were Baptists. In 1788 he purchased a piece of land on Onion River in Vermont. In 1790 he gave a deed for 1/2 of his Alstead farm to his son Samuel, and removed to Jericho with five of his children, settling on what was later known as the Tarbox farm in the southwest part of the town. His wife Hannah died in the spring of 1790, and so never went to Jericho VT. He first built a log house, and later several sawmills. He created several orchards. In 1817 he drove an ox team and a cow to Ohio for his daughter.
Children of John & Hannah (Cobb) Thomson:
1. Lucy Thomson, b 23 Dec 1766 in Grafton, Worcester Co MA, and d. 22 Aug 1850 in Surry, Cheshire Co MA; She m. 9 March 1792 to Samuel Hills, Esq., son of Benjamin & Elizabeth (Stevens) Hills. He b 9 March 1766 in Grafton MA and d. 24 May 1827 in Surry, Cheshire Co NH; res. Surry, NH. Had issue: Lucy, Polly, Benjamin, Samuel Robinson, Ilock, Isaac Cobb, and Elizabeth Stevens (all b. in Surry NH).
2. +Samuel A. Thomson, b. 9 Feb 1769 Alstead, Cheshire Co. NH
3. John Thomson,  b. abt 1771 in Alstead NH; m. Nancy Ware; lived on a farm in the south district of Jericho VT. They had a daughter who married Orange Remington, living in Jericho until 1858 when they moved to Morristown VT.
4. Joel Thomson, b. 18 Jan 1774 in Alstead NH; died in his 14th year.
5. Jesse Thomson, b. 14 Oct 1775 in Alstead, Cheshire Co NH; d. 7 Sep 1848 in Jericho, Chittenden Co. VT;  res. Jericho VT; He m. Dec 1801 in Jericho VT to Nancy Humphrey. She b. 1782 in Brookfield, Orange Co VT and d. 5 May 1829 in Jericho VT. Had issue: Rural (b 1802, m. Betsey Jackson, had issue); Amy (b 1804, dy); Orley (b 1805, m. Eliza Messenger, had one ch Nancy); Rodney Winchester (b 1807); Hosea (b 1809, dyo); Watrous (b. 1811); Relief (b. 1813); Betsy (b 1815); Corey (b 1817) Jesse (b 1819) William Smiley (b 1821); and Nancy (b 1823, dy).  Jesse m2) Samantha –. They had one ch, b. 1842.Smiley, Nancy.
6. Hannah Thomson, b. 11 March 1777 in either Alstead NH or Jericho VT and d. abt 1850 in Ohio; m. 1798 in VT to Waters [sic Watrous] Mather, son of Eleazer & Irene (Starling) Mather; res. Ohio; in 1830 living in Boston, Portage Co. Ohio; He b. 11 March 1778 in New London, Lyme Co CT, and d. 1843 in Akron, Summit Co. Ohio. Had issue [Mather]: Lucy, Don, Polly, Zelotus, William T., Elvira R. and Hannah.

Samuel A. Thomson, son of John & Hannah (Cobb) Thomson, b. 9 Feb 1769 in Alstead, Cheshire Co. NH; d. 4/5 Oct 1843 in Boston, Middlesex Co. MA. On 7 July 1790 in Keene NH he m. Susannah “Susan” Allen, daughter of Abel & Sophia E. (Chapin) Allen. She b. 10 March 1772 in Surry, Cheshire Co. NH. As a child, he would help a botanic practitioner and midwife to gather herbs and plants. He had one month of education when he was 10 years old. He first experimented with the herb lobelia. He was the originator of the so-called Thomsonian system of medicine. He published “Materia Medica and Family Physician” (Albany); “New Guide to Health and Family Physician” (new ed. London 1849) and his “Life and Medical Discoveries” (Boston 1825 and 1832).  He is buried in Central Burial Ground, Boston MA.
Children of Samuel A. & Susan (Allen) Thomson:
1. Hannah Thomson, b. 4 July 1791 Alstead NH; d. 9 May 1813 in Surry NH; m. 13 Sep 1811 in Surry NH to Levi Brooks. He b. 9 Oct 1782 in MA and d. 18 Sep 1853 in Surry NH. He m2d) ? and had issue. Unk if any issue with Hannah
2. Susannah Thomson, b. March 1793/4 in Alstead NH
3. Joel Thomson, b. 11 Jan 1795 Alstead NH; he m. 14 May 1818 in Surry NH to Polly Holbrook. She was of Westmoreland NH; in 1850 Joel and wife Mary P. (age 55, b. MA) were farmers in Shalersville, Portage Co., Ohio, no ch living with them.
4. Cyrus Thomson, b. abt 1797 Alstead NH; possibly the Cyrus Thompson in 1860 living in Geddes, Onondaga Co NY
5. Samuel Thomson, b. 9 Feb 1799 Alstead NH
6. John Thomson, b. abt 1802 in NH
7. Jesse/Jessie Thomson, b. 12 Dec 1804 in Surry NH; possibly he is the Jesse Thompson found in 1850 and 1860 in Sanbornton, Belknap Co NH, a “keeper of bees”
8. Mary “Polly” Thomson, b. 26 June 1807 in Surry NH, d. 22 Feb 1886 in Washington, Sullivan Co NH; m. 25 June 1831 in Washington NH to David Farnsworth, son of Manassah & Charity S. (Rounseville) Farnsworth. He b. 1805 in Washington NH and d. 13 Nov 1859 in Washington, NH.
9. Benjamin Thomson, b abt 1814 Charlestown, Suffolk Co. MA; d. 5 May 1863 in Roxbury MA.  Merchant. He married Ellen M. Clapp, the daughter of James, at Boston on 20 May  1850.Buried near his father in Central Burying Ground, Boston MA.

1. United States National Library of Medicine; History of Medicine; [likeness source]
2. The History of Jericho, Vermont by C. H. Hayden & Wilbur LaFayette; Burlington Vt.: Free Press Printing Co., 1916, page 634
3. United States Census
4. Narrative of the Life &c. of Samuel Thomson via Google Books

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3 Responses to New Hampshire’s "Father of Naturopathy," and "Father of American Herbalism," Samuel A. Thomson (1769-1843)

  1. Michele FitzGerald says:

    Excellent article that brings home both the achievements of a Yankee and ancestry that ties to American history. The Thompson/Thomson (Samuel’s line dropped the ‘p’) family is prolific and astounding in many ways throughout generations. Samuel’s nephew, Corey (1817), had two sons that co- founded Thomson & Diggs in Sacramento, California which was a 19th century precursor to big box warehouses for miners and farmers. Cousins also were associated to John Muir and related to “Johnny Appleseed”.

  2. Amy says:

    Such wonderful history. I am having trouble finding his place of burial, not sure if it is NH or Boston but I would assume Boston. If anyone can help me find that information that would be much appreciated.

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