Amherst New Hampshire Physician: Dr. Matthias Spalding (1769-1865)

In order to comprehend the importance of Dr. Spalding’s actions

one must first understand smallpox and medical practices of the day.

Smallpox, although relatively unknown today, was  king of contagious diseases. It killed more people than any other virus in recorded history — about 500 million people in the 20th century alone. Even today, when people contract the disease, mortality can be as high as 30 percent, and the disease is also feared for the permanent scarring it leaves. Smallpox was a leading cause of death in the 18th century, respecting no social class, it left many of the patients who recovered disfigured. The methods used against it were insufficient at best: mercury, antimon, camphor, etc.

Recognizing its particular potency among the native people of North America, in the 1760s Sir Jeffrey Amherst ordered the deliberate spread of the disease among Native Americans participating in Pontiac’s War in western Pennsylvania. Ironically, the town of Amherst New Hampshire, where Dr. Spalding lived was named for Sir Jeffrey.

During the American Revolution, we lost the Battle of Quebec in 1776 because our troops weren’t protected against smallpox. Americans suffered 5,500 smallpox casualties among 10,000 colonial troops. [Some say the British purposefully send smallpox infected men out to mingle with the American troops]. The task force commander, Major General John Thomas, died of smallpox. Afterward, George Washington ordered his troops to be protected from smallpox in 1777 using a forerunner of vaccination called “variolation.”  General Washington, who had survived smallpox when he was 19, said smallpox was his “most dangerous enemy.”

Inoculation, originally called “Variolation,” (which is very different than our modern day vaccination) is a method of purposefully infecting a person with smallpox (Variola) in a controlled manner so as to minimize the degree of severity of the infection and also to induce immunity against further infection.  Inoculation was a dangerous procedure since it bore the risk both of killing the inoculated person and of spreading the disease (the person who was inoculated was also highly contagious).

In 1802, an outbreak in many locations of the United States was causing great concern.  [Not of lesser concern, during this same year smallpox killed about two thirds of the Omaha Indians in what is now northeast Nebraska].

Earlier in 1798, Edward Jenner published his observation that milkmaids who contracted cowpox infection caused by vaccinia virus (a relative of variola) were immune to smallpox. He used infected material from the cowpox lesions to prepare an injection that helped protect the humans. Although Jenner’s development of immunization was harshly criticized at first, the work paved the way for the development of smallpox vaccines.

Vaccination was introduced to the newly formed republic of the United States in 1800 by Benjamin Waterhouse of theHarvard Medica lSchool, and President Thomas Jefferson immediately became an advocate of the new procedure.

According to Harvard University “In 1799, a London physician and friend, John Coakley Lettsom, sent to Benjamin Waterhouse a copy of Edward Jenner’s An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ. Waterhouse was quick to see the value and possibilities of widespread inoculation with cowpox matter as a safe preventive measure against the ravages of smallpox. On March 16, he published “Something Curious in the Medical Line”, his first notice of Jenner’s work, in a Boston newspaper, the Columbian Centinel, and then brought Jenner’s publication to the attention of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.”

In the meantime, Waterhouse entered into correspondence with Jenner and received from him some specimens of thread impregnated with the vaccine matter.  He led the way in promoting vaccination to prevent smallpox.

The man who brought this specimen to Waterhouse from Jenner, was none other than Dr. Waterhouse’s former student–Dr. Matthias Spalding.


From book, “History of the town of Amherst, Hillsborough county, New Hampshire,” by Daniel F. Secomb. 1883. Internet Archive.


Dr. Matthias Spalding began his studies in Westford Academy, under the instruction of Professor Hedge. He graduated at Harvard College in 1798, in the class with Stephen Longfellow, William Ellery Channing and Joseph Story, and although he was the oldest member of the class, he survived all but two of them.

He studied his profession with Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, of Cambridge, and Dr. E.A. Holyoke of Salem. In 1801 he went to London, where he attended medical lectures and devoted himself to acquiring the knowledge afforded by its medical schools and hospitals. He attended the lectures of Sir Asley Cooper and the younger Cline, and received from them many marks of personal attention. With Dr. Jenner he had a special acquaintance and received from him much information relating to vaccination–a subject in which he was much interested.

Dr. Batchelder, of New York, one of his pupils, says, “Perhaps it would not be too much to say that, with the exception of Dr. Waterhouse, he did more than any other man to introduce that important practice into this country.”

On his return home, in 1802, he was the bearer of a letter from Dr. Jenner to Dr. Waterhouse, with the celebrated silver snuff-box, containing vaccine, and having on it the inscription, “From the Jenner of the Old World to the Jenner of the new.”

Soon after his return, Dr. Spalding commenced practice in his native town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where he remained four years, and secured a large business and a high reputation as a surgeon. In 1806 he removed to Amherst, where the remainder of his life was spent.

Sensible of the advantages that would accrue to the profession and the public from a more intimate acquaintance of physicians with one another, he exerted himself to bring the regular physicians of his neighborhood together for mutual improvement and professional culture, and to him, more than to any other one, is due the establishment of the Southern District New Hampshire Medical Society, of which he was for many years the president and librarian.

In 1809 he was elected a member of the New Hampshire Medical Society, of which he was vice president from 1815 to 1821 inclusive and president in 1822 and 1823.  In 1817 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine from Dartmouth College, and he was elected an honorary member of the New York Academy of Medicine on June 1, 1860.

Favored with an education which was superior to that of most of his medical brethren around him, he was also gifted by nature with many qualities which admirably fitted him for the profession of his choice. He was a gentleman in heart and manners, and his integrity and purity of character was never questioned. Besides his labors in his profession, he was deeply interested in agricultural matters… he was one of the first members of the Hillsborough County Agricultural Society… He was a member of the Congregational Church and held the office of deacon there for nearly half a century.  After a long and useful life, he went to his rest, May 22, 1865.

[Biography from the “History of Hillsborough County NH, Amherst NH section]

Stories of Small Pox in New Hampshire

About 1786 Matthew Thornton (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from New Hampshire) was inoculated for smallpox, in either Philadelphia or Boston, age the age of 72 years, for $18, and “it nearly cost him his life,” and he was obliged to refuse a second term as Delegate to the Continental Congress forNew Hampshire.

From “History of Hillsborough NH“: In 1802 or 1803 when New England was visited with that destroying scourge, smallpox, Walpole was not exempt from it, and the inhabitants were dying daily. Several town-meetings were called for the purpose of taking the sense of the town on providing a pest-house, and giving license for vaccination; but ignorant conservatism went strongly against both propositions, till at length Thomas Jefferson and a few leading men at Washington, who had tried vaccination in their own families, issued a circular to the people of the United States, setting forth its harmless effect on the patient and its potent effect in preventing the spread of the dread disease. The physicians and some of the leading men of Keene issues a similar circular to neighboring towns…Walpole then at once dropped its ignorant conservatism and permitted sanitary measures to be adopted, when soon the dreadful scourge had nothing to feed upon.

Other bits of Historical Smallpox Trivia

In 1803 Lewis & Clark Expedition, set out from St. Louis with 42 men in a keelboat and two pirogues.  While Clark managed routing and was a skilled mapmaker, Lewis saw to the medical needs of the group and described flora and fauna, including prickly pear cactus and previously unknown animals such as coyotes, rattlesnakes and grizzly bears.  He brought with him smallpox vaccine to inoculate the Indians, but it soon lost it’s potency.  At the time, smallpox vaccine consisted of pus from cowpox, saved on cotton string.


1) History of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1885 — TOWN OF AMHERST NH
2) Sketches of successful New Hampshire men, Manchester N.H.: J.B. Clarke, 1882
3) History of the town of Amherst, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire : (first known as Narragansett Township Number Three, and subsequently as Southegan West) : from the grant of the township by the Great and General Court of the province of Massachusetts Bay in June, 1728 to March, 1882 : with genealogies of Amherst families, biographical sketches of natives and citizens of the town, and a sketch of  the Narraganset fort fight, 19 December, 1675 by Daniel F. Secomb; Concord, N.H.: Printed by Evans, Sleeper & Woodbury, 1883

Additional Reading

Bracing for Bioterror- Smallpox

The Jenner Museum

Smallpox: The Triumph over the Most Terrible of the Ministers of Death

MedMyst Magazine – Poxes

-The Beginning of the End of Smallpox-

Smallpox and the American Revolution

US health care workers spurn Bush smallpox vaccination plan


[Note: this name is variously spelled Spalding, Spaulding, Spalden, etc.  For the sake of simplicity, I have used a single spelling throughout this genealogy]

Edward Spalding/Spalden the first American ancestor of this family was born about 1587 in England. He came to Jamestown, Virginia, with Sir George Yearley, and was named freeman 13 May 1 640, being one of ten survivors of the Jamestown massacre on 22 March 1622, listed on census records of 16 Feb 1623.  He seems to have settled in Braintree, Mass, where his wife, Margaret Elliot, d. in 1640, and his daughter, Grace, in 1640/41. He m(2) Rachell –. He was made a Freeman 13 May 1640. In October 1645, he, with thirty-one others, received a grant of a tract of land “not exceeding ten thousand acres” from the General Court which seems never to have been located.  In 1652 and 1653 he was engaged with others in procuring a grant of the town of Chelmsford, Mass, which was surveyed, and laid out probably in 1653, and incorporated in May 1655. He settled in Chelmsford about 1654, and d. there 26 February 1670. His name does not appear on the original list of grantors of Chelmsford, but at the first town meeting held 22 Nov 1634, he was chosen one of the selectmen.
Children of Edward & Margaret (Elliot) Spalding:
1. +John Spalding, b 16 Nov 1633 in Braintree, MA
2. Edward Spalding, b. 1635 in Lowell MA; m1) Priscilla Underwood; m2) Margaret Barrett; had issue
3. Grace Spalding, b. abt 1640 in Braintree MA; d. May 1641 in Braintree MA
Children of Edward & Rachell (–) Spalding:
4. Benjamin Spalding, b. 7 Apr 1643 in Braintree MA; m. Olive Farwell, had issue
5. Joseph Spalding, b. 25 Oct 1646 in Chelmsford MA; m. Mercy Jewell, had issue
6. Dinah Spalding, b. 14 March 1649 in Chelmsford MA; m. Eleazer Brown, had issue
7. Andrew Spalding, b. 19 Nov 1652 in Chelmsford MA; m. Hannah Jefts, had issue [descendants of this branch eventually settled in Merrimack NH]

John Spalding, son of Edward & Margaret (Elliot) Spalding, b 16 Nov 1633 in Braintree, MA; went with his father to Chelmsford [MA]; m. Hannah Hale at Concord Mass 18 May 1658. She d. 14 Aug 1689. He is said to have been a soldier in King Philip’s War.
Children of John & Hannah (Hale) Spalding:
1. John Spalding, b. 15 Feb 1759 in Chelmsford MA; m. Anna Ballard, had issue
2. Eunice Spalding, b. 27 July 1660 in Chelmsford MA; m. Joseph Parkhurst, had issue
3. Edward Spalding, b. 16 Sep 1663 in Chelmsford MA; m1) Mary Brackett; m2) Dorothy Barker; had issue
4. Hannah Chelmsfordb. 25 Apr 1666 in Chelsmford MA
5. Samuel Spadingb. 6 March 1668 in Chelsmford MA; m. Mary Butterfield, had issue
6. Deborah Spalding, b. 12 Nov 1670 in Chelmsford MA
7. +Joseph Spalding, b. 22 Oct 1673 in Chelmsford MA
8. Timothy Spalding, b. abt 1675 inChelmsfordMA; m1) Rebecca Winn; m2) Bethiah –; had issue

Joseph Spalding, son of John & Hannah (Hale) Spalding, b. 22 Oct 1673 in Chelmsford MA; m. Elizabeth Colburn, daughter of John Colburn of Chelmsford [MA], 10 Apr 1700. He d. at Chelmsford MA 12 March 1728 leaving four children. His gravestone is nearly in the middle of the Chelmsford MA burying-ground, just north of the main path. He left a will, and Timothy Spalding, his brother, was guardian of his children, Simeon and Hannah. Children of Joseph & Elizabeth (Colburn) Spalding:
1. Elizabeth Spalding, b. Jan 17, 1700; m. Ebenezer Harris
2. John Spalding, b. 12 June 1704 in Chelmsford MA; m. 3 Dec 1727 to Phebe Keyes; m2nd 26 Feb 1759 to Rachel Parker. Had 14 children.
3. Anna Spalding, b. 30 Oct 1708
2. +Simeon Spalding, b. 4 Aug 1713 in Chelmsford MA

Col. Simeon Spalding, son of Joseph & Elizabeth (Colburn) Spalding, b. 4 Aug 1713; m(1) Sarah Fletcher, about 1736, by whom he had five children. She d. 14 Nov 1745; he m(2) Mrs. Abigail (Johnson) Wilson, of Woburn MA. They had nine children. She was b. 15 July 1723, and d. 20 June 1812. He d. in Chelmsford MA 7 Apr 1785. Colonel Spalding, on March 18 1755, he was commissioned ‘cornet’ of the first troop of horse in the Second Regiment of the Provincial Militia, and filled many important and responsible offices in his town including town treasurer and selectman, before, during, and after the American Revolution. In 1770 he was chosen representative of the town to the General Court, and re-elected 1773 and 1774. In Sept 1775 he was appointed Justice of the Peace, and in Feb 1776 commissioned Colonel of the Seventh Regiment of the Provincial Militia. In 1776 he was elected Chairman of the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, chosen by the town.  He was re-elected to the General Court in May 1775 and 1776, continuing until 1778. [See book “The Spalding Memorial” by Samuel Spalding Jones, 1897, page 82 for more information]
Children of Col. Simeon & Sarah (Fletcher) Spalding:
1. Abel Spalding, b. 2 Sep 1737 in Chelmsford MA; m. Mary Warren, had issue
2. Sarah Spalding, b. 22 Nov 1739 in Chelmsford MA; m. Jonathan Fletcher
3. Joel Spalding, b. 12 March 1743 in Chelmsford MA; m. Phebe Tyler, had issue.
4. Joanna Spalding, b. 4 Aug 1744 in Chelmsford MA, d. 1747
5. Silas Spalding, b. 30 Oct 1746 in Sybilsford MA; m. Syvil Pierce; had issue
Children of Col. Simeon & Abigail (Johnson-Wilson) Spalding:
6. Micah Spalding, b. 6 Nov 1752 in Chelmsford MA; m. Mary Chamberlain, had issue
7. Jepthah Spalding, b. 10 Nov 1754 in Chelmsford MA; m. Rebecca Barron, had issue
8. Azariah Spalding, b. 2 Feb 1757 in Chelmsford MA; m. Lucy Barron, had issue
9. Simon Spalding, b. 15 March 1759 in Chelmsford MA, twin; m. Oliver Butterfield, had issue
10. Abigail Chelmsfordb. 15 March 1759 in Chelmsford MA, twin; m. Joseph Tyler, had issue
11. Philip Spadingb. 4 June 1762 in Chelmsford MA; m. Margaret Fergus, had issue
12. Rebecca Spadingb. 11 May 1764 in Chelmsford MA; m. Joseph Warren
13. +Matthias Spalding, b. 25 June 1769 in Chelmsford MA
14. Noah Spalding, b. 4 Feb 1771 inChelmsfordMA; m. Anne Parker, had issue

Dr. Matthias Spalding, son of Col. Simeon and Abigail (Johnson) Spalding, was b. in Chelmsford MA 25 June 1769, d. in Amherst, NH 22 May 1865; m. Rebecca Wentworth, dau of Hon. Joshua Atherton, 16 Sept. 1806. She was b. 7 Aug 1778, d. 27 Dec. 1862. He settled in Amherst NH in 1806, where about 1812 he purchased a house from Hon. Samuel Dana. [The house was purchased by Dana in 1782 and enlarged, having been purchased from Samuel Stewart in 1782.  Samuel Stewart built at least a portion of this house prior to 1776]. The History of Milford NH states that meetings of the Masonic Lodge, Benevolent Lodge No. 7 A.F.& A.M. were held for several years in the southwest chamber of Dr. Matthias Spalding’s house, being the large square house at the west end of Amherst Common, on the north side of the road leading to Milford.  The lodge was later moved to Milford, NH.
Children of Dr. Matthias & Rebecca W. (Atherton) Spalding:
1. Frances Rebecca Spalding, b. 10 July 1807; d. 5 January 1808
2. Abigail Atherton Spalding, b. 3 Dec 1809; m. 26 Sep 1848 to Rev. Josiah Gardiner Davis; had issue
3. Frances Rebecca Spalding, b. 27 Aug 1811; d. 8 Sep 1815
4. +Edward Spalding, b. 15 Sep 1813; m. Dorothy Everett Barrett, of New Ipswich NH, 23 June 1842; resided in Nashua, d. 22 June 1895 in Lake Parmachenee, Maine. He graduated at Dartmouth College in 1883; studied medicine with his father and at Harvard Medical School, graduating MD in 1837; began practice at Nashua, and there continues; has often been a member of the municipal government, and was mayor of that city in 1864. He became a trustee of Dartmouth College in 1866, and in 1877 and 1878 was a member of the executive council. Had 3 children: (1) Mary Appleton, b. 20 March 1848; (2) Edward Atherton, b. 13 Oct 1852, d. 10 Nov 1863; (3) Dora Narcissa, b. 25 July 1857.
5. Alfred Spalding, b. 24 Oct 1815; m. Rebecca Seaton, dau of Samuel Seaton Esq. of Greenupsburg, KY 14 May 1846; d. at Greenupsburg 20 Dec 1878.  He spent two years in Dartmouth College and some time in Yale. He studied medicine with his father, and Dr. Reuben D. Mussey, and received the degree of M.D. from Dartmouth in 1843. He commenced the practice of his profession in Kentucky soon after receiving his degree.  During the Rebellion his house was a hospital for the wounded soldiers, and his services were sought by those who did not sympathize with his loyalty to the old flag.   His enthusiasm in the study of medicine never abated. The latest reports and the most improved surgical instruments and apparatus–everything possessing advantage to his profession–was examined. He was a good horseman, and when he came into possession of lands suited for the purpose, devoted some time to the raising of his favorite animals. His health failing he relinquished his practice, and the summer before his death, revisited his birthplace, for a time with some benefit; but it proved not to be permanent, and in November he returned, by slow stages, to his home, where he died Dec. 20, 1878.They had five children: (1) George Atherton, b. 14 Jan 1849, m. Rebecca A. Davis 4 Sep 1878; (2) Hannah Eddy, b. 2 Nov 1853, d. 28 July 1854; (3) Alfred Matthias, b. 13 Apr 1854; (4) Helen Hockaday, b 31 Oct 1860; (5) Rebecca Wentworth, b. 15 Sep 1863
6. George Spalding, b. 24 Nov 1817, killed at sea by a fall from a mast 21 March 1837
7. James Spalding, b. 11 Dec 1820, d. 21 Oct 1826
8. Rebecca Frances, b. 9 Nov 1822, d. 20 Oct 1826

Sketches of successful New Hampshire men – Manchester N.H.: J.B. Clarke, 1882
The subject of this sketch, born at Amherst NH September 15, 1813, was the son of Dr. Matthias Spalding, who was of the fifth generation in direct descent from Edward Spalding, who came to New England about 1632, and settled first at Braintree, Mass., removing a few years later to Chelmsford, Mass., of which he was one of the earliest proprietors.  Col. Simeon Spalding married for his second wife, Mrs. Abigail Wilson, whose maiden name was Johnson, the fourth generation in descent form Edward Johnson of Woburn, who came from Kent County, England.  Matthias waslding Chelmsford the youngest of her children, born at Chelmsford, June 25, 1769, and graduated at Dartmouth College in 1798.  Adopting the medical profession, he went abroad to perfect his education by attending lectures in London. Having a natural aptitude for the practice of medicine and surgery, with his superior training, he was soon distinguished for his successful treatment of disease, and his services were widely sought.   In 1806, after the settlement of Matthias Spalding at Amherst, he married Rebecca Wentworth, daughter of Hon. Joshua Atherton, and sister of Charles H. Atherton, an eminent lawyer and father of Hon. Charles G. Atherton, late United States Senator. Mrs. Spalding was a woman of a refined nature and elegant manners. Of eight children, Edward was the first son and fourth child.  Favored in his parentage, he was also favored in the circumstances and companionships of his early life. The society of Amherst embraced a number of families of superior talents and education. Among the children of these families he was an active, manly and generous boy, fond of fishing and athletic sports, and popular with his schoolmates.   When eleven years of age he was sent to Chelmsford, to be under the instructions of Rev. Abiel Abbott. At thirteen, he was one of a company of Amherst lads who became students at Pinkerton Academy, in Derry, then in charge of Abel F. Hildreth, a celebrated master in those days…. He graduated from Dartmouth college.
In the autumn following his graduation, in 1833, he went to Lexington KY, hoping to find employment as a teacher. He unsuccessfully tried to establish a private classical school there.  He returned to New England in the spring of 1834, and commenced the study of medicine in the office of his father in Amherst NH. He attended three courses of lectures at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and graduated in the summer of 1837. He then became partner with Dr. Eldredge’s practice in Nashua NH. He left that practice to settle fiduciary matters in his family.   He was interested in banking, manufacturing and railroads. He was treasurer of the Nashua Savings Bank, and later its president. He was one of the original projectors of Pennichuck Water Works and later president. He was a director of large cotton manufacturing companies. He was director and later president of Indian Head National Bank. He was a member of the Nashua school committee, and later chairman of the board of education. He was a member of the New Hampshire Historical Society. He was elected mayor of Nashua in 1864, and was NH councilor for 2 years under Governor Prescott.  In 1866 he was a trustee of Dartmouth College. He was chairman of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission.  On 23 June 1842 he married Dora Everett, second dau of Joseph and Mary Appleton Barrett, of New Ipswich.  He had 3 ch, of whom two daughters lived; the second child, a son, Edward Atherton, died Nov 10, 1863, aged eleven years and two months.


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