A BIOGRAPHY OF
- George Sumner Huntington, M.D.
- BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE
THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
THE BULLETIN OF THE JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL)
Editor: Henry E. SIGERIST
VOLUME II APRIL, 1934 NUMBER 2
It has been said that all human achievement in art, science, or trade is the result of slow growth and development.
Also some say that "genius is an infinite capacity for hard work." But I feel that besides this "infinite capacity" one must
also have unusual ability to do whatever work their line involves. Dr. Huntington was too well balanced a man to be called
a genius, but he did have remarkably keen powers of observation, an orderly and lucid mind, and the ability to express himself
clearly and simply.
Personal inspiration is an attempt at the fulfillment of the hopes and aspirations of those who have gone
before. If we grant this, then the study of the life of any man who has deciphered for us a new page in Nature's book becomes
a fascinating search for the reasons and causes which made it possible for him to read where others had all unwittingly thumbed
the leaves. As we follow a brook up to the spring that gives it life, so we may trace a man's capabilities and characteristics
through the blood of those from whom he sprang and find the source of his success. Someone must have patiently and faithfully
toiled to enable others to reap the benefit, and it is an ever inspiring truth that an effort that ends in apparent disheartening
failure in one generation, in the next may be crowned with glorious, and what seems sudden, success.
George Huntington's life is especially interesting from this viewpoint, for his clearly established
ancestry, traced back to well known and gentle English stock, and the carefully kept records of the successes and labors of
his immediate ancestors, make it genetically proper that the medical world call chronic hereditary chorea by his name.
* * * * *
In 1633, Simon Huntington, of Norwich, England, and his wife, Margaret Baret, with their children,
sailed for America. The father died on shipboard and the widow and children probably landed at Saybrook, Connecticut. In 1652,
Christopher, the third son, married Ruth Williams, of Windsor, Connecticut, from which place he moved to Saybrook, and in
1660, with his brother Simon, aided in laying the foundations of the present city of Norwich, Connecticut.
Christopher, the son of Christopher and Roth, was born November 1,1660, and was the first male
child born in Norwich. He married Sarah Adgate, of Norwich; their seventh son, John, married Sibil Tracy.
Ezra, the fourth son of John and Sibil, married his cousin, Elizabeth Huntington.
Abel, the sixth son of Ezra and Elizabeth, and the grandfather of the subject of this paper, was born in
Norwich, Connecticut, February 21,1777. He studied medicine with Dr. Philemon Tracy of Norwich, a noted physician in the state.
Dr. Abel Huntington married Frances Lee, the daughter of a Revolutionary officer. In 1797, they settled in East Hampton, Long
Island, and he immediately became the leading physician of that section. That he was an advanced and successful physician
and surgeon is attested by the fact that he was the first on Long Island to perform the operation of lithology. He was in
charge of the retreat for those who had been inoculated for small-pox, and personally prepared and preserved the variola virus.
Dr. Abel Huntington was one of the first in America to take advantage of Jenner's great discovery.
He was active in civil as well as medical affairs, was Presidential Elector in 1820; New York State Senator in 1821; served
two years as Congressman during the administration of Andrew Jackson, and enjoyed the friendship of that stern "Old Hickory"
President. In 1845 he was appointed Collector of Customs for Sag Harbor, and in 1846 was a member of the committee to revise
the constitution of the State of New York.
George Lee Huntington, the only son of Abel and Frances, and the father of the subject of this
biography, was born in East Hampton, Long Island, July15, 1811. He studied medicine with his father, was a special student
of the great Valentine Mott, and later received his degree from the New York University. Then he joined his father in the
practice of medicine in East Hampton, where he remained for the rest of his life.
In 1833 he married Mary Hoogland, of New York City; they had two sons who followed the medical
profession. The eldest of these was Dr. Abel Huntington, who was for many years the Medical Director of the New York Life
Insurance Company, and the other son was the George Huntington of this paper.
* * * * *
When George Huntington was born in East Hampton, Long Island, April 9, 1850, The two great factors
in a man's life, heredity and environment, were both in his favor. The reader has seen that those who went before him were
men of intellectual and moral power, educated, broad-minded, and public-spirited; from them the boy inherited the abilities
which enabled him, among other things, to observe accurately and report correctly and clearly what was interesting or unusual
in his surroundings.
His environment was quaint, colorful, peaceful, and beautiful. He was a sensitive, imaginative, and observing
child. It is no wonder then, as we shall see, that artistic pursuits played a definite part in his later life. He was the
son of the much respected doctor of Old East Hampton, and the following picture of the village at this time is given by Dr.
James McFarlane Winfield, M.D., in his biographical sketch of George Huntington.
"It was a drowsy, secluded village at the extreme end of Long Island; settled by New Englanders, it has the
attractive characteristics of their villages-the long common green, the beautiful well-kept trees, and the comfortable, substantial
houses, each with an individual air combined of self-respecting, secluded dignity and kindly hospitality, The latter, however,
to be dispensed only to the virtuous and the deserving from a strictly high-bred standpoint; and over all an air of peaceful
"Ocean and forest were then the teachers and playground of East-Hampton childhood; a charming, soft, dreamy
atmosphere hushed noisy activity and restless ambition, and woke the imagination and the faith in legends and the invisible."
This New England type of village happens to be only one mile from the ocean, and young George spent much
of his time on the beach. He loved the ocean and would sit for hours watching the breakers. One time when quite a small lad
he went down to the surf "bluefishing," and hooked such a big one that he put the line over his shoulder, turned his back
on his quarry, and, after great effort, finally tugged his way up on the beach, dragging the fish after him. Some of his earliest
attempts at sketching were of the ocean, and many of his later paintings were of the surf and of ships.
But he also loved the village life and the neighboring rustic countryside He was quite capable of playing
happily alone, and he spent many childhood hours rambling through the fields and woods where he early became familiar with
the flowers, trees, birds, and animals that abounded there. Throughout his entire later life he never lost his love for nor
his contact with the out-of-doors. And as a child he was noticeably fond of music, although he had no opportunities for its
Aside from the dignity of his home life, there was a marked intellectual atmosphere. Not only was there the
medical air of his father and grandfather, but there was the more general cultural influence of his mother, who was of a fine
old Knickerbocker family, a woman of education and great force of character. And also a member of the household during his
boyhood was his father's sister, who was a writer of real ability, and who published several volumes of poems of charm and
As a boy he attended the old "Clinton Academy" of East Hampton, and no special record of his
attainments has been preserved, but one can well imagine he was glad when school let out in the afternoons, so that he could
get outdoors and play. An idea of the alertness of his boyish mind and the keenness of his observatory powers can be gained
from his own account of his first encounter, at the age of eight, with victims of the chorea he later described: The following
is from an address he gave in 1909:
"Over fifty years ago in riding with my father on his professional rounds, I saw my first cases
of 'that disorder.' I recall it as vividly as though it had occurred yesterday. It made a most enduring impression upon my
young mind, an impression every detail of which I recall today, an impression which was the very first impulse to my choosing
chorea as my virgin contribution to medical lore. Driving with my father through a wooded road leading from East Hampton to
Amagansett, we suddenly came upon two women, mother and daughter, both bowing, twisting, grimacing. I stared in wonderment,
almost in fear. What could it mean? My father paused to speak with them, and we passed on. Then my Gamaliel-like instruction
began; my medical education had its inception. From this point, my interest in the disease has never wholly ceased."
During his late boyhood and young manhood he obtained his classical education from Mr. John Wallace, a graduate
of Edinburgh University, Scotland, and at one time Lord High Sheriff of Edinburgh. Outside of his regular studies, and geology
and mineralogy, his reading was mainly centered on medical writings, and, as he says, he early received his instruction from
his father along these lines; he also had access to the notes of his father and grandfather on the cases in their practice.
He was extremely fond of good music, and as a young man he sang in the choir of the Presbyterian church in
East Hampton, having a naturally good bass voice. At about this time he also took up the flute and taught himself to play
it fairly well, deriving a great deal of pleasure from it. He showed a marked ability to handle instruments and tools in his
hands, not only in his sketchings and -paintings, which were of ships, the ocean, and wild life, but he also made ship models
with the minutest accuracy of detail.
One of his greatest pleasures was hunting, and he had many exciting experiences while out after
wild geese. He knew these birds, their calls, their habits and haunts so well, that he nearly always brought a brace of them
home. He hunted purely for the sport of the thing and for the providing of food, and never with the idea of slaughter; he
never killed more than could be used for eating purposes. Sometimes he would sketch these specimens, and in later life he
made many excellent pen sketches of game birds.
At about the age of eighteen he started in on regular preliminary studies in medicine under
his father, and then he attended and was subsequently graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University,
New York, in the Spring of 1871, when he was twentyone years of age. His thesis was upon "Opium," and following his graduation
he returned to East Hampton and assisted his father in practice.
Working diligently, he showed marked ability and keen powers of observation. He especially noted
the existent cases and studied the notes on the old cases of the peculiar form of chorea his father and grandfather had had
in their practice. They had both noticed its unusual points and his father had classified these cases. Young Huntington also
became interested in the other known forms of chorea, and during the Summer and Fall of 1871 he made notes preliminary to
writing a paper on chorea. He finally wrote out the original draft of his essay and it was carefully revised by his father,
whose pencil notes and corrections are seen today on the original manuscript.
Late in 1871, young Dr. Huntington went to Pomeroy, Ohio, with the object of settling in practice there;
a cousin of his had married a prominent clergyman there who encouraged him to take this step. He took his unpublished article
with him, and on February 15, 1872, he read it before the Meigs and Mason Academy of Medicine at Middleport, Ohio. Here it
was well received, and so he sent it to the editors of the Medical and Surgical Reporter of Philadelphia, and it was published
in this journal in the issue of April 13, 1872. The title of the article is "On Chorea," and Sir William Osler, in writing
of it refers to it as "an everyday sort of paper on chorea minor, at the conclusion of which he (Dr. Huntington) described
a form which he called hereditary chorea, met with at the Eastern end of Long Island, New York, and well known to his father
and grandfather, who practiced in that locality." He also wrote: "The history of medicine there are few instances in which
a disease has been more accurately, more graphically, or more briefly described."
After some two thousand words on the occurrence, symptoms, and treatment of childhood chorea, the article
is concluded with the following:
"And now I wish to draw your attention more particularly to a form of the disease which exists, so far as
I know, almost exclusively on the East end of Long Island. It is peculiar in itself and seems to obey certain fixed laws.
In the first place, let me remark that chorea, as it is commonly known to the profession, and a description of which I have
already given, is of exceedingly rare occurrence there. I do not remember a single instance occurring in my father's practice,
and I have often heard him say that it was a rare disease and seldom met with by him.
"The hereditary chorea, as I shall call it, is confined to certain and fortunately a few families,
and has been transmitted to them, an heirloom from generations away back in the dim past. It is spoken of by those in whose
veins the seeds of the disease are known to exist, with a kind of horror, and not at all alluded to except through dire necessity,
when it is mentioned as "that disorder." It is attended generally by all the symptoms of common chorea, only in an aggravated
degree, hardly ever manifesting itself until adult or middle life, and then coming on gradually but surely, increasing by
degrees, and often occupying years in its development, until the hapless sufferer is but a quivering wreck of his former self.
"It is as common and is indeed, I believe, more "common among men than among women, while I
am not aware that season or complexion has any influence in the matter. There are three marked peculiarities in this disease:
1. Its hereditary nature.
2. A tendency to insanity and suicide.
3. Its manifesting itself as a grave disease only in adult life.
"1. Of its hereditary nature.
When either or both the parents have shown manifestations of the disease, and more especially
when these manifestations have been of a serious nature, one or more of the offspring almost invariably suffer from the disease
if they live to adult age.
But if by any chance these children go through life without it, the thread is broken and the
grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the original shakers may rest assured that they are free from the disease. This
you will perceive differs from the general laws of called hereditary diseases, as for instance in phthisis or syphilis, when
one generation may enjoy entire immunity from their dread ravages, and yet in another you find them cropping out in all their
Unstable and whimsical as the disease may be in other respects, in this it is firm, it never
skips a generation to again manifest itself in another; once having yielded its claims, it never regains them. In all the
families, or nearly all in which the choreic taint exists, the nervous temperament greatly preponderates, and in my grandfather's
and father's experience, which conjointly covers a period of seventy-eight years, nervous excitement in a marked degree almost
invariably attends upon every disease these people may suffer from, although they may not in health be over nervous.
"2. The tendency to insanity, and sometimes that form of insanity which leads to suicide, is
marked. I know of several instances of suicide of people suffering from this form of chorea, or who belonged to families in
which the disease existed. As the disease progresses the mind becomes more or less impaired, in many amounting to insanity,
while in others both mind and body gradually fail until death relieves them of their sufferings. At present I know of two
married men, whose wives are living, and who are constantly making love to some young lady, not seeming to be aware that there
is any impropriety in it. They are suffering from chorea to such an extent that they can hardly walk, and would be thought,
by a stranger, to be intoxicated. They are men of about fifty years of age, but never let an opportunity to flirt with a girl
go past unimproved. The effect is ridiculous in the extreme.
"3. Its third peculiarity is its coming on, at least as a grave disease, only in adult life.
I do not know of a single case that has shown any marked signs of chorea before the age of thirty or forty years, while those
who pass the fortieth year without symptoms of the disease are seldom attacked. It begins as an ordinary chorea might begin,
by the irregular and spasmodic action of certain muscles, as of the face, arms, etc.
These movements gradually increase, when muscles hitherto unaffected take on the spasmodic action,
until every muscle in the body becomes affected (excepting the involuntary ones), and the poor patient presents a spectacle
which is anything but pleasing to witness. I have never known a recovery or even an amelioration of symptoms in this form
of chorea; when once it begins it clings to the bitter end. No treatment seems to be of any avail, and indeed nowadays its
end is so well known to the sufferer and his friends, that medical advice is seldom sought. It seems at least to be one of
"Dr. Wood, in his work on the practice of medicine, mentions the case of a man, in the Pennsylvania Hospital,
suffering from aggravated chorea, which resisted all treatment. He finally left the hospital uncured. I strongly suspect that
this man belonged to one of the families in which hereditary chorea existed. I know nothing of its pathology. I have drawn
your attention to this form of chorea, gentlemen, not that I considered it of any great practical importance to you, but merely
as a medical curiosity, and as such it may have some interest."
The remarkable things about this article, as I see it, besides the fact that it is an original description
of a disease, are its accuracy, its vividness, its briefness and yet its absolute completeness and clearness; so much so that
the picture is unmistakable, and every word of it still holds good today. No one could alter it in any way and improve upon
Dr. J. M. Winfield writes of it as follows: "This article is classic in its accurate, unmistakable characterization
of symptoms, and from this word picture any tyro could recognize Huntington's Chorea. It is natural that this hopeless disease
with its hideous and grotesque symptoms should strike sharply on the artistic, beauty-loving intellect of the young physician
and crystallize in a description of photographic, almost living, accuracy."
Dr. William Browning, of Brooklyn, New York, wrote concerning it: "Our knowledge of this form of chorea dates
entirely from the article by Dr. George Huntington, in 1872. There were good reasons why his paper succeeded in drawing general
attention to this disorder and in securing for it permanent recognition. They are:
"(1) Huntington was the first to give definitely the location of his cases, and thus positively establish
a verifiable record. It is a dictum of experimental medicine as well, that only what is verifiable can be accepted.
"(2) The abstracting of his original article by Kussmaul and Nothnagel, in Virchow-Hirsch's 'Jahrbuch' for
"(3) Thanks to the work of Friedreich on hereditary ataxia, as well as the growing interest in heredity,
the time was ripe for its appreciation.
"Only work of unusual incisive and wide reaching interest could attract such a share of attention. What he
described had interest both as a disease and in its bearings on questions of heredity. As one corollary it removed the age
limit, demonstrated at a sweep that the hereditary factors can become dominant at any period of life."
Concerning the earlier writings on this disease, Sir William Osler writes: "In the first edition of Dunglison's
'Practice of Medicine,' published in 1842, on page 312 of volume two, he gives a letter from Dr. C. 0. Waters of Franklin,
New York, in which an affection is described as prevailing in the Southeastern sections of the state, where it was known as
'Megrims' 'consisting of a spasmodic action of all or nearly all the voluntary muscles of the system of involuntary and more
or less irregular motions of the extremities, face, and trunk.' Waters did not notice the association with dementia.
"The next description, also from New York state, is found in the American Medical Times for December 19,
1863, in an article on Chronic Hereditary Chorea, by Dr. Irving W. Lyon, House Physician, Bellevue Hospital. No mention is
made of the section of the state from which the cases were found. He says the disease is confined to certain families, popularly
designated as 'megrim families.' 'The hereditary transmission was fully recognized in the community, and the people would
interdict intermarriage with a tainted family with the penalty of social ostracism. Dr. Lyon tells of cases through five generations,
but gives no details, and does not recognize the mental deterioration."
The next work on the subject is Dr. Huntington's accepted article, which has been given above.
For final comments on the famous paper it is interesting and fitting that we see what ideas its author had concerning it.
Dr. Huntington, in his address before the New York Neurological Society in 1909 said:
"It must also be remembered that, without the facts and observations handed down to me by my
grandfather, Dr. Abel Huntington, and my father, Dr. George Lee Huntington, the medical lives of whom both were spent in East
Hampton, Long Island, and whose memory is still cherished there by the few remaining who once knew them-I never could have
formulated a picture of the salient characteristics of the disease so true and so complete as to make of it a so-called classic.
As in old Greece the pupil sat at the feet of his teacher, so your essayist sat at the feet of these two, and whatever of
honour, whatever of praise, whatever of scientific worth there is, is due much more to them, than to him to whom has come
this unsought, unlooked for honour."
This statement, while true to a great extent, does not detract from the honour due Dr. Huntington
in the least; rather than this, his dignified modesty shows his true character.
* * * * *
Early in 1782, young Dr. Huntington met Miss Mary Elizabeth Hackard, the daughter of Judge Martin
Hackard of Pomeroy. He was struck by her charm, intelligence, and energy, and thus followed a two year courtship, which culminated
with their marriage in 1874. By this time the young Doctor had come to realize that Pomeroy was abundantly supplied with physicians,
and that the chance for successful competition seemed small, so he took his young bride back to East Hampton with him.
It was about this time that he began to suffer from severe attacks of spasmodic asthma, and
this disease was gradually to become a more and more important factor in his life. After a few months stay in his native town,
the young couple decided that it would be best for them to move to La Grangeville, which is in Dutchess County in the Catskill
Mountains of New York. There they were to try their fortunes in life. Accordingly, in the Fall of 1874, they arrived at this
town, and the local residents soon began to come with their troubles to the home where hung the bright new sign "George Huntington,
One wonders why a young doctor, who had written a paper at the age of twenty-two years which gained him fame
both home and abroad, did not go to a large city and there live in the emulation of an engaging practice. He could have done
it; he possessed a charming personality, a brilliant intellect, and a ready wit and sense of humor. But instead he chose the
life of a country practitioner in a small isolated country village.
Several factors led him in this choice. He was, as we have seen, a lover and student of Nature and her woodcraft
secrets, and an ardent devotee of the rod and gun; and this, coupled with a retiring, highly refined, and idealistic temperament
added great weight to his choice of the individual and peaceful life of the country practitioner over the social prominence
and glory of a city practice.
Although he never mentioned it himself, as he was never known to complain of any ailments, his asthma attacks
had increased in severity and they often put him to bed for several days. It is believed by those who knew him best that his
health would not have stood up under a city practice.
He realized this all too well himself, and if he had ever had any special desire for the city professional life, he soon
became cognizant of the fact that such a thing was inadvisable.
Dr. Huntington soon won the hearts and the trust of the people in the neighborhood, and he was kept busy by
the demands of an ever increasing practice. These were happy days indeed for the young couple, and soon their household was
blessed with a new member, a little son, who was called Charles Gardiner.
This advent brought into more prominence the family economic condition, and although the Doctor's practice
was a good one, the people were mostly poor mountain farmers and many of "the fees were taken in hay, straw, oats, corn, chickens,
pork, mutton, and quarters of beef."
The regular fees were very small in comparison with those of today; a list of these charges would seem absurd to the modern
city practitioner. Office calls were 50c, and included medicine; house calls were $1 to $1.50 depending
on the number of miles driven; maternity cases and consultations were $5.
But Mrs. Huntington was thrifty, a capable manager, and a source of inspiration and joy for the Doctor; and so their
happiness was absolute.
In due time there were other additions to the family group; next came Edwin Horton, then Catherine, Elizabeth, and Eleanore.
There was thus a family of seven, and all of the children that were old enough had their definite duties and chores to do.
Dr. Huntington continued to have his attacks of asthma, and was some-times in bed two weeks at a time in the winter. However,
he never complained nor mentioned the state of his health to anyone, and it was not until his children were older that they
realized his poor condition and the limitations it put upon him. The family was many times with only the barest necessities
of food and clothing, and there was only enough cash for the mortgage interest and the taxes. In several incidences they could
not have kept going had it not been for the generosity of his brother Abel. But, notwithstanding these conditions, they all
pitched in and made a happy go of it.
The children were growing up now, the two sons were able little fellows and were a great help to their mother,
and a constant source of pride, though never openly manifested, to their father. The daughters were still young, but they
did their share of the household duties. Many an evening after supper, a caller would find Mrs. Huntington at the piano and
the Doctor standing beside her, accompanying her on his flute. Both they and the children were musical, and soon, young Edwin,
under the tutelage of his parents, was able to join in with his violin. The children today recall the joy of these musical
evenings, which were made the more enjoyable by the fact that, with the exception of Mrs. Huntington, who had studied the
piano for several years, the other players were naturally musical and were for the greater part self-taught.
When Dr. Huntington would hitch up his horse and buggy and
go out across country in answer to a call, he would often take one of the children with him. Such
a ride, to be assured, was a delight for both father and child, for on the way the Doctor would point out many
things of interest concerning the geology and mineralogy of the countryside, in which be was well versed. He also knew
all the birds, the trees, the flowers, and animals that were to be seen and he instructed his children concerning them.
There were several lakes in the neigh-borhood, and Dr. Huntington greatly enjoyed fishing
them. He would be content to sit for hours in a boat, whether the bass were biting or not, but it seems
he always brought a Amess" home. He also hunted quail, grouse, geese, ducks, snipe, and woodcock in season, from
which he derived great sport. Oftentimes, before his catch was picked, cooked, and served up, he would sketch in pen and ink
the best specimens and these sketches are marked by their life-likeness and their accuracy of detail. Late one fall he shot
a beautiful pair of quail, male and female, and he allowed them to freeze, subsequently painting them during the winter. They
are life size and beautiful in the minuteness of line and coloring. He had some prize setter dogs, of whom he was very fond,
and he always favored them in their service, and trained them to be excellent bird dogs.
Of his children he was very fond; he was just and impartial with them, and was sympathetic and considerate
of all their troubles, physical or otherwise. Any show of affection towards them was with reserve and dignity. He instructed
them in all the things he was interested in, in music, nature, reading, and he encouraged
them in their school work. His second son says: "He never allowed us and taught us never to allow kissing on the mouth, because
of possible conveyance of disease."
He encouraged his children to follow their own "bent" and to work hard, and
he never planned or suggested careers for any of them. His attitude toward his children is indeed indicative of great wisdom
and understanding of human nature, and his prohibition of kissing is not only interesting as a character index, but from the
stand-point of his medical views as regards disease transmission.
Dr. Huntington possessed a good imagination, and he used to make up, for his children's amusement, a continued
story out of his head, with a chapter lasting about half an hour every night for a week. The stories were more or less humorous,
and usually had a moral. He was very adept at a play on words and at making puns, and he wrote some extremely amusing letters
to his brothers and sisters telling all the family news in rebus. He also played many pranks on the children, and enjoyed
a practical joke whether it was on him or on the other fellow.
His keen sense of humor often prompted him to caricature, mostly concerning the family life of his children,
but he often "took off" some of the well known characters of his daily life. This he could do to perfection, and when he could
be coaxed to perform, gales of laughter from the "coaxers" was the result. Of the anecdotes told of his rare wit and sense
of humor, one especially stands out.
It seems there was a character on a neighboring farm by the name of Jim Kelly, who was direct from the "auld
sod," and who had such a brogue he could be scarcely understood. One Saturday night late, Jim came to Dr. Huntington's office
reeling drunk to have a laceration dressed on the top of his bald head. After he was cleaned up, the Doctor drew the wound
together with a long strip of adhesive. Then he also placed a shorter strip across the first one near one of its ends to hold
it in place, and he said, "Now Jim, this will get well all right be cause I have made the sign of the cross on you." This
brought forth from Jim a burst of blasphemous language which included the Church, the State, and all the Protestants. "All
right, Jim," said Dr. Huntington, while applying another strip, "I've put another strip on here, making the letter H, which
stands for Hell, and that is where you are going just as fast as rum can take you." Jim said no more and went humbly out when
the dressing was completed. The Doctor had a naturally reverent nature, did not like to hear vile language, and especially
had no patience with an intoxicated person.
He was never the aggressive type, but was mild mannered and easy going; he disliked bickering or contention
of any kind, and would allow none to take plane in the home. He was very patient and only when tried to the uttermost would
he explode with a burst of temper, stormy and short. He never held a grudge and would not hurt a persons feelings if he could
Of his reading, we know that he dabbled a bit in geology, mineralogy, nature, and some classics, but most
of the time he spent thus was devoted to medicine; he never put aside a medical journal unread, and he kept his medical library
up to date. His most definite aim in life was to improve his medical knowledge and keep abreast of the rapid advances in the
medical sciences. He had definite powers of concentration, retained what he studied, and applied what he learned to his professional
needs wherever possible.
He ingeniously used his imagination and inventive powers in his work. One night in winter, in a drifting
snowstorm, he went to see a man who had a strangulated inguinal hernia. The patient had been vomiting most of the day, not
realizing what the trouble was. Morphine and the usual efforts at reduction brought no results. The weather and deep snow
forbade moving the patient fourteen miles to a hospital in an open sleigh, so he conceived the idea that if the gas could
be expelled from the strangulated gut, reduction might he accomplished. So he took his, hypodermic needle and pierced through
into the intestine, thus aIlowing the flatus slowly to escape, following which reduction was easy, and the patient's life
Many a night some farmer's boy or a young husband would gallop up to the Doctor's home with the breathless
message of "Mrs. Jones is laborin= bad," and "Could Dr, Huntington come right away." The good Doctor would hurriedly throw
on his clothes, grab his instrument case and his hat, pick up and Iight a lantern as he went through the kitchen, and go out
to the barn. Here he would lead a drowsy horse between the shafts of his buggy, hastily hitch her up, and be off down the
road. Finally the horse would "come to@ and 'would break into a gentle gallop, and the Doctor would wonder if he would beat
the stork to the bedside. Sometimes the stork won, but more often it lost. A few hours later the Doctor would be on his way
home, the stars would be rapidly disappearing, and the horse trotting along, expectantly sniffing the fresh early morning
air. He would arrive home just as the first rays of the sun were filtering over the Catskills, and would have time to bathe,
shave, and dress before breakfast, and be in his office at his usual hour of seven A.M.
To his country people he was physician and friend, adviser, and, oftentimes, minister. Of many instances
where he served all these functions, there is one he is especially remembered by. A child in a poor family died of diphtheria.
The father was sick, and the poor mother in a collapse of grief. The good Doctor built a little coffin, arranged the child
in it, and read the Episcopal burial service at the grave in a private burial ground. He never refused to treat a patient
who was too poor to pay, and because of this, many of them, in later and better years, came to him with their long owed fees.
In any repair work of any kind around the house he was adept. Being naturally handy with tools, he did some
excellent inlay work in the repair and renovating of antique furniture. He made a fine model in detail of the yacht "Defender"
at the time it raced against Sir Thomas Lipton in an attempt to keep the cup on this side of the Atlantic.
Throughout all this time his attacks of asthma were persistant and very discouraging to him. He never had
asthma while on shipboard, and along in the nineties he was forced, as a recuperative measure following a two or three week
illness, to take several sea voyages of a few weeks duration. They were mostly coastwise trips, several of them to Southern
waters, and one of them was on a steam freighter running from New York to Halifax. This trip was especially exciting as they
had a thrilling time in storm and fog, but there were no mishaps. Longer trips were not permissible due to the lack of money,
and his vacations, like most of his activities, were not of his own choosing, but were dictated by his ill health. As his
son, Dr. E. H. Huntington writes of him, "It was his poor health and economic conditions which governed and directed his life"
and "He never complained-at least his children never knew what he had to contend with."
By this time the oldest son, Charles, had improved in health, and had gone to Chicago with the Northwestern
Bank Note and Engraving Company, where he held a splendid position, and was doing very well. Dr. Edwin H. Huntington had taken
up practice in Cairo, New York.
Dr. George Huntington was very active in the Dutchess County Medical Society, which he had joined back in
1874. He was its vice president in 1887, and president in 1888. He joined the Medical Society of the State of New York in
1880; and became an honorary member of the Brooklyn Society for Neurology in 1898. He was a member of the Buncombe Medical
Society of North Carolina from 1901-1905, and joined the Tristate Medical Association (Va., N. C., and S. C.) in 1903. In
1905 he joined both the A. M. A. and the Medical Association of the State of New York; and he had been for many years a member
of the New York Audubon Society. He was, after settling at Hopewell Junction, for ten years the health officer of the township
of East Fishkill; and was also visiting physician to the Matteawan General Hospital.
Dr. William Browning of Brooklyn, New York, in 1908, edited a special edition of "Neurographs," a neurological
publication, in honor of Dr. Huntington and his chorea. It began with an editorial which stated that the purpose of the issue
was 'to honor him (Dr. Huntington), and partly to clear up the records" concerning Huntington's Chorea, as quite a bit of
work had been done on tracing the choreic families by this time, and over it much discussion had arisen. It also contained
a biographical sketch of him by Dr. J. M. Winfield, a reproduction of his 1872 article, and several articles on the pathology
of the disease, one by Prof. Dr. Adolph Strumpell of Breslau, and one by Doctors M. Lannois and J. Paviot of Lyon. There are
historical notes on the disease by Sir William Osler, and Dr. S. E. Jellife.
Dr. J. Tilney has an article on a family in which the choreic strain is traced back to colonial Connecticut,
and Dr. A. R. Diefendorf, of Yale University Medical School gives an article on the mental symptoms of the chorea. There are
biographical sketches on both Dr. Waters and Dr. Lyon, and Dr. William Browning closes the issue with a note on the "Temporal,
Geographic, and Racial Distribution of Huntington's Chorea." This issue is quite a tribute to Dr. Huntington, and one which
he did not expect. In it the controversy over who was the first rightful describer of the disease was decided definitely in
favor of Dr. Huntington, as the other men's descriptions had either been inadequate or they had failed to locate their cases.
The New York Neurological Society invited Dr. Huntington to deliver the address at their regular meeting
on December seventh, 1909. In this interesting paper he added some new facts to the history of the disease, and also gave
some colorful personal reminiscences. It is in part reproduced as follows:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Society:
"In appearing before you this evening at the solicitation of your honored President, it is with many misgivings
of my ability to make good, but when you learn that I have seen practically no cases of the disease in question during the
long period that has passed since the laboration and reading of my original paper, now thirty-seven years ago, I feel confident
that the effort that I now make will be generously received, and temperately criticized.
"Old East Hampton was settled by the English in the year 1649, and was first called Maidstone, after the
old home of many of them in England. They had spread Eastward from South Hampton, whither they had come from New England,
principally from Saybrook and its vicinity in Connecticut, and settled several years prior to the settlement in East Hampton.
With these earliest settlers, in all probability came the disease under consideration, and I think I can use the time to no
better advantage than quoting from a letter I received from one of Long Islands oldest and noblest men, Judge Henry P. Hedges,
of Bridge Hampton, now ninety-two years of age, but with mind and memory still active and alert, though feeble in physical
He writes from Bridge Hampton, July 9, 1908, and says, "I am confident this disease is not of East Hampton
origin, but was introduced there from Southampton. The subject is avoided by most people as distasteful. J.T.D., father of
E.D. of East Hampton told me forty or fifty years ago that it was introduced into East Hampton first by the intermarriage
of an East Hampton Mulford with a Howell woman of Southampton. Capt. John Dayton (5th), born in 1728, died in 1825, was married
to Mary Mulford, September 1751, and his son Josiah (6) had this chorea and also his son John (6), and his son Samuel (7).
This chorea came into the Hedges family by the marriage of Capt. David Hedges, born September 8,1762, died 1846, through his
wife Phebe Tillinghast, and their son Stafford had it. I knew seventy years ago a Howell woman who was the wife of Charles
Topping, and through whom the disease passed to men now living. I knew Jesse Pierson of Sagg eighty years ago who had this
disease, and of his five children, four died of it, all of whom I knew."
"I presume that Judge Hedges is quite right about its first appearing in Southampton before it reached East
Hampton, but I believe that it had its origin long before any settlers reached Long Island, in New England almost certainly,
in Old England probably.
"My grandfather came to Eastern Long Island from Connecticut in 1797, now 112 years ago, and he found the
disease well established there, but had little or no call to treat it, though he undoubtedly treated many choreics for any
intercurrent disease that might affect them, and was thrown more or less intimately with them. The same is true of my father,
Dr. George Lee Huntington, who was a native of East Hampton.
Years of contact with these people taught them their peculiarities, the age at which the disease generally
manifested itself, its usual slow onset and gradual development, sometimes through long lives, sometimes for only a short
period, for these people often end it all by suicide before its worst features have had time to develop. Some worked on at
their trades long after the choreic movements had developed, but gradually succumbed to the inevitable, becoming more and
more helpless as time advanced, and often mind and body failed at even pace.
"In a recent conversation with one of East Hampton's physicians, I learned that there are but two cases existing
in East hampton Town-ship at present. I was greatly surprised at this, and if true, it argues that the disease is surely dying
out there, a thing devoutly to be desired. Stephen C. I knew in my early boyhood. He was an old man, insane, and a terror
to the boys. Although fully entitled to be a choreic, he never became one, and none of his posterity have ever developed the
disease, nor have they ever become insane. The two women mentioned previously by me (those he saw when he was a boy) were
near relatives of his of the same name, and cotemporaries.
"The postulates taken in the original paper I believe hold good today, viz., the appearance of the disease
only in adult life, its chronicity and gradual advancement, its following in direct line from parent to offspring, and when
this line is broken, its failure to reappear in future generations. In this connection, in a recent communication from my
friend Dr. William Browning of Brooklyn, he says, 'Your original dictum that persons living out their time do not transmit
the strain, still holds good as far as I am aware. One or two claimed exceptions may doubtless be otherwise explained'.
"This, gentlemen, about completes what I have to say. None knows better than I how far it falls short of
what is usually heard in these halls, for I have made no attempt at the scientific, hut if you have derived either profit
or pleasure from it, I shall consider my efforts as abundantly repaid."
* * * * *
In the village of Bures, in Suffolk, England, we know that prior to and in the year 1630 there were quite
a few witches, as the records tell of many "witch-hunters" canvassing this region and ferreting out and jailing any suspects,
for which they received twenty shillings apiece from the government.
Of the nervous disorders most of these witches suffered from, we can be sure that at least some of them were
Huntington choreics. Those who were thus affected, in this locality, were spurned by the general populace because they were
firmly believed to be in league with the Devil and many were condemned and beheaded for witchcraft. This group and their as
yet unaffected offspring were forced to hand together and live to themselves. As a result, intermarriage among their children
was the rule, and thus these people not only suffered the ill-effects of intermarriage of cousins, hut their children were
doubly sure of being potential choreics.
A young man of Bures, by the name of Jeffers, and not of choreic strain, fell in love with the daughter of
a choreic and wished to marry her. His family stoutly objected, and so to obtain his end, he, in 1630, had to marry her and
take her to America. This he did, finally settling in Stamford, Connecticut. Another young man of Bures named Nichols, who
was of choreic strain, married a woman named Ellfin, likewise of this strain, and they came to America on one of the boats
of John Winthrop's Fleet on the same voyage with Jeffers and his bride.
New England Court records show that Nichols and Ellfin were in several scrapes with the law for various types
of rascality, and finally, Ellfin, in 1653 was condemned and hanged for witchcraft. Her grand-daughter was likewise convicted
of witchcraft in 1692, but was pardoned by the judges, who, by this date, had begun to feel that they might be committing
crimes themselves for hanging these poor stricken individuals.
Wilkie, older brother of Nichols, also came over at the same time with his wife Priscilla. This pair was
involved in several court trials for various misdemeanors, and their eldest son was taken into custody in 1641, charged with
"distemper," and he later was apprehended stealing some of his mother's silver. The daughter of another son became the celebrated
Groton Witch, referred to in all witchcraft literature.
The most interesting offspring of Nichols and Ellfin was a daughter who married a man named Mulfoot (Mulford),
and then going with him, in about 1660, to live in East Hampton, Long Island, thus forming the parent stem of Dr. Huntington's
Long Island group of choreics. This is then the origin of the Mulford strain, and it is interesting to note, one hundred years
later, the dissension as to what family was responsible for the Mulford taint at that time. The Easthamptoners and the Mulfords
blamed it on the Southampton Howells; the Southamptoners, some of whose families also harbored the taint, blamed it entirely
on the Mulfords. It is probable that all of the choreic strains in both villages came from the original Mulfords.
* * * *
Although Dr. Huntington was now in his sixtieth year, he continued in active practice. While the recognition
paid him undoubtedly pleased him, he never could feel that he deserved it, and he felt that he was receiving honors which
rightfully belonged to his father and grand-father. But if we look into any similar cases, the parents and grand-parents all
helped contribute in some way to an individual's success.
He and his wife were now out of financial difficulties, and they lived in the old homestead at Hopewell Junction
amidst the rich rewards they were receiving from their well spent lives. Their children, now successful men and women, paid
them visits, and these meant much to the old couple. Dr. Huntington, when seated in his favorite armchair, enjoying a few
hours of rest from his practice, could let his eye rove around the room over the sketches and paintings of the quail and geese,
and the ships and sea, and each one recalled definite memories of the past. He loved to think of the joy and the struggle
of the early days at La Grangeville, he loved to recall his children as they were in their infancy. He and his splendid wife
realized the fullness of their companionship in these years, and it was through her faithful, sympathetic, and loving ministration,
particularly in his periods of illness, that he was able to 'carry on.'
In the Spring of 1915, he was persuaded by his children to give up his practice, and he went
to live with his son Edwin at Cairo, New York, also in the Catskills. It was his sons' desire that his declining years be
free from all responsibility, but, during the following winter, the fine old gentleman had a persistant severe chest cold,
and in February, 1916, he developed broncho-pneumonia, and on March the third, in his 66th year, be died. His wife remained
with her son and lived to attain the age of 71, dying in 1921.
* * * *
His classic paper in his most popular claim to fame, but if his life as a country practitioner was not brilliant,
it was certainly colorful. And if his career subsequent to his publication on chorea may he thought by some to have fallen
short of his potentialities, it was his own doing; he was determined to lead the life which would give him the greatest amount
of satisfaction and happiness. Although his ill health obviously guided his life to some extent, I feel that his sterling
character, high ideals, and love of the chief forces which led him to follow the useful but strenuous existence found in a
1. George Huntington On Chorea" in Medical and Surgical Reporter Vol. 26, April, 1872, p.317.
2.On Chorea and Choreiform Affections, by Sir William Osler, London, 1894
3.Biographical Sketch of George Huntington, M.D., by James McFarlane Winfield, M.D., Neurographs, vol I, No
2, 1908, p.91
4. History of Huntington's Chorea, by Sir William Osler, Neurographs, Vol I, No.2 , 1098, p.93..
5. The Address delivered by Dr. George Huntington before the New York Neurological Society, December 7, 1909.
Loaned by Dr. E. H. Huntington, son of Dr. George Huntington.
6. Recollections of Huntington's Chorea, as I saw it at East Hampton, Long Island, during my boyhood, by George
Huntington, M.D., Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, Vol.37, April, 1910, p553.
7. On the Transmission of Huntington's Chorea for 300 Years-the Bures Family Group, by P. R. Vessie, M.D.,
Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, December, 1932, Vol.76, p.553
8. Personal Correspondence with Dr. Edwin Horton Huntington of Ossining, N.Y., without whose generous help
this article would not have been possible.
GEORGE HUNTINGTON, born April 9, 1850, in East Hampton, L.I.; married,
October 6, 1874, in Pomeroy, OH, Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Martin and Katherine P. (Horton) Heckard. She was born September
30, 1850, in Pomeroy, OH. He is a physician, and a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of NY, in 1871.
He is the author of a paper on "Chorea," which he read before the Meigs and Mason
Academy of Medicine in 1872, and which was published in the Medical and Surgical Reporter. This paper described a peculiar
form of hereditary chorea existing in Long Island, NY, which has since attracted much attention, both at home and abroad,
and which has been designated by the name of "Huntington Chorea."
He lived in La Grangeville, NY, in 1874, Asheville, NC, from 1901 to 1902, Hopewell
Junction, NY, from 1903 to 1914 when they removed to Cairo, NY.
They are Episcopalians.
CHILDREN, BORN IN
LA GRANGEVILLE, NY
KATHERINE, born July 27, 1875; married, June 6, 1899, in Islip, L.I.,
Moultrie Brailsford, son of Joseph Hall Waring, and Mary (Freer) Hutchinson. He was born March 31, 1871, in Summerville, SC.
Mr. Hutchinson is in the traffic dept. of a Steamship Line, and lived in Atlanta, GA, from 1897 to 1900, in Augusta, GA, from
1900 to 1903, and since 1903 in Summerville, SC. They are Presbyterians, and the parents of ABEL HUNTINGTON, born September
1, 1900, in Augusta, GA.
CHARLES GARDINER, born July 1, 1878; married, December 12, 1906, in
Brooklyn, NY, Marjorie, dauthter of Robert and Mary (Bannister) Stewart. She was born February 24, 1879 in Brooklyn, NY. He
graduated from the Polytec Institute of Brooklyn, as B.S. in 1899. He is now with the Western Banknote and Engraving Company.
He lived in La Grangeville, NY, to March 1900, Elizabeth, N.J., to February 1901, Brooklyn, N.Y., to December 1903, Summerville,
SC, to June 1907, and is now living in Chicago, IL. They are Episcopalians, and the parents of ELIZABETH, born December 1,
1908, and CHARLES GARDINER II, born February 19, 1913.
ABEL, born June 5, 1880, and died December 22, 1891, in the Hospital
for Ruptured and Crippled, in NY City.
ELIZABETH, born November 27, 1881 ; lives at Hopewell Junction, NY.
EDWIN HORTON, born October 22, 1883; lived at Hopewell Junction, NY.
He graduated from Albany Medical College in May, 1914, and in 1915 was practicing in Cairo, NY.
ELEANOR, born September 27,1885; lives at Hopewell Junction, NY.