It has been a while since I last added anything to this section. I pulled together some of the work I was doing on medical history when I was teaching the courses on trapper medicine, Oregon Trail medicine and the history of alternative medicine in this country from the colonial years to present. Fortunately, were it not for some PC and IT geeks back in the early to mid 1990s, much of this information I developed on a my 1982 Sanyo MBC 550[CPM/SYS]/11″ wide daisy wheel printer and my more normal 1992 IBM 286 [DOS] would have been lost and forgotten.

Most of what is posted here is research that has been ongoing for about 20+ years (talk about OC). If any of you have read the results of my work on the Dutch-English raised Revolutionary War physician Dr. Osborn (1722-1782), you can see how being patient pays off. It took me more than 20 years to solve the riddle about why an 18th C physician in Hudson Valley, New York was practicing alchemy by using a compound called Ens veneris–a compound then considered to be the elixir of life or philosopher’s stone.


Treatment for “Stoppage of the Terms” (a late menstrual period), 1768

I spent twenty years wondering how he came up with this recipe. I could not find it anywhere in the published books. The closest thing out there in the rare book rooms was Robert Boyle’s letter to a friend in which he mentions ens primum veneris, not ens veneris. It was obvious to me this was not the original ‘essence of venus’ as defined by 16th C. alchemists like Paracelsus. For one thing, both Osborn’s and Boyle’s recipes were made with iron instead of copper. The feminine metal of Venus, copper, is needed for the entia or “essence” of venus to be extracted; the metal Osborn and Boyle used, iron, is the metal of Mars and symbolizes the male spirit.

Once the internet was discovered, some time in the Spring of 1990 in my house, I began to discuss my findings with others at some of those old fashioned posting sites. (All of those good old alternative thinkers from the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon.) The mainframe for this internet site was at a neighbor’s house, which I hooked up to by telephone. (What fun that was!)

Robley Dunglison’s A Dictionary of Medical Science … 1874

Then, some time around 1995/6, I upgraded to a Windows 95 laptop and began periodically visiting the AOL, Yahoo! and Netscape search sites. The very first time I was there, and every now and then afterwards, I’d type in “ens veneris” only to get no hits. (My only hit in 5 years was for a dictionary note on the entry “ens”). Then about three or four years ago, and several generations of PCs and laptops later, I typed in “ens veneris” and out came thousands of hits. I knew something had just happened that was about to answer all of my questions.

It ended up Dr. Osborn probably learned this through oral history, due to the local Dutch fascination with mysticism since their first settlement in the Hudson Valley around 1640. The inventor of this ens veneris was George Starkey, a Bermudian chemist who moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1649. While a student at Harvard, he developed this formula in his alchemical lab. Once people learned more of the details of Starkey’s experiments, his notes were put into storage at a library in England and this little piece of American history was lost and forgotten. Fortunately, these notes were re-discovered a few years back, and subsequently translated and published. Starkey’s invention of ens veneris was in there.

Portrait of Robert Boyle, by Johann Kerseboom

Robert Boyle

(NOTE: most of these portraits are from Wikipedia)

By reading the manuscript you can immediately tell that Starkey was a Christian Alchemist who “channeled” with God for his recipes. In 1651, Starkey moved to England due to some communications he had with one scientist in particular who was about to become one of the most important chemists for his time, Robert Boyle. Like other scientists, Robert Boyle probably saw Starkey’s notes, read his recipes, and then stopped communicating with Starkey once he began seeing comments inferring these recipes were revealed to him by God. Boyle and others left Starkey behind for years to come, as well as most of his discoveries for Starkey to contemplate and rediscover on his own.

Meanwhile, Boyle successfully modified some of Starkey’s recipes and then published them himself. Evidence for this is noted in one of Boyle’s letters to his associates in the field, in which he defines for the first time “ens primum veneris.” Back in 1987, I couldn’t link Dr. Osborn to Robert Boyle or Boyle’s version of this alchemical term. But once I learned about Starkey’s local fame at Harvard, the method Osborn obtained this knowledge became clear. Starkey was still favored by some of the more metaphysically-minded settlers of a primarily Dutch environment. Dr. Osborn was considered by historians to be a “Vitalist”, a follower of Theophilis Borden’s teachings which stated that the organs have their individual life energies that must work in harmony for the body to be as healthy as possible. So be it. Whereas the Swedenborgians for this time had their angels telling them what to do, the true Starkians simply had God. And some residents of the Hudson Valley like Dr. Osborn became the first in North America to believe in the vital force.

So ends my saga of finding out where the philosopher’s stone recipe for the small town of Fishkill, New York came from in 1768, seven years before the dawn of the Revolutionary War. [For more on Starkey begin with Wikipedia’s Eireneaus Philalethes, “the peace lover of truth.”]

One of Andrew Jackson Davis’s seancing sessions in the Hudson Valley, from his book on this topic.

For those perusing this page out of curiosity (to see just who it was that produced these pages) the following are the additions to my projects in recent months:

  • Evidence supporting the need for veneration (beatification?) of local Mahecan Sachem Wasamapa (aka Tschoop/Job or Brethren John of the 1740-1745 Moravian Missions), the next Native American to begin a path towards sainthood. [The first to nearly reach this level is Blessed Native American is Kateri Tekakwitha.]
  • More definitive proof that Cadwallader Colden‘s philosophy facilitated or led to new faiths being practiced in the Hudson Valley, esp. local medical electricity and the underlying Lamarckian, pre-Darwinian evolution-creation theories for the time, that Colden may have even helped generate.
  • More on Poughkeepsie Thomsonianism.
  • Some notes on the Octagon House in Wappingers, a forgotten piece of local history. Its owner, designer and architect, Orson Fowler, was a popular speaker in what is now the Greenwich Village area. This house is where some of the first metaphysical forms of alternative medicine were philosophized and practiced in this country. Due to a book Orson Fowler wrote on this house, the octagon houses still standing have received national recognition. This is the place where early vegetarianism was practiced, and where vegetables grown in the garden made use of human waste as fertilizer, taken from the earth closet Orson designed. According to an 1850 map in my possession [see below], this is where Orson Fowler and others preached and practiced phrenology. It is probably where Andrew Jackson Davis performed some of his local seances for the first time as a “New Age” Metaphysicist, is where Dods taught Electric Psychology, and is where people were taught to get back to nature. Orson Fowler’s Octagon House site deserves national and New York State historical site recognition.
  • Rev. John Bovee Dods’ early 1840s sessions on electric psychology and magnetism (wearing galvanism pendants), including the notes of one of his students on how to read someone’s energy by palpating the wrist.
  • For genealogists, I have put out there some more on the history of medical licensure and the names of physicians locally, esp. in the valley, ca. 1800-1820
  • I also finally found my notes and floppies with the documents detailing the history of trapping and exploration and the development of the trapper’s unique natural philosophy; this includes the details of a number of writings I reviewed on trappers and health, and how a trapper practiced medicine at the various stages in American trapper history, 1745-/1790-1860
  • I added a new section on Oregon Trail Medical History, including the start of a natural history review of the trail with documentation of the possible milksickness epidemic region along the Trail due to a Eupatorium species
  • I made some initial entries on the Pacific Northwest history of alternative medicine, in particular trailblazer and Eclectic doctor John Kennedy Bristow (1814-1887); the Pacific Northwest is where the accredited version of naturopathy was rejuvenated around 1956 in Portland, Oregon (at National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, OR, not the John Bastyr College in Seattle, which began as a branch of NCNM ca. 1973).
  • Finally, I had to get to this theory I found in the medical literature out there for others to read; Noah Webster (of Webster’s Dictionary) published a theory on the potential impacts of the first global climate change due to deforestation back around 1797-1810; his theory was that the earth would cool down due to lack of forests!



From Map of Dutchess County New-York, from Original Survey. J.C. Sidney C.E., Author of 12 Miles Around New-York. John E. Gillett, Publisher. 1850.


1850 Street Map of New York City by Samuel Augustus Mitchell (The Gangs of New York movie was set here)


I have also begun adding my popular text-book entitled The Evolution of Plant Chemicals. [This will take a while.] This book was quite popular during the years I taught my course on this topic (1989-1993, then 1995-2002, on and off). Note: this textbook sometimes sells for fairly ridiculous prices in Europe (>100 Pds). To the right scientists, this kind of information I developed can be a time-saver.

For those who took the Chemicals in Plants course I taught at the university back in the 80s or 90s, I plan to add and publish the results of this work on the ethnobotany/chemotaxonomy tables via this site. I have since then developed several unique approaches to presenting this information using the Plant Evolution Chemotaxonomy Tree I drew up more than 20 years ago (to those who know what I am referring to: sorry, the full tables themselves will probably not be presented due to too much information on a single page, lack of space and readibility issues). Overall, my students back then have found my course book to be a very nice summary of how and where the different types of chemicals exist in the Plant Kingdom and how to go about better understanding them, their reasons for evolution and their ethnobotanical and medicinal values. I highly recommend this to university individuals into ethnobotany, herbal medicine practitioners, and individuals researching bioengineering and tissue culturing plant medicines and other plant products (the reasons I wrote this book in the first place back in the late 1980s).


Grid Cell and Moving Circle Cell sizes Relative to Portland Research Area


Based on the recent site statistics, my most popular topics being reviewed by site visits are as follows:


Interestingly, due to the recent news that Venerable Pope John Paul II is being considered for beatification and possibly canonization, I am getting a lot of visitors to my pages about the makings of a saint and the psychological process of self-discovery which many of these people go through.

Global Warming, Part 1

Now on to the main topic that brought me back to this section in the first place. There is this article I came upon about a year or two ago on global warming. It was published by the Medical Repository and distributed out of New York City in 1810.

I like call this little bit of medical history trivia ‘Part 1 of the Global Warming-Deforestation issue’, inferring of course that today’s global climate change events are ‘Part 2’.

In 1797, Reverend Samuel Williams (1743-1817, sorry, no portrait) wrote a book entitled Natural and Civil History of Vermont (2 vols). In this book he provided a detailed description of the Vermont topography and climate, and made use of his astronomy skills to define the boundary of Vermont with Canada. Ten years before this book became famous, Reverend Samuel Williams of Massachusetts was a Harvard student who graduated and became a professor in philosophy and mathematics. In 1788, he was forced to remove to Vermont due to a financial scandal related to misappropriated funds. In Vermont, he worked as a Congregational minister for seven years and with his cousin, Judge Samuel Williams, helped found the University of Vermont (see During his years in Vermont, two of Williams’ major areas of interest were the theory for the formation of the earth and the fossil records, both in relation to what would later be called evolution. Reverend Williams work on this subject resulted in considerable support for his work, and a considerable amount of criticism from at least one scholar residing in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York–Noah Webster, author of Webster’s Dictionary.

James Hutton

At the time there were the Uniformitarianists led by James Hutton (1726 – 1797), who believed that the present world evolved at a fairly constant rate over very long periods of time. They liked to explain the changes in the earth’s surface based on its geological layering as the result of natural events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, rain, wind and erosion.

Georges Cuvier

Opposing the uniformitarians were the Catastrophists headed by Georges Cuvier (1769 – 1832). The catastrophists believed in creation, the Great Flood, Adam and Eve, and of course, God. Supporting the catastrophists’ theory was the discovery of the fossil beds, the more complex examples of which were found close to the surface. This resulted in the principle of superposition, which implied that old organisms were destroyed and with each period of destruction replaced by newer organisms designed by the Creator that were more sophisticated in their form and nature. This theory suggested that a number of periods of drastic change or catastrophes had taken place–natural catastrophes like the more recent Great Flood produced by God.

Like the other catastrophists, Williams was aware of the climatic differences inferred in the Old Testament when two different historical recounts of the same region were reviewed for two different time frames. Such was the case for a review of the Book of Job by Moses and the writings of David composed 400 years later. Williams believed that the meteorological evidence contained in these two stories indicated that a warming of Palestine had occurred, which Williams claimed was due to deforestation. This deforestation process he claimed is what caused the greater seasonal changes in wind patterns and temperature being noted as time passed, causing some areas to become colder than in the past, and other areas much warmer.

Painting of a portly gentleman in a powdered grey wig and richly embroidered clothes.

Comte de Buffon

Other Bible historians who believed in this theory at the time included the famous French naturalist and pre-Lamarckian Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788). Buffon was the first to propose a theory considered very close to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Also supporting the belief in climate change during the Bible years was Scottish naturalist and philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and a theologian noted by some writers as Dr. Holyoke (probably Edward Augustus, 1726-1826, but could have been his father Edward, who was once President of Harvard. See and Dr. Holyoke popularized the theory that the large evergreen forests could be related to these climate changes noted in the Bible for some regions, claiming the removal of these trees is what led to much warmer summers and much colder winters.

David Hume

Each of these scholars were drawn by the natural philosophy inferred by the following quote contained in the Bible [Psalm 147:16-18]:

“He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoar frost like ashes; He casteth forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow , and the waters flow.”

To prove that Buffon, Hume and Holyoke were correct, Reverend Williams made use of his meteorological training from Harvard to compare the weather and climate descriptions found in the Book of Job by Moses and the writings of David composed 400 years apart. The common belief then was that both Moses and David resided in the same place when they wrote their stories down–the land of Midian or Palestine. Comparing these two authors’ entries about the snow patterns observed for the region, and their details as to whether or not the local rivers were completely frozen over, Williams was able to determine that there was a 6 degree increase in the winter temperatures over the 400 years that had passed. In Palestine, the climate was getting hotter over time.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Williams publicized this detail about a possible warming of certain parts of the earth, due possibly to wind changes and deforestation. During this time, medical climatology was the ‘buzz word” for the medical profession. Disease was no longer a problem related just you as a person. It was now a product of the local environment and whether or not you were adapted to living in that environment, a product of Lamarckian philosophy and theory developed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). One of the most important questions a doctor could ask his patients at the time was: ‘Are you and your parents acclimated?’ If the parents were acclimated, than according to Lamarckianism the children were also acclimated and in much stronger health; if not, then it was going to be a struggle for you and the kids to try to adapt to this new environment in the United States for the next generation or two.

Thomas Malthus.jpg

Thomas Robert Malthus

Accompanying the theory of Lamarckianism was the philosophy of Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834). In his An essay on the principles of population, he wrote that the population was growing at a faster rate than food productivity could be increased by the farming industries. This meant that as time passed, more people would most likely succumb to starvation and become more susceptible to disease. This in turn would play a role in the ever-changing political powers of the various national governments. Therefore, the goal of governments was to keep its people poor and repressed, by offering limited food stores. The most important statements in his 1798 essay:

“That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,

That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.”

Bos primigenius

Both Dr. Williams’ and Malthus’s writings became quite popular over the next few years. William’s writings on climate change suggested to locals that by eliminating the forests of the Hudson Valley, we had begun to pave the pathway towards human destruction. Many onlookers into this scientific dispute were probably thinking ‘No wonder the recent in increase in yellow fever epidemics is happening, on a fairly regular basis.’ [For more, see my” The Trinity Years” and “Poughkeepsie Trinity” under “The Post-War Years”, and “Thomsonian Trinity” in the section “Early Thomsonianism”.]

Noah Webster

This led local expert on climate and disease, Noah Webster (1758-1843, author of A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, 1st ed., 1806), to make his own comments on Williams interpretations of weather in the Bible. Webster then presented his findings related to Williams’ claims to the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences during a quarterly meeting in New Haven in 1799. Like Dr. Williams, Noah Webster based his results on a review of the Bible, to which he added his own reviews of the natural history of the Middle East and its climate, along with numerous quotes from the work of Hippocrates, various Greek and Roman classical writers, and a number of more recent local natural history findings.

In the end, Webster developed his own theory of climate change. Like Holyoke he blamed it on the absence or presence of vegetation, but differed from Holyoke on the types of impacts this vegetation change was having:

“While the earth is covered with wood, it never froze . . . “.

Webster’s claim was completely opposite of those of Holyoke and Williams. He blamed the climate change in Palestine on the local deforestation that had taken place soon after Moses and the Israelites moved in. He concluded:

“The country therefore could not have been covered with wood, but every foot of land was covered by husbandmen”

and then later adds

“All the alterations in a country, in consequence of clearing and cultivation, result only in a different distribution of heat and cold.”

Seven years later, in 1806, Webster following up this initial speech with a supplement providing further support of his claims. One year later, around 1807 or 1808, Rev. Samuel Williams’ theory about climate change and disease was revived when yet another book on the same controversy was written by John Williams. This book arrived in New York City and made its rounds in the intellectual environment, probably by way of the New York School of Medicine or the local medical journal published in New York, The Medical Repository.

John Williams work only pertained to Great Britain. Noah Webster’s theory pertained to the world as a whole. In America, Webster’s theory won out in the end. Everyone local to his state of Connecticut and the adjacent state of New York believed Noah Webster writings.

In turn, these events led to a revival of Webster’s claim on global climate change. This revival was supported by the republishing of his 1799 speech and follow ups by the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences in their Memoirs in 1810 . Noah Webster’s final belief was that the Hudson Valley like other parts of the world was on its way to becoming colder, a belief published in the Medical Repository as part of a review of Webster’s claims by members of what would later become the New York Academy of Medicine.

The belief in Noah Webster’s global cooling theory and the field of medical climatology were now fully developed. New methods for disease prevention were now being planned for the Hudson Valley. According to some of these believers, the way to combat global cooling theory was also hinted at in Psalm 147:16-18–“He giveth snow like wool . . .” This meant that the establishment of a local woolen industry was now more important than ever for Hudson Valley residents, and to prevent the disease and famine predicted by Malthusianists, the development of a much larger agricultural industry.

Ovis orientalis aries var.merino

This led a number of local families in the Hudson Valley to initiate the local farming and livestock industries for which the Hudson Valley has become quite famous. Along with corn and numerous other crops vegetable and fruit producers, and an entire industry devoted to cows and milk products, came a newly established local wool industry during the early 1800s. This woolen industry was initiated by none other than the Livingstons and was promoted by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. and the local agricultural committee with Physicians, Sheep-raisers, and several Congressmen, including Fishkill physician Dr. Bartow White, one of its first members. According to Minister to France Robert Livingston (1746-1813), in response to one his tours through Europe, Merino sheep from Spain was the way to go. (This Livingston was Minister to France 1801-1804, and very instrumental in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.)

Chancellor and Minister Robert Livingston

The common belief by many entrepreneurs about the region was that wool was the way to go to save the problems related to the rapidly growing local population. The rapidly growing city of New York had a growing need for farmed fruit and vegetable products and the various dairy products, meats and poultry that the farms of the Hudson Valley could produce. To some this meant that deforestation was essential to meeting the Malthusianism-defined demands of the region. This made sheep-raising for wool the best way to adapt to the pending environmental changes that would accompany this deforestation. But to raise more sheep, we had to open up more pasture lands and remove more trees. And so the story continues for the next 3o or so years in the Hudson Valley. In large part this is why the Hudson Valley remains prime territory for raising Merino sheep today. [see]

And all of this took place more than two centuries age, long before the contemporary global climate change theory was created.

For more see my pages on this and

Noah Webster. A Dissertation on the Supposed Temperature Change of Winter. Read before the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. 1799. Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 1, Part 1, 1810. New Haven, Ct. Accessed at

More on New York Governor Cadwallader Colden and his influences on the first Alternative Medicines in the US

During my review of the above work on Natural Theology/Natural Philosophy, the meaning of a statement published around the turn of the 19th century by one of Cadwallader Colden’s student fans was clarified. In a brief item published by a French student in the late 1790s/very early 1800s, who came upon Colden’s publication on metaphysics during a stroll about Paris, this young student tells us she was inspired by Colden’s work due to her own work with small animals or animalcules. She felt they had as much value in the world and according to Colden had as much vitality or energy within them as any other living being.

This reminds us of how Colden’s theory was written specifically to contrast with the older more mechanical theory of the universe put forth by Isaac Newton during the late 1600s. Colden’s energy-focused principle is not that hard to understand, but stated by a student without knowledge of the full meaning of her statement for the time, we historians are left wondering what she was experiencing and what she meant by her declaration within this particular context. It ends ups that at the time, there were several major philosophies out there regarding the formation of the universe and the development of living things and man. There was the old-fashioned theory of creation, and the newer Lamarckian interpretation of this energy.

Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802), a physician, natural philosopher, physiologist, and the grandfather of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), had written Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life (1794-6) in which he defined many of the “natural laws” used to define the life process. In this book he defined “The Great First Cause” for all beings.

About the same time, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) had published a theory which claimed that a parent passes onto its offspring those traits that the parent acquires in life. This was the most popular theory at the time this girl [the young student in Paris] made her statement. This series of philosophies provided any natural theologian a philosophy to fall back upon in their arguments and uncertainties about the new scientists’ findings. But it also enabled those non-atheistic scientists, not bound to any particular religion, to find their own spiritual route into their particular studies of natural philosophy and science. Colden’s work was pivotal in enabling his readers, Bibliophile or not, Lamarckian or not, to bridge the gaps of uncertainty most scholars were experiencing at the time.

Still, this particular impact of Colden’s work continued along one other metaphysical route. According to a later writer, two theories were developed due to this philosophical split and both were prevalent in science at the time. The first was the monistic theory, also referred to the causal of mechanical theory, which was very much in harmony with Newton’s claims–the world and universe are mechanical. The second was the dualistic theory, also referred to as the teleological or vitalistic theory, a theory claiming there to be this “inner engine” that was responsible for life. According to Newton, this “inner engine” of the universe was winding down.

All of the same principles are contained in Cadwallader Colden’s work, however, they are much more metaphysically-based in Colden’s version. This made Colden’s work more attractive to people still devoted to God and religion.

During the 1870s, these two theories and their very publicized histories were viewed retrospectively by natural theologian writer Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel in his book The history of creation: or, The development of the earth and its inhabitants by the action of natural causes. (Published London, 1876, Volume 1, p. 18). Haeckel’s claim was that Darwin had in fact accepted the existence of God as a part of the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Haeckel related some of Darwin’s philosophy to the pantheism promoted by Italian Dominican monk Giordano Bruno (1548-1600, burned at the stake by the Roman inquisition). Bruno believed the universe was of an infinite nature, with a non-heliocentric composition (our earth and sun were not the center of the universe and reality).

Giordano Bruno

This aspect of Haeckel, and in turn teleological philosophers before him like Colden, was later described quite well by an even later participant in a new version of this philosophical argument for the time. This new version of the argument was something like the god-enriched theories versus godlessness theories of the universe very popular in the late 1800s when existentialism and Nietzschism came to rule. In Benjamin F. Tefft’s Evolution and Christianity: or, An answer to the Development Infidelity of Modern Times (Boston/New York, 1885), Tefft states

God is the soul of the universe, and that soul is simply the force that moves it. This is the doctrine of those outspoken infidels, Miss [Harriet] Martineau and Mr. [George Jacob] Holyoke [not the Holyoke above], who declare their creed in one aphorism — “electricity is God.” It was the creed of Bolingbroke, as set forth by Pope Alexander, who, speaking of the universe, exclaims — “Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

In essence, people who appreciate the animalcule and its inner workings are appreciating what Haeckel claims to be God as well.

What if this same philosophy about God had already existed in the early 1800s in Hudson Valley history? I already suggested this possibility due to my review of Quaker philosophy. But now, all of a sudden, we have a more concrete link formed between Colden’s philosophy of universal energy and several other local philosophies common to the valley.

This is more evidence to my claim that Colden’s philosophy was transformed to meet the needs of several other fairly different philosophical writings for the region. The paths for each of these led to a number of different routes that their originators and subsequent scholars took in medicine. Such is what happened in the Hudson Valley from 1800 on. Examples of these transformations of belief include the acceptance of electric healing faiths–in particular the Quaker and French practices of medical electricity in the valley between 1790 and 1810, a philosophy promoted by Shadrach Ricketson and made even more real by a fellow Quaker residing in the Pawling-Dover area, Dr. Jedediah Tallman. These physicians were responding to growing interest in the belief that electricity was an important part of the living process, leading to the publication of a book on this subject Dr. Thomas Gale out of Troy, New York, called Electricity, or Ethereal Fire (1802).

Orson Fowler (1809-1887)


Colden’s work also made the region more open to modification and change by upcoming metaphysicists devoted to such new concepts as Gale’s philosophy that “electricity” was the vital force of the body and universe, a philosophy very much akin to the much older mesmerism theory. This transition in thought processes or theory improved our understanding of some of the more alternative thinkers of the region, like Ann Lee the initiator of Shakerism, overenthusiastic practitioner and medical publisher of Thomsonianism in Poughkeepsie–Thomas Lapham, seer and seancer Andrew Jackson Davis, and phrenologist and early organic foods and human waste recycling advocate Orson Fowler of Wappingers Falls, NY.

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)

Elsewhere in the world, Colden’s influences took still more unique routes as well, the most important of which I have already noted elsewhere. Colden’s metaphysical writing was at least once in the hands of Samuel Hahnemann, the initiator of homeopathy. Hahnemann cites Colden’s work in an early essay he did on mineral drugs (before Hahnemann was popular), in particular for quicksilver or mercury. Like any natural philosopher might do at the time (ca. 1800-1825), Hahnemann converted the “electricity” related to God to the “vital force” concept taught by Colden to something he could relate to his remedies. Like Colden, he probably reasoned that the effectiveness of inoculations could be due to some metaphysical cause.

Some evidence for this is found in a book review published in The Western journal of medicine and surgery, a regional professional journal on regular medicine edited by Daniel Drake and Lunsford Pitts Yandell (see New Series, Vol. 5. Apr. 1846, p. 506). In the book on the history and philosophy of homeopathy versus allopathy published in 1846 and entitled Homeopathy, Allopathy, and ‘Young Physic’ (published in Philadelphia, by the well-known publisher Lindsay and Blakiston), the author of this book John Forbes discussed the birth of this now very popular way of thinking about health and disease.

The way this classic story goes is that Hahnemann conceived of homeopathy while he was translating William Cullen’s (1710-1790) Materia Medica into German. Then 45 years of age (the year 1800), he had pretty much left medicine behind back in 1784 and was working as a writer translating medical references. By then it was known that cinchona was very effective in specifically curing the intermittent fevers, but a sufficient explanation as to why could never be given. Curious about this, Hahnemann decided to try the cinchona himself, at which time he was in a perfectly healthy state. As Edinburgh professor Forbes, an advocate of ‘vis medicatrix naturae’, tells us in his review:

“He was in the most perfect health when he entered upon these experiments; but soon he felt a change; he had scarcely taken a full dose of the medicine before he was seized with all the symptoms of ague. And ‘forthwith,’ says his historian, ‘arose in his mind a conception of the great truth which was destined to constitute the basis of the new art in medicine.’ It was a natural question which proposed itself,–‘May not the power of cinchona to cure ague, depend on its power to excite in the healthy body a similar disease?'”

John Forbes (1787-1861) [wikipedia]

Hahnemann was testing out his theory–the belief that the body builds up natural defenses against many of its illnesses by experiencing that illness first hand, but in smaller amounts or degrees of severity or irritability. After a number of trials, Hahnemann came to the pivotal conclusion that “every disease is best cured by that medicine which is capable of producing in the body similar symptoms, or a like disease.” Thus the classical adage related to homeopathy, or as Forbes states it, “Homion pathos . . . similia similibus curantur–Like are cured by like, i.e., homoeopathically.” [Note: The journal in which this article is found is on Google books. Hahnemann’s term “homeopathy” first appears in 1807 in Hufland’s Journal in the article Indications of the Homeopathic Employment of Medicines in Ordinary Practice”. Forbes’ original article is Forbes J. (1846). Homoeopathy, allopathy and “young physic”. British and Foreign Medical Review, 225-265.]

Supporting Hahnemann’s conclusions were ongoing disputes about the discovery of inoculations. This growing professional argument could have drawn even more attention to Hahnemann’s claims. Exactly who was the first to discover inoculation was then under dispute (this court hearings and letters on this dispute appear in medical journals ca. 1810-1815). By now, it was accepted that inoculation worked, in spite of not having any rational theory as to why. This in turn supported Hahnemann’s development of a similar theory as to why cinchona causes ague in the healthy, as well as how and why inoculations work.

Some parts of Hahnemann’s philosophy in turn can be related to the teachings of Cadwallader Colden. To Colden, both the 1720-1 small pox epidemic of Boston and the “throat distemper” epidemic of Kingston, (Massachusetts not New York), in 1737 had the same metaphysical cause. The same agent causing the rash and fever in one, caused an even worse condition for others in Kingston. (The severe epidemic of sore throats in Kingston in 1737 noted by Colden was probably a diphtheria epidemic, with an unusual manifestation of severe skin rash on the neck resembling pox or measles. Scrofula, the atypical non-pulmonary manifestation of the organism responsible for consumption or tuberculosis, is another possibility but is not restricted to the neck.)

Hahnemann teaches his followers to use his medications in much the same way we might administer an inoculation–in small amounts that are designed to stimulate the body to perform it work due to its own changes in internal energy. This remains the philosophy that many of today’s homeopaths like to follow, who refer to this energy as “vibrations.” Hahnemann’s work subsequently came into this country by way of its most understanding readers and followers culturally, by way of New York City and then westward towards the German communities of central and western Pennsylvania. Since everything Hahnemann wrote was in German, the first classes on Homeopathy taught in Pennsylvania in 1837 were taught in German. Therefore, this form of alternative medicine came to this country by way of a route other than the Hudson River and Hudson Valley.

Now, not to be too HV-centric here in my arguments (‘geocentric’ for the Hudson Valley-centered in an informal sense), but this supports my claim that geographically, due to its multicultural background, there is no other natural setting in the new United States like the Hudson Valley. This in turn is due to its Dutch heritage, which helped to form a region perfectly designed for the birth of numerous philosophies of medicine. Most of these births took take place in very short time, between 1800 and 1860, long after the Dutch lost possession of this region politically, but not culturally.


This earth closet is very similar to Orson’s design. The only exception is an octagon house was used, the drawing of which is probably what led to this more recent rendering.