Colden’s Coldingham experiences


An important part of Cadwallader’s Colden history not mention in the historical biographies published about his relates to his philosophy about a given place.  In part, Colden doesn’t tell us much about this part of his thinking because in general, this information is not something normally mentioned, discussed or detailed in any way shape or form.  We learn this part of a person’s history by coming to a better understanding about his/her metaphysical and physical views on life and the world.  For a physician, we learn this from what he writes about his perspective on health and disease, and by relating these personal beliefs to specific behaviors that writer engaged in throughout his life.

As a late 17th century, early 18th century colonial physician, Colden did not walk around philosophizing about medicine by thinking about the flows and balances of the four humours in the body.  Historians often look at this practices and selections of medicines expecting this to be the case, but for a medical climatologist, medical topgrapher like Cadwallader Colden, the four humours played a minimal role in what he would decide to do when treating a case, or provide as advice to  sick or ailing patient.  The basic premises that define Colden’s philosophy as a physician can be determined by reviewing the medical books published at the time of his training and early practice years, and comparing these with the various topics he wrote about. 

Colden provides us with an essay about Tar Water and medicine, and another of the Vital principles underlying muscle movement in the body.  He also engaged heavily in discussions with peers and famous scientists about the phenomena related to the energy of the universe, such as the influences of gravity and interchanges that took place between energy and matter as philosophized by Isaac Newton.    Colden had a fascination with the solar, planet and comet cycles, learning to perform the calculations needed to review them in a very mathematical way.  Colden spoke with Benjamin Franklin on and off about the phenomenon of electricity and the body, as well as the clouds and thunder-lightning storms.  Colden paid close attention to the events related to specific natural climatic, temperature, and weather changes, including the impacts of land surface features or topography on the health of a given region.

Knowing all of this about health, disease, and the theoretical causes for disease, Colden didn’t just move to the Hudson Valley to observe these natural events in the countryside.  he moved to the valley because he held a particular philosophical belief about the influences the local topography and climate would have on his life style, life experiences, health and longevity.  The reasons Dr. Colden moved to a place which he would later call Coldengham must have been selected due to some of the features that he felt were important to his health and his family’s health.   Hints as to why he removed to the Hudson Valley and decide to remain there with his family are found in the history of his family in Scotland before Cadwallader removed to the Colonies, and in the history of the healthiness of these regions and the general philosophy adhered to at the time about the need to remain in such settings, those which you were already acclimated to.

This notion of removing to a section of the colonies that one is already acclimated to has a long history that formed during the late 1500s.  The perpetuation and belief in this teaching meant that a person could migrate to a newer place so long as he/she can either adapt, or take control of the influences of the natural elements such as cold, humidty, and solar heat, upon their body.  Similarly, the influences of specific wind patterns and forms, the prevalence of lack of heavy rain and thunderstorms, the tendency for winters to be cold and snowy or dry and windy, were all features a physician who believed in climate and health had to pay heed to when deciding to remove.

Evidence for why Colden removed to this specific part of the Hudson Valley exists in the topography of this region, its similarities to his hometown area near Coldingham, and the climatic conditions inherent to his upbringing that he felt most adapted to.  To Cadwallader Colden, evidence this was the best way to live a healthy lifestyle are found in the books that he read, and the popular pastoral and pastural beliefs common to healthy living practices that the British tried to adhere somewhat firmly to.  But Colden was Scottish, and his family also Scottish.  To deal with this, he would move them to the right temperate zone portion of the continent, and from there remove to New York, first for professional and political purposes, but later for other underlying cultural reasons that he probably noted in this formerly Dutch region.  Since Colden was Scottish, not English, and his upbringing adapted to other situations than many of the local immigrants he was associated with, Colden was in search of a place more like home than the heavy porttown of New York.   Once the opportunity arose for his to remove to Orange County, with the local township of Newburgh forming, his interpretation of this section fo land in the Colony was that it must have been somewhat similar to his old home setting.  And do it was, as proven to him by the form of the landscape and the presence of the Highlands at the south end of Orange.

This is the reason Colden settled in Coldenham, and built a farm just west of Newburgh.   As the following notes will show, culture and ethnic history played a major role in Colden’s choice and satisfaction with living in a tract of land just south of “Ulster”.  As a review of topography, climate and local cultural and land use history will demonstrate, Colden made an unnamed section of this land into something very much akin with his hometwon setting adjancet to Coldinham, Scotland.  Colden was already acclimated to living in this area, and so, based on his own perspective of this due to his upbringing and training, he was resident to one of the better places for a Scotsman from eastern Scotland to remove to in the Colonies.