Science and the Young Doctor

Dr. Cadwallader Colden’s influences upon medicine occurred by way of several sciences related to this field.  During the latter half of the 18th century, the age of enlightment was nearing a peak in history, with scientific discoveries playing important roles in nearly every field of study.  Colden’s interests in science and the applications of new discoveries in science to his personal philosophy made him more aware of any additional discoveries and more certain about their application to his own perspective about things.    

Dr. Colden’s best-known communications with scientists, aside from those already mentioned such as Linnaeus and numerous other botanists, were his communications with Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin.  These two sets of communications shared some aspects of the natural philosophy discussions often underlying his communications with Newton about light and energy, and Franklin’s fascination with the study of electricity.   Both of these studies scientists felt were intimately related in the natural philosophical realm, and had much to do with the philosophies that underline many of the medical practices for the time.  Through Newton’s rendering of the universal forces, such as gravity, light and electricity, came a variety of new arguments using these Newtonian concepts to define the equations used to explain the astronomical features like cyclicity and predictability, as well as the reason nature is capable of generating such events as thunderstorms, lightning, earthquakes, tidal rhythyms, tornaodes, and comet and meteor events.  The philosophy, science and math underlying these features in turn were also related to how the human body functions, the reasons for its vitality of ability to produce its own energy-based way of living, and how and why certain natural events could extinguish life in just a split second.  Dr. Colden wasn’t like just any physician in the United States for the time.  His education at Edinburgh made him the scholar and successful writer that he was, and the highly educated philosopher, engineer, scientist, and physician that he became in the Province of New York.

Colden’s influences upon science have several main topics of research or avenues of approach to the topics that he studies and wrote about as a scholar, physician and later lieutenant-governor of New York.  The following are these topics:

  1. The co-authoring of an article about the cycling of comets and meteor shower events; the underlying mathematics to these events and the relationship of these events to Newtonian physics.
  2. The design of a printing press invention unique for the time
  3. The development of a theory in matter and energy comparable and in contrast to Newton’s theory of universal forces and energy, with an emphasis on the roles of light in universal events and cycles. 
  4. The development of a philosophy and theory regarding the utilization of energy within the body, in the form of producing muscular contractions and mobility.

Each one of the above has some form of written essay or mansucript documenting this work as it was engaged in by Cadwallader Colden.  A number of these documents are found as part of the Colden collection in the New York State library in Albany, others are in the possession of the New York City Library.   Descriptions and copies of these writings are also found at times scattered about the magazines, journals and books published since the 1720s Transactions of various types and topics of interest published by the professional and academic Royal Societies in England.

Planets and Stars

Colden’s first publication in a scientific journal is the study of the eclipses in relation to Juniper.  The author of this work was New York Governor William Burnet.  Colden was only a primary researcher of this field, responsible for documenting the observatory notes and calculating the planetary flow-time relationships related to the eclipse.

At the time of this publication, Colden was also working in service to Burnet.  The following is this article, extracted from Philosophical Transactions, No. 385, Oct-Nov-Dec 1725.

The Printing Press

The effective use of the Printing Press is an accomplishment typically related to famous publishers like Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, Samuel Loudon of the New York Packet and Thomas Paine of New York.  The improvements made in the printing process itself were ongoing  throughout the colonial period, with important contributions relative to local New York history made by Ben Franklin and Cadwallader Colden.  The mention of Cadwallader Colden’s association with printing is only an occasional event for most of the writings published about his life.  The reason for this of course is the greater importance history has assigned to him due to his other accomplishments, as a politician and as a scientist.

The impacts of Colden’s attempt to take on the engineering task at hand related to printing may not in itself represent much of a milestone for himself, nor for the region of Newburgh, NY or the history of the colony, state or nation.  Nevertheless, a story about this accomplishment of Colden exists and so is presented at this site, although not on this page.  This story appears as part of another biography of Colden provided on a separate page (Colden – biographies). 

There are a couple of other colonial history tales that correlate well with this piece of Colden’s activities and history in the Hudson Valley.  Newburgh is noted as one of several major paper manufacturers and distributors in the Colonies around 1760.  It is also a site fairly close to the Revolutionary War hospital setting, where during the war years numerous governmental documents, papers and even paper currency were printed just across the river in Fishkill.   Whether or not Colden’s influences also assisted the people of Newburgh of developing this important part of American history requires further review.  What we do know is that Colden was very industrious during his years of stay in this part of New York.  We are also provided with a little more detail about his life history, and how Colden also deserves recognition for his accomplishments across numerous professional avenues.  The Hudson Valley equivalent to Ben Franklin, were it not for his history as a Loyalist. 

Colden’s Newtonianism

Cadwallader Colden was very much interested in Isaac Newton’s philosophy and teachings.  Like other scientists Colden regularly interacted with, such as Halley, the astronomer and discoverer of the path and predictability of Halley’s Comet.  Other scientists he would learn to respect through their publications in the Transactions included Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (the Fahrenheit thermometer), Leewuenhook (who used the microscope to study everything from body tissues to the components of the blood), and Sir Hans Sloane, a collector and cataloguer of plants grown for the famous Chelsea garden.  Colden’s most important communique and comrade in the Royal Society network was none other than Isaac Newton.  The professional relation Colden developed with Newton would have long term effect upon how each came to interpret and express their concepts about God and the universe.

Colden’s Physiology and Metaphysics


The Works of Cicero