Cadwallader Colden is one of a few early Hudson Valley settlers to leave a lengthy history of his life’s pursuits in writing.  His work is very much akin to the diversity and content of the various intellectual pursuits of Benjamin Franklin.  At times, it even appears as though the two were attempting to match each other’s accomplishments in terms of the various  topics pursued at the time.  For example, both Colden and Franklin were very much interested in electricity, a natural phenomenon. Colden focused more on the Newtonian and philosophical aspect of this scientific observation and then what it told us about the biological process and life itself.   Franklin took a more pragmatic, utilitarian approach to his studies of electricity, focusing on the various physical engineering and even medical applications of this natural energy.  At times the skills of each of these scholars seemed as though they were adding to or surpassing the findings of the other, along with many of their other comrades in academia.  However, there never was some actual form of rivalry or intellectual competition between Colden and Franklin, and never a hint of any desires to challenge each other with regard to these intellectual pursuits. 

Instead, we see evidence supporting two highly active and fairly successful pursuits of knowledge, each to which including attempts to make important discoveries in nearly every major field of study possible.  Both Colden and Franklin made aggressive attempts to not only publish new writings and discuss ever-changing natural philosophy, both also engaged in activities related directly to local politics and governing needs and the needs of the various fields of science now forming.  As engineers and inventors, both Franklin and Colden made separate accomplishments related to the operation of the printing press.  Both were also very much interested in improving industry and the local economy be developing better ways in which we farm and/or raise livestock.  Both were very much into improving the standard ways of transportation already in place, Franklin by way of improving certain ship designs and Colden by designing a way to modify the land, produce a canal, and store his various waterborne devices.  Colden’s essays on the Iroquois Nation and his own rendering of his translation of the writings of Cicero were his attempts to put into writing his views on the applications of historical teachings by Greek and Roman writers about politics and governing sizeable populations. 

Were it not for his loyalty and political stance as a loyalist in favor of two British taxes developed during the 1760s, Cadwallader Colden could perhaps be colloquially referred to as ‘the Ben Franklin of New York’ during its later period of colonial history.   Suffice it to say, Dr. Colden served as New York’s most important scholar and politician prior to the Revolutionary Wars years.  With the advent of War, the task for Dr. Colden, his family, and the first historians supporting his contributions to local history, became documenting these contributions.

For the most part, what we known and learn about  Cadwallader Colden is told in bits and pieces.  The problem is Colden has a fairly rich and complex life story, one that can’t easily be put into a single article or book (although there are some attempts out there that will be noted later).  For this reason, this review of Cadwallader Colden is in no way meant to serve as the solution to this problem.  Instead, I have chosen to pretty much focus on the central theme for most of my research–the pursuit of science and medicine and the related learning experiences of these that took place in the Hudson valley area during the Colonial and Post-colonial years. 

Over the years, the bulk of this work initially focused on pulling together those parts of Colden’s life story that were not reviewed in the traditional medical and science history writings.  At times I find it frustrating to read about the same things over and over again, but at a lightly different angle and with a specific new area of focus in mind.  A sufficient way to review Colden’s life as an easy reading journal article perhaps, but not representative of any sort of broad-based approach to a single topic related to medicine.  For myself, it took years to pull some of these actual writings together, in the same place, and to then read them and develop a much broader sense of understanding from them. 

So, instead of rewriting Colden’s life story, as has been done by dozens if not hundreds of writers, I decided to provide the actual documents for us draw our own conclusions, relating these back to the secondary writings that are in so much abundance in the information world.  Such an approach provides a researcher or reader of history with the basic background needed to understand the value Cadwallader Colden had to the local New York and Hudson valley setting, in a way that secondary documents do not always provide us a total recount for.  Byreviewing the original documents produced by Colden, in respect to the various periods in his life, we have a better impression of just who he was as a Physician, Surveyor, Classic Historian, Governor, Scientist, Philosopher, etc. (pretty much in that order), and the meaning of the intellectual pursuits he was engaged in due to his personality and life pursuits in Scotland and in the Colonies.  

A large part of this section is meant to provide details of Colden’s life experiences in writing to researchers in some historically important and fairly unaltered form.  This way the readers can draw their own conclusions about Colden, before reviewing any secondary and at times significantly altered reviews of Colden’s life.  History should be 90 percent or more a review of original documents and 10 percent or less a review of contemporary recounts of this part of American history, as this coverage should show, not vice versa.  

The first writing [this page] is one published in 1846/7 in a book about the history of Orange County.  This provides a fairly unique essay on Colden’s life and the experiences of the first generations of his family following the War.   This also includes a re-telling of his pre-migration history to the colonies, in a way that could only be provided in such detail by an author born and raised in Dr. Colden’s neighborhood.  It also includes a letter written by a Colden to a cousin.  This letter is rarely referred to in most other writings about Cadwallader’s life, and is the one of the three referred to as important resources by  Edmund B. O’Callaghan in his brief biography of Colden which appears as a footnote in The Documentary History of the State of New York (1850, v 3, included on the next page).

The second portion of this work [on a separate page] is a reproduction of the classic book on the Genealogy of Cadwallader Colden and his immediate sons, daughters and family.  Its purpose is primarily to provide additional background information.

The third portion of this review of Colden’s life history [also on its own page] is a reproduction of several of his biographies.  These biographies were published in the popular press and in several medical and scientific trade journals and books and focus primarily on his success as a botanist and physician.  These biographies are provided in chronological order.

The fourth portion of this review of Colden’s work [on one or more separate pages] cover a number of his actual writings, in particular those which I found that have been exceptionally hard to uncover, find or review.  The best of these are provided in their original form.  many others appear in reproduced forms, as they were published, and were obtained from 19th century writings as noted.  A few of these documents were scanned in as text and so are provided in contemporary word document form.

An important part of this review to note is the commonness of post-humous writings pertaining to Cadwallader Colden and his daughter Jane or Jenny, over time, and at both a traditional America and Anglican level, as well as a at other non-English speaking international levels for several parts of Eastern and Central Europe.  This demonstrates how much influence and the international importance Colden’s work in science, botany and medicine had and the long lasting impacts that followed, leading to these publications.  Quite often, one of the hardest things to trace in early American medicine, is just how the information about a particular series of plants and botanical remedies gets discovered or learned by word of mouth and experience, and then is communicated with others in the field, locally and abroad.  Another important piece in this puzzle is just when and how this information gets documented for the first time, initially on a personal basis (in diaries, journals, letters) and later in official communiqual or scientific form (as documented discoveries, for example in the Linnean Collection and related notes).  Finally, we are provided with an idea on just how long it takes for a discovery of a particular plant medicine to be published, which often takes place first by the popular press and then by the medical or pharmacal press.

[Note: for this page, my text appears in blue and the original text in black, in order to avoid the use of quotes.  This means that any quotations marks in the following sections are as they appeared in the original book.]

This first document details the local Orange County history of the Coldens and provides a significant amount of background information on the various other aspects of Cadwallader Colden noted elsewhere throughout this biographical review.  The subsequent topics appear on separate web pages.


We shall treat of the early settlement of these towns together, as they were originally one, and in consequence of the recent erection of the latter, it has no early history of its own, distinct from that of the former. This course we judge most, natural and sensible, and will be pursued with several others which have been recently organized. In all other respects they will be considered separately, and as no offence is intended by the writer, he trusts that no town will consider herself slighted by this mode of historical consideration. We intend that our paper shall know no other difference between the young and the more ancient incorporations. We treat of Orange, and the towns alike are all her children in the view taken of them.

We are as particular in giving date to an early settlement as our information warrants. In some cases we can do it accurately—perhaps to the very year; in others, not—in which latter case it is stated as probabilities may warrant, judging from all the facts and circumstances directly and indirectly bearing upon the point. In all which instances we venture to assure the reader, the error, if any, is in falling short of the true date, and not stating it as early as it really was.

In the remarks of early settlement we observe no particular chronological order, which doubtless would be the best course if warranted by the facts. To a sensible and discriminating reader, the omission of such an order is a matter of little moment, and we hope no one will experience any great inconvenience from it in that respect. We advise him to carry along in his own mind and memory a table of the periods of settlement, and thus constituting himself a co-laborer with us, he may be really benefitted by our omissions. We wish in all kindness to impose some light and agreeable mental labor upon the reader to admonish him that he is reading a portion of the history of his country ; to be understood, assorted and recollected, and not skimming the surface contents of a novel.  

Coldenham.—The Colden family was among the earliest, that located in the town, and by talents, learning and industry soon grew up to be an object of official favor and regard. The confidence of power was not misplaced, and in the early settlement of this part of the county, to use a figure, this family rose up like some mountain elevation, clad with the evergreens of wealth and adorned with the stately trees of honorable station, far above the less favored lands around it.

The results of the Revolution, however, were disastrous in the extreme to its ulterior prospects, and they appear in a few years to have divested it of all real or ficticious superiority, and placed it upon a common level with others, the product of republican institutions. This, though fair and equalizing in its character and operation throughout the community at large, may have been judged hard and unexpected in this particular case. While we respect and hold in grateful remembrance the character of the various members of this ancient family, we have no tears to shed over the reformation and results of the American Revolution. In relation to this family and descendents we feel warranted in saying that from Lieutenant Governor Colden to the members of the present generation, they were a high-minded and honorable race of men. In the most exciting times that preceded the revolution, the known honesty of the Lieutenant Governor as a man, and his integrity of character as a public officer, saved him from all personal violence, though his property was sacrificed at the hands of a mob. When quite young, we frequently heard the aged citizens and early settlers of the town and vicinity speak of Alexander Colden, his son, in terms of great regard and approbation. He kept a store at this locality at an early period, several years before 1742, and the early settlers of the town, and back west to the Shawangunk mountains, were in the habit of trading there.

His third son, Cadwallader Colden, was the first Supervisor of the town. The first descendents of the Lieutenant Governor held large landed estates in the town, which they sold out from time to time; and we never heard aught of hard dealing or oppression on their part, but on the contrary, much of that which was of a fair, honest and liberal character. From a personal knowledge of many of their family descendents, embracing some of three generations, we are bound to state in this connection that the humane and generous mantle which clad and beautified the early settlers in this respect, happily fell upon their descendents, who have worn it from generation to generation. The family is not as numerous in the county as we should expect to find it at this day, a century and a quarter from its early planting and vigorous growth.

We proceed to notice the settlement of Coldenham. In 1820 [sic, 1720] John Johnson procured a patent of land for two thousand acres at this locality, which, on the day of its date, he transferred to Cadwallader Colden. The explanation of this sudden transfer, doubtless, was this : — Colden was Surveyor-General of the province at the time, and to save appearances, the patent was for his private benefit, though taken out in the name of his friend, John Johnson. Shortly after this, Colden procured another patent to be issued directly to himself for one thousand acres, which lies south of the one to Johnson ; and the settlement to be made thereon is declared in the patent to be “Coldengham.” Why it was so named we do not know, probably after some estate or locality with which the family had been connected in Scotland. By common consent, many years since, it was changed to Coldenham, in acordance with the name of the proprietor.

At that period the Government would not make large grants to one individual, for they had been admonished of the folly and iniquity of a contrary course by the extensive, and almost unlimited Wawayanda and Minisink patents, and the one to Capt. John Evans, which was cancelled for its magnitude, uncertainty and want of consideration.

Connected with this name and locality there is this historical curiosity: Coldengham, which was to be on the patent to Colden, in fact, is on the patent to John Johnson, which lies both north and south of the turnpike. It was on this patent to John Johnson the first settlement was made by Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden, then Dr. Colden, and about half a mile south of the turnpike, on the farm owned and possessed for many years by David Woodruff, and now by his son. There he erected a stone house about the year 1728, and settled his family, previous to which he had resided in the city of New York, in a letter, dated May, 1742, to Mr. Collinson of London, Dr. Colden says:—” Mr. Burnet soon succeeding him (Governor Hunter) as the Governor, I likewise, gained his friendship. My family being considerably increased I left the city at the time Mr. Burnet was removed from the government, etc.” According to the history of the colony, Governor Burnet was removed and left the Government in 1728, which fixes the date of the first settlement of Coldenham. On the farm and in the vicinity of the stone house is the family burying ground. This old house was demolished last year by Mr. Woodruff, after having withstood time and the ^elements one hundred and eighteen years, to give place to a pretty, new, wood farm house. This old mansion was long known as the “Coldenham Academy.” Before the war, the members of the family were high in office, and held military appointments, and the Academy was a military school, for their benefit and that of the Royal Government. This, we presume, was after the erection of the present Coldenham stone mansion on the turnpike. When this was erected we do not know, but believe the Lieutenant Governor continued to reside there from the time of its erection till the year 1760, when, on the death of Governor Delancy, he, being the eldest of the Governor’s council, became ex officio, the acting Lieutenant Governor of the province ; after which time he resided principally in the city of New York and on Long Island. We pursue this early settlement no farther than to remark that it was extensive during the early history of the town—very few single families in the State did more — and may be described as follows : This family built the old stone academy house, and settled the farm attached to it; —-the, present Coldenham stone house on the turnpike, at two several periods, and cleared up the farm attached to it;—-the long, low house, east of the stone house, at the foot of the hill ;—the house known as Thomas Coldens mansion, north of the turnpike, now owned and occupied by Cadwallader C. Colden, and farm attached thereto;—the two dwellings east of the one last named, owned and possessed by Mr. David Colden, and farm attached ;—the dwelling on the hill south of the turnpike, now owned and possessed by Mr. John Scott, and farm attached.

There were other buildings erected on clearings remote from the public highway at the south, which we shall not more particularly mention. They erected also a grist mill on the patent, which was located just north of the present dwelling, at the foot of the hill, west of the Coldenham stone house. This mill was worn out half a century since,and the stream having failed by clearing up the country as many other small runs of water have, the location was not worth improving by a new one. Some of these erections were made as early as 1728, and all previous to 1800.

In the letter above referred to, Dr. Colden remarks to his friend as follows:

“My family being considerably increased, I left the city at the time Mr. Burnet was removed from the government, and settled there in the county where I now live, (1742) as being less expensive. I have been able to live above want, to keep free from debt, so as not to suffer a labouring man, to go from my home without his wages; and I. hope to be able to put my children in a way to provide for themselves by their own industry, which often proves more advantageous to them, than leaving such estates as that they can hope to live without thought or care. My eldest son has for some years kept what we call a store in this part of the country. I suppose you know what kind of mercantile business it is, by your general knowledge of America. My eldest daughter is married—as to fortune, beyond what I could expect in regard to my own—to one of the late Mr. Delancey’s sons. I doubt not you have heard of his father; he being one of the most noted merchants in America. My younger children give me reasonable hopes of doing well in the world as they grow up by their industry and virtue.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

“My removing to the country, I believe, has been of no disadvantage to my children, as it has freed them from many temptations to vice, to which youth is exposed in the city. My chief pleasure, like yours, is in my own family with my wife and children, and I wish I could live so as never to be from them. I have always had a view to be useful to my country, (though I have had my designs that way grossly misinterpreted) and I have taken most pleasure in speculation for that end. I cannot say how far I have succeeded; but none now deny the benefit of the trade at Oswego, in the framing of which scheme, and reducing it to practice, I had a considerable share. 1 have made a small spot of the world, which, when I first entered upon it, was the habitation only of wolves and bears and other wild animals, now no unfit habitation for a civilized family ; so that I, without vanity, take the comfort of not having been entirely useless in my generation.”

Cadwallader Colden, the Lieutenant Governor, was a son of the Rev. Alexander Colden, minister of Dunsie in the Merse, Scotland. His parents and ancestors, to a remote degree, were all Scotch, but he himself was born in Ireland on the 7th of February, 1687, while his mother was on a visit, intended to be very temporary at the time, to some friends on that Island.

He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, his father at the time intending- him for the church, and his studies directed accordingly- His father was a minister of the Church of Scotland, and from his interest with many of the nobility, he anticipated an easy preferment for his son. After he had gone through with his studies at the University, his inclinations were averse to entering into orders in the church, and lie applied himself to the study of Physic. He studied a course of anatomy with Dr. Erskine, and of chemistry with Dr. Wilson—both distinguished in their profession at London. From the limited means of his father, exhausted by his education, he could not make such appearance as was expected of a young physician in the London market, and he concluded to emigrate to America. This was the true reason of his coming to this country.

His mother had a sister residing in Philadelphia, a widow who was wealthy and had no children, and tin’s was an additional motive for trying his fortune here, and the reason for going to Philadelphia. He arrived at Philadelphia in 1710, and having a taste for botany, soon gave his attention to the plants of the country, as well as to his profession. In 1715, he returned to London, and held interesting conversations with Dr. Halley and other celebrated mathematicians, himself having a taste for the exact sciences. He proceeded to Scotland, where he was previously engaged, and on the 11th of November in that year married Alice Christie, daughter of a clergyman at Kelso, and the next year, 1716, returned to Philadelphia, and fixed himself there permanently with a view to medical practice. In the year 1718, he had a curiosity to see the city of New York, and accordingly visited the place. At this time he had no intention of changing his residence ; but while there, having made the acquaintance of General Hunter, then Governor of the colony, who was favorably impressed by his interviews with Mr. Colden, in a short time thereafter gave him an invitation to come and reside in New York. This invitation was accompanied with the promise of the office of Surveyor General of the province of New York. That office was one of profit as well as of honor, and Mr. Colden accepted the proffered kindness and removed to the city. Hunter remained in the government but about two years, and was succeeded by Governor Burnet, whose friendship Mr. Colden gained, and was recommended by him to be one of the King’s council for the province which he accepted in 1722. This latter office he held for many years and until appointed Lieutenant Governor in 1761. — The former he held still in 1742, but how much later we are not informed.

 As the period from 1760 to 1775 was a critical one for Mr. Colden, and of great interest in a political point of view to the colony of New York and country generally ; and as Mr. Colden was a citizen of this town and county, and Acting Governor several times during that period, we will enter upon a little historical detail.

Governor De Lancey died suddenly July 30, 1760, and Mr. Colden assumed the government as president of the council, and received the appointment of Lieutenant Governor in August, 1761. He was superseded by General Robert Monckton on the 26th of October, 1761 : but this gentleman being placed at the head of an expedition against Martinique, on the 15th of November left the government of the province to Mr. Colden, under an agreement for an equal division of the salary and perquisites.

 In 1765 the colony, and especially the city of New York were in great commotion in consequence of the passage of the stamp act. Mr. Colden took the oath to execute the act, and it brought him into great odium with the inhabitants of the city. His effigy was carried through the streets and hung, his carriage burnt ; but his advanced age and known probity of character as a private citizen and public officer, saved him from any personal violence. When the stamps were received from England, he placed them for safety in Fort George, and strengthened its defences. This, at the time, was thought injudicious ; as it distrusted the people and wore a threatening aspect, and the popular ill-will became increased against him. Upon advisement lie gave up the stamps to the authorities of the city, who became responsible to the government at home for their value, and promised not to execute the act, but leave it to his successor, who was expected to arrive every day.

Gov. Moore came, being appointed in 1765, and, by the advice of his counsel, he did not execute the law. He died in 1769, and the government again devolved upon Lieutenant Governor Colden for the third time. He continued to act till 1770, when he was superseded by John Lord Dunmore, who governed till 1771, when William Tryon, the last of the regal Governors, was appointed, and governed till expelled by the force of the principles which produced, and finally most gloriously achieved, the American Revolution.

The character of Mr. Colden as a statesman and politician, is found in his writings and correspondence with the ministry of Great Britain, at the critical times of which we have been speaking, and when he administered the colonial government.  In opposition to the views of his masters at home, he is said to have predicted the certain consequences of the measures they were pursuing against the country. But while he condemned those, he did not approve of the course of the opposite party. Like many other great and good men of his day, he shrank from the idea of an independent government ; not that it could not be achieved, but that it would not be maintained. In this opinion he was in error, and is proved to have been so by the experience of more than half a century. Mr. Colden, like all men high in office, had his enemies, but all admitted the purity of his motives, and the honesty and integrity of his character. He died at Spring Hill, his country seat near Flushing, in Queens county, Long Island, on the 20th of September, 1776, aged 88 years. He was buried in a private cemetery on a farm attached to Spring Hill. Alice Christie, his wife, was born January 6, 1690, and died at Fort George, in the city of New York, in March, 1762.

They had five sons and five daughters, who are particularly mentioned in a letter of Cadwallader Colden, the third son, which we place before the reader, as containing the family record, and for the good sense, kind feeling and pleasant humor which run throughout the epistle. We commend it as a choice sample of familiar and friendly correspondence which too generally assumes a formality and stiffness which belong to essay writing.

To do justice to this gentleman, there is another point of view in which he must be presented to the reader ;—for he was eminently a literary man, considering the time and circumstances in which he lived. To estimate the scientific and literary character of Mr. Colden, we must have respect to the peculiar circumstances in which we find him. When lie came to this country and located in Philadelphia, he was but about 22 years of age—literature unknown, and its influence unfelt—except in few places and with a very limited number of individuals. Her votaries were few indeed, and the means of acquiring knowledge, difficult and restricted.

Unless an individual had an ardent thirst, or new born desire to obtain it—which the condition of things was well calculated to repress—he would, most probably, have struggled on in obscurity and slaked his ambition in blighted hopes. In addition to this, it must be recollected that Mr. Colden was almost all his life occupied in the momentous and diversified affairs of high official station, pursuing a laborious profession and settling a patent of new and wild land ; and yet we find him, by versatility and force of genius, with acquirements sufficient to stand beside and bear comparison with the learned scholars of Europe. Besides possessing genius he must have been wonderfully industrious, seizing and availing himself of every moment of leisure time. His circle of practice is said to have been respectable, and his professional services performed with a sagacious judgment and great benevolence of heart. He was a man of intelligent observation, understood and drew knowledge from all he saw. His character bore an inflexible stamp, and his public duties were performed with great purity of motive. In private life he was highly esteemed for his politeness, intelligence and general urbanity of manner. He was an example of conjugal and parental affection. ” In person Lieutenant Governor Colden was rather below the middle stature and of a dignified aspect: of a strong conformation of body and a vigorous constitution.”

His first literary production was the “History of the Five Indian Nations depending on the Province of New York, in America.”

The work was dedicated to his patron and friend, Governor Burnet, and printed by Bradford in New York, 1727. He continued the Indian History, and in 1747 published a new edition, enlarged and improved. It made its appearance in London the same year, and the publisher there, by the name of Osborne, was guilty of the mean and cringing trick of changing the dedication from Burne to General Oglethorpe, and of adding chapters of crude accounts of other Indian tribes and nations. A third edition was published in London in 1755. The truthfulness and accuracy of this work have never been questioned. The information contained in it is curious and valuable.

Mr. Colden had scarcely landed in Philadelphia before he began to inspect and examine the plants of the country ; and when removed to Coldenham, and the works of Linnaeus met his view—being then recently published—he gave-them a thorough reading, and devoted much of his time to the botany in his vicinity. Having collected with great care the plants about Coldenham, he arranged and drew up his little botanical work of some twenty or thirty pages, containing a catalogue of 140 plants ; and which Governor Seward, in his celebrated introduction to the Geological Survey of the State, magnified into two folio volumes. This work was sent to a friend in England, who forwarded it to Linnaeus at Upsal in Sweden, who, out of respect and admiration of the work and author, had it published in Latin and inserted in the Acta Upsalinsia for 1743. This catalogue was increased to 257 plants. Linnaeus honored Mr. Colden with a genus and called it “Coldenia.” The name of this work, certainly the first written in the country, was—” Plantae Coldenhamiae in Provincea Nova-Borancensi spontanea crescentes quas ad methodum Linnaei Sexualem.”

The taste of Dr. Colden seems to have been inherited by his daughter, Miss Jane Colden, who was the first botanist of her sex in this country ; and as the Doctor thought the ladies well capacitated for the study, we emote for their benefit a paragraph or two:

“Botany is an amusement which may be made agreeable to the ladies, who are often at a loss to fill up their time. Their natural curiosity and the pleasure they take in the beauty and variety of dress, seem to fit them for it, etc.

“I have a daughter, who has an inclination to reading and a curiosity for Natural Philosophy or Natural History and a sufficient curiosity for attaining a competent knowledge. I took the pains to explain Linnaeus’ system, and to put it into an English form for her use, by freeing it from technical terms, which was easily done, by using two or three words in the place of one. She is now grown very fond of the study, and has made such a progress in it as, f believe, would please you, if you saw her performance.–Though she could not have been persuaded to learn the terms at first, she now understands, in some degree, Linnaeus’s characters—notwithstanding 6he does not understand Latin. She has already a pretty large volume in writing of the description of plants. She has shewn a method of taking the impression of the leaves on paper with printer’s ink, by a simple kind of rolling press, which is of use in distinguishing the species. No description, in words alone, can give so clear an idea, as when assisted with a picture. She has the impression of three hundred plants in the manner you’11 see by the samples. That you may have some conception of her performance, and her manner of describing, I propose to inclose some samples in her own writing, some of which 1 think are new genera.”

His medical works were of a high character and much esteemed; and his talents of observation contributed to make them truthful. In 1742 the city was visited with the yellow fever, and Dr. Colden drew up an account of the disease, in which he pointed out the local circumstances which would increase its spread and malignity, and recommended their treatment and removal. He received the public thanks of the corporation on this subject : he held a long correspondence with Dr. John Mitchell, F. Pt. S. concerning (he same disease, which had appeared in Virginia. This correspondence is said to have been able and worth the attention of the medical student. He published a ” Treatise on the cure of Cancer;”—a paper on the ” Virtues of the Great Water Dock ;”—remarks on the “Efficacy of Tar Water,” then a fashionable article of the materia medica. He also published “Observations on the Climate and Diseases of New York.”  In hostility to the opinions of several writers, he maintained that an amelioration in temperature had taken place in a regular ratio with settlement and improvements. He also wrote on the “Small Pox,” and enforced the cooling regimen in that and other febrile disorders.

But his great work was ” A Dissertation on the First Principles in Physics, and on AEther and Gravitation,” published in New York in 1745. This was enlarged and published in London in 1751, and excited the attention of European philosophers ; and he was thought to have proceeded much farther toward an explanation of the phenomena of gravitation and the motion of the planets than any other physical writer.

He also wrote an “Introduction to the Doctrine of Fluxions.”

But we close further enumeration to say that his correspondence with the learned men of his day was extensive.–It was maintained with Linnaeus, Gronovius of Leyden, Drs. Porterfield and Whytte of Edinburgh, Dr. Fothergill, Peter Collinson, F. R. S., and the Earl of Macclefield :—in America, with John Bartram, Dr. Douglas, James Alexander, Dr. John Mitchell, President Samuel Johnson, Dr. Gardner, Dr. John Bard and Dr. Franklin. ” I hope,” says Dr. Franklin in a MS. letter, October, 1753, to Mr. Colden, “to find time to finish my hypothesis of thunder and lightning, which I shall immediately communicate to you.” These two great men, last named, were among the first members of the American Philosophical Society, established in March, 1743.


. . . of Coldenham, to a cousin in Scotland ; giving a particular account of the family of his father, Lieutenant Governor Colden, in all its branches.

(Written in 1796 and never before published [according to Eager].)

[Notes: Also from History of Orange County; some breaks in text were added to improve the readability of this electronic form.]

Dear Sir :—Although I am now near seventy-four years of age, this is the first occasion I have had to address a relative in the style of a cousin, which I now do in answer to your favor of January last. I have wished much for some  information respecting the relatives of my father’s family in Scotland, an inquiry that I was deficient in making of my father and mother before their death. I wished you had mentioned your father’s name, and whether my father had any more brothers. I think I have heard him mention two, viz: Andrew and James. I know that my father was son to Alexander Colden, a minister in the Church of Scotland—that he was regularly educated and took what is called a tour of Europe—that he was then invited to America by an aunt, a sister of his fathers’s, and lived with her six years in Philadelphia, practising physic. After this he returned to Scotland, and married my mother, a well educated lady, by the name of Chrystie, to whom he had been pre-engaged. This being in the year 1715, in the time of the troubles, he made but a short stay, and returned with my mother to Philadelphia, where he remained but a few years—being induced to go to New York by an offer made to him of an office of honor and profit—that of Surveyor General. As he found the living in the city to be too expensive for a growing family, he settled on a large tract of land of which he obtained a grant, about 70 miles from New York, in what was called the Highlands.— Here have I lived since I was seven years old. My father being much from home on public business, I was left almost entirely to my mother for instruction and education, (there being no such thing as a school) who was as capable as most women, giving the brightest example of virtue and economy. In the year 1760 my father was called on to take upon him the administration of government, by the death of the Lieutenant Governor and soon afterwas called upon to fill that office, where he continued till his death in 1776.

It was unfortunate for him and his family, that, during his administration, the peace of the country was broken upon by two ill-timed acts of Parliament, viz : the stamp act, and the tea act. The duty of his office led him to support these acts, which created him many enemies ; but his private character was unimpeached and highly respected, though he suffered much insult and loss of property, as standing foremost in the King’s government. Yet he was the only one that government did not recompense for his loyalty: neither have his family been recompensed for their suffering during the American war, while others, less deserving, have recovered more than they lost. My father removed with his family to the city of New York, leaving me in possession of his estate here. My mother died in the government house of New York in 1762, as also my youngest maiden sister Katy. My eldest brother Alexander was Postmaster of New York, and succeeded my father in the Surveyor General’s office. He died in 1775, leaving four daughters and two sons. His eldest married Archibald Hamilton, formerly a captain in the British service : his wife died during the American war, leaving him a son and two daughters, with whom he went to England after the war. His son, I am informed, is in the British army, now in the West Indies, a promising young man.

By a letter I received a few days ago from his daughters, Jane and Alice, dated Edinburgh, January, 1796, I learn that their father died there on the 1st of June, and they wish me to transmit to them a small patrimony arising from my father’s estate. My brother Alexander’s second daughter married John Antill, who, going in the British service in time of war, was, in peace, obliged to leave the country, and is now settled in Canada, where he lost his wife, and has since married her youngest sister. His first wife left him three children. My brother’s third daughter married Capt. Anthony Farrington, who is raised to be full Colonel of the Artillery and commands at Black Heath, London. They have several promising children. My brother’s eldest son, Richard, married a Scotch lady at the Isle of Man. He brought her to this country and soon after died, leaving two sons with his widow. She returned to Scotland, where she left them for education, named Alexander and Cadwallader. They have come to this country very well qualified for any business, but, to the regret of their mother, who seemed ambitious to have them shine in Congress, neither seemed inclined to any learned profession. The elder son, who is entitled to a very pretty estate as heir-at-law of my brother, inclines to the sea, and has already gone three voyages to London as Captain, and has now a ship of his own, and has gone to the West Indies. The other son is in the — line.  My brother’s second son was lost at sea. My youngest brother David lived with my father till his death, and was his private secretary.

My father’s dying before the confiscation law took place was rather fortunate for his family, otherwise all would have gone; but our rulers fell upon poor David, and banished him from the country. He went to Europe to seek compensation, and soon died, leaving a widow, four daughters and a son, whom,after his death, I took under my roof. The mother and eldest daughter soon nfter died. The children have had a small compensation allowed them, but not one-fourth of what they lost. I have the happiness to see two of his daughters well-married, and the other in a fair way for it. The son is married to our Bishop’s daughter, and is likely to become one of our first lawyers: he is also a Cadwallader. My eldest sister Elizabeth married very young, in the first family then in New York, viz: the DeLancey, and soon became the mother of a fine family of sons and daughters ; and, as a wife and mother, was held in high esteem by all her acquaintance, though she was not very happy in a husband. He died many years ago, not much regretted, leaving her the mother of six sons and five daughters. She died since the war, leaving a numerous train of children and grand-children. Her daughters, like herself, are well esteemed as the first of women and ornaments of their sex. This shows how virtues may be inherited as well as fortunes; for their mother was an example worthy of imitation. My second sister, Jane, had the title of old maid before she married Dr. Farquhar, an old widower, but a very worthy good Scotchman. She had one child, but both mother and child soon died. My third sister, Alice, being also in the line of old maids, married another old widower, of the name of Willitt, and he also outlived her: but she left him three children—a son and two daughters. The son, Gilbert Colden Willitt, married the daughter of a rich old Quaker, a very valuable man, and he bids fair of being one of the best fortunes among us. The oldest daughter married young and soon died, leaving her fortune to her husband. The youngest daughter, Anna, married my son Thomas, who is happy in having a wife who inherits all the properties of her and his mother—excepting in having children—for they have none. My fourth sister died a maid, and 1 had also a brother who died a bachelor. —

Thus have I gone through with all the different branches of my father’s family, and now to myself and flock. I am the second, or rather, the third, son, for there was one born before me, (David) who died an infant. As I said before, I have lived in this woody country from seven years of age, always more fond of working in the field than of literature.  My father gave me live hundred acres of woodland, adjoining his farm ; on which I felled the first tree, and took out the first stub with my own hands. It was then a perfect wilderness through which one could not see the sunshine.- After clearing a little land, commencing a barn and house, I thought it was proper to look for a housekeeper ; and, before my house was finished, I had got one in the neighborhood, for I could not spare time to go far, and if I had I should not have fared better—she making as good a wife as if she had been brought up by my own mother.

She is of the name of Ellison, an English family, the most respectable then in this neighborhood, and also wealthy. We have now lived together above fifty years, and, I believe, no fifty years were spent happier by any one pair. While I am writing, she is as busy at her needle as if just beginning the world and looks almost as young, although the mother of twelve children—six only of whom are living—three dying infants and three grown up. My eldest, Cadwallader, being twice married, has a house full of children, six sons and a daughter. He has been rather unfortunate, and finds it difficult to maintain his family on the profits of a farm. My son Thomas, whom I mentioned before, lives on a beautiful farm adjoining mine, and makes as good a husbandman as he does a husband. He was a Captain in the British service, and enjoys his half pay. The fourth son, Alexander, has a farm adjoining mine, and being a bachelor, still lives at home. My youngest son, David, has part of my own farm, and lives in a small house just by. He married a respectable farmer’s daughter : they have two children and Jive very happily together. Our eldest daughter, Alice, married young, not much to our satisfaction. Both she and her husband, a Dr. Antill, died soon after the commencement of the American war, leaving nothing behind them but two dear little infants, both girls, whom we took to our own bosom, (one of them was but six weeks old) and they knew no other father and mother. One of them is married to a clergyman and has made us great-grand parents. Her sister is a fine, handsome girl of about twenty years of age.

Our second daughter, Jane, is too good to part with; neither can she bear the thought of leaving us, so that I am in hopes we shall have her company and affection as long as we live. Our youngest daughter, Margaret, has been twice married, and had three children by her first husband, who was of a worthy character, but became a cripple some years ere he died. With her second connexion we were not so well pleased, but as he makes her a kind husband we have become reconciled: they also live adjoining on a part of my estate. Thus, my cousin, have I complied with your request in giving you a minute and particular account of your uncle’s family, and the different branches, though I shall be glad to hear from you again* and hope you will give me the same satisfaction in being particular in the statement of your family and connections. Inform me whether you are a widower or bachelor—for a married man you cannot be—as you do not mention a wife or children. I have told you my age; let me know yours, and give me a list of the descendents of my grandfather, the worthy old clergyman, whom I hear spoken so highly of by many scotchmen and with the highest veneration. Remember me and my family to them all.

 Your Affectionate Cousin,

 Cadwallader Colden