In some parts of Europe, health was very much viewed as a result of where you lived. The mechanism by which the body adapts to your family’s heritage and environment was considered very much a major defining factor in where you could live should you decide to migrate somewhere else. Continuing along with this argument, there was also the idea some some people adapted more quickly or became more quickly acclimated to whereever they just moved to. Some people could move for example from Spain to Italy, so long as their place of settlement matched the major features of where they were raised, such as being along the Mediterranean or Ocean, versus residing in some much cooler high elevation community.
When the migrations to the New World began, this ability to acclimate to the new setting often played a major role in where people first settled. It is very much for this reason that the Spanish focused on northern partsw of South America and the southern parts of North America to stake their first claims. Likewise this is why the British stayed away from the much more saturated lands along the Hudson Valley, selecting lands to the south in the Mid-atlantic region where as the climate got warmer the effects of the dampness seemed to be more healthy due to warmer temperatures, and to the north in New England up to New Scotland where cooler temperatures seemed to mimic at times the conditions of much of Great Britain. This decision as to where to settle was not set in stone and followed so much as it played out as a pattern of typical human behavior. The captain and crew and passengers on a ship had their orders about where to go to for their landing and settlement. But it was up to everyone on board in the end to have a say in whether or not possible place to settle felt that it was the right place or felt good to the eyes, skin, stomach and feet.
When Pehr Kalm mades his way through the wilderness edge of civilization in Pennsylvania northward into New York, he saw and commented on some of the evidence he saw for this in the hinterlands. He noted Scandinavians retreating into the wilderness due to its fresh mountain waters, cooler high elevation settings, and climates ready to meet their needs as a community seeking a place where they knew how to farm the lands as a result of their homeland experience.
The Dutch migrated into the Hudson Valley due to its exceptionally low-lying flood plains and repeated estuary behaviors, much like the waters of the seas the constantly encroached upon their major urban settings along the shores and deep within the bays and channels of the Netherlands. It is even said that in some places, the Dutch tried to lay dikes along the shores of the Hudson, to mimic the effects that Dike building had on their ability to lay claim to lands that other nations would never make their own similar attempts for. The Dutch considered themselves experts is reclaiming salinic soils that other countries would consider uninhabitable and unfarmable. With these soils the Dutch grew their crops, raised their pigs and cattle, and were able to produce quite a few unique Dutch food stuffs that no other country could produce due to a lack of these skills in recovering otherwise lost real estate properties.
The Van Kleeck family was somewhat affiliated with Dutch families residing in Haarlem, but the Van Kleecks were more a family that was accustomed to the Upper higher elevation settlements. Their family’s heritage had connections with some of the more traditional Belgian and Luxemburgh like settings, with a great deal of German-like background in their upbringing, adaptation to lifestyle, and acclimation. The most influential feature of this family history on the Van Kleecks came when they began to setle the Hudson Valley. One of these individuals in particular lived a life in the valley once he removed to New Netherlands that very much matched his combined Upper Country Dutch and Military-defined way of living. Colonel Baltus Van Kleeck settled upland from the edge of the river, in a setting that offered just enough topography to make his new homeland most fitting of his acclimation needs. This area was just north of what is now Poughkeepsie, along two major routes that were then travelled, in just the right location to continue to be of service to the local government and communities should such a need arise.
Nearly all European cultures have their philosophy regarding health, natural water sources, and disease. Due to his upbringing, Van Kleeck was no different. Therought the earliest years of the Renaissance Period, there was a movement underway in the Germanic portions of Europe about the value of water in treating and preventing disease. This socioculturally defined movement would later become the initiator of a movement in medicine that became on of the most popular forms of medicines to develop during the nineteenth century–water cure or hydropathy. But during colonial times in New Netherlands, this movement was just in its infancy. The role of topography played just as important a role in defining the health of a place as the crystal, clear cold mountain waters cherished by by man and wildlife for individual health. Along with topography came climate and weather. Climate was due to where you were placed on the earth, including not only trhe basic latitutde and longitude features, but also where you were relative to large scaled features like oceans, mountain ranges, and wind flow, temperature and humidity patterns. Weather, in part a feature due to climate, also had its own locally defined differences and anomalies. Channels that influenced wind flow, forests that helped the large thunderstorms develop during hot summer days, cool breezes that came in and cooled off an otherwise unbearably humid region, all of these had the effects of how healthy one felt in the living space that he/she was topographically and climatically acclimated to living in.
Together these features of preventive health philosophy for the time form a fairly environmentally-defined philosophy about health and disease which focused just on the human body and its immediate surrounding environment. Even without an exact cause in the modern sense being ascribed to disease, knowledge of such things as animalcules and microbes as potential causes, these physical features were enough to define healthy areas versus unhealthy areas. In essence, the scientists, doctors and common people who thought this way did the best that they could with their knowledge for the time. They knew where the diseases of people and cattle often erupted, they just did not know why. As a consequence their mechanisms of prevention and cure were pretty much driven by this environmentally-based philosophy, and asssuming acclimation and the ability to do so were already taken into account before settling a region, they paid less attention on the internal causes for diseases as often and much as possible.
On one occasion, a person was taken ill and had to stay at the Van Kleeck residence for several weks to recover. This was just a year or two before Dr. Osborn and other physicians had established their own permanent home settings in the region. Colonel Van Kleeck had to tend to a weary, sick traveller, for which he was reimbursed by the court. Some evidence states that this person may have been taken ill with measles or small pox; its unfatal nature seems to favor more the possibility that he had acquired measles rather than small pox, but from where?
The unique thing about living in a wilderness setting about to become settled is that human-to-human transmitted infectious diseases like measles are uncommon. Except for the travellers who make their way through a region, the community that is already living there has had its history or acclimation features already well established in terms of how likely local members are of becoming infected with such a disease. Usually, a sparsely inhabited region will on occasion catch a human-to-human transmitted disease, and then infect the others in the family who may have also not expereinced the disease, and then see the diffusion of this disease stop, unless a neighbor passes by also with a history of not having experienced this disease, or who has the ability to carry it to another member of his/her family. Epidemics were not as easily passed on from one family to the next as they were in more heavily populated regions. Colonel Van Kleeck’s interpretation of the individual struck by measles passing through his community, and as a result, staying at his place, was that this person was not at all well-adapted to the region he was just passing through, therefore he got this disease. It was not so much due to any miasmatic of humidity and swamp-mist related conditions of the region, although this may have helped. Along the way he had already passed through much more pathogenic areas of the countryside, places where if you were not reasonably acclimated could do your life in due to the onset of a fever or the initation of a state of consumption followed by decay. Colonel Van Kleeck took this person into his living space because he felt this was the best way he could assist the patient in acclimating to this valley’s conditions before completing his travels through the region. He did not ever need to fear the possibility of capturing the same malady from this person, that possibility was not in his philosophy on the cause for such an unhealthy state.
Still, there is one more aspect of Col. Van Kleeck’s life that we have to know more about. Colonel Van Kleeck was also military trained. How did this influence his philosophy on disease and its treatments?
In a Biblical sense, serving as a member of the military to many cultures was much like being a part of the Philistines or Spartans. The job of a warrior or warring leader required stamina, strength, endurance and speed. The skills of survival on a battlefield both mentally and physically required a person in the military to practice routine personal fitness and warteam exercises, and often involved lessons in the natural spartan diet, mental alertness, and a testing of one’s ability to withstand the worst stresses in and out of battle, on the field as well as in the home or while residing at camp. In Dutchess County history we learn more about this particular philosophy of exercise and motor skills when the Prussian General came and instructed the locals as to how to endure and win in the field regardless of the circumstances, regardless of being outnumbered and out-fired upon.
Van Kleeck’s military claim to fame was related to his services in the Dutch War with Spain, a battle that lasted nearly 30 years on and off and was called the Spanish-Dutch war. Van Kleeck’s choice of settlement had little if anything to do with his concerns for the impacts and limitations of topography on life. He chose an area atop the hills at the north edge of Poughkeepsie, places where he, his family, his horses, his neighbors and his visitors would have no problems staying healthy.
Since acclimation required the ability of a body to adapt to the local surroundings, he might have suggested to his patient that he engage in more environmental, outdoor activities once he reached his place of settlement. This means that one had to engage in outdoor activities, both work and recreation related, until the body seemed and behaved more acclimated and properly adapted to the new living space. As a military leader, he was also well trained in a traditional Greek and Roman method of strengthening one’s self as part of the acclimation, adaptation process–gymnastics. Gymnastics was one of the major ways in which members of the militia tried to maintain their state of health. Colonel Van Kleeck was trained in doing this, and so he might advise the same to his temporary visitor.
Exercise would later become a part of the Hudson Valley tradition for good health around 1806, when Quaker physician Shadrach Ricketson published his book. Contemporary writings abolut exercise and health cite Ricketson as the first example of this sports medicine discipline.
To be continued…