The following is a draft of an article I submitted to the Dutchess County Historical Society for publication in 1992.  The article was published, and of course edited.  [Photos to later be added.]



       Most of our knowledge of the eighteenth century physician comes from first-hand accounts of his personal, academic, and professional endeavors.  Such information is found in the form of store ledgers, legal records, diaries and personal letters, alongside whatever books or treatises he may have written.  Too often, this means that less is known about provincial or rural doctors due to the scarcity of these documents.  The lack of medical schools and exams for licensure and the few apprenticeship records that were kept only add to this problem with researching medical history in rural New York.  On occasion, a personal ledger or two may surface describing how patients were treated, but these are few and far between.  To understand what a physician was taught and what form of medicine he practiced in rural counties like Dutchess, we often have to speculate about much of this.  Dr. Cornelius Osborn (1722-1782) of Fishkill, New York, is the exception. 

What is known about Doctor Osborn and the practice of medicine in Dutchess County is not only derived from a general study of his life as a physician, but also by interpreting the numerous documents that mention him including church records, store ledgers, deeds, will, tax records, and revolutionary war records.   More importantly, he has provided us with a manuscript, a detailed description of his philosophy and skills as a physician and “chirurgeon”.1  This makes him the earliest physician of Dutchess County about whom much can be gleaned.  Moreover, soon after writing his manuscript Dr. Osborn served in the Revolutionary War where his primary responsibility was as a Field Surgeon.  This included providing patient care, as well as overseeing the work of other physicians in local Field Hospitals.  Hence, it can also be argued that he has told us more about the practice of medicine locally during the Revolutionary War than any other Dutchess County physician of that time.  Finally, by understanding his life and his manuscript, one acquires an admiration of other eighteenth century physicians and the roles that they played in their new-fledged communities in New York and New England.

1722-1744–His Childhood and Apprenticeship.

      Since the first account was written nearly seventy-five years ago, little more has been mentioned the problems local historians face with understanding his manuscript.2   Many of the terms Osborn used were archaic, others were mostly pharmaceutical nomenclature, and still others unique abbreviations commonly used at the time for words placed near the end of a line.  These basic penmanship features make Osborn’s manuscript hard to interpret without any formal training in colonial calligraphy.

Secondly, we need to know the life history of Cornelius Osborn up to and including his years as an apprentice.  To date, most of the information presented about this colonial physician has been limited to his life in the medical field, often offered in small increments as part of a much broader coverage of Dutchess County history.3,4   To better understand his childhood and apprenticeship, other forms of documentation have to be considered.  

      James Smith was the first historian to note Cornelius Osborn’s birthday and deathday.5  Since then, Smith’s identification of Cornelius Osborn’s birthdate has been accepted as by most researchers and historians as July 16, 1723, in England, with the alternate option of August 23, 1782, in Fishkill, New York.6  Original documentation for either of these birthdates has yet to be found.  Instead, evidence for a third birthdate exists in the Tappan Church records, Tappan, New York, which states that a “Cornelis” was baptized on July 31, 1722, his parents noted as “Jaems Hasban” (of Long Island) and “Elisabet Cuyper” (of Orange Co., N.Y.).7,8  The names of his parents, siblings, relatives recur in the history of some of Cornelius Osborn’s children,8 supporting the notion that the Tappan data is indeed the birth date for Cornelius Osborn. Additional evidence for Doctor Osborn’s birthdate is found in his obituary, which his oldest son James placed in The New York Packet in 1782.9  It states that Cornelius Osborn died at the age of 60, a claim which is supported by the Tappan Church baptismal record, rather than at the age of 59, as suggested by Smith.  

      Knowing exactly when Cornelius Osborn was born may seem somewhat trivial, but knowing where he was born is vital to an attempt to understand his training in medicine.  If Doctor Osborn were born in England, as claimed by Smith, then he would have been more likely to undergo his medical apprenticeship and training under the guidance of a well-educated preceptor who owned a respectable medical library.  In addition, Dr. Osborn might have even had the chance to attend classes to further his training with the support of any of several medical schools in Europe including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leyden, and Paris.  But if Cornelius Osborn were born in New York, as the bulk of this evidence suggests, he most surely learned the practice of medicine on his own or as an apprentice.  No medical school existed in New York until 1768, when King’s College (later Columbia College of Medicine) was established in the City of New York.   Doctors usually received their training by obtaining a reputable licensed preceptor and/or mentor, or by travelling to Europe to receive such training.   Based on his knowledge of the local plants and their very localized common names, Osborn probably received his training from a local physician residing between Haverstraw, the current boundaries of Connecticut, and the northern edge of Dutchess and Ulster counties.

      This supposition that Osborn was trained as an apprentice is further supported by the fact that Cornelius Osborn does not appear on any lists of Revolutionary War doctors “known to have received collegiate degrees either honorary or in regular course”,10 nor can he be found on the list of subscribers, licensees, and apprentices for eighteenth century medics.11  As for the identity of his preceptor, there is some evidence suggesting that he came from a family of physicians who were trained by their elders.12  Alternatively, he may have learned his skills from a close friend of the family, including even one of the earliest New York Jewish physicians of the time, Dr. Isaac Marks, whom later evidence suggests he worked alongside with during his first years of doctoring.  In either case, Cornelius Osborn would have received the bulk of his training in and around his home town in the Haverstraw Precinct, New York. 

The Apprenticeship

An apprenticehip in medicine traditionally took four to six years to complete during the Colonial years.  It commenced usually when the individual reached 15 or 16 years old, but for some may have been initiated as early 13 years of age.  For Cornelius this apprenticeship would have initiated as early as 1734 or 1735, or as late as 1743 to 1745, assuming it to be just two years of training.  During the apprenticeship, Cornelius would have worked alongside his preceptor, observing patients and learning the practice of medicine in the traditional way promoted by one of the most famous 17th century physicians of the time, one whom he noted in his manuscript in reference to the authors of his textbooks. Stepping a bit closer into Cornelius Osborn’s life as an apprentice, we can see him taking care of the physicians horses and stable, reading his medical books, gathering herbs for the apothecary, and preparing certain types of medicines required by his mentor’s patients. 

It is reasonable to conclude that by 1744, Cornelius Osborn was accepted and licensed to practice as a physician due to a successful apprenticeship.  Unlike an apothecarian or “chirurgeon”, Cornelius was trained in making medicines and administering them in the most beneficial ways.  Whatever form the philosophy of disease and health took as Osborn was trained in it, this training was no doubt a mish-mash of teachings from traditional 17th century European medicine, to which the local understanding of disease and its cures were added as these new philosophies formed by locally experienced doctors began to take hold.

      It can also be argued that during his travels with his father and/or preceptor, Cornelius met his future wife, Helena/Leentja Parmentier of Orange County.13,14  Helena, whose parents were Peter Parmentier and Helena Van de Bogart of what is now the New Paltz area of Ulster County, came from a family of landowners living in and around Ulster and Orange Counties.   No doubt Cornelius had plenty of opportunity to meet with and begin to establish his rights to matrimony with Helena by travelling with his father James, whose responsibility it was to survey and map this part of the Hudson Valley as requested by the Governor, the purpose for which was to build new highways clearing the way for further settlement of New York. 

Soon after completing his apprenticeship, Cornelius married Helena and moved to Dutchess County, either in late 1744 or early 1745.  They immediately moved to land Osborn came to own just north of the village then known as Fishkill.  Osborn chose the particular plot of land that he settled upon most likely due to the local topography and its distance from the large swamps found throughout this region.  Cornelius and Osborn settled on land just uphill about a quarter to half a mile from the southern based on a hill later bearing his name (Osborn Hill).  At the time, the land that he had settled upon was located at the corner of two major roads commonly travelled at the time, the King’s Highway and a small dirt road leading Northwestward towards the Hudson River and towards a number of other much smaller hamlets then developing.  According to local historian H. W. Reynolds, this land was originally occupied by a squatter, who built a traditional old Dutch house to reside in, one possible owner of this house—his Jewish business partner and perhaps mentor or teacher, Dr. Isaac Marks.     

1746-1768:  Patron, Doctor and Civic Leader 

      As early as 1731, physicians passed through Dutchess County, remaining there a brief time to practice medicine before continuing on with their travels.15,16,17.  By 1744/5 Dr. Osborn moved to Dutchess County and became the first physician to establish a permanent residence and pursue a lifelong profession in his community. 

      The earliest Dutchess County record notes him as one of the subscribers for “a Call to Holland” in August 7, 1745.  Originally sent in 1744 by the First Reformed Church of Poughkeepsie, the church later requested “payments of (a) minister’s passage to this country”, for which it received 5 Shillings from “Cornelius Osborn”.18   One month later, a local storekeeper, Francis Filkin, notes him in an account book: “sept 1 1745  Docter Cornelus Rasbun agreed with me for 20 shils: pr jear for to docter my famely he has due L1.0.0. Carried this in the new bock.”19   Cornelius Osborn first appears in the tax records in 1745/6 for the Rombout Precinct20, followed by the Poughkeepsie Ward in 1746/7 when he was assessed at L2-0-0 (two Pounds, no shillings, no pence) and paid 11 pence tax.21 

      His place of residence also appears in the tax records and is described as an “old place” in 1755, and as a “Doct farm” in February 1762-1763.22,23   Along with his family, Cornelius spent the rest of his life in this homestead on the south face of Osborn Hill, Fishkill, N.Y., on the Old Post Road or King’s Highway.24  This placed him in a excellent location for a physician.  He was removed from the disease-causing pestilence and “miasma” of the swamps, ponds and creeks of nearby neighborhoods, and yet lived conveniently close to the Fishkill Village.  Should any travelers passing through the village be in need of medical care, they could easily find him.    

      Typical of a lifestyle for a successful eighteenth century physician, Doctor Osborn performed important civic responsibilities in Dutchess County.   He served as a financier for mortgages and a witness for numerous legal matters.  On June 5, 1753, he attended a Board of Supervisors meeting and was sworn in as a substitute Tax Assessor for the Rumbout Precinct.25  On October 21, 1755, he was witness to a Deed granting 100 Pounds to Clear Everet, sheriff, for the estate of John Jones “who absconded leaving debts”.26  In the years that followed he established close friendships with many of the community leaders.  These included:  storekeeper Hendrick Schenck, Ward Supervisor and Esquire (attorney) Bartholomew Cranell, Surveyor Charles LeRoux, Judge Matthew Dubois, Sr., Abraham Swartwout, and the Brinckerhoffs.27 

      He combined his responsibilities as a financier for some of his associates with his roles as a physician.  For example, alongside his preceptor and/or fellow physician Isaac Marks, Dr. Osborn treated British Foot Soldier John Lane, for which Marks and Osborn received twelve Pounds nine Shillings for their services in October of 1756 [General Sessions B., p. 59].  On February 6, 1759, three Pounds were paid to “Docr Osborn” alone for doctoring “John Lean” a second time.  Still later that year. Docr Osborn worked in an official capacity for Governor Colden, transporting goods from one place to the next, during which Doctor Osborn subsequently lost his horse, wagon and tackle, for which he was reimbursed.  As a result, the following record appears for June 10, 1760, in Colden’s Papers:  

      “An act for paying and discharging several Sums of money claimed as Debts of this Colony and other purposes therein mentioned. 

      “…Unto Doctor Cornelius Osborn for a Horse and part of a Wagon and the Tackling Lost in one thousand seven hundred and fifty nine the sum of six Pounds.”

The same record notes that John Brinckerhoff received five Pounds for losing one horse and Francis Way received one Pound for losing a wagon.”28 

      In the years that followed, Osborn continued to be of service regarding legal matters29.  These records illustrate the roles that he played in the community, not only as a physician and surgeon, but also as a community leader.  He would continue to perform these duties throughout his life.  


1768: The Manuscript


      By the 1760s, Dr. Osborn was one of the most important and influential physicians in Dutchess County.  He was a moderately well-endowed landowner according to some records indicating that he owned large tracts of land extending from Poughkeepsie, both northward and eastward, for at least one traditional 10 mile by 10 mile township or two. There is also substantial evidence suggesting that Dr. Osborn was assisting his neighbors financially in many of their new endeavours, such as assisting a local brewer Matthew help to establish a local beer-brewing business, and the Parmentiers invest in better use of their land situated just north and east of his own.

In 1768, Doctor Cornelius Osborn began to write his manuscript or vade mecum, a small pocket-sized booklet in which he wrote down his description of how he learned and practiced medicine.  This vade mecum was no doubt meant for his oldest son, James Osborn to learn and make professional use from.  In this book, Osborn summarizes and describes the causes and effects of twenty-eight disorders or diseases presumably prevalent to Dutches’s County at that time.  This booklet would also include methods of treating these diseases, how in his theory one type of disease could progress to the next, and how to make the various medicines necessary to effecting a cure.  He begins his vade mecum by dedicating it to his oldest son James [PHOTO #1]: 

“August 28 1768



James Osborn

For his Prusiel in

Physick a Short

Scetch on Disorders

Insedent to human body by Cors Osborn”


      Osborn follows this with the following  introduction to his manuscript inscribed on the next page, providing us with important insights into his working knowledge of both apothecarian and medical skills.  [PHOTO #2]:

“As to Come To Criticise on Disorders would take too much room a way in So Small a volm          which is not the Intention but to Cut as Short as posabel if you would Look into Disorders and and (sic) Their nature you must Look to you Authors as HBoorH James Shaw or Sidenham which Treats large upon Such Cases more butifall than I am Capebel of Doing and Their fore refer my reader to them and at the Same Time am your most humble Servant Cors Osborn.”31

In this short introduction, Osborn is referring to Robert James, M.D. (1705-1776), Peter Shaw, M.D. (1694-1763) and Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689), all of whom wrote the books probably contained in his preceptor’s library, and later his own. 

      The works of James and Shaw covered the basic skills that Cornelius needed to understand chemistry and pharmacy.  He was appointed M.D. by royal mandate and invented Dr. James’s Fever Powder, a popular patent medicine consisting of Antimony and phosphate of lime.  Dr. James’s best known book is Pharmacopoeia Universalis: or, a new universal English Dispensatory…, published in London in 1747. 

      Osborn’s second referral, Peter Shaw, was also appointed physician by royal mandate.  Shaw received his training in England where then spent the remainder of his life practicing medicine and publishing medical texts which he translated into English.  He is best known for translating the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia (1727) from Latin to English, although he also published numerous other works on the philosophical principles of science and medicine.  Examples of these works include books written by Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Robert Boyle, and Dr. Hermann Boerhaave, all of whom studied the influences of “chymistry” on the human body and the mechanisms for disease.  It was ultimately the beliefs and practices of Bacon, Boyle, and Boerhaave that led Shaw and later Dr. Osborn to make use of ancient recipes in new ways, such as the Ens veneris leftover from alchemy which Osborn used to treat feminine disorders.  Shaw also published one of his own works include, which Cornelius Osborn was likely read in–A New Practice of Physic (1726), re-published several times due to its popularity.  Many of Osborn’s recipes resemble those recommended by Shaw, nut lacking the details and complexity often associated with Shaw’s apothecarian work.      

      By reading the works of Thomas Sydenham (also edited and re-published by Shaw), Cornelius Osborn learned the clinical skills he needed to practice medicine as a clinician, rather than just as a scientist and chemist.  Sydenham was highly respected during the seventeenth century for his beliefs and therapeutic regimens.  Sydenham ignored the current theories of medical practice, stressing bedside manners instead.  Whereas many seventeenth century practitioners felt that direct contact with the patient was not necessary, Sydenham took the opposite approach, paying heed to the patient’s condition, diet, bed rest and the use of simple remedies. Still later, Dr. Sydenham came to accept the use of many powerful remedies slowly accepted by the physician, such as the use of South American Peruvian bark for fevers.

      Still later in his manuscript, Osborn makes reference to several other chemists, apothecarians, physicians and surgeons important to make note of, including Nicolas Lemery (1645-1715), Samuel Sharp (1700-1778/1780), Daniel Turner (1667-1741), and Dr. John Huxham (1692-1768).  Lemery was a French chemist whose works included A Course of Chemistry (1675) and A Dictionary or Treatise on Simple Drugs (1716).  In his writings Lemery defined the “three Kingdoms of Nature”–Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal–and focused on the use of acids and salts as medicines.  His works represent classic presentations of seventeenth century chemistry and pharmacy with tenets left over from the age of alchemy.  Lemery’s most important work would later on become part of an important Materia Medica important to Osborn’s period of practice, although not always read as a part of traditional medical training.  During the late 1690s, Monsieur Pierre Pomet’s book on the History of Druggs . . . was published, and then later translated with the help of chemist Nicolas Lemery and botanist Tournefort. The history of Osborn’s medicines are reviewed in depth by this text. 

      Samuel Sharp was an eighteenth century oculist and surgeon who practiced medicine and surgery in England.  Among his most prominent works is a book entitled A Treatise on the Operations of Surgery (1739).  The second surgeon Dr. Osborn refers to is Daniel Turner who received his training at Yale University.  His works include The Art of Surgery (1722), and A Discourse Concerning Fevers (1727).  From this we can deduce that Osborn learned the skills of surgery, although his manuscript does not indicate whether or not he made frequent attempts to perform it.

      The most prevalent disorders for that time were often accompanied by fever, and Osborn covered these in exquisite detail in his manuscript.  For a better understanding of fevers, Osborn refers the reader to John Huxham who wrote An essay on fevers …with dissertations on the small-pox, and on pleurisies….  First published in Latin in 1739, this book was later translated and published in English in 1750.  Along with Turner’s work, this surely was required text for eighteenth century physicians as they learned to deal with Consumption, Measles, Ague, and Small Pox epidemics.

      Dr. Osborn was familiar with therapeutic regimens found in other writings as well.  The techniques of blood-letting, cupping, blistering, and suffumigation he made use of are centuries old.  His recommendations for a proper diet through the use of diet drinks, beers, West India Rum, and wine are found in most of the standard medical texts for that time.  Of particular interest is his use of “waxt Cork or a ring made of whail bone” for treating “The Barring Down of ye Matrix”.32  This was described by William Smellie (1697-1763) in A set of anatomical tables…and an abridgement of the Practice of Midwifery, 2ed., (1761) and is the only example of a surgical procedure given by Osborn, although he does allude to others that he may have written about in a later manuscript.   

      Evidence for Osborn’s recommendations regarding local plant use is present throughout his vade mecum. Some of the ingredients for his recipes suggest to us that he had a proficient working knowledge of botanicals, due to his exposure to the classic herbals along with the teachings he received from local well-trained herbalists.  Osborn’s use of unofficial remedies such as “Ducks meet” in a fomentation for St. Anthony’s Fire, and the name “Clowns heal all” for a local herb, are found in the 17th century herbals by John Gerard and John Parkinson.  At times, the names that he used for his medicinal plants were hard to trace due to their local origins, suggesting that he grew up with these names due to their commonness to the local communities.  Examples of these plants include “Stink Seder”, a form of Juniper that grows plentifully in New Jersey and “rose wilo”, the Red Osier or Swamp Dogwood of the New York and New Jersey borderlands. 

      Medicinal virtues for many of the local herbs were introduced to the colonists by American Indians, and were soon heavily depended upon due to limited supplies of traditional or European medicines shipped from abroad.  Historians have led us to imagine local herbalists coming into the village with bunches of herbs flung over their shoulders or carried on horseback.  Although these herbalists are not mentioned on the lists of occupations put together from town records33, they most certainly existed. Furthermore, historians are now beginning to recognize the role of women as herbalists, as well as their services as matrons, nurses and midwives.  The record of one eighteenth century botanist and herbalist, Jane Colden, strengthens this premise.  Colden may very well have provided Dr. Osborn with some of his medicinal herbs, for it is known that she supplied other botanists, including naturalist-botanists John and William Bartram, with dried specimens and seeds of Dutchess County flora for their herbarium collections.  She also wrote one of the earliest guides to New York plants and their medical uses.34 

      Local historian Henry Booth has already written about some of the herbs used by Dr. Osborn.35,36  It should be noted that his list was incomplete, for forty more medicinal herbs are needed to complete the list making Osborn’s material medica comprised of a total of one-hundred and eleven medicinal substances.  A number of these medicines are well-known and can be found in a well-stocked kitchen or herb garden, which is perhaps why Booth omitted them.  They are as follows (those native to Dutchess County are indicated by an asterisk):

      Aloes                         Lesser Centaury

      Asafoetida                    Licorice Root

    *Balm/Bee Balm                      *Ninebark

      Barley Malt                   Nutmeg

      Burnet                              Opium

      Camphor                             Poterium

      Cardamom                          *Rose Willow

    *Celandine Poppy                Quin Qui

     Chamomile                            Radish

      Colocynth                           Rhubarb

      Cubebs                              Saffron

      Flaxseed                            Sage

      Galingale                           Scabious

      Garlic                            *Scouring Rush

      Ginger                              Senna

     Holy Thistle                 *Sundew

      Hyssop                              Tormentil

      Jalap                         Virginia Snakeroot

      Lavender                          *White Ash

    *Leather Bark                   Zedoary

Dr. Osborn also mentioned seventeen plant derivatives such as gums, resins, essential oils, tinctures, balsams, and salts obtained from plant ashes.  These include:

  Balsam Peru           Gutta Gamboge             Oil of Anise

  Balsam Tolu           Manna               Oil of Terebinth

  Dragon’s Blood  Myrrh                     Olive Oil

  Galbanum (gum)  Oil of Sweet Almond       Sal Absinthe

  Gum Guaiac            Oil of Juniper            Sal Juniper

  Gum Styrax            Olibanum (gum)   

      A number of these herbs are still found growing in Dutchess County, like the  Bloodroot, Elder, Flowering Dogwood, Juniper, Maidenhair, Prickly Ash, Sassafras, Water Lilies, and Yarrow, some of which may have even escaped from the earliest Dutch herb gardens.  Others, such as the Balsams and Gums, were shipped from countries as far away as Africa and the Middle East.  Several of Osborn’s applications for these herbs are worthy of discussion.

      Like most eighteenth century physicians, Osborn incorporated strong laxatives such as Rhubarb and Jalap roots into his routines.  In addition, he made use of blistering agents such as the locally occurring Leatherwood.  Once applied to the skin, Osborn probably theorized that drawing fluids to the surface and away from any disease-related swellings occurring deep within, the patient might get better.  Osborn’s recommendation of powerful aromatics, like Lavender oil and Ol Succin (Oil of Amber) for the treatment of hysteria and menstrual problems, relates to a theory based on the flow of the vital force through the proper channels in the human body.  His choices of herbs may also be reminiscent of the Doctrine of Signatures–a popular theory written about in seventeenth and eighteenth century herbals that states a medicine ought to resemble the diseased organ or tissue it is used to treat.  Take for example Dragon’s Blood, a red resin found oozing from cuts made in certain palm trees; it was used for the treatment of “ye Overflowing of the Terms”.37  Another example of an important and very local herb for Dr. Osborn is Bloodroot, the rhizome of which was once considered to be an effective treatment for “Spiting of Blood” and Jaundice due to its ability to ooze an orange-red latex upon breakage or cutting [PHOTO #3].

      The other medicines Osborn made use of were animal products, ashes, salts, minerals, mineral spring waters, clays, metals, acids, official recipes, and proprietary medicines.  Examples of the animal products included hog’s lard, spermaceti, coral, “Crabs eys”, hart’s horn/cornu cervi (elk/deer antlers), partridge feathers, and “the blood of a cat”.  Most of the time these had simple applications.  For example, hog’s lard and spermaceti were used for making lotions, creams, and unguents, whereas others such as crabs eyes, hartshorn and coral were often powdered or burnt to an ash to be used as an astringent or diuretic.  Partridge feathers and cornu cervi were burned slowly to produce a foul, sulphurous aroma.  For example, in his treatment for “The Barring Down of ye Matrix” Osborn recommends to the patient that she stand over burning “pateridge fethers…as hot as you Can bare and Do So 2 Times a Day keeping your Coats tite round the pot or Else the Steem will fly away.”38  Alchemists and early 18th century practitioners felt that this brought on the flow of stagnated “humours” or the “vital force” in the human body.  Therefore, they recommended it for treating a number of disorders that were ascribed to weak tissues or organs. 

      Another interesting use of an animal product is found in the treatment for St. Anthony’s Fire (Erysipelas).  Dr. Osborn writes [PHOTO #4]:

“Take the blood of a Cat and besmare the whol inflamed part and Skin to be Stript of and the besmared to be Cuvered with the Skin and Do so 3 or 4 Times and when the Skin begins to Stink repeat.”

      In this recipe Osborn is probably referring to the Civet-cat [PHOTO #5].  In 1671, traveler-writer Arnoldus Montanus wrote in his letter “A Description of New Netherland” about the presence of the Civet-cat or “musk-cat”.39   The Civet-cat is known for a gland located between its hind legs that produces an oily secretion with a powerful aroma.  Known as Civet or “musk”, this secretion was in high demand for its use in perfumes and medicines and was often adulterated or replaced with a counterfeit oil.  An eighteenth century French apothecarian, Monsieur Pierre Pomet, notes in his book A Compleat History of Drugs (1748) that “It comforts the Spirits, and is good against all Diseases of the Head, Brain, and Womb…it prevails against hysterical Fits and Vapours….”  Pomet considered the best Civet to be white to yellow in color and warned that counterfeit Civet, made by adding dyes to oil, often reached the marketplace.  As an example, he noted “Guinea Civet”, a product made by counterfeiters, who, by producing its reddish color, “serve only to cover their Knavery…”.  With this in mind, it is easy to see how Dr. Osborn may have thought that the medicine he was getting was indeed cat’s blood.

      One of Osborn’s favorite medicines was a drink for treating “a Stopage of ye Terms”.  He writes: 

      “Ens veneris 8Gr in peroyal water whare rusty Iron has red hot and squencht in 4 or 5 Times Take a half Jill of this water 3 Times a Day…its Excelent”

      This is essentially in agreement with a regimen recommended by Shaw in one of Osborn’s previously inferred medical references.  Ens veneris is Latin for “the entity of Venus” and refers to certain forms of copper and iron compounds, especially rust of Iron during the eighteenth century.  Due to their reddish color, alchemists felt that these compounds served as valuable medicines for the blood.  In earlier writings by astrologers, copper was also felt to be ruled by the feminine planet Venus.  Only later were the reddish flakes produced by heating copper plates replaced with rust made from iron plates.  Osborn next mentions the “peroyal water” in his recipe.  This was also described by alchemists who used the term “pyrrol” to refer to the energy of fire or heat.  To make pyrrol water, a rusty piece of Iron is heated until it becomes red hot.  Then it is quenched in water, thereby heating the water and turning it red as the rust falls off.  Resembling blood and having received the energy of fire and Iron, alchemists believed that this potion had become a sure cure for many women’s disorders.  It is important to note that although this recipe was developed by astrologer-alchemists, it does not suggest that the use of Ens veneris during the eighteenth century was based on the same philosophy.  New theories were emerging for the effectiveness of ancient medicines, in particular one argued for by one of the most famous chemists Robert Boyle, who suggested that the copper based ingredients of ens veneris be replaced by iron salts due to their ability to produce a more effective medicine.  In fact, by doing this, all Osborn did was produce a drink rich in Iron to help sufferers of anemia, chlorosis, and other problems brought about by iron-deficiency.  Osborn also used Ens veneris to assist in Labor or Delivery, an application Shaw did not mention in his text and was more likely linked to some metaphysical reasoning Osborn had attached to this recipe. 

      Not only did Osborn make his own medicines, he also noted some already well known and respected, and common to many apothecary books.  Epsom Salts and Glauber Salts, made from their respective mineral springs, had specific virtues based on their mineral spring of origin.  There were also a number of official (official according to apothecarians’ professional standards and pharmacopoeias) and patent medicine recipes (recipes patented and sold, and often considered “quackery” medicine at some point in time).  Each of these that Osborn made use of were either purchased as a remedy already produced in totum according to the philosophy and recipe most commonly accepted for the time, or was a medicine akin to the original formula, but perhaps produced locally or specifically according to an individual’s own “unique standards.”  A number of these official recipes were invented centuries earlier, such as Theriac Andromachi (a sacred Roman medicine), Elixir of Propriety (invented by the 16th century alchemist Paracelsus), Diascordium Electuary (a 16th century plague remedy), Balsam Lucatelli (a 17th century plague remedy), and Emplastrum De Minio (plaster of Lead).  Their formulas were often so lengthy that the medicines had to be bought already prepared in Europe where adequate supplies of ingredients were available.  The patent medicines Osborn prescribed included Ferdinand’s Powder, Haarlem Oil, Huxham’s Tincture, Hooper’s Pills, Mcleen’s Electuary, Morrison’s Pills, Tulley’s Powder, and Dr. Hill’s Formula for Pleurisy.  The formulas for these were often kept secret necessitating the buyer to purchase the box of pills or bottle of elixir as offered.  On occasion, Osborn tried to reproduce these patent medicines (i.e. the very popular Turlington’s Balsam, manufacturable using local ingredients).  This probably forced him into compounding his own cheaper equivalents at times, and unknowingly depend upon counterfeit drugs.   

      The doctor’s manuscript closes with several pages of recipes that are important to note, recipes for what are perhaps his own versions of “Doct. Ferdinand for the Consumtion (sic)” [PHOTO #6], “Doct Hills Rx for Pleurisy”, and a treatment for “The Epilepticks”.  These are presented in a penmanship that is cleaner and more stylish than that of the previous 78 pages.  This suggests that they were written by a more skillful scribe, perhaps one of his sons, or a personal friend. [A few decades later, a close friend of his sons, Dr. Bartow White, physician and state Whig representative, would develop seizures and be forced to resign; this may in fact be the recipe Cornelius’s oldest son James used to treat Dr. White.]    

      In the years that followed the first writings in the manuscript, Osborn remained quite successful in the local community.  As a result, he was wealthy enough to grant a mortgage of 250 Pounds to his friend and business associate, Dirck Brinckerhoff, Esquire,  [April 28, 1770; Liber C, p. 12], and another to Charles Le Roux, yeoman, for 300 Pounds [June 11, 1770; Liber C, p. 18].  He was later witness to a mortgage for James Freeke, Trader, of “Brookland, King’s County”, granted by Charles LeRoux, yeoman, for 600 Pounds on February 3, 1772 [Liber C, p. 152].  Once the Revolutionary War began, only one document was recorded with Dr. Osborn’s name in it: a will for Daniel “Suthern” (Southard) on December 12, 1779, noting “Cor– Osborn” as one of the Witnesses [Liber AA, IV].  Due to his prestige, we can assume that he was quite busy, serving not only as a minuteman but also as a Field Surgeon for a major military hospital near Fishkill Village.  Other records of his activity during the Revolutionary War suggest that he may have had close ties to other field hospitals located in New-Windsor, West-Point, and Haverstraw. 

The Revolutionary War


      On April 19, 1775, the Revolutionary War officially began, and on the 15th of August, “A return made…at the house of Jacob Griffen, of persons who signed the Association” was signed by “Cornelius Osborne” and his son “James Osburn”.39  Two months later, Cornelius Osborne enlisted as a Surgeon to serve as a minuteman.40  His sons, James (28 years old) and Peter (17 years old), were also enlisted, as privates in Van Wyck’s and Brinckerhoff’s Regiments, respectively.41,42    

      As acting Field Surgeon, Dr. Osborn’s role was to ensure that adequate medical facilities were established, proper sanitation procedures were carried out, and proper treatment was given to the patients.  During the early months of the Revolutionary War, sources for food and clothing were in great demand.  On May 3rd, 1776, “A Bill of Sale of Crops on the Ground” involving  “Corl Osburn” and Matthew Dubois, was made.  Twelve Pounds were “hand paid” by George Clinton to Osborn and Dubois for the purchase of “One Equal Third Part of Twelve Bushels, sowen of Wheat, now standing and Growing on the Ground it being on the farm of Stephen Peit” from David Hamon of New-Windsor.43  In the months and years ahead, similar transactions would follow, including the purchase of numerous medicines and hospital goods.

      By mid-summer, Osborn’s experience and expertise was enough to secure him a position as Field Surgeon for the Second Regiment.  On July 25, 1776, a letter was written and dispatched to the New-York Convention by Colonel Jacobus Swartwout.  In this letter he makes his recommendation:44

“GENTLEMEN: In these times of distress and danger, when the lives and health of the soldiers are daily exposed, and, for want of good doctors, are often rendered incapable of doing the publick services, loudly calls upon every well-wisher to the cause now embarked in, to recommend such persons whose skill and abilities are known and can be depended upon; and as the bearer hereof, Dr. Osborn hath for many years resided near me, and hath been respected as a person having skill and abilities in that profession, I humbly pray the honourable Convention of the State of New-York will take the matter into their consideration, and if they think Dr. Osborn capable, that they will appoint him Doctor to my Regiment.  I am, gentlemen, with great respect, your very humble servant.         

                              Jacobus Swartwout”

      Two days later, Dr. Osborn was in White-Plains attending a meeting of the Convention where he was assigned the position of Field Surgeon for his regiment.  The Convention’s record states:45

      “A Certificate of Dr. Samuel Bard, dated this day, was read and filed.  He thereby certifies that he has examined Dr. Cornelius Osborne, respecting his knowledge in Physick and Surgery, and thinks him qualified for the office of Surgeon to a Regiment.

      “Resolved.  That the said Cornelius Osborne be, as is hereby, appointed Surgeon to the Regiment of Militia, now in Continental Service under the command of Cornelius Swartwout, of Dutchess County.”


This was followed by the oath of Samuel Bard:

      “I hereby certify that I have examined Dr. Cornelius Osborne respecting his knowledge in Physick and Surgery, and that I think him qualified for the office of Surgeon to a Regiment.

                                    Samuel Bard, M.D.”

      Doctor Osborn then returned to the Fishkill where the encampment site was already established and the Trinity Episcopal Church was being readied for use as a hospital.  Osborn was one of forty “Physicians” to sign orders for this facility.  In late 1776, shipments of medicines came to Fishkill, including several salts, Sulphur, Cantharides, Opium, Myrrh and Guaiac gums, Balsam Copaiba, Chamomile, Senna, Aloe, bark of Canella alba (White Cherry), and roots of Gentian, Jalap, Rhubarb, Licorice, and Ipecac.  Also ordered and received were 100 “Cotts”, surgical instruments, and food and drink items including molasses and vinegar.  Barley and wine were ordered in exceptionally large quantities. (Beer and wine were considered important for the preparation and administration of many medicines, for food preservation, and, perhaps most importantly, for morale).46 

      By the end of that year, more than one-third of the enlisted men had become sick and many more were recovering at home.  Problems due to dysentery, fevers, and small pox were on the rise.  Popular remedies for these included the laxatives calomel, jalap, and extract of butternut.  For treating fevers, Dr. Osborn relied heavily upon Peruvian bark.  In order to meet the increased demand for fever medicines due to a small pox epidemic, he placed an order on December 28, 1776, for “sal cathartics and lb ss Cort Peruviana” (saline cathartics and one-half pound of Peruvian bark, respectively) for the price of 360 Pounds.47  On April 11, around the time that a second epidemic occurred, “The Committee for the Detection of Conspiracies” allowed one of their prisoners, Doctor Jonathan Prosser, to be “permitted to go & remain at house of Doct: Osborn, & be under his Care & Direction, on Parol till the further Order of this Board.”  In the same meeting they consigned to Osborn, for the sum of 5 Dollars, “a Number of Doctor’s Instruments lying in the Closet…lest they might be lost.”48,49  

      Various accounts have told us that as a Field Surgeon Dr. Osborn would have a great deal more to deal with in the years to come.  Small Pox and fever epidemics would continue.  So much that in January and April of 1777 they nearly paralyzed the tactical value of the regiments in Fishkill.  The “Pox” and other common diseases killed more soldiers than the battles they fought.  In addition to the few who were “wounded”, a large number of patients suffered from ulcerous lesions and feverish conditions, primarily putrid fever and bilious fever.  Those remaining suffered from other problems not directly associated with the war including malnutrition, dizziness, spitting of blood, cirrhosis, pleurisy, ascites, rheumatism, sores, scabies, tabes, and diarrhea.[]  The increased occurrence of these diseases was due to the poor sanitation and improper health conditions, brought about by placement of crowded encampment sites alongside stagnant pools and common waterways like the Fishkill Creek. Soldiers had to also contest with fevers brought on by the “miasma” of swamps, and dysentery born of the use of the same water for drinking and for bathing.  Still, due to their just cause and determination, the Revolutionary War ended on November 3, 1782.  The patriots won.

      Cornelius Osborn is listed amongst those who received land as a reward for their patriotic services.50,51  It was determined that each private was to receive a one-quarter section (160 acres) or more “in different sections of the country where the Government had public lands.”51  Those in the Second Regiment each received rights to two 500 acre plots.  As a Field Surgeon, Dr. Osborn was due the rights to three of these plots.52  However, no record of land acquisitions in his name could be obtained.53  Nor is his name included in the list of “Surgeons and surgeon’s mates who have received pensions…”54, the “List of Pensions & Applicants for Pensions”,55 or the “List of Persons with Service evidenced by manuscripts on file in Comptrollers Office.”56  (His sons James and Peter were omitted are well.57

      On August 23, 1782, just after the fighting had ceased and before the Anglo-American Peace Treaty was written,   Dr. Osborn died without leaving a will.  His Letter of Administration, dated March 18th, 1786, is signed nearly four years after his death by his son James, with Arthur Langharn, apothecarian, and Stephen Smith, hatter, serving as bondsmen, and Nathaniel Tredwell and Thomas Tredwell, Esquire, serving as witnesses [N.Y. Liber 2, 1784-1786, p. 4357].57  No public notice regarding debts has been found in any newspapers.58 

      Dr. Osborn’s obituary appears on page 3 of the New-York Packet (then being published in Fishkill) and states:59

      “DIED. On Friday, the 23d instant, DOCTOR CORNELIUS OSBORN, in the sixtieth year of his age, who for many years was a practitioner in medicine & chirurgery in this place, with great success & reputation.  He was remarkable for charity to the poor, and generosity to the distressing refugees, to whom he was sympathizing and ready friend in their sickness, imparting his skill and medicine for their relief, gratis.  In his death the poor have lost a valuable friend, his wife a tender husband, his children an effective parent, and his country a zealous and persevering friend.  As his death is esteemed a public loss, it is much regretted by all who knew him.”



      The end of the war signalled the beginning of a new era.  The Osborn family would continue to play an important role in local history.  Cornelius’s wife outlived him but we cannot tell with certainty for how long.  She is probably one of the women accounted for in James Osborn’s family in the 1790 U.S. Census.60  To date, the burial site of Cornelius and Helena Osborn has yet to be found. 

      Their sons James, Peter and Thomas were soon active again.  All became physicians, performing important civic duties as well.  They were later joined by their nephew Cornelius Remsen, who, following the footsteps of his grandfather, served as a military doctor in the War of 1812.  Together, the Osborn and Remsen families would help bring the community back together during the post-war depression, serving not only as physicians but as exemplary citizens as well.  Their influences would reverberate for generations to come.

1.  Dr. Cornelius Osborn. A Short Scetch on Disorders Insedent to human body. August 28, 1768.  Local History Room, Adriance Memorial Library.  Also available: transcription of the manuscript copied faithfully by Henry Booth.  November 1909.  Poughkeepsie, N.Y.  An extended transcription with interpretation is being prepared by the author.

2.  Henry Booth. “Dr. Osborn–His Book”.  Yearbook of the Dutchess County Historical Society (Y.D.C.H.S.).  Vol. 4, pp. 39-45. 1918.

3.  Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.  “Physicians and Medicine in the History of Dutchess County.”  Y.D.C.H.S. Vol. 26. p. 78-88. 1940.

4.  Guy Carleton Bayley.  An historical address ….with records of the medical profession of Dutchess County from 1740 to 1906.  January 10, 1906.  (Poughkeepsie, New York). 1906.

5.  James Smith.  History of Dutchess County: 1683-1882.  (D. Mason & Co.: Syracuse) 1882.  p. 513-517.

6.  opcit. Guy Carleton Bayley;  Frank Hasbrouck. The History of Dutchess County, New York. (Poughkeepsie: S.A. Matthieu) 1909;  opcit. Helen Wilkinson Reynolds. 1940. 

7.  Rev. David Cole, D.D.. History of Rockland County.  (New York: J.B. Beers & Company)  1884.   Appendix: Tappan Church Baptism Records.

8.  Myrte Jacob Osborn.  The Osborns of England.  (Hopkinton, Mass.). January, 1938.

9.  Samuel Loudon’s The New-York Packet, and the American Advertiser.  No. 279. August 29, 1782. p.3, col. 2.  Rare Book Room, New York Public Library.

10.Luther Foster Halsey.  The Revolutionary Worthies of the Medical Staff. Society of Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey. July 4, 1980. p. 60.

11.P.J. and R.V. Wallis.  Eighteenth Century Medics, 2ed., (subscriptions, licences, apprenticeships). (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Project for Historical Biobibliography), 1988.

12.One possible relative is James Osborn of Haverstraw, who later served and practiced during the Revolutionary War.  Other evidence suggests that Cornelius’s uncles and other relatives were physicians as well, for example Peter Osborn, Surgeon, of the Levies, New York Line, and Peter Osburn, surgeon’s mate, New York Regiment (Berthold Fernow.  New York in the Revolution. pp. 257, 539).

13.Prentiss Glazier.  Palmatier-Parmentier Family. (Dutchess County, New York.)  “Leentja Palmentier” and “Cornelis Osborn” are first seen listed together as sponsors for the baptism of Helena, daughter of Marcus Van Bommel and Saartje Palmentier, “Sep. 22  1765”.   

14.Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.. (Montgomery County Department of History and Archives),  June, 1947.

15.(—). Book of Supervisors of Dutchess County, New York. A.D. 1718-1722; Old Miscellaneous records of Dutchess County (the Second Book of Supervisors and Assessors). (Poughkeepsie: Vassar Brothers Institute). 1909. p. 151-152.

16.opcit.  Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.  Y.D.C.H.S. 1940.

17.opcit.  Guy Carleton Bayley.  1906.

18.Rev. A.P. Van Gieson, D.D..  Anniversary Discourse and History of the First Reformed Church of Poughkeepsie.  (Poughkeepsie)  1893. p. 117.

19.(Francis Filkin.)  Account Book of a Country Storekeeper in the 18th Century at Poughkeepsie.   (Vassar Brothers Institute: Poughkeepsie) 1911.  p. 104.

20.Wm. Willis Reese & Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (eds.).  Eighteenth Century Records of the Portion of Dutchess County New York that was included in the Rombout Precinct and the original Town of Fishkill.  Dutchess County Historical Society Vol. IV.  (Dutchess County Historical Society)   1938.

21.Clifford M. Buck.  Taxlists: Poughkeepsie; Rhinebeck; Northeast.  (Salt Point, N.Y.: Buck)  n.d. 

22.opcit.  Wm. Willis Reese & Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (eds.). 1938. p. 33.

23.opcit. Clifford M. Buck.

24.(Livingston).  Fishkill Map (of part of the Rombout Precinct). 1798.  Local History Room, Blodgett Memorial Library, Fishkill, N.Y.

25.Supervisors Records, Tax Lists.  Volume E, 1753-1757.  Microfilm Film 141, Records Office, Dutchess County Office Building.  

26.Wm. McDermott (ed.)  Eighteenth Century Documents of the Nine Partners Patent. Dutchess County, New York. Collections of the Dutchess County Historical Society. Vol X.   (Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc.). 1979.  Deed 122, p. 150.

27.Dutchess County Wills of: Jacob Brinckerhoff [Liber 21, p. 416];  William Teller (May 16, 1759) [Liber 21 p. 380];  James Cochran (August 26, 1759) [Liber 21, p. 390]; and Matthew Dubois (September 13, 1763) [Liber 5, p. 124].

28.James B. Lyon.  Colonial Laws on New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution.  (James B. Lyon: Albany).  1894.  Volume IV. p. 440.

29.See Mortgages involving; Obadiah Copper, merchant, for Matthew Dubois, Junior, “Brewer of Fishkill”, [September 13, 1763; Liber V, p. 124];  and Peter Bogardus for Francis Brett, Esquire [August 26, 1765; Liber IV, p. 427]. 

30.Transcribed:  August 28, 1768.  To James Osborn for his Perusal in Physick, a Short Sketch on Disorders Incident to the Human Body.  By Cornelius Osborn.  NB: “Physick” is synonymous with medicine.

31.”HBoorH” stands for “His Blessedness (or “Beatitude”) of our Royal Highness”.  

32.Osborn manuscript.  “For The Barring Down of ye Matrix” is synonymous with prolapsed uterus.

33.opcit. Wm. McDermott (ed.);  Wm. Willis Reese and Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (eds.). 

34.(Jane Colden.)  Botanical Manuscripts of Jane Colden, 1724-1766.  The Garden Club of Orange and Dutchess Counties.  New York.  1963.

35.opcit. Henry Booth. 

36.For an extensive coverage of these plant medicines, the reader is referred to the popular Madame Grieves Herbal, available at most public libraries, Matthioli’s Herbal, John Gerard’s Herball . . . (available in reprint), John Parkinson’s Herbal, and Pomet’s History of Druggs (preferable 1712 and later, published and translated into English), available in many special collections.

37. “The Terms” is synonymous with “the menstrual period”.

38. Osborn manuscript.  “The Barring Down of ye Matrix”.

39.E.B. O’Callaghan, M.D.(ed.). The Documentary History of the State of New York.  (Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen). 1851. Vol. IV, pp. 75-83.

40.Philip H. Smith.  General History of Dutchess County; from 1609 – 1876, inclusive. (Philip H. Smith: Pawling), 1877.  p. 481-482.

41.Berthold Fernow (ed.).  New York in the Revolution.   (Albany: Weed, Parsons and Company, Printers) 1887. p. 285. 

42.ibid. pp. 439.

43.Hugh Hastings, State Historian (ed.)  Public Papers of George Clinton.  (Albany, New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford & Company)  1899. Volume I. [No. 89], p. 230-231.   

44.Peter Force. American Archives…. (Washington) April 1848.  Vol. 1. p. 1450.

45.ibid.  Vol. 1. p. 1452.

46.Erastus C. Knight, New York (State) Comptroller’s Office.  New York in the Revolution as Colony and State, Supplement. (Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon Co.), 1904.  pp. 44-45.  

47.ibid.  p. 578.

48.Collections of the New York Historical Society.  Minutes of the Committee and of the First Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York. December 11, 1776 – Sept. 23, 1778.  (NY: Printed for the Society) 1924-5.  Vol. 1, p. 236.

49.Frank K. Doherty.  The Settlers of the Beekman Patent.  (Historical Records: Pleasant Valley). 1990. p. 595-597.

50.New York Historical Society. Revolutionary Muster Rolls, Vol. II. 1775-1783. Collections of the New York Historical Society. Vol. 47. (New York) 1915. pp. 488-491.

51.James S. Roberts, Comptroller.   New York in the Revolution as Colony and State.  (Albany, N.Y.: Brandow Printing Company) 1898.  pp. 221-268. Land Bounty Rights.

52.opcit. Halsey. p. 60-61.

53.opcit.  James S. Roberts, Comptroller. pp. 7-15.

54.National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., N.A.R.S. notes that many records were lost in a fire on November 8, 1800.

55.opcit. Halsey. p. 60-61.

56.opcit. James S. Roberts.  pp. 270-271.


58.Dr. Kenneth Scott.  Genealogical Data from Administration Papers from the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany. (National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York). p. 236.

59.opcit. Samuel Loudon. 

60.First Census of the U.S., 1790, N.Y.   (Baltimore: Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Company,) 1971.  Dutchess County, p. 81. 


      Photo 1.  Dedication page for Dr. Cornelius Osborn’s manuscript.  Dated “August 28, 1768, he dedicates it to his oldest son James.

      Photo 2.  In the introduction to his manuscript, Osborn refers the reader to the authors of several important medical texts.

      Photo 3.  For treating a “Spiting (sic) of Blood” Osborn included the locally occurring herb Bloodroot in his recipe.

      Photo 4.  Erysipelas, then referred to as Saint Anthony’s Fire, was treated by such medicines as “the blood of a Cat”.

      Photo 5.  The Civet-Cat, or locally occuring “Musk-cat”, (depicted here by eighteenth century writer Pierre Pomet) was probably Osborn’s source for the medicine used to treat Saint Anthony’s Fire. 

      Photo 6.  Dr. Osborn’s version of “Doct. Ferdinand for the Consumtion”, a popular treatment for several lung ailments during the eighteenth century.