The materia medica of Osborn’s manuscript tells us a lot about his cultural background and professional training. We already suspect Osborn was not trained in the traditio nal sense for a Colonial physician. He did not travel to England for his apprenticeship and perhaps may have not even been trained by one of the more educated physicians of the New York Province setting. It is possible he did receive some formal training, since this was required by physicians by the local government and courts.
Earlier historians have detailed Osborn’s birthyear as 1723, a date that conflicts with a church record in Haverstraw that mentions a Cornelius born under James Osborn in the year 1722. Due indirectly to Dutch newborn naming traditions, it is suspected that this James may indeed be the father of Cornelius. Better evidence however is the role his father James played in local surveying and land development. Dr. Osborn was no doubtedly married to Helena Parmentier, who would have met him during one of his excursions with his father who was surveying properties along the roadways on the west side of the Hudson River. In this way, he would have also developed professional associations the way he did with Cadwallader Colden’s family, situated halfway between the Osborn residence near Haverstraw and the Parmentier estate on the riverside near New Paltz. Similarly, any opportunities taken tho cross the Hudson River to its eastern shore would have allowed him to develop a feel for this new potential place for occupance once he developed into his profession. Osborn’s lifelong residence is located just across the river from the intersection of two highways his father James often travelled (which today is located close to Newburgh). It is also possible that this is how and why Osborn’s earliest church records and local meeting records indicate he spent most of his time in the Fishkill area where he obtained land for his homestead by 1745. This is also why his earliest records of work as a physician are traveling through woodlands at the south end of this region with his partner, Jewish physician Isaac Marks.
Althogether, these links suggest Dr. Osborn is the Cornelius baptised by the Protestant Reformed church down near Haverstraw. His mother was a Dutch lady; his father English, and perhaps even closely related to several physicians by the name of Osborn located elsewhere in this part of the Hudson Valley. Whether or not Cornelius was trained by these local physicians is also uncertain, but quite possible.
To date, the supposition that Osborn is not English born remains the best story to tell about his history.
Discussing this problem of identity with other historians, many feel it is safe to say that the previous author initiating this date ans Cornelius Osborn’s birthday, Benson Lossing, may have obtained this wrong data in the tradition early 19th century historian writers way of making such mistakes at times. Lossing simply got this date by interviewing family members, who may have had a family Bible with this date (October 1723) either entered in error, or as an estimate, or due to the recollection of yet others in the family with memories of Cornelius;s birthdate and experince.
If the date were simply the part in error, this story could suffice. However, Lossing also noted that Cornelius Osborn was born in England, but with no town that could be cited by his information source. If this were the case, then Osborn’s chances for learning medicine through an Apprenticeship in England could have been slightly more likely. But without any further evidence substaniating the birth fo a Cornelius Osborn in England, this argument is hard to rely completely upon to make sense of other aspects of Osborn family experience and life in the New World. This traditional English heritage doesn’t explain why and how Osborn’s recipes are very non-traditional, often behind the times in medical science and teachings (sometimes as much as a century) and very eclectic in antural culturally and philosophically. This merging of old-timers philosophy with a little bit of local folklore, a lot of knowledge on local plants with no similar relatives or look-alikes in England, and his mention of several very Dutch-originated teachings suggest that Cornelius was raised in a Dutch cultural setting, not an Anglican culture untrained in certain aspects of Dutch philosophy and old time Dutch plant names.
Suffice it to say, Cornelius Osborn was born English and Dutch, and raised by a Dutch mother in a Dutch household. We know this was a Dutch household to its its description in one legal document as the old Dutch farm house, referring to the homestead he came to own in Fishkill which was was previously noted in tax records as an old Dutch home, probably resided in by one of the squatters its original owner were required to have as part of the 17th century Dutchfeudal method of land acquisition, growth and development.
I detail this history and cultural heritage due to its relationship to Osborn’s materia medica, or listing of medicines that were noted in his vade mecum. I spent several eyars obtaining the books Cornelius probably used to learn about these medicines (their authors are mentioned in his manuscript), and reviewed otehr materials of the time detailing the history and cultural heritage of these medicines. The most important resource for this review was Pierre Pomet’s Compleat History of Drugges, which in its later editions included the writings of other major leaders in the apothecary-chemistry first for the time. Finally, several classics were reviewed such as the Edinburgh, Lititz and London Pharmacopoeias, even though they were never mentioned by Osborn.
The attached sections are the results of the first attempt to acoomplish this task, carried out between 1986 and 1993. This information will be expanded over time from this point forward, and the most interesting medicines will be given their own separate essays. There are also a series of tables and the like that need to be modified and added to this materia medica section. This materia medica is designed for correlation with Osborn’s manuscript and philosophy. To learn more about each of the medicines for research on other physicians and other times in Colonial history, additional resources will have to be reviewed.