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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Cadwallader Colden

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CADWALLADER COLDEN (1688-1776), American physician and colonial official, was born at Duns, Scotland, on the 17th of February 1688. He graduated at the university of Edinburgh in 1705, spent three years in London in the study of medicine, and emigrated to America in 1708. After practising medicine for ten years in Philadelphia, he was invited to settle in New York by Governor Hunter, and in 1718 was appointed the first surveyor-general of the colony. Becoming a member of the provincial council in 1720, he served for many years as its president, and from 1761 until his death was lieutenant-governor; for a considerable part of the time, during the interim between the appointment of governors, he was acting-governor. About 1 755 he retired from medical practice. As early as 1729 he had built a country house called Coldengham on the line between Ulster and Orange counties, where he spent much of his time until 1761. Aristocratic and extremely conservative, he had a violent distrust of popular government and a strong aversion to the popular party in New York. Naturally he came into frequent conflict with the growing sentiment in the colony in opposition to royal taxation. He was acting-governor when in 1765 the stamped paper to be used under the Stamp Act arrived in the port of New York; a mob burned him in effigy in his own coach in Bowling Green, in sight of the enraged actinggovernor and of General Gage; and Colden was compelled to surrender the stamps to the city council, by whom they were locked up in the city hall until all attempts to enforce the new law were abandoned. Subsequently Colden secured the suspension of the provincial assembly by an act of parliament. He understood, however, the real temper of the patriot party, and in 1775, when the outbreak of hostilities seemed inevitable, he strongly advised the ministry to act with caution and to concede some of the colonists' demands. When the war began, he retired to his Long Island country seat, where he died on the 28th of September 1776. Colden was widely known among scientists and men of letters in England and America. He was a life-long student of botany, and was the first to introduce in America the classification system of Linnaeus, who gave the name "Coldenia" to a newly recognized genus. He was an intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin. He wrote several medical works of importance in their day, the most noteworthy being A Treatise on Wounds and Fevers (1765); he also wrote The History of the Five Indian Nations depending on the Province of New York (1727, reprinted 1866 and 1905), and an elaborate work on The Principles of Action in Matter (1751), which, with his Introduction to the Study of Physics (c. 1756), his Enquiry into the Principles of Vital Motion (1766), and his Reflections (c. 1770), mark him as the first of American materialists and one of the ablest material philosophers of his day. I. Woodbridge Riley, in American Philosophy (New York, 1907), made the first critical study of Colden's philosophy, and said of it that it combined "Newtonian mechanics with the ancient hylozoistic doctrine. .." and "ultimately reached a kind of dynamic panpsychism, substance being conceived as a self-acting and universally diffused principle, whose essence is power and force." See Alice M. Keys, Cadwallader Colden, A Representative 18th Century Official (New York, 1906), a Columbia University doctoral dissertation; J. G. Rumford, Narrative of Medicine in America (New York, 1903); and Asa Gray, "Selections from the Scientific Correspondence of Cadwallader Colden" in American Journal of Science, vol. 44, 1843.

His grandson, Cadwallader David Colden (1769-1834), lawyer and politician, was educated in London, but returned in 1785 to New York, where he attained great distinction at the bar. He was a colonel of volunteers during the war of 1812, and from 1818 to 1821 was the successor of Jacob Redcliff as mayor of New York City. He was a member of the state assembly (1818) and the state senate (1825-1827), and did much to secure the construction of the Erie Canal and the organization of the state public school system; and in 1821-1823 he was a representative in Congress. He wrote a Life of Robert Fulton (1817) and a Memoir of the Celebration of the Completion of the New York Canals (1825).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Cadwallader Colden'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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