Cadwallader Colden

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Cadwallader Colden
Cadwallader Colden.png
Cadwallader Colden
29ºcolonial governors of Province of New York
In office
Preceded by James DeLancey
Succeeded by Robert Monckton
31ºcolonial governors of Province of New York
In office
Preceded by Robert Monckton
Succeeded by Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet
Personal details
Born February 7, 1688
Died September 28, 1776(1776-09-28) (aged 88)
near Flushing in Queens County on Long Island in New York.
Profession governor
Cadwallader Colden by Matthew Pratt

Cadwallader Colden (7 February 1688 – 28 September 1776) was a physician, natural scientist, and a lieutenant governor for the Province of New York.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Ireland, of Scottish parents, while his mother Janet Hughes was visiting there. His father, Rev. Alexander Colden A.B. of Duns, Berwickshire, sent him to the Royal High School and Edinburgh University to become a minister. When he graduated in 1705, he continued his studies in medicine, anatomy, physics, chemistry, and botany in London. In 1710, his aunt Elizabeth Hill invited him to Philadelphia where he started his practice in medicine. He briefly returned to Scotland to marry Alice Chryste in 1715, and came back with her to Philadelphia that same year. In 1717, he was invited by Governor Robert Hunter to relocate to New York, and in 1720 he became a surveyor general of New York.[1]

Public life[edit]

Colden entered political life in 1720, when Governor William Burnett chose him for provincial council. He served as lieutenant governor and as acting governor in 1760-1761, 1763-1765, 1769-1770, and 1774-1775. He was acting governor of New York from 1760 to 1762 (replaced by Robert Monckton in 1762) and again from 1763 to 1765, and finally from 1769 to 1771 after Henry Moore's death. He was likely one of the oldest acting British governors in New York. He was replaced by John Murray after his last term.

He served as the first colonial representative to the Iroquois Confederacy, an experience that resulted in his writing The History of the Five Indian Nations (1727), the first book on the subject.[2]

On 1 November 1765 Cadwallader Colden was confronted by a huge crowd carrying an effigy of him in a parade to protest the Stamp Act. He seemed to enjoy confrontation and had gone out of his way to defend royal prerogative. Members of the throng had appropriated his coach and added it to the parade; at the end of the route the coach was smashed to kindling and used as part of a great celebratory bonfire on Bowling Green.[3][4]

In 1769 at his request the New York Assembly led by James Delancey passed a bill providing funds for British troops garrisoned New York City. The Livingston family voted against as they opposed a standing army in times of peace.

In summer 1775, the British authority in New York came to its end as America entered into Revolutionary era, and Colden retired from public life. On 24 September 1776, the British occupied the city; Colden died four days prior to that.

Cadwallader Colden was a slave owner. In 1721 he ventured to purchase three slaves. He bought two male slaves who were "about eighteen years of age" for manual labor and one female slave who was "about thirteen years old" to assist his wife with raising the children. In 1717, he sold a slave mother to another slave owner in Barbados specifically for the purpose of separating that mother from her enslaved children because if the mother "should stay in this country she would spoil" her children which would negatively impact the children's "value" as slaves to Colden.[5]


In 1743, he published a series of essays noting the correlation between filthy living conditions and high rates of disease in New York City.[6] This was particularly prompted by an epidemic of yellow fever at the time. Colden's essays were critical for establishing the sanitation efforts of New York City, and a milestone in the development of the field of public health.[7]

In May 1743, while serving as surveyor general of New York, Cadwallader began a correspondence with Benjamin Franklin encouraging Franklin to create the American Philosophical Society. Franklin knew Colden by reputation and was flattered to hear from him.[8] He replied at once, "I cannot be but fond of engaging in a correspondence so advantageous to me as yours must be. I shall always receive your favours as such, and with great pleasure".[9]

Colden refused to be intimidated by the awesome reputation of Isaac Newton, convincing himself that Newton had erred on certain important points. He devoted much of his adult life to correcting the alleged mistakes and in 1751 published in London his views on the subject, Principles of Action in Matter.[10]

Colden wrote a taxonomy of the flora near his Orange County, New York home, which he rendered in Latin and sent to the Swedish patriarch of plant science and Latin nomenclature, Carl Linnaeus, who duly published the work and named the genus in the family Boraginaceae, Coldenia L. Boraginaceae.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Cadwallader Colden and His Grandson Warren De Lancey by Matthew Pratt, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1772

In November 1715, while visiting Scotland, Colden married Alice Chrystie of Kelso; together they had eleven children, including:

  • Jane Colden (March 27, 1724 – March 10, 1766), who was the first female botanist working in America, and who married Dr. William Farquhar.[12]

He died in Spring Hill near Flushing in Queens County on Long Island in New York. He was buried on 28 September 1776 in a private cemetery, in Spring Hill.


His grandson Cadwallader David Colden was a New York City mayor in 1818-1821.


Colden is viewed as one of the representatives of the American Enlightenment with recognition of his work in the fields of botany and public health.[13][14]

An elementary school in Flushing, New York was named after him. It is more commonly known as Public School 214 Queens.[15]

Coldenham, a hamlet in Montgomery, New York, is named after him as he was granted 3000 acres of land in the area in 1727.


  1. ^ Schwartz, Seymour I. Cadwallader Colden: A Biography. Amherst, New York: Humanity Books, 2013.
  2. ^ Colden, Cadwallader, and John G. Shea. The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New-York. New York: T.H. Morrell, 1866.
  3. ^ F. L. Engelman. Cadwallader Colden and the New York Stamp Act Riots. The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct., 1953), pp. 560-578.
  4. ^ The British Lose Control, 1765-1776
  5. ^ Wallace, Mike (1999). Gotham A History of New York City to 1898. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0-19-514049-4. 
  6. ^ Jarcho, Saul. Cadwallader Colden as a Student of Infectious Disease. Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Volume 29 (1955).
  7. ^ Duffy, John. The Sanitarians: A History of American Public Health. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
  8. ^ Brands, H W. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York, Doubleday, 2000. ISBN 0-385-49540-4.
  9. ^ From Benjamin Franklin to Cadwallader Colden, 4 November 1743
  10. ^ Hindle, Brooke. Cadwallader Colden's Extension of the Newtonian Principles. Williamsburg, 1956.
  11. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto. CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC, 2012, p. 580.
  12. ^ Gronim, Sara Stidstone (2007). "What Jane Knew: A Woman Botanist in the Eighteenth Century". Journal of Women's History. 19 (3): 33–59. doi:10.1353/jowh.2007.0058. 
  13. ^ Gitin, Louis L. Cadwallader Colden: As Scientist and Philosopher. Burlington, Vt, 1935.
  14. ^ Hoermann, Alfred R. Cadwallader Colden: A Figure of the American Enlightenment. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002.
  15. ^ Public School 214 Queens

Further reading[edit]

  • The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden (10 vols., 1917-1923, 1931-1935)
  • Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York (15 vols., 1856-1887). 7. Weed, Parsons & Company. 1856. 
  • Documentary History of the State of New York (4 vols., 1849-1851)
  •  Stephens, Henry Morse (1887). "Colden, Cadwallader". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 11. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
James DeLancey (acting)
Governor of the Province of New York (acting)
Succeeded by
Robert Monckton
Preceded by
Robert Monckton
Governor of the Province of New York (acting)
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet
Preceded by
Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet
Governor of the Province of New York (acting)
Succeeded by
John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore
Preceded by
William Tryon
Governor of the Province of New York (acting)
Succeeded by
William Tryon