Published on February 20, 2011 by John
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Cadwallader Colden (7 February 1688 – 20 September 1776) was a physician, farmer, surveyor, botanist, and a lieutenant governor for the Province of New York.
He was born in Ireland, of Scottish parents, while his mother Janet Hughes was visiting there. His father, Rev. Alexander Colden A.B. of Dunse (Dunsie), Berwickshire, Scotland, sent him to the Royal High School and Edinburgh University to become a minister. When he graduated, he continued his studies in physics, anatomy, chemistry and botany. In 1710, his aunt invited him to Philadelphia where he started his practice in medicine. He returned to Scotland to marry Alice Chryste in 1715, and returned with her to Philadelphia that same year.
In 1743, he published a series of essays noting the correlation between filthy living conditions and high rates of disease in New York City. 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.
On 1 November 1765 Cadwallader 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.
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 as Governor (1769 to 1771) after Henry Moore’s death. He was likely one of the oldest British governors in New York. He was replaced by John Murray after his last term.
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.
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, the first book on the subject.
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. An elementary school in Flushing was named after him. It is more commonly known as Public School 214 Queens. His son was Cadwallader David Colden. His daughter, Jane Colden, was the first female botanist working in America.