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Cadwallader Colden






Cadwallader Colden was the son of Alexander Colden (minister of Duns Parish Church from 1693 to 1700) and his wife Janet Hughes. The previous minister William Gray had been deprived in 1689 following the Revolution of that year and the charge had been vacant subsequently. It is reported that the Rev. Colden took the charge reluctantly as there was apparently still strong support for the Episcopalian cause and he only accepted on condition that he be relieved of the position was found to become intolerable. On leaving the charge in 1700 he became minister at Oxnam and was a good friend of the well known divine Thomas Boston who had been born in Duns.

Cadwallader had been born in 1688, possibly in Ireland when his mother was visitCadwallader Colden

Cadwallader Coldening there but was raised in Duns. From his Christian name Cadwallader if has been surmised that there may have been some Welsh connection, the name being generally regarded as of Welsh origin.The name Colden though is probably of reasonably local origin from the farm of Cowlden near Dalkeith.

After attending the Royal High School in Edinburgh Colden went to Edinburgh University where he qualified in theology. However he then went on to study botany, anatomy, physics and chemistry and became in course also expert in astronomy, medicine, psychology, history and mathematics. Truly a latter day Renaissance Man.

In 1712, on the invitation of his aunt he emigrated to America and set up a medical practice in Philadelphia returning to Scotland however in 1715 to marry Alice Christie daughter of a Kelso clergyman.

While back in Great Britain he presented a paper to the Royal Society on "Animal Secretions" and became a friend of Dr. Edmund Halley of "Halley's Comet fame"

In 1716 however Colden retuned to America and resumed his practice of medicine and in 1718 visited New York where he met the New York Governor Hunter. He obviously impressed Hunter as on his return he received a letter from him asking he if would be prepared to accept office as a Provincial Officer which he accepted and in 172O he was appointed Surveyor General of New York.

His rapid progress continued as he was soon appointed to the Committee to regulate Mercantile trade and in 1722 was made a member of the Provincial Council.

In this position he was responsible for promoting the idea of an canal to connect Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes to the Hudson River. The grandiose idea took over a century to become reality but fittingly it did so during the time that his grandson, who was to bear the same name, was Mayor of New York. He did however build America's first ever canal on his own estate.

He took a considerable interest in the native Indians and in 1727 published a volume "History of the Five Nations" This was the first history of the native American peoples in which he gave very favourable voice to their notions of democracy. A second volume was to follow 20 years later. As a consequence he came to be regarded as perhaps the foremost authority on the affairs of the native Indians and worked for better communication with them and indeed to recruit them to the support of the British Crown. For his works he was granted the Mohawk nameCayenderonque. To be granted a name by the Mohawk people was high honour.

Around this time he purchased a property in Long Island which he named as Coldingham and where he settled with his family - he had 10 children in all. The name of the property has evolved slightly with the passage of time and is now known as Coldengham and is preserved as a museum and a memorial to his memory and to the memory of his family.

He became acting Governor of New York State in 1760 and received a commission from the Crown as Lieutenant Governor during the years 1760-1761, 1763-1765, 1769-1770 and 1774-1775.

During his periods of office he was very much involved in health reforms and in the cleaning up of the City among other measures. He also wrote quite a number of pamphlets and involved himself in a wide range of issues.

At this time control of the judiciary was very much in the hands of the mercantile classes, a situation which Colden set about trying to change aiming to create a completely independent judiciary. In this we was only partially successful probably only succeeding in alienating the bulk of the legal fraternity who more and more began to claim independence from direct control by the Crown.

Agitation was further fermented by the imposition of the Stamp Act which was to prove the fuse for the actual Declaration of Independence. At first Colden endeavoured to enforce the Act but was imprisoned by New York City Council until he agreed not to do so. Also the unveiling of a statue to King George 111 in Manhattan probably did not endear him to many (the statue was latter to be melted by the Revolutionaries to make bullets).

Colden, although originally at least, a Whig by political persuasion and as mentioned a great supporter of the rights of the native Americans strongly opposed the independence movement. For long a friend of Benjamin Franklin they fell out over the issue. He was to be the last Colonial Governor of New York.

By 1775 revolutionary rule prevailed in New York and Colden was burned in effigy by the mob.

He retired to his country estate and died on September 1776 just a little over two month after the Declaration of Independence which he had so strongly opposed.

Nevertheless his achievements were considerable and more and more are now being recognised and appreciated. After years of vilification for his opposition to independence he is now much more fondly looked upon. Not for nothing is he known as "The Father of American Enlightenment."

His family too achieved much - his daughter Jane was the first American female botanist and his grandson who bore the same name was a very successful Mayor of New York.

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