Papers of Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776)

Scope and Content

The papers include materials for a new edition of The principles of action in matter including some chapters of the first edition with alterations and additions in manuscript, as well as some complete new chapters in manuscript and criticisms on the principles with answers to these criticisms by Colden. There are also a few letters from Colden to Peter Collinson (1694-1768). Two volumes have spine titles Colden on gravitation.

Administrative / Biographical History

Cadwallader Colden, the botanist, author, and Leutenant-Governor of New York, was born on 17 February 1688 in Dunse, Berwickshire, where his father was a minister. He studied at Edinburgh University and was awarded the degree of MD in 1705. He practiced in Pennsylvania from 1708 until 1715 when he returned to Britain. In England he published a scientific work on animal secretions, and he visited Scotland before returning to Pennsylvania in 1716. Colden moved to New York in 1718 and in 1719 he was appointed surveyor-general of the then colony of New York. In 1720 the Governor made him a member of the King's council and from then on his career was divided between politics and science. Prior to the arrival of Governor George Clinton in July 1748, Colden administered the government of New York as the senior member of the council. As a royalist and loyalist - and also advocating a hereditary council of landholders with powers similar to the House of Lords - he was very popular with British authorities, and in 1761 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New York. In 1775 he retired to Long Island. Colden's publications covered history, medicine, and botany, and include History of the five Indian nations of Canada (1727), Account of diseases prevalent in America (1736), Essay on the cause and remedy of the yellow fever so fatal at New York in 1743, and Treatise on gravitation (1745). Colden also introduced the Linnaean system into America shortly after its publication in Europe and Linnaeus gave the name Coldenia to a new genus of plants. Cadwallader Colden died on 28 September 1776.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.4. Chamber-Craigie. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Index shows a reference to a work by David Colden, a son of Cadwallader Colden, entitled A supplement to the principles of action in matter wherein the phenomena of electricity are deduced from their general cause (check the Indexes for more details): work bound in at Dc.1.26. Otherwise for Cadwallader Colden, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers, New York Historical Society, see NUC MS 61-546; papers, 1722-1775, New York Public Library, see NUC MS 68-1129; botanical papers, c. 1742, Linnean Society of London; and, correspondence with Thomas Gage, 1763-1775, University of Michigan: William L Clements Library, Ref. Thomas Gage papers, NRA 10567 Gage