Theoretical physics in colonial America: the Newtonian science of Cadwallader Colden
Piper, Patricia Hightower
Barber, William D.
Master of Arts
One of the most fascinating minds in colonial America was that of Cadwallader Golden (1688-1776), a royal official in New York for almost sixty years, who also followed an unusual career in science. He had been introduced to the new Newtonian physics at the University of Edinburgh before 1705. After training as a physician in London he crossed the Atlantic in 1710, and in time gained that modest fortune which gave him the leisure to study science. Coldents first contributions were to natural history, the Plantae Coldenghamiae published by Linnaeus, and various papers on the climate and diseases of the New World. But his consuming interest, to which he devoted himself for fifty years, was theoretical physics. In 1745 he published An Explication of the First Causes of Action in Matter, and of the Cause of Gravitation which presented a physical theory designed to corroborate and extend Newton's mathematical synthesis in the Principle. His Principles of Action in Matter, the Gravitation of Bodies, and the Motion of the Planets, explained from those Principles appeared in 1751 and related his theory to astronomical phenomena. The final, unpublished version of this work, vast and encyclopedic, attempted to solve the riddle, the assumed but unnamed causes, in the Principia, and to answer those questions posed in the "Queries" of Newton's Opticks.