The History of Otsego County, New York


D. Hamilton Hurd

Published by Everts & Fariss, Philadelphia


WHITE, Joseph, Dr. - Cherry Valley

Joseph WHITE, the subject of this memoir, was born in Chatham, 
Conn., Sept. 26, 1763. At an early age he had the misfortune to 
lose his father, and was left an only child, with a widowed mother 
with scanty pecuniary means, to breast his way alone in the world. 
During the war of the Revolution he embarked on board of a public 
armed ship, and was in one or two naval engagements. He remarked 
that the roar of the cannon affected his organs of hearing so intensely 
that he was nearly or quite deaf after one of the battles.
His early education, from the necessity of the case, was defective, 
irregular, and miscellaneous; yet, from his habits of perseverance, and 
the distinction which he subsequently attained in his profession, it is 
inferred that is was continually in progress, and that his acquisitions 
of knowledge were steady, if not rapid.
His exhibited his fondness and preference for the medical 
profession, and commenced his studies under a Dr. Fuller and a 
distinguished surgeon named Percival. He applied himself to his 
studies with such diligence and attention that he was admitted to 
practice before he had arrived at the age of twenty-one years. Like 
many of the distinguished men of that early day, as well as in our 
own time, his circumstances were such that he was obliged to teach 
school to enable him to prosecute his studies. Soon after receiving 
his license to practice he came to this State, tarried a short time at 
Catskill, afterwards stayed about a year at Bowman's Creek in 
Canajoharie, and, as early as 1787, came to Cherry Valley, where 
he spent the rest of his active and useful life.
In that early day Cherry Valley was the extreme western outpost 
of civilization in this State. Books, the scholar's best food, and 
surgical instruments, then in our cities rude when contrasted with 
the improvements of the last three-quarters of a century, were 
difficult to obtain even by the wealthy, and often forbidden to the 
enterprising and ambitious. But the genius and experience of Dr. 
White, then an ardent aspirant for usefulness and distinction, made 
every help known and attainable to his purpose. He took at once 
an elevated and enviable stand among his brethren of the profession, 
and through a long life continued to maintain it. Though his life 
was one of action, he stole time, when others were sleeping, to 
become familiar, through the medium of books, with the discoveries 
and improvements in the healing art, as promulgated by the best 
practitioners both in this country and in Europe.
His perceptions were quick; but, before he acted in his
character, he carefully examined and noted all the symptoms, and 
his judgment was not formed or acted upon until he made use of 
all the lights in his power. Hence his usefulness, the value of his 
opinions, and the confidence which his practice enjoined. He filled 
a very large space in his profession, and his calls and rides extended 
from Albany to Buffalo, about three hundred and fifty miles asunder, 
and no one acquainted with his character will pretend that this 
wide-spread fame rested on anything like quackery or empiricism. 
He was a friend and admirer of the Baconian philosophy. Induction 
was with him the governing principle. Theory, however specious, 
unsupported by facts, had no charms for him, and was no guide to 
his practice. He read and noted with care all genuine, useful 
discoveries, and it was wonderful, considering his numerous calls, 
some of which he even neglected, how well and exactly he knew 
what each modern had added to the science and practice of physic 
and surgery, and how readily he applied the acquisitions of each to 
his own business.
His surgical operations were numerous, and very generally 
successful. In lithotomy he had an early and extensive practice. 
Many cases of this kind, the efforts to cure which seemed desperate, 
he undertook and performed, and the patients survived to bless and 
venerate his name after he was gone. As a surgeon, Dr. White had 
no superior in this State, and few if any equals. He performed for 
the first time a number of most remarkable operations which have 
proved of great service to the medical world. He was deemed a 
neat as well as scientific operator, and excelled in judgment of the 
time and necessity for every painful operation.
In 1817 he was chosen president of the medical college of 
Fairfield, and professor of surgery in the College of Physicians and 
Surgeons of the western district of New York, located at that place. 
During that and several successive years he lectured on surgery in 
that institution. His lectures attracted a respectable number of 
students thither, and in conjunction with learned and skillful
coadjutors, among whom were Drs. Beck and McNaughton of Albany, he 
rendered the institution popular and useful. He wrote well, and was 
a clear and forcible speaker. He obtained the highest honors of the 
profession, and for a period was president of the State medical 
society; and was also first president of the Otsego County medical 
society, organized in 1806.
While he loved his profession with the ardor which those destined 
to adorn either of the learned professions must feel and cherish, he 
was also a patriot, and was alive to the prosperity and welfare of 
the republic that had risen into existence before him. In 1796 he 
was chosen senator for the western district of New York. In 1798 
he was elected a member of the council of appointment, when that 
patriot, John Jay, was governor; and in 1800, during his administration, 
was appointed first judge of the court of common pleas for Otsego 
County, of which court he had previously been a side or assistant 
judge. This station he continued to creditably and usefully fill for 
more than twenty years, and till the amendments of the State 
constitution took effect, in 1822. Through the long period of 
political change and party excitement he discharged his duties as 
judge with scrupulous integrity and fearless impartiality. He was a 
Federalist of the Washington school, and gloried in the name when 
its pure practices had ceased to be fashionable. 
His industry and economy, which he practiced to the hour of 
his death, and his extensive professional business soon placed him 
in affluent circumstances, and in 1793 he purchased a large and 
beautiful farm, which remained his residence the remainder of his 
life, and is now occupied by a daughter, widow of Jacob LIVINGSTON, 
Esq., and a granddaughter, Mrs. COX , widow of the late Abram Cox. 
Dr. White died June 2, 1832, in the seventieth years of his age, 
leaving two sons, Delos and Menzo, also celebrated physicians.

Excerpt from History of Otsego Co., NY, opposite page 124


Return to Biography Index