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