US GenWeb

This biography is from ANNALS of the Medical Society of the County of Albany, 1806-1851, by Sylvester D. Willard, M. D.

Michael Freligh

In order to encourage the population of Her Majesty's provinces in America, Queen Anne, who was on the throne in 1700, held out certain inducements which enticed large numbers, and among them many from Holland, to emigrate to this country, in order to avail themselves of the promised rewards, and thereby to improve their domestic comfort and prosperity. The encouragement offered by the English government was understood to have consisted in lands and implements of husbandry of every description necessary for new beginners, in a new and unsettled country. The journey was long and perilous; crossing the ocean, tedious and uncertain. Many of the emigrants arrived with exhausted means and in destitute condition, and only to suffer overwhelming disappointment in their application to the almoner of the crown. The promised inducements were not only denied to them, but an extravagant price demanded for every article that could be purchased.

With stoic firmness of purpose, these Dutch adventurers "girdled the trees, and with an uncouth hoe dug up the mucky soil, and committed to the virgin earth the first seeds whose produce was to afford them hopes of escape from threatened starvation."

Among the number who settled in Ulster county was a family of Frelighs. They brought with them strong attachments to, and professions of the protestant faith, and they held sacred the principles and practices of their forefathers.

Peter Freligh was one of these Dutch adventurers. Two of his sous, Solomon and Moses, became pious ministers in the Reformed Dutch church of the United States. A third son was Hendrick, whose eldest son George was the father of Michael Freligh, the subject of this notice. Michael was born near Rhinebeck, in Dutchess county, on the 7th of July, 1770. At an early age he commenced the study of medicine under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Anthony, and subsequently attended the lectures of Drs. Shippen and Rush, at Philadelphia. His certificate or diploma, which was all the law then required, read thus:

Omnibus has Literas Lecturis Salutem.

I do certify that Michael Freligh did commence the study of physic and surgery, together with all their several auxiliary branches, under my care on the 16th day of the 2d month, 1785. That according to our agreement he continued with me two years; during which time he not only applied himself with indefatigable industry to his studies, especially in anatomy, but also paid uncommon attention to the practice of physic and surgery, in visiting the sick, in which he manifested strong marks of a large share of ingenuity, and thereby acquired such a component knowledge of said sciences as may enable him to practice the same with encouragement and success. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand at Nine Partners, Dutchess county, on the 29th day of the 9th month, 1787.

Benjamin Anthony.
In addition to the above,
I do now certify, that the said Michael Freligh, did attend the winter past, at the city of Philadelphia, a course of Dr. William Shippen' s lectures on anatomy, surgery and midwifery, and a course of Dr. Benjamin Rush's lectures on the theory and practice of physic, and likewise the practice of the Pennsylvania hospital, and thereby perfected in some degree a more complete knowledge of those sciences. The study of which he first commenced under my auspices, 1st day of the 6th month, 1788.

Benjamin Anthony.

Freligh was a lad of fifteen when he began to study medicine, and only a youth of eighteen when he had the authority that entitled him to the dignity of doctor. It was an early period in life to assume the responsibility that pertains to the duty of the position. Dr. Freligh went to Schenectady and began the practice of his profession, and, so far as is known, with successful results. His natural abilities were far more than ordinary, and he seems to have possessed a practical good judgment. He continued not only to read, but to think for himself.

After five years he removed to the town of Watervliet where he became extensively engaged in practice, and largely won the public confidence; and his reputation extended into the adjonining towns on every side. Dr. Freligh was remarkably diligent in his attention to his patients, and generous, and faithful to the sick poor. Notwithstanding broken rest, he often rose at four in the morning in the summer, and worked in his garden. He possessed a good library and spent much time in reading. His manners were gentle, his habits genial and social, and towards young people always attractive and agreeable.

Dr. Freligh was elected a member of the legislature in 1816; another district from Albany county being filled that year by Dr. Jesse Smith. In his politics he was an earnest whig. He was a public spirited, enterprising man; greatly interested in all the prominent movements of his day. He was a firm advocate of the cause of temperance, and not only wrote, but lectured for its advancement. One of his lectures was published in 1832. It is written in a clear, vigorous style, and aimed at the consciences as well as the intellect of his hearers. No inconsiderable part of his writings in later years were in letters to his children, in which he reasoned upon various subjects, and always saw sermons in brooks, and rocks, and hills, and God in everything. A single extract may suffice for illustration. It was written at the age of eighty years in a clear, beautiful hand, on a stormy day in January, when he was confined to the house by the rain and hail, and is as follows:
"In the peach and plumb I find the perfuming flower covering and embracing a small globular body attached to the little slender stem by which it hangs suspended from the limb of the tree. It is now, and for some time continues to be soft, easily penetrated by a pin or knife; at length the fruit ripens and in its center I find a hard stone or pit, constituting one-fifth or sixth or eighth part of the whole mass, and so hard as to require a hammer to break it. Now it is evident that the stone or seed could not in its full size and hardness have passed through the little slender stem by which the fruit draws its nourishment from the tree. How then came it there? Well it is evident that it must have passed through the tube in a liquid state and become hardened after the matter was deposited in its appropriate place. But how was the juice of the fruit, and the stone taught to flow in from the tree separately, so as not to mix and destroy the fruit or the future seed? or have the fruit and the stone separate tubes set apart for the conveyance of the material adapted to the several natures of the plant? and if so, who has communicated to them this exquisite organization ? This strucure of the fruit is as uniform as the rising and setting of the sun. I have never known the stony matter to be diffused through the pulp of the fruit, nor yet the pulp occupying the place of the stone. What manner of wisdom is this among the trees!! Man neither knows nor understands the principle or the construction."

Some of these letters exhibit familiarity with ancient and modern history, with agriculture and the natural sciences, and abound in constant admiration of the beauties of nature.

Dr. Freligh was in professional life for forty-six years; retiring from its more active duties about 1832. The evening of his life was passed in his own pleasant home, surrounded by his family and friends. He survived in remarkable, intellectual and physical vigor until the 26th day of June, 1853, when he died at the age of 83 years.

Some of his lines, written only a few years before his death, are worthy of insertion in this place; but the first and last verses of a single selection must suffice. They were written for an album, and are:

Ah, what shall I, whose hairs are gray,
Whose skin is shriveled, pale with age,
And eyes bedimmed: what can I say
To grace thine album's guilded page.

* * * * * * *
Thus would I pray my God to give,
Our souls a rest from sin and strife,
That in his presence we may live,
When death is swallowed up in life.

Dr. Freligh was ardently attached to the faith and church of his fathers, in which he for many years was an elder; and the most prominent and remarkable feature of his character, was his ardent piety. He seemed to dwell in constant contemplation of the goodness, the greatness, and the majesty of God. It was his ruling passion, and every emotion of his heart, was gratitude and love to God; and his emotions kindle into awe at so august a theme! In a letter, dated November, 1849, he exclaims with Job. "Behold I am vile"; I have no confidence in the flesh; The cross of Christ is my crown; His mercy seat is my hiding place; His sufferings are the ground of my hope and rejoicing; His death the price of my life; His wounds and bruises my refuge, when the storm of God's wrath sweeps away the wicked; His love my wonder and astonishment; His intercession my strong advocacy with the Father; His righteousness my justification; His mediatorial work, my all in all for life eternal.

With a life-example in accordance with such a faith, the good old patriarch passed to his rest.

Three sons and seven daughters survive to cherish the memory and the example of a loving father, and a good man.

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

Go Back to Albany County Biographies
Go Back to Home Page