Timothy Cutler

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Timothy Cutler
The Reverend Timothy Cutler, of Christ Church, Boston extraction.jpg
Portrait of Cutler, 1750 by Peter Pelham
3rd Rector of Yale University
In office
Preceded bySamuel Andrew
Succeeded byElisha Williams
Personal details
Born(1684-05-31)May 31, 1684
Charlestown, Massachusetts
DiedAugust 17, 1765(1765-08-17) (aged 81)
Boston, Massachusetts

Timothy Cutler (May 31, 1684 – August 17, 1765) was an American Episcopal clergyman and rector of Yale College.

Family background[edit]

Cutler was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a descendant of Robert Cutler who settled there prior to October 28, 1636. His father was Major John Cutler, an anchorsmith, and his mother, Martha Wiswall. Both his father and grandfather opposed the government formed after the overthrow of Edmund Andros, an early colonial governor in North America, and head of the short-lived Dominion of New England in 1689. Although severely penalized, they refused to subscribe to the government until it had received royal sanction. His ancestors' tendency to conform to the established order suggests a reason for Timothy's subsequent conversion to the Church of England.

Early life[edit]

When seventeen years old, Cutler graduated from Harvard College, and on January 11, 1709/10, having come from Massachusetts to Connecticut with the recommendation of being "one of the best preachers both colonies afforded", he was ordained pastor of the Congregational church in Stratford.

On March 21, 1710/11, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. Samuel Andrew of Milford, Connecticut, then acting rector of Yale College. Cutler served his parish acceptably until March 1718/19 when, conditions at Yale College calling imperatively for a resident rector, he undertook that office at the request of the trustees, his appointment being formally approved in September. Although his father-in-law was doubtless instrumental in securing his appointment, Cutler was in general well-fitted for the position, being "an excellent Linguist", a "good Logician, Geographer, and Rhetorician", while "in the Philosophy & Metaphysics & Ethics of his Day or juvenile Education he was great. . . . He was of an high, lofty, & despotic mien. He made a grand figure as the Head of a College".[1] Cutler continued to teach the Enlightenment Curriculum first instituted by Tutor Samuel Johnson in 1716, with courses on algebra, calculus, and moral philosophy.

The new rectorship "opened auspiciously and an era of prosperity seemed at hand when, on September 13, 1722, the rector, with Tutor Daniel Browne and several Congregational clergymen, met with the trustees, declared themselves doubtful of the validity of their ordination, and asked advice with regard to entering the Church of England." [2] Upon request they made a written statement of their position, and the meeting was adjourned for a month. In the meantime Governor Saltonstall arranged a public debate on the matter, held October 16, as a result of which, on the following day, at a special meeting of the trustees, it was voted to "excuse the Rev. Mr. Cutler from all further services as Rector of Yale College", and it was provided that all future rectors and tutors should declare to the trustees their assent to the Saybrook Confession of Faith, and give satisfaction as to their opposition to "Arminian and prelatical corruptions." They returned Yale to its previous orthodoxy, what the former Yale Tutor, the American Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1770 described as "the scholastic cobwebs of a few little English and Dutch systems that would hardly now be taken up in the street.”[3]

Several nineteenth century Harvard and Yale commentators, citing Cutler's Puritan opponents, suggest that Cutler was never wholeheartedly a Dissenter, that he had been converted to Episcopalianism when at Stratford by John Checkley, and that in spite of this fact had accepted the rectorship of a Congregational college, publicly declaring what he had privately believed only when a desirable place in the Established Church was assured him.[4][5][6] With the 1929 publication of American Dr. Samuel Johnson's Autobiography,[7] we find that Cutler, Yale Tutor Daniel Brown, and seven other local clergy formed a study group in 1719. Assigning Johnson to translate, and meeting in secret at each other's homes, they carefully studied the source texts in Yale's library in the original languages over a three-year period. They only reluctantly decided that their Presbyterian ordination was questionable, and that an Episcopal ordination was to be preferred. Despite great pressure from Governor Saltenstall, their family, friends and the Puritan community (so fierce, that five of the nine recanted), Cutler, along with three others, determined to become ministers of the Church of England.

Later life[edit]

During a yearlong visit to London, Cutler was ordained by the Bishop of Norwich in March 1723. He also received the degree of D.D. from both Oxford University and Cambridge University—the first American-born clergyman to receive a Doctorate. Cutler became rector of the newly formed Christ Church, Boston, where he served until his death. Cutler became one of the leading Episcopal clergymen of New England, venerated for his learning, but perhaps too haughty in manner to be popular. He founded the church at Dedham and took care of Christ Church, Braintree.

Puritans, however, dominated Boston. Massachusetts leaned toward a theocracy under Cotton Mather, who defended the conviction of witches on spectral evidence, and Harvard taught a pre-Enlightenment curriculum over 100 years old. While Cutler was away on his ordination trip, Boston's elite had jailed printer James Franklin of the New England Currant for political attacks, and fined his publisher John Checkley for printing Episcopal books.[8] As the leading Anglican in Massachusetts, Cutler defended the rights of his fellow believers, standing against the Church, State, College theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He pushed for the emancipation of his church members from the church tax imposed by the Puritan theocracy. He started a library of Anglican books in his church. With Rev. Samuel Myles of King's Chapel he laid claim to a seat on the Board of Overseers of Harvard, as a minister of the Episcopal Church in Boston, maintaining that he was a "teaching elder" as required by the college charter. Unsurprisingly, both the Overseers and General Court decided against him.[9] Cutler urged a bishop be appointed for the American colonies. He published four sermons, two preached before the Connecticut General Assembly (on May 9, 1717, and Oct. 18, 1719) - a singular honor in the Standing Order of the Puritan Connecticut government - and two while he was Rector of Christ Church, Boston.[10]


Cutler is honored together with Samuel Johnson and Thomas Bradbury Chandler with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on August 17.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 1901, II, 339-40.
  2. ^ William Howard Wilcoxson, History of Stratford, Connecticut, 1639-1939, 1939, p. 186.
  3. ^ Samuel Johnson, Samuel Johnson, President of King's College; His Career and Writings, editors Herbert and Carol Schneider, 1929, Volume 1, p. 6.
  4. ^ Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ser. 2, IV, 299.
  5. ^ Josiah Quincy, History of Harvard University, 1840, I, 365.
  6. ^ F. B. Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, with Annals of the College History, vol. I, 1885, p. 271.
  7. ^ Samuel Johnson, Samuel Johnson, President of King's College; His Career and Writings, editors Herbert and Carol Schneider, 1929, Volume 1, pp. 10-21.
  8. ^ Edmund Farwell Slafter, John Checkley, Or, The Evolution of Religious Tolerance in Massachusetts Bay, 1897, Volume 1, pp. 1-116.
  9. ^ Quincy, supra, pp. 365-76.
  10. ^ Harris Elwood Starr.
  • "Timothy Cutler", in Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

Further reading[edit]

  • William S. Perry, Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church (1870) and John Nichols, Illustrations of the Lit. History of the Eighteenth Century (1822) contain Cutler letters
  • Henry W. Foote, Annals of King's Chapel (1882–96) is rich in references
  • Nahum S. Cutler, A Cutler Memorial and Geneal. History (1889)
  • Richard Frothingham, History of Charlestown, Mass., no. 5 (1847)
  • Edwin Oviatt, The Beginnings of Yale (1916)
  • Samuel Orcutt, History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, Conn. (1886)
  • Justin Winsor, Memorial History of Boston, vol. II (1881)
  • E. E. Beardsley, History of the Episc. Church in Connecticut (1866)
  • William S. Perry, History of the American Episc. Church (1885)
  • William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. V (1859)
  • Henry Burroughs, An Historical Account of Christ Church, Boston (1874)
  • Asa Eaton, Historical Account of Christ Church, Boston (1824)
Academic offices
Preceded by
Samuel Andrew, as Rector of the Collegiate School, pro tempore
Rector of Yale College
Succeeded by
Elisha Williams