Above: Founders of Yale University
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SAMUEL JOHNSON (OCTOBER 14, 1696-JANUARY 6, 1772)
Congregationalist Minister, Anglican Priest, Philosopher, President of King’s College, “Father of The Episcopal Church in Connecticut,” and “Father of American Library Classification”
TIMOTHY CUTLER (MAY 31, 1684-AUGUST 17, 1765)
Congregationalist Minister, Rector of Yale College, and Anglican Priest
DANIEL BROWNE (APRIL 26, 1698-APRIL 13, 1723)
Educator, Congregationalist Minister, and Anglican Priest
JAMES WETMORE (SR.) (DECEMBER 31, 1695-MAY 15, 1760)
Congregationalist Minister and Anglican Priest
The Episcopal Church celebrates the lives of Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler on August 17. That is a logical grouping of saints, for they worked toward the goal of the establishment of the Anglican episcopate in North America. Furthermore, Johnson and Cutler were friends, and Johnson taught and mentored Chandler. However, I, for other logical reasons, have assigned a Chandler the feast day of May 17 and grouped him with two Episcopal bishops in his family tree. Furthermore, here at the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I have expanded the grouping of Johnson and Cutler to include Daniel Browne and James Wetmore (Sr.), thereby commemorating the Congregationalist ministers from New England who became Anglican priests in March 1723.
SAMUEL JOHNSON (1696-1772) I
The name “Samuel Johnson” is commonplace. A perusal of entries in old encyclopedias reveals the existence of several prominent Samuel Johnsons over time and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. One might think first of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the great English poet, lexicographer, and essayist who noted in 1775 that
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,
thereby condemning false patriotism. One might also think also of the Reverend Samuel Johnson (1822-1882), an American Transcendentalist, minister, and hymnodist who found the American Unitarian Association (1825-1961) too theologically rigid. (He would fit in well in the Unitarian Universalist Association today.) Or one might recall other noteworthy Samuel Johnsons, such as Dr. Samuel William Johnson (1830-1909), a prominent American chemist. The Samuel Johnson I add to the Ecumenical Calendar today is the American clergyman and educational pioneer, however.
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Samuel Johnson, born on October 14, 1696, was a native of Guilford, Connecticut. His parents were Samuel Johnson (1670-1726), a fuller and a Congregationalist deacon, and Mary Sage Johnson (1672-1726). The couple had twelve children, at least five of whom lived to adulthood. Our saint was the third of their children. William Johnson (1630-1702), also a Congregationalist deacon, was our saint’s grandfather. The grandfather taught the grandson how to read English and Hebrew and guided him in committing the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and other portions of scripture to memory. All this happened through Johnson’s sixth year of life. The elder Samuel Johnson sought properly challenging educational opportunities for his bookish son. Some of them proved more helpful than others. Finally, at age 14, our saint, having mastered both Latin and Greek and having proved to be too much for some teachers, began his studies at the relatively new Collegiate School at Saybrook (founded in 1701), which became Yale College then Yale University. He graduated four years (in 1714) later with his A.M. degree, having commenced work as a teacher at the grammar school in Guilford in 1713.
Johnson was quite a scholarly young man. He did, for example, complete the Revised Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1716), unpublished. Then he became a Yale tutor during a time of schism in the college. From 1716 to 1718 Johnson was the only faculty member and administrator at New Haven, Connecticut, teaching fifteen students and laboring with the assistance of a minister. Our saint was also cataloging the 800 books colonial agent Jeremiah Dummer (1681-1739) had donated to the college library in 1714. This process continued until 1719. These volumes included works by Enlightenment figures such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), John Locke (1632-1704), and Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Such material was, according to the dominant Puritan orthodoxy of the college, forbidden, corrupting, and faith-destroying. The process of cataloging the books expanded Johnson’s mind, and he, without permission, introduced the forbidden knowledge into the curriculum at New Haven.
DANIEL BROWNE (1698-1723) I
In 1618 Daniel Browne became the second tutor at New Haven, joining Johnson on the faculty. He, born at New Haven on April 26, 1698, had been a classmate of Johnson, graduating at the age of 16 1/2 in 1715. Next Browne had worked as the assistant to Samuel Hopkins, the Rector of the Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, for a year, then as Hopkins’s successor for two years. Browne worked as a tutor at New Haven for four years.
The Yale schism ended in 1719, with Johnson become the sacrificial victim. Did he resign or did his superiors fire him? It was a distinction without a difference. Timothy Cutler became the new college rector, with Browne as the only other faculty member. Johnson, ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1720, remained in the immediate vicinity, serving at West Haven. Cutler, his friend, permitted him to design the college curriculum.
A vital aspect of the context of the Yale-related content in this post is that the intention of Yale’s founders in 1701 was to establish an educational institution which would be a conservative alternative–a bastion of Puritan orthodoxy–in contrast to Harvard College, which many New England Puritans considered to be too liberal. Yet Yale began to liberalize before the end of its second decade of existence.
TIMOTHY CUTLER (1684-1765) I
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Timothy Cutler, born at Charlestown, Massachusetts, on May 31, 1684, was a son of John Cutler (1650-1708) and Martha Wiswall Cutler (b. 1645). The family had Jacobite sympathies. Our saint, baptized in 1684, graduated from Harvard College in 1701, at the age of 17 years. Four years later he joined the Congregational Church at Charlestown. Shortly thereafter the Congregational Church at Dartmouth, Massachusetts, invited him to become their minister, but he declined, citing parish dynamics. In 1709, however, he accepted an offer to become the minister at Stratford, Connecticut; he was especially interested in combating the Anglican presence in the community. The following year Cutler married Elizabeth Andrew (1690-1771), daughter of the Reverend Samuel Andrew, the Acting Rector of the Collegiate School at Saybrook. Our saint and his wife had seven children from 1711 to 1724; five of them lived to adulthood.
Circa 1720 seven respected Congregationalist ministers formed a group to study the early church. They were:
- Timothy Cutler;
- Samuel Johnson;
- Daniel Browne;
- Jared Eliot (1685-1763), minister at Killingworth and one of Johnson’s former teachers;
- John Hart (1682-1732), minister at East Guilford;
- Samuel Whittesley (1686-1752), minister at Wallingsford; and
- James Wetmore (Sr.) (1695-1760).
JAMES WETMORE (SR.) (1695-1760) I
James Wetmore (Sr.), born on December 31, 1695, was a son of the Reverend Izrahiah Wetmore (Sr.) (1656-1743) and Rachel Stow Wetmore (1666-1722), of Middletown, Connecticut. Our saint, the third of nine children, at least seven of which lived to adulthood, came from a civic-minded family. His father was not only a minister but a magistrate and a deputy of the General Court. Wetmore, a classmate of Johnson at Yale, graduated from the college with his A.B. degree in 1714 and his A.M. degree three years later. This saint became a Congregationalist minister in 1718 and served at North Haven, Connecticut, for four years. Also in 1718 he married Anne Dwight (1697-1771). They had six children from 1727 to 1737.
THE “GREAT APOSTASY,” SEPTEMBER 13, 1722
On September 13, 1722, the seven ministers presented the conclusion of their study of the early church in writing to the Trustees of Yale College. Some of these clergymen were certain of the invalidity of their orders and others merely harbored doubts due to the lack of “visible communion with an Episcopal Church.” This, the “Great Apostasy” at Yale College, founded as a bulwark of Puritan orthodoxy in contrast to the relatively liberal Harvard College, proved controversial in New England. Three of the ministers recanted under pressure, but Johnson, Cutler, Browne, and Wetmore (Sr.) lost their positions. By the end of the year they departed for England, where in March 1723, they became priests of the The Church of England.
DANIEL BROWNE (1698-1723) II
Browne, a bachelor, died of smallpox in London on April 13, 1723. He was 24 years old. In 1765, the Reverend Ezra Stiles (1722-1795), the President of Yale College from 1778 to 1795, wrote of Browne:
He was a gentleman of the most superior sense and learning of the four.
TIMOTHY CUTLER (1684-1765) II
Wetmore (Sr.), Cutler, and Johnson remained in England for much of the year. Johnson and Cutler received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The three men returned to North America under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG).
Cutler went to Boston, Massachusetts, where, at the end of 1723, he held the first service at Christ Church, or Old North Church, of Midnight Ride of Paul Revere fame. He served as the rector of the parish for the reset of his life. He also founded other congregations, advocated for the advocacy of the Anglican episcopate in North America, criticized revivalism, founded an Anglican library in Boston, and resisted the Puritan theocracy in New England. In April 1756 Cutler suffered a stroke. The assistant priest assumed many of his duties. Our saint died at Boston on August 17, 1765, aged 81 years.
JAMES WETMORE (SR.) (1695-1760) II
Wetmore became the Rector of Grace Church, Rye, New York, in 1726. He served there for the rest of his life, dying on May 15, 1760.
A son, James Wetmore (Jr.), seems to have been a Loyalist, for he, born at Rye in 1727, died in Kings County, New Brunswick, in 1798.
Grace Church, Rye, became Christ’s Church, Rye, in 1795.
SAMUEL JOHNSON (1696-1772) II
Johnson returned to Connecticut. He founded Christ Church, Stratford, the first parish in the colony. By 1752 he had founded 24 more congregations, becoming the “Father of The Episcopal Church in Connecticut.” He was an ardent controversialist, engaging in written conflict with Puritans via pamphlets, starting in 1733. Johnson, like Cutler, resisted the Puritan theocracy in New England, argued against revivalism and the (First) Great Awakening, and lobbied for the establishment of the Anglican episcopate in North America. The last matter was controversial, for many Congregationalists and Presbyterians considered it contrary to scripture and politically perilous, and many Southern Anglicans enjoyed their relative independence.
Johnson married twice and became a widower as many times. His first wife was Charity Nicoll (1692-1758), a widow. Thus our saint became a stepfather on September 26, 1725. He raised William Nicoll (1715-1780) and Benjamin Nicoll (1718-1760) as if they were his own sons. Charity and our saint had two sons, William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819) and William Johnson (1730-1760). The younger son died of smallpox in England. William Samuel Johnson opposed the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Duty Act (1767) actively and served as the colonial agent for Connecticut from 1767 to 1771. He became convinced that the U.S. War for Independence was both unnecessary and unwise yet made his peace with the result of the conflict. He served in the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1787, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), presided over the drafting of the document, signed the Constitution, served as President of Columbia College, New York, from 1787 to 1800, and was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut from 1789 to 1791. His wife (from 1749) was Elizabeth Ann Beach (1729-1796), daughter of William Beach (1694-1751), a businessman of Stratford, and his wife, Sarah Hull Beach (1701-1763). Charity died on June 1, 1758.
Johnson’s second wife (from 1761) was Sarah Hull Beach (1701-1763), who died of smallpox on February 9, 1763.
Johnson continued to be an educator. He opened a school at Stratford in 1723. For decades he also operated a home-based seminary for students at Yale, educating and training 63 priests. He also developed a system of classifying library books, hence his title, “Father of American Library Classification.” In the early 1700s our saint redefined the curriculum at Yale College again, for it had reverted to an earlier state after the “Great Apostasy” of 1722. In 1729-1731 Joseph Berkeley (1685-1753), later the Bishop of Cloyne, visited New England. Johnson met him then and convinced him to donate land, money, and books to Yale College. Our saint also became enamored of Berkeley’s philosophy, immaterialism. The two men corresponded for decades. Johnson, who received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University in 1743, wrote and revised his textbook of moral philosophy several times. The basis of his philosophy was the pursuit of happiness rooted in realism with regard to how things are.
Johnson, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the leaders Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York, and others spent years discussing details of founding a “new model” college. There would be no religious test for admission. Instruction would be in English, not Latin. The study of theology would be optional, but the study of moral philosophy would be mandatory. There would be a focus on professional preparation, and the curriculum would include the new discipline of English literature. The result of these conversations was King’s College, later Columbia College then Columbia University, New York. Some Presbyterians in the colonial government of New York tried to prevent the chartering of the college, labeling it an insidious Anglican plot. The royal charter came through in 1754, however. Johnson served as a professor and the first president, retiring in 1763, after the death of his second wife.
Johnson’s retirement (1732-1772) was active. He returned to the office of Rector of Christ Church, Stratford, and performed his duties faithfully. He also reopened his home-based seminary for students at Yale College. Our saint also taught his grandsons William and Charles to read English and Latin, as his grandfather had instructed him. Johnson wrote the first American grammars of the English and Hebrew languages and dedicated them to his grandsons.
Johnson’s accomplishments caught the attention of his English contemporary, Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the essayist, poet, and lexicographer, who was a friend of William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819).
Samuel Johnson, the American, died on January 6, 1772, the Feast of the Epiphany. He was 75 years old.
I realize, O reader, that I have asked you to follow some proverbial bouncing balls, but that is simply the nature of the material. The legacies of Johnson, Cutler, and Wetmore are obvious. That of Browne, however, is incomplete, due to circumstances beyond his control. If he had lived he would have done much for the glory of God and the expansion of The Church of England.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 3, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE-LEONIE PARADIS, FOUNDER OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITING, HYMN WRITER
God of history, science, art, philosophy, and majesty, we thank you for the faithful quests of
Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, Daniel Browne, and James Wetmore (Sr.),
whose intellectual inquisitiveness and fidelity to you led them to pursue Anglican Holy Orders.
May we never fear new knowledge.
May we seek the truths of you wherever we can find them
then pursue paths consistent with them,
for your glory and benefit of your people;
in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
–Kenneth Randolph Taylor, May 3, 2016 Common Era
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24:1-8
1 Peter 2:1-10
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 531