By Jonathan M. Chu, PhD
“And let all the People say, Amen.” Timothy Cutler was well aware of gravity of language and the consequences of his words when he concluded the closing prayer for the 1722 Yale commencement. Two decades earlier, Yale had been founded to correct the theological libralism that had infected Harvard. In the interim, the institution had faced challenges: finding a site, disagreements among faculty and students, and especially meager finances. Indeed, Yale agreed to name itself after a wealthy British East India Company merchant, Elihu Yale, in exchange for a promised donation he never made. In any event, Cutler was appointed Rector in 1719 to restore orthodoxy and intellectual rigor to Yale.
Cutler came highly recommended: he was the fifth child of one of the wealthiest man in Charlestown in 1684, graduated from Harvard in 1701—his master’s thesis awarded six months later disputed the proposition that the scientific method challenged God’s existence—settled in the Stafford, Connecticut church with a substantial salary, and married the daughter of Yale’s acting rector. In 1718, responding to Cutler’s father-in-law’s recommendation that he be appointed Yale’s permanent rector, the Connecticut Assembly found him “a person of whose qualifications that they could not but think him very proper.” Young Ezra Stiles noted Cutler’s excellence in languages, his Arabic was the best in New England, his Latin, spoken with “Fluency & Dignity & and with great Propriety of Pronunciation,” and in “philosophy & metaphysics & ethics,” he was great while he read extensively in “academic sciences, Divinity, & ecclesiastical history.” Jonathan Edwards, his former student, added that he was also “loved and respected by all who are under him.”
Cutler’s public announcement of his conversion was bad enough, but he also had “poison’d one of the two tutors with his principles” creating the Yale Apostasy. Called to the library by the trustees, Cutler, two tutors, and six other ministers publically questioned the validity of their ordination and confirmed their conversion to Anglicanism; Cutler and tutors Samuel Johnson and David Brown also announced that they planned to depart for England to take Anglican orders. Then, a group of Boston Anglicans let Cutler know that they would underwrite his trip to London if he would become the rector of a new church they wanted to build in the North End. English Anglicans lionized Cutler: Oxford awarded him a doctorate in sacred theology, a first for a Harvard graduate. Within a month of his arrival, he was ordained by the Bishop of Norwich, licensed to preach by the Bishop of London, and, by the fall of 1723, had returned to Boston to assume the pulpit of Old North.
Cutler’s success rested less upon his brilliance and an orthodox faith in Anglicanism than on the growing religious diversity that took place during the eighteenth century throughout the British empire and the recognition of the Church of England as a large tent, as the administrator of the nation’s Christian, most especially Protestant beliefs. By the eighteenth century, the seemingly singular assumptions of puritan faith—perhaps never as unitary or cohesive in New England as our school books would like us to believe—had dissipated, fractured by internal disputes and theological contradictions and diluted by time, immigration, and the consequences of the seventeenth-century religious controversies in the transatlantic world. Debates over the discernment of grace and salvation, baptism, transubstantiation, and even singing in church split towns into separate communities of faith. Patterns of immigration added regional distinctions: immigrants from different parts of England thrown together in Massachusetts, for example, reflected cultural differences so distinctive as to be seen by contemporaries as impermeable, as akin to racial distinctions. Late seventeenth-century immigrants, drawn to Boston as imperial officials or for economic opportunity shared little with its puritan traditions while carrying the advantages of political and economic access to London and Parliament, relationships reinforced by connections to the Church of England.
While the Anglicans marked the emergence of a new religious interest, Cutler and Old North represented continued divisions as well. Old North was the second Anglican church in Boston; the first, King’s Chapel, had been founded in 1684 with the arrival of the first significant wave of imperial bureaucrats. Its rectors, mindful of the established Congregational churches, were deliberately low church, doubtless sustaining the conceptual fig leaf that the former puritans had been dissenters who remained within the national church and appealing to them to return to the episcopal fold. Henry Harris, King’s Chapel’s assistant rector objected to Cutler and the division Old North posed to his congregation, indeed charging him with the most grievous of heresies, of adhering to “Popish Principles.”
Claiming that Old North appealed to Anglicans geographically too remote from King’s Chapel, Cutler reported that the first services were “very much crowded with hearers, and the prayers of the Church were performed in a very regular manner.” Although he claimed four hundred people attended the first service and that by 1727 he had audiences of seven or eight hundred, he reported to the Society of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) that the membership of the parish consisted of fifty to eighty families and that he administered the Eucharist to forty people monthly.
Cutler served at Old North until suffering a stroke in 1756 and died in August 1765. His brilliance and family probably made compromise with Congregationalism and low church Anglicans difficult. He was, one parishioner noted “haughty and overbearing in his manners, and to a stranger, in the pulpit appeared as a man fraught with pride.” But in the rich intellectual and social environment of colonial Boston, Cutler, and by extension, Old North Church, found space for the freedom to follow their conscience and to establish new faith traditions.
Jonathan M. Chu is professor of early American history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Born in Honolulu, Chu attended the Punahou School, received his BA in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania and his MA and PhD in History from the Universities of Hawai’i and Washington respectively. He is the author of Neighbors, Friends, and Madmen, a study of the Puritan treatment of Quaker dissent, Stumbling toward the Constitution, a study of the economic consequences of the American Revolution, and numerous articles on subjects ranging from drinking in the United States Senate and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chu has also done extensive work with K-12 teachers. A participant in numerous Teaching American History grants, he has worked closely with the College Board and the Educational Testing Service on the Advanced Placement Program in American history. He is currently the Chief Reader of Advanced Placement United States History, which makes him responsible for the annual administration of the scoring of over 450,000 AP exams. A fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and a member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Chu also is a member of the board of the Old North Foundation.
 Clifford Shipton, ed., Sibley’s Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College in the Classes 1701-1712 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1937), 5:47, 49-50.
 Benjamin Coleman to Robert Woodbridge, Boston, November 21, 1722, “Some Unpublished Letters of Benjamin Coleman, 1707-1725, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 77 (1905):129.
 Peter W. Walker, “The Bishop Controversy, the Imperial Crisis, and Religious Radicalism in New England, 1763-1774,” The New England Quarterly (forthcoming).
 Henry Harris to the Bishop of London, June 22, 1724, Annals of King’s Chapel, ed. Henry Wilder Foote, 1:530-31.
 Queries to be Answered by Every Minister, n.d. and Cutler to the SPG, October 10, 1727, Hist. Coll. Of the American Church, 3:147, 228.
 John Eliot quoted in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, 5:66