Lynne Borsos and Havilah Livingston

REL 319




Timothy Cutler and the Role of Anglicanism in the Colonies

            As the American colonies developed the religious atmosphere of the New World began to mirror many characteristics of English tensions. Puritans and Anglicans with their opposing beliefs struggled to establish predominance in the newly formed communities. Timothy Cutler greatly aided the Anglican Church’s inroads into the Puritan stronghold of New England by his conversion from the Congregational Church to the Anglican Church. Through his struggles with the Congregational Puritans and the Church of England, Cutler was instrumental in the formation of American religion.


Anglicanism in America

            Timothy Cutler played a crucial role in the growth of Anglicanism in the colonies, particularly in New England. The Church of England’s colonial history involves its establishment and also its “competition with Puritan Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and other denominations to the north.”[1] Anglicanism first arrived in the New World with the establishment of a church in Jamestown in 1607. By 1660, 35 of the 41 American parishes were in Virginia.[2] Although Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Rhode Island were somewhat receptive to Anglicanism,[3] even by the mid-eighteenth century, “None of the colonies possessed a truly strong Anglican”.[4] Anglicanism had difficulty establishing a foothold and growing because of the colonies’ distance from the mother church:

It had all the debits of the English establishment (a tendency to formalism, a susceptibility to governmental domination, and a marked talent for offending Nonconformists) without the credits (episcopal oversight, a sense of cohesion, and parish-wide popular participation). American Anglicans never did have a resident bishop during the colonial period. This lack forced ministerial candidates to sail to England for ordination, prevented proper confirmation, and weakened the church’s stance against other centers of power.[5]


In addition to the problems created by distance, the church in England was sometimes less than sympathetic to the needs of the colonists:

When, late in the seventeenth century, Anglican leaders appealed to the mother country for money with which to build a college because they, like the New Englanders, had souls to be saved, the famous remark of an impatient Lord Seymour was evoked: “Damn your souls! Make tobacco!” Money, nonetheless, was raised and the College of William and Mary was chartered in 1693.[6]


Overall, Anglicanism met many difficulties in its attempt to access the colonies.

            Thomas Bray greatly assisted Anglicanism’s fight for a foothold in the New World through church building and missionary activity. Fueled by his passion for education and missions, he founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) in 1701.[7] These organizations “strengthened the position of the Church of England during the next several decades.”[8] The SPCK subsidized over forty theological libraries in the colonies[9] while the SPG “promoted Indian mission and set up successful parishes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”[10] By 1710, there were 27 Anglican churches in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.[11] The SPG also “contributed to the philanthropic vision which led to the founding of Georgia in the early 1730’s.”[12]

            Within the American colonies, Anglicanism met the most resistance in New England.[13] Congregationalism ruled supreme in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the “settlers were predominantly English, and religious homogeneity was more nearly achieved here than anywhere else in colonial America.”[14] To Puritans, Anglicans fell under the broad umbrella of Arminian heresies. Despite this homogeneity and the establishment of Puritan ideals, New England records cite “litigation concerning unlawful assemblies, unauthorized preachers, intolerable opinions, improper promiscuity, and unthinkable tithe-evasion.”[15] Anglicanism’s first real entrance into New England was with the opening of King’s Chapel in Boston in 1689 thanks to the support of the Anglican governor, Edmund Andros. King’s Chapel is recorded as the “first Place where the Church of England Worship was exercised in New-England.”[16] Because of the SPG’s missionary activities, Connecticut built its first Anglican church in Stratford in 1724.[17] “Puritans, of course, balked at seeing themselves as fit candidates for proselytizing.”[18] Anglicanism gained prestige in 1722 with the conversion of several important clergymen, including Timothy Cutler and Samuel Johnson: “By 1736 there were 4 missionaries in the colony [CT], 6 meeting houses, and about 700 Anglican families.”[19] “A report of 1774 reckoned 1 out of every 13 citizens of Connecticut to be an Anglican.”[20]

            The Church of England, while small, was a force to be reckoned with. As long as the colonies remained under the King and Parliament, the Church of England continued to loom large, either as a threat or a haven, for many believers in America.”[21]


Timothy Cutler: From One Camp to Another

Although Timothy Cutler ended his life as an Anglican minister, he was born and baptized a Congregationalist. His parents, John and Martha, received their fifth child on May 31, 1684 in Charlestown. He attended Harvard and graduated in 1701.[22] Although he did well in school he did not seem to be particularly poplar due to a rather haughty attitude.[23] At age 21 he was admitted to the Congregational Church in Charlestown. Soon after he received an offer to pastor a church in Dartmouth, Massachusetts but turned it down because of social and political tensions involved with that particular church.[24] He did, however, accept a call to the Congregational Church in Stratford, Connecticut in 1709 to counteract a growing Anglican force there. On January 11 of the next year he was ordained and in 1711 he married Elizabeth Andrews. As evidenced from a letter to George Curwin, a friend from school, he thought married life pleasant but somewhat stressful at times. He states “I have been Entering the Dangerous Depths of Matrimony, and Since Marryage have had the usuall troubles of it, as that of the Pewking of my Spouse, care to get the Baby Clowts ready” but later he also stated that marriage is “Pure Sport” and that his wife “hath the Softest Lips in the world”.[25]

Sometime around the year 1714 he met John Checkley, an Anglican minister who held the same Jacobite tendencies as Cutler’s parents. It is probable that during this time Cutler either developed or acquired his Anglican sympathies that later led him to convert. Shipton states, “Checkley undoubtedly fanned any smoldering embers of doubt to be detected in the young parson’s mind”.[26] Another influence in the young Cutler’s thinking may have been his father’s sympathies toward Andros, the English backed Massachusetts governor. Also, through his friendship with Samuel Johnson he was introduced to Jeremiah Dummer’s extraordinary library that “included, naturally, the works of the great Anglicans as well as those of the well-know dissenters.”[27]

Cutler’s fame gradually grew and in 1719 he was asked to be the Rector of the newly named Yale, succeeding his father-in-law, Samuel Andrews, at the task. At this time he was generally well liked by most and received good reports from such men as Jonathan Edwards. After meeting him Edwards commented,

Mr. Cutler is extraordinarily courteous to us, has a very good spirit of

government, keeps the school in excellent order, seems to increase in learning, is

loved and respected by all who are under him, and when he is spoken of in the

school or town, he generally has the title of President.[28]

This praise, however, was short lived. Along with Samuel Johnson and the Drummer library he began to change the school curriculum, focusing on “the new science and philosophy better than anything Mother Harvard could afford.”[29] As time went on, rumors grew about the prevalence of Arminianism on the campus and of the Rector’s agreement to preach at the newly founded Anglican church in town.[30] Things came to a head in 1722. During the Commencement activities Cutler used the phrase “And let all the people say, Amen.”[31] The next day, September 13, with six other men, Cutler told the trustees “they doubted the validity of presbyterian ordination and were considering seeking orders in the Church of England.”[32] The devastation and betrayal that the people felt were captured in a poem written at that time:

            Oh! Now alas, alas, what’s come to pass

            In our Horizon?

            ’Tis strange for to tell, five Stars are now fell

            And a very great one.

            The famous great Rector, a fine Director,

            To prevent Schisms and Heresy:

            However was devout, is no turn’d about

            To Episcopacy.[33]

Part of the betrayal was no doubt felt because Cutler seemed to be harboring these sympathies for a while.[34] “I was never in judgment heartily with the Dissenters, but bore it patiently until a favorable opportunity offered. This has opened at Boston, and I now declare publicly what I before believed privately.”[35] Doubtfully trying to smooth things over, Governor Gurdon Saltonstall suggested a debate between Cutler and friends and the Congregationalists but the Anglicans prevailed and it was called off. The next day, October 17, Cutler was let go by the trustees of the college.

            On November 5, 1722, Cutler, Johnson, and Daniel Brown set sail for England to receive their ordination in the Anglican Church. They arrived December 15 after a difficult voyage. While in England, Brown died of smallpox and although Cutler was sick he recovered. He was ordained on March 31, 1723 at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields by Bishop Thomas Green of Norwich. He received the prestigious Sacrae Theologiae Doctor from Oxford and departed with Johnson for New England on July 26, 1723.

            Once Cutler was back in New England he began working for the new Christ Church, the second Anglican church in Boston. In this position however, his difficult streak remerged. He

[preached] a version of Anglicanism so high church in its praise of bishops and sacraments that letters soon began flying to the bishop of London from other Boston Anglicans, prophesying that Cutler would next be abandoning Anglicanism in favor of Roman Catholicism.[36]

Although Cutler did not defect again as some feared, the rest of his life was one riddled with conflict. One of his disputable actions was his advocacy for an Anglican Bishop in America. This, however, was deigned by the London authorities. Throughout the rest of his career he was faced with opposition to church growth including his own "haughty, stiff and morose"[37] nature. He did experience some growth due to the Awakening’s excesses however. He stated, “enthusiasm has had a long Run…so that many are tired of it, and if the Door were open would take Refuge in our Church from Error and Disorder.”[38] In general, however, he struggled against the Congregationalists and the growing Methodist movement. He also fought the Yale administration and local pastors over various issues. A stroke in April of 1756 caused him to relinquish many of his duties to James Greaton, his aide. He lingered for nine years to die on August 17, 1765.


            Timothy Cutler’s influence in New England gave the Anglican Church new footholds into Puritan society. The Church of England strained to form a strong establishment in America because of its distance from the colonies and because of Puritan resistance. Through Timothy Cutler’s prestige, however, the Anglican Church gained credibility that it had had difficulty achieving before in Puritan New England. His conversion opened the door to a greater level of religious toleration and diversity in America.

Timothy Cutler Timeline


1684   May 31.                  Born, Charlestown

June 1.                     Baptized in the Congregational Church

1705 September 30.          Admitted to the Congregational Church

1709 September 16.          Offered post at Stratford Congregational Church

1710 January 11.           Ordained

1710/11 March 21.           Married Elizabeth Andrew

1719 September 9.            Yale trustees approve Cutler for the position of Rector

1722                                                   Rumors of Episcopal sympathies at Yale

September 13. Cutler along with five others publicly states his Episcopal leanings

October 16. Debate between Episcopal sympathizers and Congregationalists

October 17.              Cutler let go from Rectorship of Yale

November 5.            Sails from Boston to England

            December 15.           Arrives in England

1723 March. Ordained in the Anglican Church, Cutler given the Sacre

Theologiae Doctor (D.D.)

July 26.                    Sails for New England

December 29.           Inducted at Christ Church’s first service

1725                                                     Cutler and Congregationalists become increasingly hostile

1756                                                     Cutler becomes sick

1765                                                     Cutler dies, Henry Caner preaches funeral sermon









Information from New England Life in the 18th Century, Clifford K. Shipton. Belknap Press of Harvard Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1963.









[1] Eerdmans’ Handbook to Christianity in America, Eds. Mark A. Noll et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 49.

[2] Edwin Gaustad, Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 6.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Eerdmans’, 52.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Gaustad, 7.

[7] Eerdmans’, 52.

[8] Gaustad, 7.

[9] Eerdmans’, 52.

[10] Ibid., 52.

[11] Gaustad, 8.

[12] Eerdmans’, 52.

[13] Gaustad, 9.

[14] Ibid., 1.

[15] Ibid., 1.

[16] Ibid., 9.

[17] Ibid., 9.

[18] Eerdmans’, 52.

[19] Gaustad, 9.

[20] Ibid., 9.

[21] Eerdmans’, 52.

[22] “Cutler, Timothy,” American National Biography, vol. 5, 1999, 935.

[23] Ibid.,935.

[24] Clifford Kenyon Shipton, New England Life in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1995), 80.

[25] Ibid.,82.

[26] Ibid.,82.

[27] Ibid.,83.

[28] Ibid.,84.

[29] Ibid.,85.

[30] Ibid.,85.

[31] Ibid.,86.

[32] Ibid.,86.

[33] Ibid.,86.

[34] Ibid.,86.

[35] Ibid.,86-87.

[36] “Cutler,” American National Biography, 937.

[37] Shipton, New England Life, 96.

[38] Robert W. Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1991), 52.