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Manasseh Cutler

minister, physician, scientist, and agent for settlement of the Northwest Territory

Manasseh Cutler

Manasseh Cutler was born in Killingly, Connecticut, on May 13, 1742. After graduating from Yale College in 1765, he moved to Dedham, Massachusetts, where he taught school for a short time. It was in Dedham that he met Mary Balch, whom he married in 1767. The newlyweds subsesquently moved to Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Manasseh briefly engaged in the whaling business. He also studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1767, but never practiced.

After failing to find what he considered a suitable profession, Cutler decided to follow in his father's footsteps and join the ministry. He subsequently returned to Dedham and studied theology under his father-in-law, Rev. Thomas Balch. He received his Masters in Theology from Harvard University in July of 1770, and was ordained by the Congregational Society at Hamilton, Massachusets, on September 11, 1771. Save for interruptions to pursue other interests, he remained with the Hamilton church until his death. During the Revolutionary War, he served as a chaplain for several units, including Colonel Francis's regiment and General Titcomb's brigade.

The Revolutionary War left Hamilton without a resident physician, so Cutler began studying medicine in 1778, and became a very skilled doctor.

Not unlike some notable figures of his day, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, Cutler had a wide variety of interests. Respected for his knowledge of botany and astronomy, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at its first meeting in January 1781, and was made a member of the Committee on Communications in Natural Philosophy and Natural History in 1783. In 1785, he published an essay titled "An Account of Some of the Vegetable Productions Naturally Growing in this Part of America, Botanically Arranged" in the first ever issue of Memoirs of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He made estimates of the elevations of the White Mountains while on a trip there in 1784, and was made a member of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia in 1785. He started a private boarding school in his home in 1782, and operated it for over 25 years.

In 1787, Cutler and ten other men organized the Ohio Company of Associates for the purpose of purchasing land in the Ohio Valley and establishing settlements there. He then led negotiations with the Continental Congress to secure land rights in the region, and is said to have been responsible for drafting the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. He made his only trip into what is now Ohio the following year, when he spent four months studying some of the ancient Native American earthworks scattered throughout the region. He is also credited with preparing the charter for Marietta College and with founding Ohio University.

Although he never practiced law, Yale College awarded an honorary Law Degree to Cutler in 1791. In 1795, President George Washington appointed him Judge of the United States Court for Ohio, but Cutler declined the position. He subsequently served in the U.S. House of Representatives (March 4, 1801 to March 3, 1805), after which he concentrated on his boarding school and various other interests.

Manasseh Cutler died in Hamilton, Massachusetts, on July 28, 1823, and is buried in that city's Main Street Cemetery.

Yale College
Revolutionary War
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Franklin
American Philosophical Society
Northwest Ordinance of 1787
President George Washington

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Revolution to Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Individual Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on May 13, 2018.