359 Timothy Cutler to Bishop of London

    Boston Oct. 10, 1728.

    My Lord,

    We found our claims on that act of our General Court bearing date the 8th of the VIIth month 1642 referred to in the first Charter of the College bearing date May 22, 1650 that Charter on which the College now subsists: both which instruments were enclosed in the aforesaid Packet. In the said Act of 1642 the Teaching elders of six next adjoining towns (that is to say Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston &c.) are constituted overseers.

    The Term of teaching elders though mostly in use among the Independents is not appropriated to them by themselves and in the case now before your Lordship for

    (1) The most celebrated histories of New England do imply that the terms Teaching Elders and Ministers are convertible. For instance Dr. Cotton Mather in his Magnalia Christi Americana Book IV page 127 says that with the Charter there are powers reserved unto The Governour Deputy Governour and all the Magistrates of the Colony and the Ministers of the six next towns for the time being to act as overseers or visitors of the Society of Harvard College. Also Mr. Neal who for his History of New England was by Harvard College complimented with the Degree of Master of Arts in 1st vol. page 182 of that History speaking of the state of that College uses the term Minister as equivalent to that of Teaching Elders.

    (2). The Anabaptist Teacher242 of this Town has frequently been asked and sat at the Board of Overseers though I do not understand that the term of teaching Elder has been used by that sect.

    3. The whole body of Overseers have been wont till of late to acknowledge the Episcopal Clergy of this Town as Teaching Elders and Overseers: For the Reverend Mr. Myles and the Reverend Mr. Harris have been frequently cited and the latter has frequently sat at that Board nemine contradicente and I myself was once cited upon my first coming into this town though personal business hindered my attendance. The equity of the thing also highly pleads for us since the King defrays the charges of this college by a Tax levied on all the inhabitants of the Province without distinction for the late building of a Presidents house, and another for the reception of students and for the Presidents Annual Salary, besides other public benefactions of the Country to it,

    For instance of Charlestown Ferry which the College Rents at near £200 per annum.

    My Lord

    I presume that the zeal of the Dissenting Ministers for our exclusion is one argument of the advantage the Church may gain by our sitting among them.

    I also beg leave to hint the nature of the Overseers power which is to give or deny sanction to whatever is transacted by the Corporation of the College so that they may allow or disallow the Government of the College to persons ever so much affected or averse to the Church, that they can pass or refuse acts to its service or prejudice as they please, that the dernier resort for justice is to the Board of Overseers whereat a Church man’s son hath but a poor chance as the case now stands. I add that the Church has always suffered by this power used in Dissenting hands for any good motions of the students towards the Church of England, any inclination to an impartial enquiry have been curbed as much as possible.

    [2] I am credibly informed that in the year 1723 Judge Sewal the President of the Council with five or six more of the Councillors and the Teachers of Boston went to Cambridge to visit the College and enquired what books the students read and forbad the reading of Dr. Sherlock, Stillingfleet, Tillotson, Scot &c. And may it please your Lordship it is probable a few Episcopal Clergymen would be some check to any designs against the Church or any members of it.

    When Mr. Harris sat at that Board he helped much to screen the late President Mr. Leverett from the ill will of those who suspected him too friendly to the Church of England, and that worthy gentleman would take care to have him present as often as might be.

    If the zeal of the Dissenting Teachers would not, yet it is likely that the zeal of the Dissenting Councillors would cool in the presence of the Episcopal Clergy for those gentlemen grow more and more thankful of a change of times with us. And my Lord the Church is very much increasing, no doubt in time we shall have more Churches and Ministers in this and some in all the neighbouring towns and shall carry fair for a majority to manage the business of that important society.

    I shall not insist upon it that the Overseers of Harvard College may borrow any books out of your public Library and shall omit the mention of some inferior advantages.

    My Lord I hope this account will be to your satisfaction and that justice will be done to the Church by your means. I have not engaged in this affair from a spirit of contention nor from any selfish ends, and I should take infinitely more pleasure in the calm retirement of my Parochial affairs to which I am sure my abilities are very unequal, did not my con science herein call me forth. But being lately received into the Church I would not live and dye in the ungrateful neglect of any of her interests could I be in the least degree instrumental in the asserting of them. What ever the event of this case may be, I hope your Lordship will candidly accept my will and my zeal and bestow your blessing on him who with great veneration is

    My Lord Your most dutiful Son and most humble Servant

    Timothy Cutler.

    My Lord

    Since the dispatch of that Letter to your Lordship whereof this is a duplicate Mr. Green tells me your Lordship observes that the Episcopal Clergy claim a right of sitting at the Board of Overseers as Teaching Elders a title which they never assume. I know your Lordship has no scruple that we are in a true and literal sense such persons the Bishops of the Church being the only Ruling Elders of it. The same thing is asserted by Bishop [Belson?] in his perpetual Government of Christs Church p. 145, 159, by Mat. Sutlif243 De Presbyteris ejusque nova in Ecclesia Politica, p. 72, Authors prior to the settlement of New England.

    I would therefore only add That the title of Teaching Elders has been lay’d aside here for many (I know not for how many) years as appears by the Titles they take to themselves in any Books they print where they call themselves only Ministers of the Gospel, or Pastors, or Teachers and that in many Congregations of this Form they never had Ruling Elders to which the Terms of Teaching Elders in their appropriated sence are in contradisti[n]ction, nor do all the Teachers of this Form nor many in this country maintain at this time the office of Ruling Elders.

    I beg your Lordships Pardon for this increase of trouble from

    Your Lordships

    Most obedient humble Servant

    Timothy Cutler

    Corporation Papers. This is a nineteenth-century copy taken from the Fulham Archives. Edmund Gibson was Bishop of London at this time. Copies of subsequent letters and petitions are not printed here, since they appear in William S. Perry, ed., Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church, vol. III, Massachusetts (1873).