August 17: Samuel Johnson, 1772, Timothy Cutler, 1765, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler, 1790, Priests

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About this commemoration


Born in Connecticut in 1696, and ordained a Congregational minister in 1719, Samuel Johnson as a young man had already developed serious doubts about the Congregationalist way of life. He had come to believe that the true connection to the faith of the primitive church was found in episcopal orders and in apostolic succession. He viewed the ordered liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer and Anglican polity as the proper alternative to the rampant dissent and local power struggles of the Congregationalist culture in which he lived and worked.

It was shortly after his ordination that he and others sympathetic to his cause began to meet and discuss the Anglican alternative. Among those gathered with Johnson was Harvard graduate Timothy Cutler, who was rector of Yale College. In September of 1722, the “Yale Apostates” confronted the trustees of Yale College and announced their intention to shift their allegiance to the Church of England.

In December of that year, Johnson, Cutler, and their friend Daniel Browne reached England, and in March they were ordained to the Anglican priesthood by the Bishop of Norwich.

Returning to New England as a missionary for the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), Johnson became the rector of the first Episcopal congregation in the colonies, in Stratford, Connecticut, where he served until he became the first President of Columbia University (then King’s College) in New York. Cutler, after doctoral studies at Oxford and Cambridge, served as rector of Christ Church, Boston, where he tirelessly advocated for the appointment of an Anglican Bishop in the colonies.

Johnson’s pupil, Thomas Bradbury Chandler, also an ardent advocate for both the Anglican way and for the presence of bishops in the colonies, continued the work. Chandler, the father-in-law of Bishop John Henry Hobart, served for 43 years as the rector of St. John’s, Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, and was himself appointed the first bishop in the Americas, in Nova Scotia, but was unable to accept the appointment due to illness.

Collect of the Day

God of your pilgrim people, you called Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, and Thomas Chandler to leave their spiritual home and embrace the Anglican way: We give you thanks for their devoted service in building up your Church and shepherding your flock in colonial times; and we pray that, like them, we may follow where your Spirit leads and be ever eager to feed the hearts and minds of those entrusted to our care, in the Name of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24:1–8

1 Peter 2:1–10

Matthew 16:13–20

Psalm 32:8–12

Preface of Advent

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

16 thoughts on “August 17: Samuel Johnson, 1772, Timothy Cutler, 1765, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler, 1790, Priests

  1. The painting is not “our” Samuel Johnson, but rather the famous English lexicographer.

    In the bio as published, there is an error in the line about :”rector of the first Episcopal congregation in the colonies, in Stratford, Connecticut.” The parish in Stratford was founded in 1707. It is the first Episcopal congregation in Connecticut, but not in the colonies. The easiest fix would be to remove “the colonies, in Straford,” or say “the colony of Connecticut.” There are at least three parishes in New York that predate the Stratford foundation.

  2. Did the bio author mean to say that Johnson’s church in Stratford, CT, became the first Anglican (Episcopal Church was in the future) congregation in the NEW ENGLAND colonies? It was scarcely the first Anglican congregation “in the colonies.”

  3. The Yale Apostates are a wonderful addition. As a graduatre of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale these couragous men have always have a place in my heart. The propers seem fine. Johnson is in the famous picture of Seabury’s consecration, and Cutler was, of course, the most prominent at the time as Rector of Yale College, The previous comments about Chist Church, Stratford, are correct. and need to be corrected. It is, indeed, the oldest parish in Connecticut , but was founded out of Westchester County, Col. Heathcotte, Baron of Scaresdale, is reported to have hled the sherrif of Fairfield County at bay with his pistols, while the priest led the “illegal” Anglican worship in Stratford.

  4. Collect: The Rite I and Rite II collects begin differently: ‘God of a pilgrim people’ vs. ‘God of your pilgrim people.’ Why is that? And the phrase ‘to leave their spiritual home and embrace the Anglican way’ seems a bit triumphant, don’t you think. But it is quite a strong collect nonetheless.

    Readings: A nice set

    Bio; These gentlemen need ‘who they are’ and ‘why they are important’ statements.
    2nd paragraph: Harvard grad Timothy Cutler was born when?
    3rd paragraph: The first sentence is over 50 words long. And of course, Columbia University is in New York City.
    4th paragraph: Bishop Chandler was born when?
    All three would benefit from a short sentence: “He died in ….”
    Just an observation: unlike other ‘grouped’ persons for a commemoration, this bio does not treat each individual separately (except for Bishop Chandler). Johnson’s and Cutler’s bios are woven together. Is this a good idea? Is it the same style as other ‘grouped’ bios in HWHM?

  5. From other comments I can see these men have a place in the “lore” or “ancestry” of Connecticut, Yale, and various places. Lacking that sense of existing connection, when I heard the commemoration included at Noonday Prayer I wondered why they were included other than (a) they left “them” and joined “us”, and (b) they did what people in those positions were supposed to do.

    When it mentioned “rector of the first Episcopal congregation in the colonies, in Stratford” I wondered if “rector” of a parish were a possibility in a colony before we were “PECUSA” (i.e., if “rector” were an anachronism here).

    When it identified “Columbia University” and then identified it as “then King’s College” I wondered if it would be better to stay with the name of the institution as it were then, parenthetically explaining “later named Columbia University.”

    When the reading ended with, “but was unable to accept the appointment due to illness” the effect was anticlimactic, as if the commemoration just petered out, running out of gas at the end, rather than some summarizing the whole impact of the commemoration’s significance.

    With regard to a related matter, certainly not limited to this commemoration, I’ve wondered at the practice of identifying some people by what they’ve DONE (writer, composer, etc.) while identifying others by what they WERE (priest, bishop, deacon). What does that say — and don’t say “clergy don’t DO anything (they can just BE)” but “lay people must do something in order to count.” (Nobody is listed Laity, or Baptised Christian.)

  6. We have the date of birth of Samuel Johnson: we should have this information for the other two men

    In paragraph three, the full name of the SPG is wrong. It was (until recently): the “Society for the…”, not “of the”.

    Chandler wasn’t appointed “the first bishop in the Americas”. Add the word “Anglican” before the word “bishop”, and I believe that would be the case. (There were, of course, many RC bishops in North, South, and probably Central America.)

  7. Samuel Johnson’s being in the picture with Seabury, as Leonel Mitchell says, makes a lot of sense–he was a strong influence on Seabury’s churchmanship (see discussion of primary sources on this topic in Paul Marshall’s _One, Catholic, Apostolic_. Seabury studied under him. It would make sense to mention that in the bio, since Seabury was our first bishop.

  8. Re “first in the colonies”: aside from the earlier congregations noted in the previous comments, there were dozens in Virginia that long predate those in New England.
    Once again, we’ve got “saints” on both sides of an issue: Johnson ” strenuously polemicized” against the enthusiasm of George Whitefield (November 15), and Chandler (much to the annoyance of his congregation) refused to let Whitefield preach in his church.
    We observed this feast at our Tuesday morning eucharist and were frankly puzzled at why these three are in the calendar. Given our professed interest in ecumenicalism, aren’t the inclusion of the “Yale apostates” in our calendar a slap in the face of our potential congregationalist partners?
    And if they’re included because of their support of a bishop for the Americas, some context is in order. The idea of a resident bishop terrified many dissenters, who saw the the ghost of “that monster of wickedness, Archbishop Laud” coming to reimpose “that yoke of episcopal bondage, which so miserably galled the necks of our Forefathers.” Even in Anglican Virginia, the idea was not too popular. When pro-bishop members of the Virginia clergy orgainized a convention in 1771 to consider “the Expediency of an Application to proper Authority for an American Episcopate,” only 11 of the colony’s 100-plus clergy bothered to attend, and four of them voted against the proposal.

  9. Having Ignatius of Loyola and Thomas Cranmer both in the calendar may seem like having it both ways, too–one a part of the Counter-Reformation, one a part of the Reformation, and they were exact contemporaries. Is it against our ecumenical interests to celebrate Thomas Cranmer? But both men’s contributions to our lives as Christians today were important., even though they were on opposite sides of at least some fences. Similarly, we have Whitefield but also Johnson–just as in the church today we have Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Anglo-Catholics. –It’s true there was strong feeling against bishops in the Americas in the18th century, but does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate the fact those who supported them were successful? Are we sorry we have bishops in the Americas today? If we had had resident bishops, perhaps John Wesley would not have taken upon himself to ordain clergy in order to fill the need as the country expanded–and Methodists would not be a separate denomination.

  10. Yes, please can we get rid of the picture of Dr. Johnson! He is not the Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, commemorated here. As fond as Boswell was of him, I don’t think the good lexicographer belongs on our calendar! 😉

  11. It might be noted that consequent to Chandler’s declining of consecration as bishop of Nova Scotia for health reasons, Charles Inglis was consecrated in England to Nova Scotia on August 12, 1787. This was six months after the consecration of White (Pennsylvania) and Provoost (New York), and almost three years after the consecration in Scotland of Seabury (Connecticut). When was the initial nomination of Chandler to Nova Scotia made? “Was himself appointed the first [Anglican] bishop in the Americas” sounds like a dubious statement to me.

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