About Rev Ezra Stiles
Ezra Stiles (November 29, 1727 – May 12, 1795) was an American academic and educator, a Congregationalist minister, theologian and author. He was president of Yale College (1778–1795).
Born the son of the Rev. Isaac Stiles in North Haven, Connecticut, Ezra Stiles graduated from Yale in 1746. He studied theology and was ordained in 1749, tutoring at Yale from that year until 1755. Resigning from the ministry, he studied law and practiced at New Haven from 1753 to 1755, when he returned to the ministry for 22 years. Trinity Church, the Anglican Church in Newport, Rhode Island, offered him an opportunity to become its minister, but he turned the offer down to become pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island from 1755 until 1777. While in Newport, he also served as Librarian of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum and kept an informative diary of his life and distinguished acquaintances in Newport, including his association with Aaron Lopez. The Ezra Stiles House in Newport is on the National Historic Register. With arrival of British troops in Newport in late 1776, Stiles left Newport and became pastor of the Congregational Church at Portsmouth, New Hampshire from 1777 until 1778, when he became president of Yale until his death. Stiles owned at least one slave, named "Newport," whom he freed on June 9, 1778.
He married twice (Elizabeth Hubbard and Mary Checkley Cranston) and had eight children. Stiles' son Ezra Stiles, Esq., was educated first at Yale College, then at Harvard College, where he studied law, graduating in 1778. Ezra Stiles Jr. subsequently settled in Vermont, and served to establish the boundaries between Vermont and New Hampshire. He died prematurely at Chowan County, North Carolina on Aug. 22, 1784, and his two daughters by his wife Sylvia (Avery) Stiles of Vermont (and formerly of Norwich, Connecticut) had their uncle Jonathan Leavitt appointed their guardian.
His daughter Emilia married Judge and State Senator Jonathan Leavitt of Greenfield, Massachusetts. His daughter Mary married, in 1790, Abiel Holmes, a Congregational clergyman and historian and a 1783 graduate of Yale College. By the second marriage to Sarah Wendell, Abiel was the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Foundation of Brown University
In 1764, Stiles played an influential role in the establishment of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the original name for Brown University) by contributing substantially to the drafting of its charter and by serving with thirty-five others - including Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Samuel Ward, the Reverend John Gano, the Reverend Isaac Backus, the Reverend Samuel Stillman, and the Reverend James Manning - as a founding fellow or trustee.
Ezra Stiles was also a dedicated supporter of the American Revolutionary cause, and an avid amateur scientist who corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin about scientific discoveries. Using equipment donated to the college by Franklin, Stiles conducted the first electrical experiments in New England.
Stiles struck up a close friendship with Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal during Carigal's six month residence in Newport in 1773, the two meeting 28 times (according to Stiles' records) to discuss a wide variety of topics, ranging from Kabbalah to the politics of the Holy Land. In addition, Stiles took the opportunity to improve his rudimentary knowledge of the Hebrew language, to the point where he and Carigal were to correspond by mail in Hebrew.
Stiles' knowledge of Hebrew also enabled him to translate large portions of the Hebrew Old Testament into English. Stiles believed, as did many Christian scholars of the time, that facility with the text in its original language was advantageous for proper interpretation.
Letter from Stiles to George Washington announcing the awarding of an Honorary degree to Washington by President and Fellows of Yale College, 1781 As president of Yale, Stiles also became its first professor of Semitics, and required all students to study Hebrew (as was also the case at Harvard); his first commencement address in September, 1781 (no ceremonies having been held during the American Revolutionary War) was delivered in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. By 1790, however, he was forced to face failure in instilling an interest in the language in the student body, writing
"From my first accession to the Presidency ... I have obliged all the Freshmen to study Hebrew. This has proved very disagreeable to a Number of the Students. This year I have determined to instruct only those who offer themselves voluntarily." The valedictorians of 1785 and 1792, however, did deliver their speeches in Hebrew.
Yale's legacy from this interest of Stiles' includes a portrait of Carigal by artist Samuel King, and the Hebrew words "Urim" and "Thummim" (אורים ותמים) on the Yale seal.
Frontispiece, The Annals or History of Yale College in New Haven, in the Colony of Connecticut, by Yale President Thomas Clap, 1766. Volume carries notation: "Given to the Library of Yale College by Ezra Stiles 1785." Named in his honor is Ezra Stiles College, one of Yale's residential colleges. Also noted is its Eero Saarinen design, particularly the building's lack of right angles between walls. The college's mascot is the moose, inspired by the installation in the dining hall of a stuffed moose head in honor of former college master and Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti. Adjacent to Ezra Stiles College is its near architectural twin, Morse College, named for Samuel F.B. Morse.
He was graduated from Yale College,
A. B., in 1746; received the A. M. degree
in 1749; and was employed there as a
tutor from that year until 1853. He had
met Franklin prior to this, and conducted
some experiments in electricity, which
helped to draw the two men into a life-
long friendship, an evidence of which
was witnessed in 1755, when Franklin
visited New Haven, and Stiles delivered
an oration in Latin in his honor. In the
summer of 1749 Mr. Stiles was licensed to
preach, and, besides his regular college
work, did some missionary work among
the Indians, but because of "certain scru-
ples respecting the truth of revelation" he
decided to leave the ministry, and in 1753
he took the attorney's oath. He was a
natural student, and law did not give him
the leisure that he desired for study, and
in 1755, when he received a unanimous
call to the Second Congregational Church
at Newport, he accepted it, serving until
1777. During his pastorate there he
studied mathematics and astronomy, and
upon receiving the D. D. degree began
the study of Hebrew, in which he became
very proficient. In addition, he acquired a
knowledge of other Oriental languages,
and corresponded with Greek bishops,
Spanish Jesuits and travelers and savants
in nearly all parts of the world. He also
continued his astronomical studies, and
his observations upon the comet of 1759
were such as to attract attention to him.
The idea of founding a college in Rhode
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BIOGRAPHY
Island originated with Dr. Stiles, and he
drafted the first charter for what was
later Brown University, but because of
the sectarian nature of the college at first
he never identified himself with it. Dr.
Stiles was an ardent patriot, and at the
outbreak of the Revolution he was ad-
vised to leave Newport. He removed
first to Bristol, then in March, 1776, to
Dighton, and in April, 1777, to Ports-
mouth, New Hampshire. At this time
Dr. Stiles was known in all New England
as an Orientalist, a Hebraist, a student
of the classics, of mathematics and of as-
tronomy, a friend of Benjamin Franklin,
and one of the very few American scien-
tists. In 1778 he was offered the presi-
dency of Yale College, which he accepted.
He removed to New Haven in June, 17/8,
assumed charge of the college, and dis-
charged his duties with great judgment
and efficiency until his death, bringing to
the college no little increase of strength
and honor. Abundantly able to teach in
any department, he soon had nearly all
the work to do, except such as could be
carried on by the tutors. He did con-
siderable of the preaching, eked out the
course in theology, lectured statedly on
mathematics, natural philosophy and as-
tronomy, instructed the seniors in mental
and moral philosophy, and filled his own
chair of ecclesiastical history, which had
been created at his desire. In 1792 a
close alliance was made between the col-
lege and State, and in the same year the
Legislature made a grant, which was in-
creased in 1796 to $40,000, the largest sum
bestowed up to that time, and the Gov-
ernor, Lieutenant-Governor and the six
senior members of the council or upper
house became ex-officio members of the
Dr. Stiles received the following de-
grees: A. M. from Harvard in 1754, D. D.
from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1765, and
from Dartmouth in 1780, and D. D. and
LL. D. from the College of New Jersey,
Princeton, in 1784. He wrote: "Dis-
course on the Christian Union" (1761) ;
"Discourse on Saving Knowledge"
(1770) ; "The United States Elevated to
Glory and Honor" (1783) ; "An Account
of the Settlement of Bristol, Rhode
Island" (1785); "The History of Three
of the Judges of Charles I" (1794), and
the "Ecclesiastical History of New Eng-
land," which he left unfinished at his
death. Yale College has forty-five vol-
umes of his manuscripts, including a
diary. His biography was written by his
son-in-law, Abiel Holmes, in 1798.
Dr. Stiles married (first) in February,
1757, Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel John
Hubbard, of New Haven, Connecticut.
She died May 29, 1775. He married (sec
ond) in 1783, Mary, widow of William
Checkley, of Providence, Rhode Island.
Rev Ezra Stiles's Timeline
November 29, 1727
North Haven, C, United States
February 10, 1757
April 7, 1758
March 11, 1759
September 29, 1760
April 21, 1762
August 10, 1763
August 20, 1765
April 25, 1767
July 14, 1769
Newport, Rhode Island, United States