Rev. Ezra Stiles, D.D.

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Ezra Stiles

Also Known As: "President of Yale College"
Birthdate: (67)
Birthplace: North Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut, United States
Death: May 12, 1795 (67)
New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut, United States
Place of Burial: New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Isaac Stiles and Keziah Stiles
Husband of Elizabeth Stiles and Mary Checkley Stiles
Father of Elizabeth Stiles; Ezra Stiles; Keziah (6) Taylor Sturgis; Emilia (6) Leavitt; Isaac (6) Stiles and 3 others
Half brother of Isaac Stiles; Keziah Munson; Ashbel (5) Stiles; Ashbel Stiles; Esther (5) Stiles and 5 others

Occupation: President of Yale from 1772 to 1795, president of Yale
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Rev. Ezra Stiles, D.D.

Reverend Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795, of Newport was a Congregational clergyman, scholar, diarist, author, civic leader and president of Yale University from 1778-1795. Stiles was one of the foremost intellectuals of colonial Rhode Island. During his tenure in Newport (1755-1776), he served as librarian of Redwood Library, pastor of the Second Congregational Church, and a spokesman for the patriot cause prior to the American Revolution. His fifteen-volume diary and six volumes of notes on his "itineraries" are a major source for late 18th century American history.


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).

Early life

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.[2]

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.[3]

American Revolution

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.

]Biblical Scholarship

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.

Yale Presidency

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.

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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



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.

American Educator and Theologian. He was born in North Haven, Connecticut, the son of a minister. He attended Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated in 1746. He studied theology and was ordained as a minister in 1749, tutoring at Yale from that year until 1755. In 1753 he resigned from the ministry to study law and practice at New Haven, but returned to the cloth two years later and became the pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1764 he helped to establish the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (presently known as Brown University). He became close friends with Rabbi Raphael Hayyim Isaac Carregal when he resided at Newport in 1773. They often studied together and he learned the Hebrew language to the point where he was able to translate large portions of the Hebrew Old Testament into English. In 1776, when the American Revolutionary War unfolded and British troops occupied Newport, he left and became the pastor of the Congregational Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1778, he was appointed president of Yale, a position he held until his death. He died in New Haven, Connecticut at the age of 67. In 1961, Yale named a new residential college, the Ezra Stiles College, in his honor. (bio by: [fg.cgi?page=mr&MRid=47016546" target="_blank William Bjornstad)] Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Jan 01, 2001

Find A Grave Memorial# 987

President of Yale College

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Rev. Ezra Stiles, D.D.'s Timeline

November 29, 1727
North Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut, United States
April 7, 1758
Age 30
March 11, 1759
Age 31
Connecticut Colony
September 29, 1760
Age 32
April 21, 1762
Age 34
August 10, 1763
Age 35
August 20, 1765
Age 37
April 25, 1767
Age 39
United States
July 14, 1769
Age 41
Newport, Rhode Island, United States