Manasseh Cutler papers

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The Manasseh Cutler papers consist of notebooks of observations of plants, notebooks of extracts from books and letters, dated from 1782 to 1808, and a small group of loose materials, which includes material created in 1856 after Cutler's death.

The notebooks are part of a numbered series, and the collection includes books I, II, III, two loose leaves from IV, V, VI, VII, IX, XII and XIII, dating from 1783 to 1804, with gaps. They contain detailed notes on plants and were apparently intended as part of an effort to expand Cutler's Account of some of the vegetable productions (1785).

There are also extracts notebooks containing passages from a variety of publications, including the Transactions of the Royal Society, travel accounts, histories, and C.H. Persoon's (1755-1837) Synopsis plantarum (1805-1807), as well as from letters of Scottish physician and botanist Jonathan Stokes (1755-1831).

The collection additionally contains a small amount of correspondence and manuscript materials, including a letter from American botanist Henry Muhlenberg (1753-1815) and a draft of a letter from Cutler to Swedish botanist Olof Swartz (1760-1818).There is also material generated by Edward Tuckerman (1817-1886), who was in possession of Cutler's papers after his death.

The collection is mainly in English, with one notebook in Latin.

Biographical Note:

Manasseh Cutler was born in Killingly, Connecticut, on May 3 or 13, 1742 (sources disagree). He was educated at Yale University from which he graduated in 1765. The following year he taught school in Dedham, Massachusetts, where he met Mary Balch, whom he married in 1767. After the wedding, he and Mary moved to Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, where Cutler took over the merchant business of his wife's deceased uncle. He ran the business profitably and continued his studies at the same time. One source says that he studied for the bar and was accepted, while another source says he was awarded a master's degree by Yale in 1768. In October 1768 he decided to study for the ministry; in November 1769 he left Edgartown and returned to Dedham to continue his divinity studies with his father-in-law, Rev. Thomas Balch. He received a master's degree from Harvard University in July 1770, and he became a minister in Ipswich Hamlet (now Hamilton) on Cape Ann, in 1771. He kept this post, with some interruption for other activities, until his death in 1823.

As the Revolutionary War called the village doctor into service as an army surgeon, Cutler took up the study of medicine so that the people of Ipswich Hamlet would not be without medical care. He also served for several months as a regimental chaplain in the Continental Army. Cutler had already developed interests in astronomy, meteorology, and physics, and his medical studies apparently led to an interest in botany. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at its first meeting in January 1781. In 1783 he was made a member of the Committee on Communications in Natural Philosophy and Natural History (Humphrey 77). In addition to numerous small contributions on astronomy, meteorology, etc., he prepared a major botanical paper, titled "An account of some of the vegetable productions naturally growing in this part of America, botanically arranged," which was published in the first volume of the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1785 (pp. 396-493). Cutler was dissatisfied with the Linnean arrangement which he had used in his account, and in 1783 began making detailed notes on plants he saw in an effort to find some better system. He continued making these notes for many years, but he was never able to complete the revised work he intended to publish. Most of his notebooks survived, but his herbarium, which was said to be extensive, was destroyed by fire.

Cutler led a very active life and was involved in many activities other than botanical investigation. In 1782 he started a private boarding school in his home, and he continued to operate it for over 25 years. A number of sons of merchants, American and foreign, studied with him. He made estimates of the elevations of the White Mountains on a trip there in 1784 with a group of scientific friends. In 1785 Cutler was made a member of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He became involved in the formation of the Ohio Company and its plan to settle the Northwest Territories in 1787, traveled to New York in 1787 to lobby for the plan, and extended his trip with visits to Philadelphia and the gardens of John Bartram (1699-1777) and François André Michaux (1770-1855). As part of his involvement with the Ohio Company, he made a four-month journey to Ohio in 1788. He prepared the charter of Marietta College, and is also credited as a founder of Ohio University. He also made the first study of the earthworks of the Ohio Valley (Humphrey 79).

Cutler was awarded an honorary LL.D. by Yale in 1791, and for a brief period he was active in politics, being elected a member of the Massachusetts General Court in 1800 and serving as a representative to the United States Congress from 1800 to 1804. He died on July 28, 1823, in Hamilton, Massachusetts (formerly Ipswich Hamlet).


Cutler, Manasseh, 1742-1823. Manasseh Cutler papers, 1782-1856. Book II. gra00062. Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Botany Libraries, Harvard University.

Cutler, Manasseh, 1742-1823. Manasseh Cutler papers, 1782-1856. Book II. gra00062. Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Botany Libraries, Harvard University.

Contains an alphabetical "Catalogue of Plants from Doctors Linnous [sic] and Hill," referring to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and Sir John Hill (1714?-1775), as well as Manasseh Cutler's descriptions of plants in 1783, numbered 100-140, including Indian cucumber (Medeola), pigeon berry (possibly...

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