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Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823)



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 was appointed minister of 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, metereology, 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 Linnaean 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 Bartram and Michaux. As part of his involvement with the Ohio Company, he made a four-month journey to Ohio and back 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 U.S. Congress from 1800-1804. He died on July 28, 1823, in Hamilton, Massachusetts (formerly Ipswich Hamlet).


Barnhart, John Hendley. Biographical Notes Upon Botanists. Boston, G.K. Hall, 1965.
Cutler, William Parker and Cutler, Julia Perkins. Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1888. 2 vols.
Day, Mary A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
Humphrey, James Ellis. "Manasseh Cutler." The American Naturalist 32 (1898): 75-80.

Scope and Content:

The Manasseh Cutler papers consist of 8 notebooks of observations of plants, 4 notebooks of extracts from books and letters, and a few loose materials. The notebooks are part of a numbered series (we have books I, II, III, 2 loose leaves from IV< V, VI, VII, IX, XII and XIII) and go from 1783 to 1804, with gaps. All of these notebooks contain very 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). The extracts notebooks contains notes from a variety of publications, including the Transactions of the Royal Society, travel accounts, histories, and Persoon's Synopsis Plantarum ..., as well as from letters of Dr. Jonathan Stokes. The loose materials include a letter from Henry Muhlenberg (1791) and a list of plants sent to Muhlenberg; a draft of a letter to Dr. Olof Swartz (1802); and a page of notes in Edward Tuckerman's hand that was apparently sent with the Cutler papers.

Note: The non-botanical papers of Manasseh Cutler are voluminous and are mostly at the Northwestern University Library. Two other collections of Cutler's botanical papers are known: one in the Ohio University Archives and one in the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. The Ohio collection contains the botanical notebooks numbered IV (of which we have 2 pages) and XIV and a few unnumbered notebooks of botanical observations and extracts. A microfilm of the Ohio collection is available in the archives, and the contents description follows in this notebook. The Essex Institute collection includes botanical notebook VIII (1787), two notebooks of extracts from botanical writings, and one notebook containing pharmaceutical notes.


The Manasseh Cutler papers arrived at the Gray Herbarium by a circuitous route. In an edition of John Josselyn's New England's Rarities Discovered ... published with notes by Edward Tuckerman in 1865, Tuckerman indicated that he owned two Cutler letters from which he quoted and two of Cutler's botanical notebooks that had been given him by T.W. Harris; he also indicated that William Oakes (who died in 1848) had owned six of Cutler's botanical notebooks. Fifteen years later, in an article in the Bulletin of the Essex Institute [vol. 12 (1880): 87-97], Dr. Henry Wheatland inidcated that the manuscript notebooks prepared by Cutler in an effort to expand his 1785 Account of some of the Vegetable Productions ... "are in the possession of Prof. Edward Tuckerman, who intends that their final destination shall be the library at Harvard;...." Tuckerman died in 1886, without having given the Cutler manuscripts to Harvard and apparently without having left clear instructions regarding the disposition of his papers. Cutler's botanical papers went through a period of obscurity. James Ellis Humphrey, in an article published in the American Naturalist 32 (1898): 75-80, suggested that Cutler's botanical manuscripts had mostly been damaged in a fire and mentioned that some had belonged to Edward Tuckerman. In April 1899, B.L. Robinson of the Gray Herbarium apparently wrote to Tuckerman's widow, S.E.S. Tuckerman, asking her to look for Cutler's papers. She responded on May 2, 1899, that she had gone through her husband's papers and gathered together those pertaining to Cutler, and that she was about to send them by express. Although there is no record of what was in Mrs. Tuckerman's packet, it seems likely that all the Cutler materials, including two letters that were filed in the Historic Letters file, came in that group. The letters are the ones quoted by Tuckerman in his notes on Josselyn's book, and the notebooks here seem generally to correspond with Tuckerman's brief description of the notebooks he had seen. Presumably he came to own the six notebooks that had previously belonged to William Oakes, and he may have acquired the additional ones from some other source.

Container Listing:

Note: The Manasseh Cutler papers have all been microfilmed for preservation purposes. The microfilm is stored in the manuscript case, Box BE; the originals are in Box A-I.


1. "Plants and Trees examined Book I & V"; contains Book I, beginning March 1, 1783 and continuing to May 22, [1783], nos. 1-20 (not in order), pp. 1-31; Index to Books I & V on p. 32; Book V starts Sept. 10, [1784] and goes to Oct. 6, [1784], nos. 304-332, pp. 33-103; last page (104) has note about berries dated July 1782.

2. "Book II"; first 2 pages are index to plants described; then follows a section called "A Catalogue of Plants from Doctors Linnous [sic] and Hill": an alphabetical list of plant names, A-M, pages not numbered; on p. 40 begins "Second Book of Botanical description of plants": June 1, 1783 - June 16, [1783], nos. 100-140, pp. 40-108.

3. "Book III"; first 4 pages are index to specimens described; next 2 pages describe specimen no. 330, collected on sept. 30, [1784]; rest of book, pp. 1 - end, describes specimens collected from June 16, 1783 to July 31, 1783, nos. 141-216.

4. "Book VI"; first 2 pages are list of contents; pp. 5-57 describe plants collected from May 1, 1784 to Nov. 10, 1784 and pp. 58-95 describe plants collected from June 6, 1785 to Aug. 29, [1785]; there are no collection numbers.

5. "Book VII". In Part for the Years 1786-1787-1788 & 1789"; descriptions of plants observed April 13, 1786 to Oct. 10, [1786], pp. 1-67, with notes of later dates inserted; descriptions of plants observed April 16, 1787 - July 30, [1787], pp. 68-130, with notes of

later dates inserted; descriptions of plants observed April 11, 1789 - June 13, [1789], pp. 130 - 139.

6. "Book IX. A Description of American indigenous Plants by Manasseh Cutler 1789"; descriptions dated May 4, 1798 - Aug. 31, [1789], pp. 1-157.

7. "Book XII. Descriptions and Notes on American Indigeneous Plants by Manasseh Cutler 1796-1797-1978-1799"; descriptions of plants observed, Sept. 10, 1796 - Oct. 10, 1796, pp. 1-85; descriptions of plants observed May 22, 1797 - Sept. 14, 1797, pp. 86-102; descriptions of plants observed June 13, 1798 - Sept. 4, 1798, pp. 103-116; descriptions of plants observed April 29, 1799 - July 18, 1799, pp. 117-140.

8. "Book XIII. Descriptions & Notes on American Indigenous Plants by Manasseh Cutler 1799"; descriptions of plants observed June 12, 1799 - Aug. 22, 1799, pp. 1-18; descriptions of plants observed June 12, 1800 - Aug. 5, 1800, pp. 19-99; descriptions of plants observed June 1, 1801 - June 11, 1801, pp. 100-104; descriptions of plants observed Sept. 10, 1802 - Sept. 20, 1802, pp. 105-109; descriptions of plants observed May 13, 1803 - July 19, 1803, pp. 110-131; descriptions of plants observed april 18, 1804 - June 14, 1804, pp. 131-198

9. "[Ex]tracts, etc. from several Author[s] Natural Productions"; contains extracts from Dr. William Robertson [Cutler sometimes misspelled the name as "Robison"], History of America (1777), starting on p. 1 of notebook and agin starting on p. 24; from Sir John Hill, General Natural History, starting on p. 20 of notebook; from Transactions of the Royal Society for 1772, Vol. 62, letter from W. J. Reinhold Foster, FRS, to Wm Watson, MD, starting on p. 26 of notebook; from Transactions of the Royal Society for 1777, Vol. 68, observations by Sir George Shuckburgh [-Evelyn], starting on p. 31 of notebook; from Jonathan Carver, Travels in Interior Parts of America (1778), starting p. 47; from P. Brydone, Tour through Sicily and Malta (1770), starting p. 97, also pp. 126-127; from History of South Carolina and Georgia (1779), starting p. 117.

10. "Flora Americana secundum Persoonii"; seems to be notes based on Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, Synopsis plantarum ... (1805-1807); the body is a listing of plants numbered 1-777; there are 2 appendices to this list: a listing of Aster 1-38 and a small section of larger leaves bound into same book containing a number of brief supplemental listings; at end if "Index Generum," an alphabetical list of names which refers to number in notebook; references are to main sequence, which sometimes has notes to see appendices.

11. "Extracts from Dr. Stokes Letters on Specimens"; observations from letters of Aug. 1, 1806; Nov. 3, 1807; Jan. 12, 1808; Dec. 27, 1790; and Feb. 14, 1791 to Aug. 17, 1793; note on bottom of last page: "Analitical [sic] review. Mem. Amer. Acad. articles O.v. K(?). on Dr. Stokes" [letters from Dr. Jonathan Stokes, 1755-1831]

12. "Extracts, principally, of the Properties of Vegetables from various Authors 1789. Also what may relate to Botany and Agriculture."; Extracts from Letters and papers on Agriculture, Planting, etc. of Bath Society, (1780); from American Museum, (1787-1788); from The Anatomy of Plants with an Idea of a philosophical history of Plants (1682) by Nehemiah Grew; from an encyclopedia "CIC to DIA"; from Salem Gazette, Nov. 17, 1795; from Hortus Kewensis by William Townsend Aiton, index of topics covered at end of notebook

LOOSE ITEMS - Folder 13:

a. Loose leaf from a plant notebook; includes a reference to specimen 220, Aug. 6, [1784]

b. Loose leaf from a plant notebook; includes a reference to specimen 300, Sept. 6, [1784]

c. Letter from Henry Muhlenberg, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Feb. 9, 1791, to Manasseh Cutler; this letter was found in the Historic Letters file

d. Small piece of paper in Muhlenberg's handwriting titled "Queries by reading the Revd Mr. Cutlers Account"; consists of questions on Cutler's Account of some of the Vegetable Productions ... ; this evidently accompanied letter (c) above.

e. Small piece of paper in Muhlenberg's handwriting titled "Desiderantur maxime specimena siccata vel etiam si placet semina"; this evidently accompanied letter (c) above.

f. Large list titled "Plants sent to Doctor Muhlenberg, Lancaster, Penn. Aug. 1791"; 75 plants are named, on 2 sheets; the back of one sheet is a ledger page recording imports into Salem and Marblehead.

g. Draft of a letter from Cutler, Hamilton, Oct. 15, 1802, to Dr. [Olof] Swartz; this letter was found in the Historic Letters file.

h. Small sheet labeled "Lichens wanted. June [18]56"; list in the handwriting of Edward Tuckerman; filmed as an insert in Book XII, but not really part of Cutler's papers.

OHIO UNIVERSITY LIBRARY COLLECTION (microfilm copy) Manasseh Cutler Botanical Notebooks

See Also:

Historic Letter Collection
Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Jane Gray Autograph Collection


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