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Manasseh Cutler Collection, 1762-1820

Identifier: AS1

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Scope and Contents

The Manasseh Cutler Collection primarily contains materials written by him or sent to him between 1762 and 1820. These include his diary of important events (1765-1783 in v.80), separate journals kept in published almanacks for each year (1785-1819 in vols. 5-33), sermons (1768-1820 in vols. 34-55), and notebooks and records of natural history, medicine, botany, astronomical or meteorological observation even during his journeys (1773-1805 in vols. 1-4, 61-64, 76 ). He kept special diaries of his journeys between 1784 and 1788, especially those related to the work for the Ordinance of 1787 in the Northwest Territory including Ohio (v. 64). Materials including deeds and agreements related to the Ohio Company and the Scioto Company and the settling of the Northwest Territory are included (1787-1818 in vol. 56-60, 74). Correspondence sent and received by Cutler and his family and associates, especially those connected with the Ohio Company are in 4 volumes (1772-1819, vols. 69-72). Manasseh Cutler's regular correspondents include family members Ephraim Cutler, Rufus Putnam, Sarah Cutler Dawes, Henry Dawes, Sally P. Cutler, William P. Cutler, Temple Cutler and various members of the Ohio Company such as Benjamin Tupper and Winthrop Sargent. General Rufus Putnam laid out the plans for Marietta, Ohio, the first non-Native settlement in the area. Maps, information on the area's Hopewell artifacts, and the early settlement are included in the collection, as well as a genealogy of the Cutler families (vols. 73-79).


  • Majority of material found within 1762-1820
  • 1762 - 1849


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on use of the materials in the department for research; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations.

Biographical / Historical

Manasseh Cutler was born May 3, 1742 in Killingly, Connecticut, and died July 28, 1823 in Hamilton, Massachusetts. In 1765 he graduated from Yale College with high honors and commenced the study of law. In 1767 he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar and for some time practiced his profession in Edgartown. Finding the profession uncongenial, he gave it up and removed to Dedham where he studied theology under the direction of the Rev. Thomas Balch, whose daughter he had married. In 1770 he was licensed and preached for six months as a candidate at Hamlet parish, then a part of Ipswich. He was ordained a minister of the Congregational society and installed as pastor in Hamlet parish on September 11, 1771, and remained with this association until his death.

Soon after the battle of Lexington he addressed the minute-men then mustering in Ipswich and accompanied them to Cambridge where he saw the British as they retreated into Boston. In September he was commissioned a chaplain in the Continental army and served under Colonel Ebenezer Francis of the 11th Massachusetts regiment. He was presented with a fine horse by his commander for gallantry in action in Rhode Island on August 28, 1778.

Toward the close of the war, the physician of Hamlet parish being with the army, Mr. Cutler studied medicine, soon mastering the science, and for a number of years attended to both the physical and spiritual wants of his people. He was the first to examine the flora of New England, inspecting and classifying over 350 species according to the Linnaean system. His published papers on this subject were the first attempts at scientific description of the plants of New England. In 1781 he was elected a member of the American Academy and contributed to its proceedings among others the following papers: “On the Transit of Mercury over the Sun, November 12, 1782;” “On the Eclipse of the Moon, March 29, 1782, and of the Sun in the following April;” “Meteorological Observations 1781-82-83;” “An Account of Some of the Vegetable Productions Naturally Growing in this Part of America,” etc.

In 1784 Dr. Cutler with six others ascended the White Mountains. They were the first to reach the summit. Dr. Cutler carried instruments with him and made the first computation of the height of the mountains.

In 1787 Dr. Cutler became associated with a number of Revolutionary officers who had determined to settle in the west, with a view to having their bounty lands located together.

At a meeting held at Brackett’s Tavern, Boston, March 8, 1787, by these officers who had formed a company to be known as the Ohio Company, General Samuel H. Parsons, General Rufus Putnam and the Rev. Manasseh Cutler were unanimously chosen as directors for the company, “and that it should be their duty, immediately, to make application to the honorable congress for a private purchase of lands and under such descriptions as they shall deem adequate to the purposes of the company.”

Dr. Manasseh Cutler, owing to sickness, was not present when elected a director, but on March 16, 1787, as soon as so notified, he wrote Major Winthrop Sargent: “I entirely approve of the proposition which General Putnam proposes should be made to Congress, and join with him in requesting General Parsons to make application to that honorable body as soon as possible.”

General Parsons appeared before Congress, but was not successful, and thereupon Dr. Cutler, under the authority conferred, on June 24, 1787, set out on horseback to present the Ohio Company’s request to Congress. On July 5th, he arrived in New York and commenced his work, and on July 13, 1787, the ordinance since known as the Ordinance of 1787 was passed.

All previous ordinances relating to the Northwest Territory were silent on the question of slavery, none breathed of education or of the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, those great principles which have since distinguished the ordinance as “one of the greatest monuments of civil jurisprudence.”

Four days after Dr. Cutler’s advent before Congress, that body on July 9th appointed a new committee to consider the Western Territory. Edward Carrington of Virginia was appointed chairman; Nathan Dane and Mr. Smith had been on the old committee, but a new man was now made leader. Dr. Cutler appeared before the committee and his work and that of Edward Carrington was not a revision of the old ordinances. An inspection of the new ordinance compared with the old, shows that “they prepared and reported the great bill of rights for the territory northwest of the Ohio.”

In 1795, Dr. Cutler was appointed a judge of the United States court for Ohio by President George Washington, but declined. He was afterwards a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was elected from that state to the seventh and eighth Congresses of the United States as a federalist.

His Journals and Papers

Beginning in 1762 while at Yale College, Dr. Cutler kept a diary and a journal. Each day he wrote what happened. Many of his journals are in the Almanack, common at that day, and for many years thereafter. These portray events and conditions not generally set out in our early histories.

Through the efforts of Colonel Ephraim C. Dawes, now deceased, a descendant, most of Dr. Cutler’s papers have been collected. Some are still missing. It is hoped that when found they will be sent to Mr. Charles G. Dawes of Chicago, the owner, who has had these old journals, aged letters and parchments carefully cared for, and through the skill and art of Ernest Hertzberg & Sons, binders of Chicago, they have been made practically as good as new.

The chief features of this collection are: 1. From 1762 until 1819, all of the Journals are in the handwriting of one man, Dr. Manasseh Cutler. 2. The most absorbing interest is that they deal with the formulative and creative period of that great “American Charter” of which Daniel Webster said: “We are accustomed to praise the lawgivers of antiquity; we help to perpetuate the fame of Solon and Lycurgus, but I doubt that one single law, ancient or modern, has produced effects of more distinct, marked and lasting character than the ordinance of 1787.”

(ca 1950)


80 Volumes

Language of Materials



Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823) was ordained as a minister of the Congregational society, later serving as a chaplain in the Continental army. Cutler also studied medicine and had a fascination for botanical study and astronomy, publishing papers and being elected to the American Academy. In 1787 he was elected a director of the Ohio Company, formed with a view to settling the Northwest Territory by a group of Revolutionary officers who wanted to receive their "bounty lands" in that area. After the work of drawing up the agreements and surveying the Northwest Territory, Cutler returned to Massachusetts where he served in the House and was also elected from that state as a member to the 7th and 8th Congresses of the United States.

The Manasseh Cutler Collection contains 80 bound volumes of documents and correspondence written by Cutler or sent to him from 1762-1820 which reflect all aspects of his life and career. Contained in it are his journals (1765-1783), sermons (1768-1820), scientific observations, correspondence, Cutler family genealogy, and agreements and observations about the Ohio Company and the settlement of the Northwest Territory. His descendants supplied some documents extending to 1849 regarding the settlement of Ohio. The Collection was donated by his descendant, Evanston resident Charles G. Dawes, in 1942. This collection contains over 10,000 items, letters, diaries and journals.


Correspondence, documents, journals, sermons and other papers were arranged for binding into volumes by Manasseh Cutler's descendant, Charles G. Dawes, who donated them to Northwestern University Libraries. Chicago bindery of Ernest Hertzberg and Sons completed conservation of the materials and the binding of the 80 volumes.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Charles G. Dawes in 1942.

Guide to the Manasseh Cutler Collection, 1762 - 1820
Encoded by Sigrid P. Perry.
abt. 1950; encoded May 27, 2020.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US