As mentioned in a recent blog post, in mid-1800s Acton, a college student or recent graduate could earn funds by teaching an advanced private school session during the fall when the public schools were closed. A descendant of a student in one of those schools recently shared with us a document relating to Lyman Cutler’s Select School held in the autumn of 1849. This presumably was the Mr. Cutler whose teaching in the fall of 1848, according to the 1848-1849 School Committee report, was so popular that it created problems for the teacher of the public school in the winter term; the older students apparently did not give the public schoolteacher a chance. Until seeing this document, we did not know that Mr. Cutler came back to Acton the following autumn.
The document lists the 29 students of the school, divided into “Masters” and “Misses.” Some were also students in F. W. Pelton’s 1852 private high school, and some were siblings. The document may have been a recommendation, because the “Remarks” at the bottom state that, “The Scholars enjoyed the School without any exceptions, and in the opinions of Visitors made good improvement.”
We looked into the life of this promising teacher. Lyman Cutler was born in Holliston, MA on August 4, 1826 to Amos Cutler and Sarah Topliff. He had at least three brothers and a sister. Instability and tragedy seem to have affected the family during Lyman’s childhood, and Sarah and her children returned to Dorchester where she had grown up. Despite apparent early difficulties, three sons were able to pursue higher education. Lyman studied privately under Reverend Dr. Perry of Bradford, MA and entered Dartmouth College in 1843. While there, he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. He graduated with honor in 1847 and immediately went to Andover Theological Seminary. It would have been during fall breaks in his Andover studies that he taught in Acton to earn money. He graduated in 1850. (Two younger brothers followed him to Andover Theological Seminary; Calvin, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1856 and Seminary in 1861 and Elijah who graduated from Williams College in 1856 and Seminary in 1862.)
The newly-minted Reverend Cutler was called to the Evangelical Church in Pepperell, MA and was installed on January 22, 1851. The Boston Recorder reported the event and indicated that Pepperell had done well to have obtained Lyman Cutler as their pastor, because his “reputation as a youthful preacher has already made him somewhat in demand among the churches.” (Jan. 30, 1851, p. 18) On March 14, 1851, he married Elizabeth Hill of Conway, NH. Lyman Cutler returned to Acton to participate in the installation of Rev. Benjamin Dodge at the Evangelical (Congregational) Church in October, 1852, presumably seeing some of his former students there.
Rev. Cutler was only in Pepperell for 2.5 years. While there, however, he managed to get into a dispute with Daniel Foster, a speaker for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society who lectured in Pepperell in May 1852. The dispute may have been partly personal and partly religious, but without actually mentioning names, Rev. Cutler apparently attempted to persuade his flock that Daniel Foster was not to be trusted, causing quite a furor. To be fair, we only have the words of aggrieved letter writers in the Liberator and not Rev. Cutler’s side of the story. (Oct. 8, 1852, p. 163, Dec. 17, 1852, p. 204) He was not the first minister with Acton ties to be at odds with the Liberator, as discussed in our blog post on Rev. James T. Woodbury’s dispute with Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison. (We can see from the student list that Reverend Woodbury’s son Porter was in Lyman Cutler’s 1849 school.) Other references to Rev. Cutler’s career were more favorable. He did not have long to prove himself. By November 1853, he was sick and asked to be dismissed from his role in Pepperell. It was a difficult decision for him. With rest, he managed to regain his health enough to start preaching again.
Though not in perfect health, he was called by Eliot Church in Newton to be their pastor and was installed there on October 25, 1854. Unfortunately, 1855 was a terrible year for the family. Lyman and his wife Elizabeth lost their only child Lyman Edwards Cutler on January 16, 1855 at the age of sixteen months to “congestion of the brain.” The Boston Herald had just reported that Rev. Cutler was in a “feeble state of health” himself and would be taking a leave of absence with pay. (Jan. 12, 1855, p. 2) Sadly, on April 28, 1855, Lyman succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 28. His gravestone, next to his son’s in East Parish Burying Ground in Newton, was erected by members of the Eliot Church “in memory of their late beloved pastor.”
A lengthy obituary in the Congregationalist mentioned Lyman Cutler’s ability to speak with “great force and beauty of imagination,” “great emotive power” and “irrepressible fervency.... When he was impassioned the tones of his voice were thrilling. The work of persuading men was natural to him.” He was also apparently social and warm-hearted and had a capacity for drawing “to himself the hearts of his fellow-men.” (May 18, 1855, p.1) It is not at all surprising that Lyman Cutler’s school would have been exceptionally popular with Acton’s students.
A comprehensive biography of Lyman Cutler can be found in the Congregationalist, May 18, 1855, p. 1, “Rev. Lyman Cutler.” His select school is mentioned in the 1848-1849 Acton School Committee report, p. 11. He also appeared in catalogues of alumni of both Dartmouth College and Andover Theological Seminary and was mentioned in his brothers’ biographies as well. See especially his entry in Chapman’s 1867 Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College, page 366. The Boston Recorder described his installation at Pepperell (Jan. 30, 1851, p. 18) and Newton (Nov. 2, 1854, p. 174) and his visit to Acton (Nov. 4, 1852, p. 178). Brown University has a copy of his 1854 installation program in its archives.
A biography of Daniel Foster that sheds some light on the dispute with Lyman Cutler and other “orthodox” ministers can be found in the October 2005 newsletter of the Chester Historical Society, “Reverend Daniel Foster ‘The Fighting Chaplain of the Massachusetts 33rd.”
Thank you to our donor for sharing information about Lyman Cutler’s Select School. In the course of researching Rev. Cutler’s time at Dartmouth, we found quite a few other Dartmouth students who taught in Acton. Most taught in the winter term of the public schools and were discussed in school committee reports. We did not find such records for the teaching of Reverend James Fletcher (1843-1844) and Sylvanus Dearborn (1855), either because of record availability or because they taught privately. If you have more information about their teaching or about other private school teachers in Acton, please contact us.
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