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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Ezra Stiles

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EZRA STILES (1727-1795), American clergyman and educationalist, seventh president of Yale College, was born on the 29th of November 1727 in North Haven, Connecticut, where his father, Isaac Stiles (d. 1760), was minister of the Congregational Church. He graduated at Yale in 1746; studied there for the three years following; was licensed to preach in 1749 and was a tutor at Yale in 1749-1755. He preached in 1750 to the Indians at Stockbridge, later studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1753, and practised in New Haven for two years. He was pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Newport, Rhode Island, from 1755 to 1777; in 1776-1777 he preached occasionally in Dighton, Massachusetts, whither he had removed his family after the British occupation of Newport; and in April 1777 he became pastor of the North Church of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1778 he became president of Yale College and professor of ecclesiastical history there, having insisted that no theological statement be required of him except assent to the Saybrook platform of 1708; in 1780--1782 he was professor of divinity, and he lectured besides on astronomy and philosophy. He died in New Haven on the 12th of May 1795. His wise administration as president made possible the speedy recovery of Yale College after the War of Independence, and his intellectual and theological breadth helped to secularize and strengthen the college. As an undergraduate he became deeply interested in astronomy; he observed the comet of 1759 and the transit of Venus of June 1769, and left a quarto volume of astronomical notes. He experimented successfully with the electrical apparatus presented to Yale by Benjamin Franklin, whose intimate friend he became. He carefully kept thermometric and meteorological statistics.; he imported silkworms and books on silk culture; he corresponded with many litteratinotably with Dr Nathaniel Lardner and with Sir William Jones, of whom he besought information of all kinds, but especially any that would lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of the ten lost tribes; and he undertook the study of Hebrew at the age of forty and became an able scholar. On Franklin's recommendation he was made a doctor of divinity by the university of Edinburgh in 1765; he had received a master's degree at Harvard in 1754, and was made doctor of divinity in 1780 by Dartmouth and in 1784 by the college of New Jersey (now Princeton University) .

Dr Stiles published several sermons, notably, a Discourse on the Christian Union (1761), which has remarkable ecclesiastical breadth of view; an Account of the Settlement of Bristol, Rhode Island (1785); and a History of Three of the Judges of King Charles I.: MajorGeneral Whalley, Major-General Goffe and Colonel Dixwell (1794) He began in 1768 but never finished an Ecclesiastical History of New England and British America. His Literary Diary was published in New York in 3 vols. in 1901, being edited by F. B. Dexter, who quotes largely from Dr Stiles's Itineraries, a daily account of his travels; the Diary gives a valuable picture of the life of New England in 1769-1795 and many interesting estimates of Stiles's contemporaries. See the Life of Ezra Stiles (Boston, 1798), by his daughter's husband, Abiel Holmes, the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Ezra Stiles'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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