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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00062

Manasseh Cutler papers


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.


  • 1782-1856
  • Majority of material found within 1782-1808


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13 folders

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).

  1. Barnhart, JH. 1965. Biographical Notes Upon Botanists. Boston (MA): G.K. Hall.
  2. Cutler, WP, Cutler, JP. 1888. Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D. 2 Vols. Cincinnati (OH): Robert Clarke & Co.
  3. Elliott, C. 1979. Biographical dictionary of American science : The seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.
  4. Humphrey, JE. 1898. Manasseh Cutler. Amer. Naturalist. 32:75-80.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Notebooks
  2. Series II. Loose materials


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 botanist and Amherst College professor Edward Tuckerman (1817-1886) 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 the entomologist and Harvard College Librarian Thaddeus William Harris (1795-1856); he also indicated that William Oakes (1799-1848) 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 indicated 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 came in that group. 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.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection has been microfilmed. Microfilm master number 9601.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:
  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965
  2. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  3. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892

In the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University

  1. Manasseh Cutler collection

In the Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections, Ohio University

  1. Manasseh Cutler collection (Mss #9)

Processing Information

Processed: January 1982

By: Lynn McWhood

Preservation and additional description were supported in part by the Arcadia-funded Colonial North American Project at Harvard University in 2016.

Cutler, Manasseh, 1742-1823. Manasseh Cutler papers, 1782-1856, bulk 1782-1808: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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