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A memoir of Rev. Bennet Tyler online

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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1859, by


In the Clerk's OflSce of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.







1783 — 1807.

The ancestors of Bennct Tyler, both on his father's and
his mother's side, belonged to the substantial yeomanry
of Connecticut. Though they could boast of no family
distinction according to the world's estimation, they had
the nobility of a connection with the " household of faith."
His grandfather, Daniel Tyler, removed from Branford to
Middlebury, then a part of Woodbury, in 1743. James
Tyler, the father of Bennet, married Anne Hungerford, of
Watertown. He lived, from early years, an exemplary
Christian, and died at the age of fifty-nine, leaving un-
broken a circle of five children, four sons and one daugh-
ter. The youngest of this circle was Bennet, born at
Middlebury, July 10, 1783.

Few incidents worthy of notice occurred in his early life.
When four years of age he had a very narrow escape from
death. He was climbing a cart wiieel ; the oxen started,
he fell, and the wheel passed over him ; he, doubtless,
would have been instantly cruslicd had he not fallen by
the side of a stone, which broke the force of the wheel.

In view of this providence he has remarked, — and who
2 (13)


may not say the same in relation to some hair-breadth
escape in early life ? — " Why was I thus signally spared,
when so many children are cut down by the stroke of
death ? Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy

In the religious education of the subject of this memoir,
there was nothing out of the ordinary course in Puritan
families of that day. He had the consecration of early
baptism, the Sabbath, public worship, the " church in the
house," with its altar of prayer, bringing daily blessings to
the household. That " form of sound words," the Assem-
bly's Catechism, was recited every Sabbath evening. A
mother's pious instruction fell upon the child's fresh sen-
sibilities " as the small rain upon the tender herb."
Serious thoughts of death and of eternity crossed that
youthful mind as it began to see beyond the world of
sense. Struggles with conscience had even then begun
to show a depraved nature, and transient religious im-
pressions evinced that the service of Christ was not the
chosen portion of the soul. Yet the truths of the Bible
were believed, and by their restraining power kept his
youthful feet from every path of vice or immorality.

His advantages for early education were limited to the
common school, a mile and a half distant from his father's
liouse. He began to attend this school at six years of
age ; but when old enough to be of service on the farm,
his term of study was restricted to the winter. At school,
though ambitious to excel, and having the reputation of
being a good scholar, he made no great attainments in
learning. Webster's Spelling Book and Daboll's Arith-
metic were his chief text books. English grammar and
geography were then " higher branches," not generally
introduced in the common schools. Unfavorable as were
these circumstances to intellectual stimulant and culture,


the elder sons of this family cherished a desire for a lib-
eral education, which the want of pecuniary means com-
pelled them to relinquish. Bennet had the same desire ;
but the farm could only support the family, and it seemed
that this aspiration must be crushed. Accordingly, at
the age of fifteen he was sent to Watertown, to learn a
trade of one Mr. Eichards. He continued here three
months, when an accident turned the whole current of
his future life. In attempting to leap a wall, he so
bruised his side, that he was unable to labor ; and his
father making him a visit, he returned with him, intending
to remain at home only a few days.

Here he soon learned from an uncle that the subject of
his education had been agitated by his brothers. This
kindled anew his smothered desire for knowledge. A
family conference was held, which resulted in the deter-
mination to send Bennet to college, the brothers gener-
ously offering to assist, if the father's means should prove

He now commenced the study of Latin with Eev. Ira
Hart, the parish minister ; at the same time boarding at
home, and assisting in the farm work. His brothers took
a deep interest in his education, but were not called upon
to render pecuniary aid. Receiving a small legacy from
his father while in college, by teaching school and other
labors, he succeeded, with rigid economy, in paying all
his bills, and completed his collegiate course with the com-
fort, enjoyed by too few students, of being free from debt.

He entered Yale College in the autumn of 1800. Some
years before that time the Christian religion had been
a frequent subject of ridicule among the undergradu-
ates. Infidelity, imported from France, had poisoned the
minds of many students, and strict piety was generally
looked upon as unfitted for the freedom of youth. At


one time, near the close of the last century, there was but
one professor of religion in the Freshman class, not one
in the Sophomore, only one in the Junior, and not more
than ten in the Senior. So far was scoffing at sacred
things carried, that " on one communion Sabbath some of
the students in the dining hall cut the bread in pieces to
represent the sacred emblem of Christ's body, and impi-
ously offered it to a solitary professor who was dining with
them ; intending thereby to wound the feelings of the
youth just from the table of the Lord." Though such
impiety had been greatly restrained at the opening of the
century, yet the religious influence of Yale was not then
positive and pervading, as after the revival of 1802.
There were but few professors of religion among the un-
dergraduates. But God's ways are not as man's ways ;
and he who met Augustine by his renewing grace, in a
city where his mother regarded his conversion as hope-
less, arrested this young man amid those temptations of
college life which will always surround a youth of seven-
teen. The account of his conversion shall be given in
his own words. It is as follows : —

" I had some serious reflections, as I have already men-
tioned, while quite a child ; but they were of sliort contin-
uance. At the time I was fitting for college there was a
revival in my native place, and my own mind at times
was seriously impressed. I recollect being repeatedly
very deeply affected at religious meetings. I am inclined
to think, however, that my feelings were more the effect
of sympathy than of conviction of sin. I cannot recol-
lect any distinct views which I had of my character as a
sinner, though I knew I was not prepared to die, and
needed religion to prepare me for heaven. I unfortu-
nately, at this time, labored under the conviction that


conversion was in such a sense God's work as to leave
nothing for the creature to do, and that my business was
to wait for God to convert me. I often thought I desired
to be a Christian ; and I hoped that God would arrest my
attention and change my heart. But I waited in vain.
After a while my anxiety left me, and I was, if possible,
more stupid than before. After this, a young man of in-
fidel sentiments came to study with Mr. Hart. His con-
versation had a very injurious effect upon my mind, and
led me to entertain doubts respecting the inspiration of
the Scriptures. I could not, however, entirely shake off
the impressions of early education. That the religion of
my parents was not a reality, it was hard for me to be-
lieve ; and although I was sceptical at times, I could not
satisfy myself that the Bible was not true. And the fearful
thought that it might be true, and that its account of a
future retribution might prove to be a reality, would some-
times overwhelm me. Such thoughts, however, I ban-
ished from my mind as much as possible, and flattered
myself that at some future time I would make preparation
for death. This was the state of my mind during my
first and part of my second year in college. In the spring
of 1802, while I was Sophomore, that great revival com-
menced in Yale College, to which reference has often
been made, and which issued in the hopeful conversion of
about seventy of the students. This revival commenced
a few weeks before the spring vacation. I knew very
little of it, however, at the time, as I was confined with
the measles, and as soon as I was able, had gone home, on
account of the weakness of my eyes. I continued at
home during the remainder of the term, and, owing to
the sickness and death of my father, I did not return to
college till one or two weeks after the commencement of
the summer term. A great change had taken place

2* B


during my absence. Many who were thoughtless when I
last saw them, were now rejoicing in hope, and others were
deeply anxious for their souls. Meanwhile I had been
called to pass through a most affecting scene. My father
had died in the triumphs of faith. His death, the funeral
sermon which was preached on the following Sabbath,
and the inteUigence which I had received from college,
had made a deep impression on my mind. I returned to
college. When I entered the college yard, an awful so-
lemnity seemed to rest upon every object on which I cast
my eyes. The buildings were solemn. The trees were
solemn. The countenance of every individual whom I
saw was solemn. ' How dreadful is this place,' was the
exclamation which seemed naturally to force itself from
me. I went into my room. On the table was a letter
addressed to me from a classmate with whom I had been
intimate, and whom I had left in a state of thoughtless
security. His attention had been called up to the con-
cerns of his soul ; and having heard of my affliction in
the death of my father, ho had written me a very affec-
tionate letter, urging upon me an immediate attention to
the concerns of my soul. My room-mate soon after came
from his closet, with a solemn, joyful countenance, and
told me what God had done for his soul since we had
parted. My feelings at this time can be better imagined
than described. Suffice it to say, an impression was now
made upon my mind wliich was never effaced. I no
longer halted between two opinions. I felt that if I
did not secure my salvation now, I never should ; and I
resolved to attend in earnest to the things which belonged
to my peace. I knew not what to do. I read my Bible
and tried to pray, but my heart was as hard as adamant.
I wandered in the fields meditating on my miserable state,
and tried to cry to God for mercy. But I had no sense


of Goers presence, and my prayers seemed not to ascend
over my head. I could feel no godly sorrow for sin, no
love to God, and no gratitude for his mercies. I knew
that there was not one right feeling in my heart, and I
could not change my heart, nor could I do any thing
to induce God to change it ; and what to do I knew not.
My mind was filled with awful darkness. I was in this
state several weeks ; not in such great distress as some
experience ; nor did I have those clear views of my sins
which sometimes precede conversion. I have many times
feared, indeed, that I have never had any genuine convic-
tion of sin. I think, however, I was convinced of the
entire depravity of my own heart ; and although I can-
not recollect such awful heart-risings as some have ex-
pressed, I tliink I was brought to see that ' the carnal
mind is enmity against God,' and that nothing short of
the almighty energy of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to sub-
due it. I can recollect that a calmness came over my
mind, such as I had not felt before, and that my views of
divine things were different from what they had been. I
saw that God's requirements were reasonable, and tliat I
was without excuse. Every thing, indeed, appeared right
but myself. But my ideas were not very clear, and I
cannot recollect very distinctly what my views and feel-
ings were. The burden that I had felt on my mind was in
a great measure gone, and my fear was, that I was losing
my religious impressions. I found, however, that my
interest in the subject of religion, so far from being abated,
was increased. I felt a disposition to pray, and seemed
to take some satisfaction in tlie duty ; and the more I
thought on religious subjects the more peaceful I felt ;
whereas before, directly the opposite was true. A few
days after this change in my feelings, I was present at the
examination of some of the students for admission to the


church ; and one of these, in giving an account of himself,
seemed to describe my feelings better than I could have
described them myself. I then, for the first time, began
to think it possible that I might have passed from death
unto life. But my hope was a faint and trembling one,
and has, from that day to this, been attended with many
doubts and fears. This occurred some time in the sum-
mer of 1802. I joined the church in Yale College, April
3, 1803, in my Junior year.^ When I look back upon
my life, I find much cause for deep humiliation before
God. It seems sometimes as if it was nothing but sin. I
have, it is true, through the restraining grace of God,
been kept from open and scandalous sins. 1 have, for
aught I know, sustained an unblemished Christian char-
acter in the sight of men. But my heart is a sink of in-
iquity. When I compare myself with God's holy law, I
am truly vile. If I have any religion, I certainly have but
little ; and if I am ever saved, my salvation will be a won-
derful display of divine grace. I have never allowed my-
self to indulge a very confident expectation of future
happiness. When I think of the deceitfulness and wick-
edness of the human heart, and recollect that vast multi-
tudes have deceived themselves with a hypocrite's hope, I
often tremble for myself. But I have a hope, and the
evidences of it are these : I think I do delight in the
character of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. I
think I do rejoice in the government of God. I think
the law of God appears to me to be excellent. I think I
see a loveliness in Christ, and that he is precious to my
soul. I think sin appears odious, and that I do sincerely

* On a slip of paper found in Dr. Tyler's pocket book was written in
an unknown hand this memorandum : *' April 3, A. D., 1803. — Moses
Stuart, (Tutor,) Banks, Frost, E. Swift, Tyler, Van Heuvel, Juniors,
made a profession of religion at Yale College."


long to be freed from it, and to be made perfectly holy.
I think I feel a peculiar affection for the people of God.
I think I feel a deep interest in the cause of Christ, and a
sincere desire to see it promoted. I think I do sometimes
enjoy communion with God in secret. These feelings, if
my heart does not deceive me, I possess in some degree,
though they are far from being what they should be, and
are mingled with much, very much, that is wrong."

In college, Mr. Tyler had for class-mates Rev. Dr. Brace,
of Pittsfield, Rev. Dr. McEwen, of New London, Hon. J.
C. Calhoun, Rev. John Marsh, Bishop Gadsden, and
others, who have since risen to eminence. Rev. John
Pierpont, the poet, was for some time his room-mate, just
then beginning to write poetry, which did not always
escape the severe criticism of unpoetical tutors.

The following tribute to the memory of his class-mate
is from the venerable Dr. Brace. Par nobile fratrum, we
may say, in relation to the chief characteristic spoken of
in the letter.

Pittsfield, January 11, 1859.
To Dr. Gale, of Lee, Mass.

"Honest Beiinet Tyler" — yes, that was he in Yale
College, at the beginning of the running century — the
specific expression of his mind and word that title was, as
I have ever since had him in my thought. I loved him
for his simplicity and singleness of mind. I could trust
in him.

"A wit's a feather, and a chief's a rod ;
An honest man's the noblest work of God."

A faithful man who can find ? He is a wonder ! I
found one in this very man, my class-mate. Our class
entered college in 1800, early in September. Gardner
Spring and Nathaniel W. Taylor entered in the same


class, although within two years they left, through some
illness, and received their degrees a year or two after
1804. Our niimber was near eighty, — sixty-six were
graduated in September, 1804. What a company of
bright, ambitious young men ! I look back upon them
with admiration. 0, the impression upon our soul, after
the examination for " Freshmen," when the tutors called
us together and declared us accepted ! What friendship
we enjoyed, and what delight we felt in our college work !
Precious years ! I give thanks to God for giving those
blessings to me. After fifty-eight years, death has taken
away all but seventeen. I am a wonder to myself as I
write these notices of my early companions. Bennet
Tyler was eager to learn. Pr. D wight was our president
and minister. Under his preaching there was a great
revival in 1802, in which a great company turned to the
ministry of Christ. Bennet Tyler would never neglect
his lessons — never be absent from the recitations — never
violate the rules of college — never cause trouble to the
governors and teachers — never do any thing to injure
others — never any thing to hinder the prosperity of the
institution. He was pleasant in his temper — peaceable
in his disposition — kind in his conversation — benevolent
in his feelings — constant in his study — honoraljle in his
conduct — and he was honored and ])eloved. Such was
his early character. As a Christian he was hum])le, holy
in his spirit, conscientious and heavenly in his life. As a
minister of Christ he was experimental, and faithful, and
led many to eternal salvation. He was active during a
long course of years, and is now, I do trust, in the pres-
ence of the great Redeemer. It is with much pleasure
that I remember him, and that I now give you this ac-
count of him.

I am your affectionate brother in the Christian ministry,

J. Brace.


Mr. Tyler's rank as a scholar is not accurately known
to the writer of this Memoir. His name is enrolled on
the catalogue of the <i>. n. K., which contains about one
third of the class, accounted at the time as the best

Having graduated in September, 1804, at the age of
21, Mr. Tyler spent one year in teaching the academy in
AVeston, Fairfield county, employing his leisure hours in
reading, preparatory to the study of theology.

In the autumn of 1805, he commenced theological
study under the tuition of Rev. Asahel Hooker, of Goshen,
Conn., who kept a private theological school. Here he
remained one year, then the usual term of study for
graduates preparatory to preaching. At this school Mr.
Tyler was associated with several fellow-students, whom
he, to the last, greatly respected and loved. Among them
were Dr. Heman Humphrey, Dr. John Woodbridge, Rev.
Frederick Marsh, Rev. Joshua Huntington, and Rev.
Thomas Punderson.

During this year he pursued his studies with such assi-
duity that he seriously injured his health. A severe pain
in his chest, which had troubled him in college, now in-
creased, and when licensed to preach by the North Asso-
ciation of Litchfield county in the fall of 1806, lie was ill
prepared to begin in earnest the work of the ministry.

Those who have seen his robust frame and ruddy coun-
tenance, and heard his strong voice in later years, will be
surprised to learn that, at the threshold of the ministry,
he seemed, for months, a candidate for the consumptive's
grave. He attributes his feeble health at this time, pri-
marily, to a habit of bending over a low tal)le in the early
part of his life as a student. When he began to preach,
his delivery was vehement, and his excitement such as
greatly aggravated the disease from which he was suffer-


ing. In describing these early efforts in the pulpit, he
used to say, " I preached with all my might." His first
sermon was delivered to the congregation of Rev. Timothy
Stone, in South Cornwall. In relation to this first effort
in tlie pulpit. Dr. Tyler was fond of relating the compli-
ment which he received from Mrs. Stone. " I heard a
man say," remarked the good lady on returning from
church, '' that he liked your sermon very much. But,"
she added, after a brief pause, " I do not regard him as a
very good judge of sermons."

After preaching occasionally in several other places, he
received a unanimous call to settle in Blanford, and was
also urged to become pastor of the church in Milford ;
but the pain in his chest had greatly increased ; his lungs
were very much inflamed ; and, on consulting a physician
in New Haven, he was advised to desist from preaching,
to leave the seaboard, and journey on horseback. Ac-
cordingly in May, 1807, he started for Niagara Falls in
company with his fi-iend Mr. Punderson. They reached
the Falls in three weeks, passing through " almost an
entire wilderness " west of Genesee River. Where now
stands the city of Rochester they found only two log
cabins ; and a considerable part of the distance they were
guided by " marked trees."

After visiting two brothers in Jefferson county, Mr.
Tyler's health had so much improved that he ventured to
preach occasionally in the new settlements of that region.
At the close of the summer he returned to Connecticut,
still, however, too feeble to take charge of a parish.

The following letters, the first from Rev, Dr. Wood-
bridge, of Hadley, Mass., and the second from Rev.
Frederick Marsh, of Winchester, Conn., will show the
estimation in which he was held by fellow-students in
theology. They are also valuable for their particulars of


the method of study pursued by candidates for the min-
istry in New England fifty years ago.

IIadlet, June 12, 1858.
Rev. Mr. Gale.

My Dear Sir : I was associated with your venerable
and excellent father-in-law, Rev. Dr. Tyler, in theological
studies, at Mr. Hooker's, in Goshen, Conn.

When I arrived there, I found several young men of
much promise preparing for the ministry ; and among
the more prominent of these was Mr. Tyler. His first
appearance was prepossessing ; he was unaffected and
gentle, yet his address was marked with a manliness and
strength of character indicating his fitness for some highly
useful sphere in life. There was nothing of quackery,
nothing of boasting self-conceit, nothing of overbearing
insolence, nothing of the defiant manner in that young
disciple ; yet he was a clear, independent thinker, holding
fast his opinions, because he loved them as truth, and
was ready to defend them with argument and by kindness
against an opposing world. He was friendly to all ; and
I have no recollection of a bitter or angry word that ever
fell from his lips. My estimate of his character, both as
a Christian and a man of a discerning and well-furnished
mind, continued to increase in proportion to the intimacy
witli him which I was permitted to enjoy.

Wliile he made no pretensions to splendor of imagina-
tion, few could surpass him in the power of fixed atten-
tion, and searching investigation of a subject in its first
principles, and in its various relations.

We were accustomed to read, in the presence of each
other, dissertations on questions propounded by our in-
structor. Mr. Tyler's were always respectable ; his argu-
ments were well selected, well arranged, and expressed



in fitting sentences of genuine English, without the small-

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Online LibraryNahum GaleA memoir of Rev. Bennet Tyler → online text (page 1 of 10)