Yale Alumni Magazine
March 2001 Tercentennial
Distinguished Graduates
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Joseph Willard

B.A. 1714

The alumni of Yale’s first decades, who were primarily clergymen, appear to have led lives of quiet dedication in small New England settlements. But perhaps things were not as gently bucolic as they now seem. Consider the fate that befell Joseph Willard.

His career got off to a modest start. Appointed pastor of the church in Swampfield (later Sunderland), Massachusetts, Willard was dismissed after three years, in 1721, for reasons not recorded. He began preaching in the newly settled township of Rutland, in the western part of the colony, where he was related to most of the landholders. Rutland, still considered vulnerable to Indian attack, chose Willard as its pastor but did not name a date for the installation ceremony until 1723.

While awaiting this event, the minister joined a few citizens on a turkey-hunting expedition. In the woods they were caught in a surprise attack in which Willard and two others were killed and scalped. Two members of the party were carried off by the attackers.

The 27-year-old clergyman was eulogized in two ceremonies in Rutland, and these sermons were published in Boston the following year. Survived by his widow and one child (a second was born after his death), Joseph Willard left a tidy estate valued at nearly 500 pounds.