Special Tercentennial Issue
Distinguished Graduates
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Manasseh Cutler

B.A. 1765


The Northwest Ordinance (1787), which set forth the conditions for U.S. western expansion, has been ranked close behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as a formative influence on the American nation. In any case, the Ordinance has stood the test of time, as one territory after another fulfilled the conditions for statehood.

A co-author of the far-sighted document was the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, a Congregationalist minister in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Whatever hours he could take from his duties were devoted to what was then called natural history. Aside from following the stars and planets, Cutler collected botanical samples and charted temperatures and other weather phenomena, constantly borrowing thermometers and barometers from friends and parishioners.

The Revolutionary War provided Cutler with an unexpected opportunity. He signed on as a chaplain in the army and was among a group of officers who founded the Ohio Company in 1786 to lead a band of settlers westward. He joined with Nathan Dane, a neighbor who had served on the Continental Congress, in drafting the Ordinance of 1787.

Acting as negotiator for the company, Cutler obtained government approval to settle an area of 1.5 million acres beyond the Ohio River. He kept a journal of the vicissitudes of the journey to Marietta in 1788 with 45 fellow settlers, relating everything from the rude diet to their relations with Native Americans.

Cutler went on to serve in the Massachusetts legislature as well as the U.S. House of Representatives, but never gave up his parish in Ipswich.