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Ezra Stiles, Dr. Reverend, Dean of Yale University

Ezra Stiles was my 1st cousin, 8x removed. He was born on December 10, 1727 to Reverend John Stiles and Keziah Taylor. His father was my 8x Great Uncle and brother to my 7x Great Grandmother, Ruth Stiles.

 

Ezra graduated from Yale University in 1746 and was ordained in 1749 and began tutoring at Yale until 1755. In that year Ezra became pastor at the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1764, while residing in Newport,  Ezra was one of the original founders of College In The English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, better known today as Brown University.

 

In 1777, Ezra and his family were driven out of Newport by the British. Ezra moved to Dighton, Massachusetts where he became the first settled minister of the Dighton Second Congregational Church.

 

As minister of the church, Ezra counted as his many friends: 

John Adams who would later go on to be the 2nd President of the United States of America.

Thomas Jefferson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President under John Adams and 3rd President of the United States of America.

Benjamin Franklin, signer of the Declaration of Independence among other notable achievements.

General John Stark. Revolutionary War hero

William Ellery, signer of the Declaration of IndependencePresident Langdon of Yale University

 

Biographies of Eliza mention he had many more influential friends who were leaders of the American Revolution.

 

On July 13th, 1777, a copy of the Declaration of Independence was delivered to Dighton and read to the congregation, most likely by Ezra Stiles as minister of the church.

 

In 1778, Ezra was appointed President of Yale University, a post he held until his death in 1795.

 

It is worth noting that despite all of the great achievements and notable historic people that Ezra knew, he was also a slave owner, the first such relative I have found.

 

In 1756, Ezra sent a "hogshead" of rum along with a voyage to Africa and was repaid with a 10-year-old slave whom he named "Newport". Ezra had been friends with a number of merchants and sea captains in his congregation, one of whom gave Ezra the young child.

 

Although Ezra wrote a letter jointly with fellow Newport minister Samuel Hopkins around the same time he received Newport, condemning the slave trade in America, he did not grant Newport his freedom until June 9, 1778. He then hired Newport at a wage of $20.00 per year and indentured Newport's 2-year-old son until age 24.

 

While freeing his slave may have been considered open-minded back in the 18th century, I find the discovery of a family member owning a slave deplorable. Hopefully, this is my first and last discovery of this sort, but if family legend holds true, I do not think that it will be.

 

As I have said before, family history is about reporting the good along with the bad. The important thing is that we learn from our past and do not repeat the errors in our future.