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Jeremiah Dummer (1681 – May 19, 1739) was an important colonial figure for New Englandmarker in the early 1700s. His most significant contributions to American history were his A Defense of the New England Charters and his role in the formation of Yale College.

Background and Early Life

Jeremiah Dummer’s family history can be traced back to the Dummermarker village in Englandmarker in the 12th century (Clarke, 3). Dummer’s grandfather, Richard Dummer, was the first in the family to settle in New England, in Newbury, Massachusettsmarker in 1635. Richard had five children in Newbury by his second wife, Francis Burr Dummer (Clarke, 13-14). Richard’s son, Jeremiah Dummer, Sr.,[210158] was a prominent colonial craftsman and one of the original silversmiths born in the Americas. In 1672, he married Anna Atwater. Jeremiah Dummer, Jr., was born the sixth of Dummer and Atwater’s nine children in 1681, one of the other children, William Dummer later becoming governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and posthumous benefactor of the Governor Dummer Academy. Jeremiah Jr.’s historical significance would eclipse that of his father, who has been said to have been “A man of rare versatility for the times, he learned and successfully pursued his profession of silversmith, producing pieces that today stand out in the work of the period for their dignity, simplicity, and artistic workmanship.” (Clarke, 41). Although Dummer’s father had received little education while being raised in an agricultural setting in New England, Jeremiah Jr. would instead go on to be educated at several renowned universities and play a crucial role in the formation of Yale.

Education and Early Career

Jeremiah Dummer graduated from Harvard Collegemarker in 1699. Deciding to pursue a career in theology, Dummer traveled to Europe and received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Utrecht in 1703. Dummer is widely believed to have been the first Colonial born American who received a Ph. D. from a European university (Murrin, 108). In 1704, Dummer returned to the colonies and became a preacher in Boston. He did not make much of an impression from the pulpit and with the exception of his "A Discourse on the Holiness of the Sabbath Day", printed in 1704, his preaching made almost no splash in the religious world at the time. Although Dummer was a well-learned man, his preaching left little mark on the religious community and he left the profession to pursue politics in 1708.

Politics and A Defense of the New-England Charters

Arriving back in Europe in the fall of 1708, Dummer decided to take part in the politics in London. Upon arrival in England, Dummer started an important relationship with Henry St. John, a statesman whose secret negotiations with Dummer landed him in trouble upon the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Henry St. John was disgraced and Dummer’s plans for a political career in England seemed to have been dashed. However, Dummer soon gained an important role in the politics of his native New England. Appointed as Agent for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Dummer held this position from 1710 until 1721 and served a similar role in the colony of Connecticut. Upon his removal from office, Dummer continued to help his native Massachusetts “without pay and without appointment” (Clarke, 49). Dummer’s continuing role in New England politics eventually led to his two important literary works. His first work, “A Letter to a Noble Lord concerning the late Expedition to Canada”, stated reasons for the expansion into Canada, as well as why the expedition to Quebec in 1711 failed. His other publication, A Defense of the New-England Charters, was an incredibly important work that argued on behalf of the New England colonies.

A Defense of the New England Charters was published in 1721 and defended the charters of New England, composed of the Massachusetts Bay colony, the colony of Connecticut, the government of Rhode Island, with Providence Plantations, and the province of New Hampshire. Dummer’s work came at the time of, and was necessitated by, a proposed bill for the House of Commons that would annul the charters of these New England colonies. Dummer sought to illustrate the colonies’ loyalty to the crown and their necessity and right to a continuation of the charters with four points that he listed at the beginning of the work:

  • “[First] I shall endeavor to show, that the Charter Governments have a good and undoubted Right to their respective Charters”


  • “[Secondly] That they have not forfeited them by any Misgovernment or Male-Administration”


  • “[Thirdly] That if they had, it would not be the Interest of the Crown to accept the Forfeitures. And,”


  • “[Fourthly] I shall make some Observations upon the extraordinary Method of Proceeding against the Charters by a Bill in Parliament” (Dummer, 6)


Dummer then continued in this vein by explaining the hardships the original settlers faced and how they provided England with valuable resources and service. Dummer states, “And then the Conclusion, that I would draw from these Premises is this, That to strip the Country of their Charters after the Service has bin so successfully perform’d, is abhorrent from all Reason, Equity, and Justice.”(Dummer, 13) Dummer justifies the colonial charters by explaining the colonies’ worth and continuing loyalty to England, ending the work with a justification for his own zealous arguments on the behalf of the colonies. He states, “Being myself a native of one of them, I could not forbear showing my good-will; for how little soever one is able to write, yet when the liberties of one’s country are threaten’d, it’s still more difficult to be silent.” (Dummer, 80) Dummer’s work ended up being “one of the chief influences that defeated the bill” (Clarke, 48) and enabled New England to keep its charters.

Yale

Although Jeremiah Dummer attended Harvard, his contributions to Yalemarker cause him to be more significantly associated with the latter. During the shaky founding years of the Collegiate College in New Haven, Connecticut, Dummer was an important force in the solidification of the college’s future. Serving as the colonial agent for Massachusetts and Connecticut, Dummer sought donations for the school in the form of money and books, eventually securing donations from Elihu Yale, Isaac Newton, and Richard Steele (Kelley, 17). Dummer’s efforts improved the status of the school, providing students with the most current information on a variety of subjects. The most significant contribution of Jeremiah Dummer to the school was his work on persuading Elihu Yale to donate a large sum of money. Dummer wrote Yale “that the business of good men is to spread religion and learning among mankind...” (Kelley, 24). Yale eventually agreed to aid the college and the trustees of the school commemorated Yale by renaming the Collegiate College in his honor.

Death and Impact on American History

Jeremiah Dummer died an unmarried man on May 19, 1739, in Essex, England. He left instructions to the executors of his will to “invite to my funeral all such New England Gentlemen as shall be in London at the time of my decease” and to reward each with a ring of the value of 20 shillings (Clarke, 50). The mode with which Dummer dealt with his death reflects his crucial role in early colonial history. He was very attached to his native New England and his most significant contribution to history was his “A Defense of the New-England Charters”. In both his support for the colonies’ charters and his role in securing a college in New Haven, his dedication to New England is as important as it is often unrecognized. Although the college was not named for him, Dummer’s persuasion of Elihu Yale’s support cemented its future. Even if not directly stated, the New England colonies also had Dummer to thank for the continuation of their charters.

Dummer left his mark on history by not only being the first American colonist to receive a Ph. D. from a European university, but also by remaining until his death one of the colonies’ fiercest champions in the securing of their future.

References

  1. Published in London in 1712 and reprinted, among other places, in the American Magazine & Historical Chronicle (American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals), June 1, 1746, pp. 241–250.


Bibliography

  • Clarke, Hermann Frederick, and Henry Wilder Foote. Jeremiah Dummer, Colonial Craftsman and Merchant, 1645-1718. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1935.
  • Dummer, Jeremiah. A Defense of the New-England Charters. New York: Arno Press, 1972.
  • Kelley, Brooks Mather. Yale-A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.
  • Murrin, John M. et al. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People. Volume I. USA: Wadsworth, 2005.
  • Pierson, George Wilson. Yale: A Short History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.


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