On January 11, 1817, Timothy Dwight (theologian, educator, poet, and eighth president of Yale) died in New Haven, Connecticut. A remarkable scholar, Dwight entered Yale at age 13 and upon graduation served as the rector for the Hopkins Grammar School before returning to Yale as a tutor. It was while at Yale that Dwight, along with Joel Barlow, David Humphreys, and John Trumbull—the “Hartford Wits” —began using poetry and satire to push at conventions and explore the ideas of a new American nation. A supporter of the Revolutionary War, but unable to fight as an ordained minister, Dwight enlisted as chaplain to the First Connecticut Brigade of the Continental army where he used his sermons and self-composed war songs—most notably Columbia—to inspire the troops.
Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, preached New Light Calvinism but as a scholar he also believed in the advancement of science. He saw no conflict between the two and viewed the “study of nature as an exploration of the nature of God.” This contrary view to the dogma of the time gained Dwight national recognition as a preacher in Fairfield. He also became known for establishing Greenfield Academy, a school that educated both young men and women. The school, seen as unorthodox for applying the same curriculum to both sexes and eliminating corporal punishment, soon began to draw students from across the country—including several who transferred from Yale.
Appointed president of Yale upon the death of Ezra Stiles, Dwight inherited a school in financial and physical distress. He set about transforming the school into a modern university through curriculum reform, the introduction of the experimental sciences (with the appointment of pioneering chemist Benjamin Silliman), and the establishment of the Yale medical school. Timothy Dwight is buried in Grove Street Cemetery.