Jonathan Edwards of David Brainerd’s Difficulties at Yale (1742)

Jonathan Edwards [1749], The Life of David Brainerd (WJE Online Vol. 7) , Ed. Norman Pettit


In the following winter (1741–1742) Brainerd broke the rule enacted at commencement and was heard to say that Chauncey Whittelsey (1717–1787), tutor in the college, had “no more grace than a chair.” He was also reported to have said that he wondered that Rector Clap “did not drop down dead” for fining the students who had followed Gilbert Tennent [a leading Great Awakening preacher] to Milford.

The second charge Brainerd denied, but because he would not confess the first offence in Hall he was expelled. Edwards, who took a distinctly detached view of the affair, thought that it was “injuriously required of him … to make a public confession … for what he said only in private conversation.” However, Edwards then judiciously took the blame off others (himself included) with the remark that “Brainerd had the unhappiness to have a tincture of that intemperate indiscreet zeal … to the habitual temper of his mind.”

At no point would Edwards blame the evangelists for his young friend’s plight. And though Brainerd wrote the trustees a letter of apology for what he had said, he was not allowed to take the degree with his class. Moreover, the degree was never awarded, although Brainerd Hall now stands in New Haven on Prospect Hill.

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