Thomas Clap – Clergy


He was born in Scituate, Massachusetts, and studied with Rev. James McSparran, missionary to Narragansett from the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts”, and with Rev. Nathiel Eells, of Scituate. He entered Harvard University (then known as Harvard College) at age 15, graduating in 1722. He preached at Windham, Connecticut, in 1725 and was ordained to succeed the Rev. Samuel Whiting as minister there in 1726, marrying Rev. Whiting’s daughter Mary in 1727, and remaining 14 years, with a ministry marked by a rather severe orthodoxy (he once traveled to Springfield to oppose the ordination of a minister accused of Arminian tendencies).

==Early religious conflict==

He was elected Rector of Yale College following Elisha Williams’s resignation, largely because the Trustees believed he would oppose Arminianism at Yale, and was inducted in 1740. His administration was to become known for its orthodoxy, pugnaciousness, authoritarianism, and embroilment in controversy.

In 1743, his nephew Nathan Whiting, whom he and his wife Mary had raised after the death of his parents, graduated from Yale.

He was learned both in theology and in science, and constructed the first orrery in America.

After the death of his first wife he married, on February 5, 1740/1, Mary Haynes.

His religious views led to conflict within the school: he objected to the teachings of English minister George Whitefield, an itinerant minister of the Great Awakening, and other itinerant teachers such as Gilbert Tennent. Rev. Joseph Noyes, pastor in New Haven, invited James Davenport to his congregation to preach: Davenport used the opportunity to brand him an “unconverted man” and a “hypocrite”: the congregation was eventually physically split, resulting in the two Congregational Churches that still stand on the New Haven Green.

In 1741, two masters’ candidates at Yale were denied their degrees for their “disorderly and reckless endeavors to propagate” the Great Awakening, and the College made it an offence for a student to imply that the Rector, Trustees, or Tutors were “carnal or unconverted men” or “hypocrites”. It was not long before a student, David Brainerd, did so, saying that Tutor Whittelsey “had no more grace than a chair”, and was expelled. Jonathan Edwards, Rev. Aaron Burr (father of the Vice-President), and Jonathan Dickinson unsuccessfully appealed for Brainerd’s reinstatement.

Clap campaigned for laws to inhibit itinerant preachers and lay exhorters, and to stop the disintegration of churches by separation. Religious disputation continued to fragment to student body, who refused to submit to discipline, avoided religious instruction from the “Old Lights” (preachers established before the Great Awakening), and attended separatist meetings. In 1742, Clap closed the college, sending the students home. He was supported by the General Assembly, and many of the more ardent students transferred to other institutions when Yale reopened in 1743.

Clap instituted Yale’s library catalog in 1743, and drafted a new charter of the school, granted by the General Assembly in 1745, incorporating the institution as “The President and Fellows of Yale College in New Haven”. Clap was sworn in as Yale’s first President on June 1, 1745. His formulation of a new code of laws for Yale in Latin became, in 1745, the first book printed in New Haven.

Whitefield returned to New England to preach, and Yale issued “The Declaration of the Rector and Tutors of Yale College against the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, his Principles and Designs, in a Letter to him”. In 1746, Clap expelled Samuel Cooke from the Yale Corporation for his role in setting up the separatist congregation in New Haven.

In May 1747, the General Assembly granted Yale the right to hold a lottery to raise funds: this income, together with the proceeds from the sale of a French boat captured by the colony’s frigate, were used to build Connecticut Hall, the second major structure at Yale. It was completed in 1753.

==Later religious conflict==

Clap, meanwhile, was concerned by the preaching of Joseph Noyes, who seemed to be assuming a position of Arminianism, and by the initiation of Anglican services in New Haven. To avoid loss of students to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), founded by those who had defended Brainerd’s expulsion, and to defend orthodoxy, he convinced the trustees to appoint him as professor of divinity, and to authorize separate worship for the students each Sunday. Both the Old Lights and the Episcopalians objected to this. Samuel Johnson told Clap that were he to continue with separate worship, the Episcopalians would complain, and that the charter of 1745 would be found to be invalid, as only the King could make a corporation, and that Yale would cease to exist. Clap agreed to let the Anglican students attend their own church.

Meanwhile there were conflicts within the Corporation. Benjamin Gale, son-in-law of Jared Eliot, a Corporation member, had published a pamphlet arguing for discontinuation of the colonial grant to the college, and no grant was given in 1755. Clap set out to raise an endowment for a professorship of divinity, and Naphtali Daggett was appointed the Livingstonian Professor of Divinity on March 4, 1756. Noyes offered to share his pulpit with the new professor, agreeing to subscribe to the Assembly’s Catechism and the Savoy Confession of Faith, and the students returned to his First Church for worship.

Clap, however, quickly became disenchanted with Noyes’ conversion to orthodoxy and obtained a decision that not only could Yale students worship separately, they could form their own congregation and administer Communion. The announcement of the Corporation’s decision on June 30, 1757, was bitterly controversial, and, in the aftermath, discipline at the College collapsed. The General Assembly intervened, ultimately siding with Clap.

The student body was caught up in the rebellious spirit of the 1760s, resolving to drink no “foreign spiritous Liquors any more” and declaiming in chapel against the British Parliament, and petitioning the Corporation with their grievances, insisting on the removal of the disciplinarian Clap. The students stopped going to classes and prayers and generally abused the tutors, who resigned.

The Corporation ordered an early spring vacation, and few undergraduates returned. President Clap offered his resignation at the Corporation meeting in July 1766. He continued as the head of Yale until commencement on September 10, 1766 when he presided over his last commencement, delivered his valedictory address, and resigned. Professor Naphtali Daggett followed him as president pro tempore.

Clap died four months later in New Haven at the age of sixty-three.

==Selected works==

* 1732 — “A Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. Ephraim Little”
* 1742 — ” An Introduction to the Study of Philosophy”
* 1745 — “Letter to a Friend in Boston”
* 1745 — “A Letter to the Rev. Jonathan Edwards”
* 1754 — “The Religious Constitution of Colleges, especially of Yale College”
* 1755 — “History and Vindication of the Doctrines received and established in the Churches of New England”
* 1765 — “Nature and Foundation of Moral Virtue and Obligation”
* 1766 — Annals, or History of Yale College. New Haven: John Hotchkiss and B. Meacomb. OCLC 30549832
* 1781 — Nature and Motions of Meteors