November 25: Naphtali Daggett

Presbyterian Pastor, First Theological Professor at Yale, and . . . Sniper
by David T Myers

Surely, your author has made an error, our faithful subscribers might suggest, over the title of this post? Presbyterian pastor, divinity professor at Yale, we all might receive those descriptive words, but sniper? What is going on? Yet the facts tell that our title is correct.

First, the person of our post today of Naphtali (what a unusual first name!) Daggett is striking in itself. He was born on September 9, 1727. Little is known of his early life, but our first recorded information on him is his graduation from Yale College in 1748. His choice of denomination was that of Presbyterian, and he was ordained by the Presbytery of Suffolk, Long Island, New York on August 19, 1749. Ordained two years later on September 18, 1751, he was directed to preach at Smithtown Presbyterian Church in Long Island, New York. Several years afterwards, in 1755, he requested that the Presbytery approve his intention to return to Yale to assist the President, Thomas Clapp, in the pulpit of the College Church. This move was somewhat easy in that the change of calling included his induction as the first professor of Divinity as well as the realization that his present place of ministry was bereft of adequate income, a frequent malady of early American pastors.

When President Clapp left the college of Yale, Rev. Daggett become the college’s president pro tempore for the next eleven years, until 1777. It was within this period that the last word of our title became reality. The American revolution had begun, including an invasion of New Haven, Connecticut on July 5, 1779. Three thousand British troops on forty-eight ships appeared off the coast. Advancing on the town and college, Naphtali Daggert led half of the students – approximately one hundred – to delay their advance so that the wives and children could escape to the north. It was said of this Presbyterian president and professor that he took his position to snipe at the numerous enemy troops before him with his musket.

A British officer lead a squad of men to capture him, which they did. This author will not record the words of that officer upon finding this man protesting their advance, but they gave him a beating, took off his shoes, tortured him by many thrusts of their bayonets on his lower extremities, and forced him to walk with them as a guide for over five miles. The effects of this treatment was to stay with him until his death, even though he continued to serve as Yale president. It was on November 25, this day, in 1780 that he died of complications from internal hemorrhage.

Words of Live By:
There is no doubt that Napthali Daggett was one of those Black Robed Presbyterian ministers whom the British named as complicit in their participation of resisting the mother country’s rule over the American colonies. Desperate times called for desperate actions, so this Presbyterian minister was not absent in the roll call of Americans, and especially Presbyterian pastors, resisting England. Certainly, there are plenty of reasons today for modern Presbyterian ministers and people to stand up for righteousness, and resist the spiritual enemy’s encroachments of secular humanism, which has all but captured the populace. Let us pray much for our blessed land, and as providence provides opportunities, of which there are countless, stand for Biblical truths and practices.


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