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  • Writer's pictureRoxie Daggett

Naphtali Daggett: Revolutionary War Hero, President of Yale, Christian Pastor, Grandpa!

On July 5, 1779, just three years and one day after the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain, Nathanael’s and Fee’s 6th great grandfather and Johnny’s 5th, Naphtali Daggett was residing in New Haven, Connecticut as a professor and former president of Yale. It wasn’t difficult to find information on this special forefather as his story and sermons are well-preserved. We were amazed to learn he was Yale’s first professor and first pastor of the college church and very much committed to the students, colleagues, and townspeople around New Haven. Many of his original sermons still exist at the Yale & Princeton libraries. Yes, we’re trying to get access to those and have already found one which I’ll link below. So encouraging! Imagine this pastor's joy at knowing his great grandchildren are reading his teachings over 300 years later!

Naphtali remained President Pro Tem of Yale for eleven years including during the start of the American Revolution (1766-1777). When asked why he never wanted to have the pro tem removed from his title he replied: “What would you have them call me, ‘President pro aeternitate?’” (president for eternally). Ah, the Daggett sense of humor and eternal perpestive at its best! What a joy to hear! During his tenure, he brought about many progressive changes at Yale one of which was listing students alphabetically rather than by their father’s social status. Good going, Grandpa!

Now back to the action! In the still of the night on July 5, 1779, forty-eight British ships poured into the New Haven harbor with over 2,000 Red Coat troops prepared to take the town. Yale

president Ezra Stiles sent off the college papers and ordered the remaining students home straight away. About 100 students stayed behind and assembled a volunteer company to slow down the enemy so that the women and children of the town could flee. Naphtali Daggett did not hesitate to join them. However, it didn’t take long before the outnumbered patriots were forced run from their position in West Haven due to the “speedy invasion” of their well-armed enemy. As they retreated, Naphtali Daggett was fired upon directly, but not hit. He managed to hide in a “little covert” and offered a shot back to the invaders with his musket. Seeing he was alone and sorely outnumbered, Naphtali surrendured to the Red Coat army. When asked why he fired at them he answered: “Because it is the exercise of war.” Duh!

In his sworn testimony, he relates how one of their soldiers came at him with a bayonet which he “tossed it up from its direction and sprang in so near to him that he could not hurt me.” This must be where Johnny gets his ninja reflexes. Sadly, after this he was surrounded and slashed repeatedly with the British bayonets, “but what is a thousand times worse” he stated, "is the blows and bruises they gave me with heavy barrels of their guns in the bowels by which I was knocked down once or more and almost deprived of life.” Hard to imagine the reality of such abuse.

Grandpa Naphtali stated his identity and “begged for protection,” but they forced him to march five miles in the oppressive July heat, barefoot and wounded. The attackers sailed away the next day leaving our hero to nurse his wounds. New Haven was spared in large part due to one the British colonels being a Yale grad (’57) who dissuaded them from burning down the town. They left 23 Americans dead and 15 wounded. Although, Grandpa Naphtali was able to return to his duties at Yale the in the fall, the next year he succumbed to an internal hemorrhage caused by his mortal wounds from the British. Naphtali Daggett went Home to be with His Lord on November 25, 1780 at the age of 53. No doubt he was elated to meet his 6th great grandson, Nathanael, and to find their commonalities and show him the joys of a place where there are no more sorrows.

Here is one sermon we were able to access of Naphtali’s that really blessed us. It is titled, “The great importance of speaking in the most intelligible manner in the Christian Church” preached at the installation of Reverend Nathaniel Sherman over the Church of Christ in Mount-Carmel, New-Haven, May, 18th, 1768. We are amazed how relevant and readable it is today! Not to mention his impeccable doctrine and very annointed teaching.

What a blessing to have one of many millions of heroes in our heritage! Nathanael would have LOVED to have learned this on earth, but he is all caught up now in heaven!

We thank God for those who have served and continue to serve and die for our beloved country. We thank Him for His undeserved favor and the endless freedom bestowed on our land. May we continue to be good stewards of His graciousness while we have our breath.

Happy Independence Day!

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