Alvan Hyde (hereafter AH) was born 2 February 1768 in Norwich, Connecticut. His father, Joseph Hyde, was a well-respected farmer in that town. Mr. Hyde, though not a deeply religious man, was nonetheless a "friend to religious order and religious institutions" and gave AH sound advice. AH's mother passed on when he was six.
In 1783, AH commenced study with the Rev. Samuel Nott to prepare for college. Shortly thereafter, he became dangerously sick. For the first time, AH sought the Lord. In September 1784, AH passed Dartmouth College's entrance examination and was admitted to the Class of 1788.
For AH, 1784 was a "year of great trials, occasioned by want of health." It was also the year of his spiritual birth. AH became involved with religion at Dartmouth and in 1786 dedicated himself to religious service. His newly discovered spirituality did not interfere with his studies and on 17 September 1788, AH graduated Dartmouth College with a B.A. Following graduation, he taught for ten months in the Northampton, Massachusetts town school, but his heart remained "fixed upon the ministry."
AH began studying divinity in October 1789. His instructor was the capable Rev. Charles Backus, D.D., of Somers, Connecticut. By June 1790, AH was licensed to preach the gospel in Connecticut's Tolland County. He traveled widely and his preaching was successful. Early on, AH preached in Lenox, West Stockbridge, Sheffield, New Marlborough, and Lee, Massachusetts, Salisbury, Connecticut, and Clinton, New York. In 1791, the people of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, encouraged AH to remain there as minister. He declined their offer. Finally, on 6 June 1792, AH was ordained to the pastoral care and charge of the congregation in Lee, Massachusetts. In Lee, AH continued to study theology, now with the Rev. Dr. Stephen West of nearby Stockbridge.
AH began his ministry at a time when religious revivals were common in Western Massachusetts and his congregation soon grew at an unprecedented rate. It is estimated that more than 674 people were converted to religion and joined the congregation in Lee during AH's forty-two years of ministry, an average of almost seventeen new members each year.
AH was praised for his knowledge of the Bible and for his preaching, which was eloquent and accessible. Importantly, AH was also active in the community. He was particularly concerned with the education of Lee's youth, and was a mentor to many. And after earning a D.D. from his alma mater, AH guided between thirty and forty young men in preparing for the ministry. He wrote prolifically, usually more than thirty sermons a year, along with several essays. Most of AH's outside writings touched on social and religious issues. His theology was similar to that of Dr. Samuel Hopkins, the devoted follower of Jonathan Edwards; AH was considered a man of the "old, strict Calvinist school." Some of his favorite topics were the "purity and perfection of God's Law," the "fullness and all-sufficiency of the atonement made by Christ," and the "utter inexcusableness of sinners in rejecting the kind overtures of mercy." AH, judging by the distribution of Old and New Testament subjects in his sermons, did not favor either Testament.
On 25 April 1793, AH married Lucy Fessenden of Sandwich, Massachusetts. Miss Fessenden, an intelligent woman, was endowed with spiritual devotion equal to that of her husband. Together, they resolved to "acknowledge God" in their house. Their piety was noticed by the congregation and it was said by many that "God was enthroned in that family." The Hydes had eleven children, four of whom graduated from Williams College. Alvan (b. June 18, 1794, d. August 12, 1824) was a member of the Class of 1815. Not long after graduation, he was ordained a minister in Madison, Ohio. Joseph (b. September 3, 1800) was a member of the Class of 1822. William (b. August 16, 1806) graduated in 1826 and served the College as Trustee from 1859 to 1877. Alexander (b. September 25, 1814) graduated from Williams in 1834.
AH was involved with Williams College almost since its foundation. He was elected to the College's Board of Trustees in 1802, and was a member of the corporation for thirty-one years. He assumed the Vice Presidency of the College in 1812 and served in that capacity until his death. Hyde also served for twenty-three years as the chair of the College's Prudential Committee and was several times urged to stand as a candidate for the presidency of the College. This, though, would have meant abandoning his congregation, and no offers could "induce him to leave his much-loved scene of pastoral labors in Lee."
The Rev. Dr. Hyde preached for the last time on Thanksgiving Day, 1833. He caught ill shortly thereafter and died on 4 December 1833. The Rev. Dr. Hyde was greatly missed by his family, by Lee, and by the College, all of whom he had served ably and admirably.
- Davis, Emerson. Biographical Sketches of the Congregational Pastors of New England.
- (Typescript, located in alumni biographical file)
- Durfee, Calvin. Williams Biographical Annals. Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1871.
- Memoir of Alvan Hyde. Boston: Perkins, Marvin, & Co., 1835