Joseph Cullen Ayer (October 15, 1839-1918), commonly called Cullen, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was educated at Harvard (1859-1860) and served as a Lieutenant in the 18th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War from 1861-1864.
Trained as a lawyer, Ayer began a career as a businessman in Boston following his military service. He subsequently was involved in land speculation in Tennessee and in mine speculation in New Zealand. Ayer married Caroline (Carrie) E. Roberts (June 22, 1840–1890) on December 25, 1860. Although Carrie and Cullen produced three children--John Lovering (1862), Joseph Cullen, Jr. (1866), and Francis (1874-1877)--the two seldom lived together during their married life and eventually separated. Carrie worked by necessity to support her children as a matron and cook at the Peeksville Military Academy in Peeksville, New York, and at other jobs.
Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr. (1866-1944), the second son of Joseph and Carrie Ayer, was educated in theology and philosophy at Harvard (AB, 1887), and in Europe at Leipzig (PhD, 1893).
Ayer had a long career as a clergyman and theologian and served as Rector of St. Peter's Chapel, Osterville, Mass. (ca. 1903-1913); Rector of St. Philip's Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1929-1936); and as Professor of Theology at the Philadelphia Divinity School of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1913-1936).
The Ayer family papers document the lives of two generations of the Ayer family of Massachusetts, and later Pennsylvania.
The papers are arranged in two series. Series I consists of correspondence between Caroline E. Roberts and Joseph Cullen Ayer. The bulk of this series dates from 1860-1880. Series II contains correspondence and other papers of Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., the second son of Caroline and Joseph Cullen Ayer, who was an Episcopal minister and Professor of Theology. Bulk dates of this series are 1920–1935.