Tag Archives: John Harvard

Tip for Researchers: Harvard in the 17th and 18th Centuries Digitized

Although Cambridge (1632) was founded four years earlier than Harvard (1636), much of the history of the City and the University are closely tied – so much so that the Harvard University Archives’  wonderful new digital resource is a boon to all those interested in Cambridge.  The Harvard University Archives has created Harvard in the 17th and 18th Centuries, an online guide to all their earliest materials.  Thousands of items – diaries, commonplace books, correspondence, legal documents, University records, drawings, maps, student notebooks, scientific observations, and lecture notes – are described; many have been digitized and are freely accessible.

Users can browse by subjects from college life to world events or scroll through collection highlights, such as the 1577 deed to a London tenement signed by a Harvard – presumably the ancestor of the University’s benefactor, John Harvard – the earliest record in the Harvard University Archives’ collection.  The search function is fantastic as well.  Try a search for Judah Monis (or any other of your favorite Cambridge personalities from the 18th century) and see what you get.


Famous Cantabrigians: John Harvard’s Mother

The house where John Harvard’s mother grew up, Stratford, England, heliotrope, late 19th century.

Although very little is known about John Harvard, the man who left upon his death half his fortune and entire library to Harvard in 1638, the nineteenth century genealogist Henry F. Waters was able to uncover information on the Harvard family in England, including the above photograph, which was the childhood home of Katherine Rogers, John Harvard’s mother.  The house was built by Katherine’s father, Alderman Thomas Rogers, in 1596.  Katherine grew up there, and in 1605, it was the location of her wedding to Robert Harvard.

According to John T. Hassam, who wrote the preface to Henry Water’s 1886 Harvard family genealogy, the house  “is one of the oldest and certainly the best remaining example of ancient domestic architecture in Stratford.”

The house still stands today and is open for tours.  Perhaps most interestingly, the house is now owned by Harvard University.  For more information, read:  http://www.stratford-upon-avon.co.uk/soaharv.htm.

The house where John Harvard’s mother grew up, Stratford, England, today.

Works Cited
1. Waters, Henry F., John Harvard and His Ancestry, Boston:  New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1886.

Famous Cantabrigians: John Harvard (who never actually lived in Cambridge)

Statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French in Harvard Yard.

Almost every Cantabrigian knows that Harvard University was named after John Harvard, who donated half of his estate and his entire library to the newly formed institution in 1638.

Perhaps few Cantabrigians know that John never lived in Cambridge.  In fact, he and his wife, Ann Sadler, settled in Charlestown in May 1637 with their household goods, cattle, and a large inheritance – passed down after most of the Harvard family succumbed to the plague – that they took with them across the Atlantic.  Harvard established himself rather quickly, building a new house, purchasing enough land for his cattle to graze, and, most importantly, becoming a freeman, which meant he could enjoy full political rights and privileges.  He also became a teaching elder at the First Parish Church of Charlestown where he explained scripture and delivered sermons.

Perhaps even fewer Cantabrigians know that John did not found Harvard nor attend the institution.  Harvard, which at the time was called the New College, had been in operation a year before he arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  As far as his education, Harvard attended Emmanuel College in Cambridge, England, a Puritan stronghold, a decade earlier to receive religious training.

By September 1638 at the age of 30, the childless Harvard contracted tuberculosis and died, bequeathing £779 and 400 books to the New College across the river, transforming him into a “semi-mythical figure in early colonial history.”

No writings, papers, sermons, or letters of John Harvard exist.  His 400 book library was destroyed during a fire at Harvard in 1764.  And perhaps  most interestingly of all, no one knows what he looked like.  The statue of Harvard sculpted by the venerable Daniel Chester French is modeled after one of the artist’s students.

It is rather ironic that a university’s whose name is easily recognized the world over was named after someone we all know so very little about.

Works Cited
1. Waters, Henry F., John Harvard and His Ancestry, Boston:  New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1886.
2. Harvard family.  The John Harvard Family Collection : an inventory, Harvard University Archives, http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hua05007.