These volumes constitute the fourth and fifth in a series published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts devoted to early records of Harvard College. Volumes xv and xvi, edited by Albert Matthews and issued in 1925, contain the surviving College Records Books for the period 1636 to 1750. In his long and carefully detailed introduction, Matthews throws light on many aspects of the College’s history during this time; he has placed future students of the records deeply in his debt. The index too is unusually thorough, in part because identifications are not made in the text, where footnotes refer to textual matters only. Volume xxxi (1935) contains a number of Harvard documents, edited by several persons. Samuel Eliot Morison, historian of Harvard, edited the following: the Harvard College Charter of 1650, Chesholme’s Steward’s Book, 1651–1660, President Dunster’s Quadriennium Memoir, 1654, Jonathan Mitchell’s Modell, c. 1663, the College Laws of 1655, 1692, and 1767, and the College Customs of 1734/5. Benjamin Wadsworth’s Book, 1725–1736, was edited by Clifford K. Shipton, and George L. Kittredge edited two orations, one (1652) by Nathaniel Rogers, father of President John, and one (1677) by President Urian Oakes. All of the documents are in the University Archives, with the exception of the Rogers oration, which is at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Mitchell Modell, located at the Massachusetts Archives.

    By the early 1940s, Clifford K. Shipton, who was by then Archivist of Harvard, suggested it would be appropriate for the Colonial Society to publish a volume of Harvard documents before 1750, to supplement the record books already published. He found a willing helper in Lawrence Shaw Mayo, who retired as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1943. Mayo, who had studied and written about Lord Jeffrey Amherst, John Wentworth, John Endicott, John Langdon, and the Winthrops, was well versed in seventeenth and eighteenth-century New England. Together Shipton and Mayo selected, from the various series of papers in the Harvard Archives, documents which seemed worthy of reproduction. The nature of the material will be discussed later. Photostats were made, and I, then on the staff of the Harvard Archives, was engaged to make typed transcripts. Little did I think, in 1946 and 1947, that I would be doing the final editing over twenty-five years later. Mayo made preliminary editorial comments and identifications on yellow sheets attached to the first 126 documents; then, on 23 July 1947 occurred his untimely death. The photostats, with the completed transcripts, remained in the care of the Society’s Editor, at the Boston Athenæum, until the Society determined it could publish another title in the Harvard series; and early in 1971 the work of editing began.

    In making their selection, Messrs. Shipton and Mayo omitted items already in print in accessible places. Thus the Harvard Charters and the various versions of the Laws could be passed over; certain of these, in fact, were in the Society’s volume xxxi, as was noted above. Routine financial documents and routine lands papers, often in nearly illegible condition, were omitted, as were some copies of deeds, in which the College was not one of the parties. But nearly all of one key series (the College Papers), and substantial portions of certain other series are included.1 Some observations on the physical make-up of these papers, as they exist in the Harvard Archives, may be useful here. The College Papers, a chronological collection of letters and documents, were first bound under President Sparks, who served from 1849 to 1853; volume I (1650–1763) is the one with which we are most concerned, plus a few items in a supplementary volume, bound in the 1890s. Handwritten explanatory notes, arranged in the sequence of the documents, constitute a Calendar volume which, allowing for some errors, is still useful. Papers which turned up after the original volumes and their supplements were bound were placed about 1933 by the Archives staff in a series known as Corporation Papers; a considerable number of items from this grouping are also included herein. A collection of documents relating to the Fellowship controversy of 1720–1723, transcribed and annotated by Albert Matthews, constitutes a unit of unbound papers; many are included here. Another grouping, known as Disorders Papers, contributed only one document, but that a long one, containing depositions on the antics of a few students in 1676.

    Documents relating to College lands are in a number of series in the Archives. Those in bound volume I are well covered here, and there are a few pieces from Volume II; arrangement of the contents, which date from 1647, is by land holding, and there is a calendar in the back of each volume. There are sufficient documents relating to some holdings to constitute separate collections, and one of these, Narragansett Farm, has its own manuscript volume, with calendar. While on the subject of property, a few deeds, taken from a collection bearing that title, and divided into a seventeenth-century and an eighteenth-century series, have been included.

    Gifts to the College, in addition to land, are well covered, with selections from series titled Donation Lists (1680–), Gift Papers (1643–) and Wills Papers (1660–). The letters and papers of Thomas Hollis and his immediate heirs constitute a separate volume (1718–1744), while certain letters from Thomas Hollis to President Leverett and to Professor Wigglesworth are in still another volume (1718–1735). Collections of Presidents’ Papers, gathered for the most part by the Archives in the present century, are well represented. Documents relating to Henry Dunster are the most numerous, but there are also letters and papers of Increase Mather, John Leverett, and Edward Holyoke in the following pages.

    Reluctantly, no attempt has been made to include documents relating to Harvard in other depositories, except for a few items, of which copies already exist in the Harvard Archives. To have attempted to include papers relating to Harvard in the State Archives and the Middlesex County Court, in the New England Historic Genealogical Society (the Ewer ms), the Massachusetts Historical Society (the Washburn and other collections), and the Boston Public Library, to mention but the most obvious, would have unduly extended these volumes, both in size and in time required for completion. References to a few such documents may be found in the notes.

    I have sketched briefly the physical arrangement in the Harvard Archives of the originals of these documents. I would next turn to a consideration of the content, indicating a few of the highlights, in chronological sequence. A number of the earliest documents are from the papers of Henry Dunster, resulting from an attempt of his stepchildren to obtain an accounting of their mother’s estate. In addition to family matters, they reveal much about the financial affairs of the College under Dunster, as well as the business affairs of the Press. In 1652 the General Court asked the towns for voluntary contributions to the College; a dozen or more replies, some sending gifts, and some begging off, may be found herein. In the latter part of the century the documents become much more varied in nature, but a common thread may be found in the activities of President Increase Mather. His concern about the lack of a Royal Charter (the Charter of 1650 was vacated in 1684 and was not resumed until 1707), his threats to resign, arrangements for his salary, and problems raised by his reluctance to live in Cambridge, all are touched upon in these documents. Five letters from Mather to Sir William Ashurst, recently acquired by the Harvard Archives, have been added. Mather’s handwriting could be quite difficult, and there are more doubtful words in his drafts than in most of the papers included herein.

    With the election of President Leverett and the restoration of the 1650 Charter, both occurring in 1707, the College seemed to be settled on an even keel. But Leverett himself soon met with opposition, part of it political in origin. Early in the 1720s occurred the Fellowship controversy, when Tutor Nicholas Sever tried to prove that the Tutors should of right be Fellows of the Corporation. In his long and closely reasoned essays, Sever went back into the history of the College; he also reveals, in passing, the training Harvard students of his time received in argumentation.1 A large proportion of the documents of the 1720s relate to the gifts of Thomas Hollis, Sr. (actually the second Thomas) to the College; there are over ninety letters from him, fifty-four of them to Benjamin Colman. In his letters Hollis reveals himself as a practical, yet liberal businessman; one learns much from the letters about the English Dissenting community. Of particular interest are the many books which he gave, or persuaded his friends to give, to the College library; I have tried, where possible, to identify the authors and titles. One comes on the last letter which Hollis sent to Cambridge with a feeling of regret, as at losing the acquaintance of a good man. Another thread tying together documents of the late 1720s is the effort of Timothy Cutler and Samuel Myles, Church of England ministers in Boston, to obtain seats on the Board of Overseers; they wrote letters and petitioned, but in vain.

    While Leverett was still President, Tutor Flynt began to track down the history of gifts made to Harvard; President Wadsworth encouraged further effort along these lines. Some Harvard lands, such as Merricaneag Neck in Harpswell, Maine, or Narragansett Farm, in North Kingston, Rhode Island, were distant from Cambridge and difficult to manage. The Merricaneag land in the end was lost to squatters, but the College encouraged tenant farmers in North Kingston, even to the extent of providing them with buildings. There were problems too over the College land in Rowley, left by the Rev. Ezekiel Rogers in 1660. In the 1730s the College petitioned the General Court to be allowed to sell the land; this was granted, and the proceeds were invested in a farm in Waltham, henceforth called the Rogers Farm. Efforts to obtain some benefit from College-owned lands and from unfulfilled gifts gave rise to many of the documents dating from the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

    There are references within to the 1972 Harvard thesis by John M. Hoffmann, titled, Commonwealth College: The Governance of Harvard in the Puritan Period. In his appendix E, “Early Sources: College Books I–III,” the author painstakingly reconstructs the missing College Book II, and brings new insights to bear on the date and circumstances of the compilation of College Book III. It is appropriate that this Appendix should appear as an addition to the present volumes, for it will bring within the Colonial Society’s Harvard series currently available information on the early Harvard record books.

    Thus users of these volumes will find a great variety of topics covered, from the Stephen Day indenture of 1638 to the Peter Reynolds lease of 1750. In many cases, the complete story will not be found here, but there will be enough information to make a start, among other sources and other depositories.


    The arrangement of the documents in these volumes is for the most part chronological; exceptions are minor and should be quite clear, as when papers relating to the disposition of Hollis’s first gift, covering only a few months, are grouped in sequence. Early documents copied for use at a later date, such as some of those by Nicholas Sever, are placed under the early date, but with a note as to their origin. Some of the documents in the original selection were found to be duplicated, and were omitted; a few others were combined with ones to which they were related. Each document has been numbered consecutively, and given an assigned title. The date appears in the upper right, unless it is clearly indicated in the first line or two of the text. It is placed in brackets, if supplied, or taken from elsewhere in the document; if taken from the end, it is then omitted there. The double year, i.e., 1734/35, is shown between January 1 and March 25. Following the end of the document, endorsements, if they corroborate or provide additional information, are transcribed. If, in the case of letters, there is an address, it follows next; it has seemed desirable to include this, as it sometimes provides additional information and also serves as indication that the item is the recipient’s copy. All notes are placed at the end of each document. First comes a general descriptive note, giving the location of the original, and indication of its condition, if damaged, reference to where it may be available in print, and identification of the key persons or circumstances involved. Footnotes, if any, follow; these may identify other persons mentioned, especially Harvard graduates. The latter are always identified by date of graduation or class, in parentheses. Special topics of interest, or peculiarities of the text, may also be referred to in footnotes.



    The style of transcription is a moderately literal one. In each case the original documents in the Harvard Archives were checked again. The original spelling has been kept, except in the case of abbreviations, discussed below. If necessary, periods and capitals have been added to indicate sentences; Hollis, for instance, made frequent use of dashes, and most of these have been omitted. In the case of some lengthy items, paragraphing has been supplied. Again, in the case of lengthy documents, the page numbers of the original have been indicated within brackets. Practices, now common, for indicating words which could not be deciphered, words questioned or supplied, or words crossed out have been followed; these symbols are shown following the introduction. The monetary symbols, £, s, d, are everywhere so shown; sums have been checked by addition, where possible. An attempt has been made to show signatures signed by “mark.” Interlineations are indicated, by means of a footnote, only if in a different hand. In some legal documents, phraseology, common to all such papers, has been omitted; omission is indicated by three dots and is always remarked on in the descriptive note. An effort has been made to keep informality, especially in the case of letters; for example, contractions, such as ’em for them, or preferr’d, for preferred have been kept.


    Most abbreviations have been expanded, with the superscript letters brought down. The symbol & has been transcribed as and, except in &c., or in the name of a company. The word ye has been always shown as the, and thô has been written out as though. In expanding words, an effort has been made to follow the spelling of the time; thus honble becomes honourable, and govr, governour, at least until 1725 or thereabout. If only the first few letters of a word are given, the remainder may be expanded, but in brackets. For example, coll becomes coll[ege]; this is in part to show the informal use of the abbreviation, and also because the word was often spelled colledge then, and one cannot be sure how an individual writer would have completed it. Abbreviations of common titles, such as Mr., Capt., and the like, have been kept. The commonly used Esqr is shown as the modern Esq.; on the other hand, Revd is written out as Reverend, for I feel sure the modern Rev. would have seemed disrespectful then. Months, if abbreviated, are so shown; however, one written with a superscript letter, as Decr is expanded to December. The period frequently placed after the day and year is omitted. First names have been expanded, unless they are in signatures or representations of such; abbreviated names in salutations of the Hollis letters have also been kept. A few common abbreviations, some of them found in legal documents, have been retained, as mo. for month, pa. for page, do. for ditto, or J. Pac. for Justice of the Peace. The idea has been to make abbreviations understandable without being pedantic.


    I am grateful to the Harvard Business School for allowance of time, up to a day a week, for work on this project. I am glad to acknowledge the assistance of the staff of the Harvard University Archives, headed when I began these transcriptions, in the late forties, by Clifford K. Shipton, and more recently by Kimball C. Elkins and Harley P. Holden; without their generous help this work could not have been completed. Walter M. Whitehill, Editor of the Colonial Society, guided me through the intricacies of preparing material for the press, and has also kindly written the Foreword to these volumes. Harry N. Milliken, of The Anthoensen Press, handled what proved to be difficult material in a most effective way. The Meriden Gravure Company prepared the plates for the maps. Daniel K. Clift, graduate student in the Classics, helped to make sure the Latin was correct and provided translations, where necessary. John M. Hoffmann gave me the benefit of his knowledge of early Harvard, and as I have noted, has contributed the Appendix to these volumes. Eleanor C. Bishop, my assistant, helped identify an occasional difficult name or word, by means of her knowledge of local genealogy and familiarity with difficult handwriting. My wife, Dorothy, ably and cheerfully assisted me in the proofreading. I like to think that these volumes may be of some lasting use to the staff of the Harvard Archives, if only to prevent wear and tear of the originals, and to students of early Harvard. As my years at the University, most of them spent at the Business School, come closer to their end, I am happy for this connection with the Harvard Archives, with which my career as librarian-archivist began.

    Robert W. Lovett

    Curator of Manuscripts and

    Archives, Baker Library

    Beverly, Massachusetts

    January, 1975