John Harvard (clergyman)

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John Harvard
John Harvard statue.jpg
Born (1607-11-26)26 November 1607
Southwark, England
Died 14 September 1638(1638-09-14) (aged 30)
Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony
Cause of death Tuberculosis
Alma mater Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Occupation Pastor
Known for Founder of Harvard College
Spouse(s) Ann Sadler
Children None
JohnHarvard Signature.jpg

John Harvard (26 November 1607 – 14 September 1638) was an English minister in America, "a godly gentleman and a lover of learning",[1] whose deathbed[2] bequest to the "schoale or Colledge" recently undertaken by the Massachusetts Bay Colony was so gratefully received that it was consequently ordered "that the Colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge."[3]


Early life

Harvard was born and raised in Southwark, England, the fourth of nine children of Robert Harvard (1562–1625), a butcher and tavern owner, and his wife Katherine Rogers (1584–1635), a native of Stratford-upon-Avon whose father, Thomas Rogers (1540–1611), was an associate of Shakespeare's father, both serving on the borough corporation's council. He was baptised in the parish church of St Saviour's (now Southwark Cathedral)[4] and attended St Saviour's Grammar School, where his father was a member of the governing body as being also a Warden of the Parish Church.

In 1625, the plague reduced the immediate family to only John, his brother Thomas, and their mother. Katherine was soon remarried—​​firstly in 1626 to John Elletson (1580–1626), who died within a few months, then (1627) to Richard Yearwood (1580–1632). She died in 1635, Thomas in 1637.

Education and ordination

Left with some property, Harvard's mother was able to send him to Emmanuel College, Cambridge,[5] where he earned his B.A. in 1632[6] and M.A. in 1635,[7] and was subsequently ordained a dissenting minister.[5]

Marriage and career

In 1636, he married Ann Sadler (1614–55) of Ringmer, sister of his college classmate John Sadler, at St Michael the Archangel Church, in the parish of South Malling, Lewes, East Sussex.[citation needed]

In the spring or summer of 1637, the couple emigrated to New England, where Harvard became a freeman of Massachusetts and,[5] settling in Charlestown, a teaching elder of the First Church there[8] and an assistant preacher.[7] In 1638, a tract of land was deeded[clarification needed] to him there, and he was appointed that same year to a committee "to consider of some things tending toward a body of laws."[5][clarification needed]

He built his house on Country Road (later Market and now Main Street) next to Gravel Lane, a site that is now Harvard Mall. Harvard's orchard extended up the hill behind his house.[9]


On 14 September 1638, he died of tuberculosis and was buried at Charlestown's Phipps Street Burying Ground. In 1828, Harvard University alumni erected a granite monument to his memory there,[5][10] his original stone having disappeared during the American Revolution.[8]

Founder of Harvard College

Tablets outside Harvard Yard's Johnston Gate
File:John Harvard on stained glass window, Emmanuel College.jpg
Emmanuel College window (1884) depicting John Harvard on left

Two years before Harvard's death the Great and General Court of the Massachu­setts Bay Colony​​desiring to "advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity: dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust"—​​appropriated £400 toward a "schoale or colledge"[3] at what was then called Newtowne.[11] In an oral will spoken to his wife[12] the childless Harvard, who had inherited considerable sums from his father, mother, and brother,[13] bequeathed to the school £780 (half of his monetary estate, with the remainder to his wife)[4] as well as—and perhaps more importantly[14]—his 320-volume scholar's library.[5] It was subsequently ordered "that the Colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge."[3] (Even before Harvard's death, Newtowne had been renamed[3] Cambridge, after the English university attended by many early colonists, including Harvard himself.)[15]

Founding "myth"

"Smartass" tourguides[16][17] and the Harvard College undergraduate newspaper[18] frequently assert that John Harvard does not merit the honorific founder, because the Colony's vote had come two years prior to Harvard's bequest. But as detailed in a 1934 letter by the secretary of the Harvard Corporation, the founding of Harvard College was not the act of one but the work of many; John Harvard is therefore consid­ered not the founder, but rather a founder,[19][20] of the school, though the timeliness and generosity of his contribu­tion have made him the most honored of these:

The quibble over the question whether John Harvard was entitled to be called the Founder of Harvard College seems to me one of the least profitable. The destruc­tion of myths is a legiti­mate sport, but its only justifica­tion is the establish­ment of truth in place of error.

If the founding of a universi­ty must be dated to a split second of time, then the founding of Harvard should perhaps be fixed by the fall of the presi­dent's gavel in announc­ing the passage of the vote of October 28, 1636. But if the founding is to be regarded as a process rather than as a single event [then John Harvard, by virtue of his bequest "at the very threshold of the College's existence and going further than any other contribu­tion made up to that time to ensure its permanence"] is clearly entitled to be consid­ered a founder. The General Court ... acknowl­edged the fact by bestowing his name on the College. This was almost two years before the first President took office and four years before the first students were graduated.

These are all familiar facts and it is well that they should be understood by the sons of Harvard. There is no myth to be destroyed.[21]

Memorials and tributes

A statue in Harvard's honor—not, however, a likeness of him, there being nothing to indicate what he had looked like[7]—is a prominent feature of Harvard Yard (see John Harvard statue) and was featured on a 1986 stamp, part of the United States Postal Service's Great Americans series.[22] A figure representing him also appears in a stained-glass window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.[7]

The John Harvard Library in Southwark, London, is named in Harvard's honor, as is the Harvard Bridge that connects Boston to Cambridge.[23]


  1. Samuel Eliot Morison, The founding of Harvard College (1936) Appendix D, and pp 304-5
  2. Conrad Edick Wright, John Harvard: Brief life of a Puritan philanthropist Harvard Magazine. January–February, 2000. "By the time the Harvards settled in Charlestown John must already have been in failing health ... Consumption kills slowly. By the time Harvard died, he knew what he wanted to do with his estate."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Charter of the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rowston, Guy (2006). Southwark Cathedral – The authorised Guide.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). [ "Harvard, John" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Harvard, John (HRVT627J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Emmanuel College: John Harvard Retrieved 2012-05-01
  8. 8.0 8.1 Melnick, Arseny James. "Celebrating the Life and Times of JOHN HARVARD". Retrieved 20 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Charlestown Historical Society: Full Historic Timeline
  10. Edward Everett (1850). Orations and speeches on various occasions. I. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown. pp. 185–189.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. New England's First Fruits (1643).
  12. Callan, Richard L. 100 Dears of Solitude: John Harvard Finishes His First Century. The Harvard Crimson. April 28, 1984. Retrieved October 13, 2012
  13. The Harvard Graduates' Magazine. 16. Harvard Graduates' Magazine Association. 1908. Retrieved 12 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Alfred C. Potter, "The College Library." Harvard Illustrated Magazine, vol. IV no. 6, March 1903, pp. 105–112.
  15. Degler, Carl Neumann (1984). Out of Our Pasts: The Forces That Shaped Modern America. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-131985-3. Retrieved 20 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Shand-Tucci, Douglas (2001). The Campus Guide: Harvard Universi­ty. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 46–&#x200B, 51. ISBN 9781568982809.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Primus V (May–June 1999). "The College Pump. Toes Imperiled". Harvard Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> open access publication - free to read
  18. "Memorial Society Honors Founder of College In the Name and Image of Two Other Men – College Founded By Grant of the Massachu­setts General Court in the Year 1636". Harvard Crimson. 26 November 1934. When the members of the Memorial Society place a wreath on the statue of John Harvard today, expecting to honor the memory and the image of the founder of Harvard College, they will be honoring the likeness of another man and the name of a man who was not the legal founder of the college.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> open access publication - free to read
  19. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1935). The Founding of Harvard College. p. 210. John Harvard cannot rightly be called the founder of Harvard College...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Mather, Cotton (1853). Robbins, Thomas (ed.). Magnalia Christi Americana: Or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England, from Its First Planting, in the Year 1620, Unto the Year of Our Lord 1698 ... 2. Hartford: S. Andrus & Son. p. 10. But that which laid the most significant stone in the foundation, was the last will of Mr. John Harvard ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Excerpted from Greene, Jerome Davis (11 December 1934). "Don't Quibble Sybil — The Mail" (Letter to the editor)". Harvard Crimson.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ("Don't quibble, Sybil" is a line from Noël Coward's 1930 Private Lives.)
  22. John Harvard
  23. Alger, Alpheus B.; Matthews, Nathan Jr. (1892). Harvard Bridge: Boston to Cambridge, March 1892. Boston, Massachusetts: Rockwell and Churchill. p. 14. Retrieved 20 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Shelley, Henry C. (1907). John Harvard and His Times. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, and Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rendle, William (1885). John Harvard, St. Saviour's, Southwark, and Harvard University, U.S.A. London: J.C. Francis.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • Harvard House The home of Katherine Rogers in Stratford-Upon-Avon