Harvard University Archives

Overview: The Harvard University Archives is the school’s academic archives: it organizes, preserves, and provides access to records chronicling over 375 years of life at Harvard. Materials range from personal diaries and scientific observations from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to modern websites. The collection consists of over 50,000 feet of University records and other historical materials connected to the institution.

American Revolution Materials: The Archives’ Revolutionary collections focus primarily on the history of Harvard and its students and staff during the era. Subjects covered include daily life at Harvard, education and research, religion, and administration.

For information on administration and expenses, the records of the Harvard Treasurer and Steward are particularly useful. Financial documents within these collections include accounting books, bonds, bills, and receipts. For further information regarding finances, the Harvard Commons records and records of the College Butler include additional account books, receipts, correspondence, and bills regarding staff wages and food purchases made for the student body, as well as records of student complaints, absences, fines, and punishments. The papers of Samuel Shapleigh, who held the position of College Butler during and after the Revolution, and Caleb Gannett, the Harvard Steward, should also be consulted. In addition, Harvard possesses papers of John Hancock, who served as Treasurer of the school (1773-1777). This collection deals mainly with his work as treasurer, and includes further information about the impact of the Revolution on Harvard, as well as Hancock’s disputes with the school’s administration. There are also the College Books (the Harvard Corporation records), which contain minutes of meetings from the era, policy decisions, and information about gifts and donations made to the school. Other administrative- and financial-related materials include information regarding the funding of missionary work amongst American Indians throughout the eighteenth century, records of Harvard lotteries, records of donations, books records, records of buildings, school laws and statutes, faculty meeting minutes, admissions certificates, and commencement records and diplomas.

Material related to education and research at Harvard consists chiefly of the papers of Revolution-era professors. Such materials include notebooks, correspondence, account books, educational materials, and further materials related to Harvard’s administration. The Harvard University Archives also houses the papers of the men who served as the president of Harvard during the Revolution: Samuel Locke (1770-1773) and Samuel Langton (1774-1780).

In addition to material produced by members of the Harvard administration and staff, the Archives are also home to numerous personal and family papers from Revolution-era students, alumni, and their families. The letters, journals, diaries, and other materials within these collections provide a glimpse at daily life both at Harvard and in the greater New England area during the Revolution. The collection includes, for example, several letters and a handwritten speech by Fisher Ames, an early Federalist orator, as well as letters by Reverend Andrew Eliot discussing the early days of the war in Boston. There are also diaries within the collection related to the Revolution era. The diary of Reverend Benjamin Guild, for example, recounted his travels in 1770s Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with references to news about the process of the war, the state of Providence after the Continental Army passed through in 1778, and a visit that French officers paid to Harvard. Diaries of students at Harvard during the Revolution include that of Theodore Parsons from 1772.

Other materials related to the Revolution include the commission of Noah Cooke Jr. as chaplain of the Continental Army, the commission of Richard Saltonstall as Colonial in the Massachusetts Provincial Army, and musket balls found in Hollis Hall.

Key Words: American Indians, Fisher Ames, artifacts, Boston, Cambridge, Continental Army, Noah Cooke Jr., diaries, education, Rev. Andrew Eliot, France, Caleb Gannett, Rev. Benjamin Guild, John Hancock, Harvard College, journals, letters, Samuel Langton, Samuel Locke, Theodore Parsons, Providence, receipts, religion, research notes, Richard Saltonstall, Samuel Shapleigh, soldiers/militia

Collection Policies: The Harvard University Archives continues to actively collect materials. Online descriptions of approximately 80% of the institution’s collections are available as both collection-level summaries and more detailed finding aids in HOLLIS, Harvard’s online library catalog.  Requests for exhibition loans are considered on a case-by-case basis, and on-site exhibition space is limited to displays from the Archives’ collections.