The earliest educational efforts among the New England colonists were in the home, yet the efforts were earnest and reflected a strong desire for an educated citizenry. For reasons set forth in the following document, the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony early determined to establish a school of higher education, to which end the General Court appropriated the very considerable sum of £400. The project was delayed for a time, but, in 1636, a Board of Overseers was appointed, a house was purchased in Cambridge, and a professor was engaged. In 1638, when a certain John Harvard died, leaving his library and half his estate to the enterprise, it was named Harvard College in his honor. The pamphlet reprinted here in part was published primarily as an appeal for funds. These were steadily forthcoming, despite the colony's lack of capital. From as distant a point as New Haven, farmers sent gifts of wheat, wampum, malt, corn, and apples in support of the college. Source: Collections, Massachusetts Historical Society, Cambridge and Boston, 1792, I, pp. 242–248.
After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was 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. And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman and a lover of learning, there living among us) to give the one-half of his estate (it being in all about £ 1,700) toward the erecting of a college, and all his library. After him, another gave £ 300; others after them cast in more; and the public hand of the state added the rest. The college was, by common consent, appointed to be at Cambridge (a place very pleasant and accommodate) and is called (according to the name of the first founder) Harvard College.
The edifice is very fair and comely within and without, having in it a spacious hall where they daily meet at commons, lectures, and exercises; and a large library with some books to it, the gifts of diverse of our friends, their chambers and studies also fitted for and possessed by the students, and all other rooms of office necessary and convenient with all needful offices thereto belonging. And by the side of the college, a fair grammar school for the training up of young scholars and fitting of them for academical learning, that still as they are judged ripe they may be received into the college of this school.
Over the college is Master Dunster placed as president, a learned, a conscionable, and industrious man, who has so trained up his pupils in the tongues and arts, and so seasoned them with the principles of divinity and Christianity, that we have to our great comfort (and in truth) beyond our hopes, beheld their progress in learning and godliness also. The former of these has appeared in their public declamations in Latin and Greek, and disputations logic and philosophy which they have been wonted (besides their ordinary exercises in the college hall) in the audience of the magistrates, ministers, and other scholars for the probation of their growth in learning, upon set days, constantly once every month to make and uphold. The latter has been manifested in sundry of them by the savory breathings of their spirits in their godly conversation; insomuch that we are confident, if these early blossoms may be cherished and warmed with the influence of the friends of learning and lovers of this pious work, they will, by the help of God, come to happy maturity in a short time.
Over the college are twelve overseers chosen by the General Court, six of them are of the magistrates, the other six of the ministers, who are to promote the best good of it and (having a power of influence into all persons in it) are to see that everyone be diligent and proficient in his proper place.
Rules and Precepts That Are Observed in the College.
• When any scholar is able to understand Tully, or suchlike classical Latin author extempore, and make and speak true Latin in verse and prose, suo ut aiunt Marte [by his own effort, as they say]; and decline perfectly the paradigms of nouns and verbs in the Greek tongue, let him then and not before be capable of admission into the college.
• Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only gives wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2:3).
• Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple (Ps. 119:130).
• That they eschewing all profanation of God's name, attributes, word, ordinances, and times of worship do study with good conscience, carefully to retain God and the love of His truth in their minds, else let them know that (notwithstanding their learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and, in the end, to a reprobate mind (II Thess. 2:11, 12; Rom. 1:28).
• None shall under any pretense whatsoever frequent the company and society of such men as lead an unfit and dissolute life. Nor shall any without his tutor's leave, or (in his absence) the call of parents or guardians, go abroad to other towns.
• Every scholar shall be present in his tutor's chamber at the 7th hour in the morning, immediately after the sound of the bell, at his opening the Scripture and prayer, so also at the 5th hour at night, and then give account of his own private reading, as aforesaid in particular the 3rd, and constantly attend lectures in the hall at the hours appointed. But if any (without necessary impediment) shall absent himself from prayer or lectures, he shall be liable to admonition if he offend above once a week.
The Times and Order Of Their Studies, Unless Experience Shall Show Cause To
Every scholar that, on proof, is found able to read the originals of the Old and New Testament into the Latin tongue, and to resolve them logically, withal being of godly life and conversation, and at any public act has the approbation of the overseers and master of the college, is fit to be dignified with his first degree.
Every scholar that gives up in writing a system, or synopsis, or sum of logical, natural and moral philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, and is ready to defend his theses or positions, withal skilled in the originals as abovesaid, and of godly life and conservation, and so approved by the overseers and master of the college, at any public act, is fit to be dignified with his second degree.
The Manner Of The Late Commencement, Expressed In A Letter Sent Over From The Governor, And Diverse Of The Ministers, Their Own Words These.
… .All things in the college are at present like to proceed even as we can wish, may it but please the Lord to go on with His blessings in Christ, and stir up the hearts of His faithful and able servants in our own native country, and here (as He has graciously begun) to advance this honorable and most helpful work; the beginnings whereof and progress hitherto (generally) do fill our hearts with comfort, and raise them up to much more expectation of the Lord's goodness for us hereafter, for the good of posterity and the churches of Christ Jesus.
Thus far has the good hand of God favored our beginning. See whether He has not engaged us to wait still upon His goodness for the future by such further remarkable passages of His providence to our plantation in such things as these:
• I. In sweeping away great multitudes of the natives by the smallpox, a little before we went thither, that He might make room for us there.
• II. In giving such marvelous safe passage from first to last, to so many thousands that went thither, the like has hardly been ever observed in any sea voyages.
• III. In blessing us generally with health and strength, as much as ever (we might truly say) more than ever in our native land; many that were tender and sickly here are stronger and heartier there. That whereas diverse other plantations have been the graves of their inhabitants and their numbers much decreased, God has so prospered the climate to us that our bodies are hailer, and children there born stronger, whereby our numbers [are] exceedingly increased.
• IV. In giving us such peace and freedom from enemies, when almost all the world is on a fire that (excepting that short trouble with the Pequots) we never heard of any sound of war to this day. And in that war which we made against them, God's hand from heaven was so manifested that a very few of our men, in a short time, pursued through the wilderness, slew and took prisoners about 1,400 of them, even all they could find, to the great terror and amazement of all the Indians to this day; so that the name of the Pequots (as of Amaleck) is blotted out from under heaven, there being not one that is or (at least) dare call himself a Pequot.
• V. In subduing those erroneous opinions carried over from hence by some of the passengers, which for a time infested our church's peace, but (through the goodness of God) by conference preaching, a general assembly of learned men, magistrates' timely care, and, lastly, by God's own hand from heaven, in most remarkable strokes upon some of the chief fomenters of them, the matter came to such a happy conclusion that most of the seduced came humbly and confessed their errors in our public assemblies and abide to this day constant in the truth. The rest (that remained obstinate), finding no fit market there to vent their wares, departed from us to an island far off; some of whom also since that time have repented and returned to us and are received again into our bosoms. And from that time, not any unsound, unsavory, and giddy fancy have dared to lift up his head or abide the light among us….
• VII. In giving such plenty of all manner of food in a wilderness, insomuch that all kinds of flesh, among the rest, store of venison in its season; fish both from sea and fresh water; fowl of all kinds, wild and tame; store of white meat, together with all sorts of English grain, as well as Indian, are plentiful among us; as also roots, herbs, and fruit, which being better digested by the sun, are far more fair, pleasant, and wholesome than here….
• Above all our other blessings, in planting His own name and precious ordinances among us (we speak it humbly and in His fear), our endeavor is to have all His own institutions, and no more than His own, and all those in their native simplicity, without having any humane dressings; having a liberty to enjoy all that God commands, and yet urged to nothing more than He commands. Now, wheresoever He records His name, thither He will come and bless. …