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UAI 15.850

Dunster, Henry, 1609-1659? Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families : an inventory


Harvard University
The digitization of Henry Dunster's papers was made possible in part by generous support from the Sidney Verba Fund.

©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2009

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: UAI 15.850
Creator: Dunster, Henry, 1609-1659?
Title: Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families, 1638-1874.
Quantity: 1.24 cubic feet (4 folio boxes)
Abstract: Henry Dunster (1609-1659?) was the first president of Harvard College, serving from 1640 to 1654. These papers primarily document the business transactions and family history of members of the Dunster and Glover families during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The financial and legal documents provide a partial record of family property in colonial New England, as well as insight into the legal system in colonial America. A few documents, including memoranda and reports, provide details about Dunster's tenure as president of Harvard, early colonial education in New England, local missionary efforts to educate Native Americans, and operations of the first printing press in the colonies. Of particular interest is "the List of 1655/6", considered by some to represent the beginning of American bibliography.
Note: This inventory last updated 2015 November 12. Skip introductory information, go directly to list of documents.

Processing Note:

This material was first classified and described by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1980. The collection was re-processed in 2004, with subsequent preparation for digitization in 2009. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in size- and format-appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. Preparation for digitization involved minor adjustments to the physical arrangement of the collection, with corresponding updates to the finding aid and the addition of links to the digital copies.

Conditions on Use and Access:

This collection is open for research use. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Please consult the reference staff for further details.

Related Material

At the Harvard University Archives:
At the Houghton Library, Harvard University:

Biographical Notes

Henry Dunster was the first president of Harvard, serving from 1640 to 1654.
Dunster, the son of Henry Dunster and Isabel Kaye Dunster, was baptized on November 26, 1609 in Bury, Lancashire, England. He studied at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, receiving Bachelor of Arts (1630) and Master of Arts (1634) degrees. After graduation, he taught at the local free school, served as headmaster of the Bury Grammar School, and served as minister of Saint Mary’s Church in Bury.
In the summer of 1640, following the outbreak of the Civil War in England, Dunster emigrated to the English colonies in New England. Soon after his arrival, Dunster was appointed president of Harvard College on August 27, 1640.
When Dunster arrived at Harvard, the College was in dire financial straits and the students had left. As president, he oversaw reform of the academic program, including establishment of a requirement for four years’ residency, introduction of a code of conduct for students, oversight of construction of the College’s first building, funding from the General Court as well as from individual donors, and attracting students back to the College. Perhaps Dunster’s most important action was to secure the College’s papers of incorporation, approved by the General Court of Massachusetts as the Charter of 1650. The Charter established the President and Fellows of Harvard College (the Harvard Corporation) as one of Harvard’s two governing boards.
Dunster was forced to resign from the Harvard presidency in 1654, owing to a dispute with members of the General Court over the religious validity of infant baptism.
In 1641, Dunster married Elizabeth (Harris) Glover, widow of Joseph Glover.* When Elizabeth Glover Dunster died in 1643, she left her property, including land and a printing press, to Dunster, along with shared administrative responsibility for her estate and five children. Dunster continued to operate the printing business until 1654, when he sold the press to Harvard College.
In 1644, Dunster married Elizabeth Atkinson, with whom he had five children. Henry Dunster died on February 27, 1658/9**, and is buried in the churchyard of the First Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Elizabeth (Atkinson) Dunster died on September 12, 1690.
*Note regarding Joseph Glover
In documents and published sources, Joseph Glover is also referred to as Jose or Josse Glover. For consistency, his name has been standardized as Joseph Glover in this finding aid.
**Note regarding date conventions
Some documents dated between January 1 and March 25 before 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g., 1658/9 February 27. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year according to the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year according to the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.

Scope of the Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families

Most of the papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families record business transactions and other affairs of the Dunster and Glover families. Many items in the collection, including estate inventories, lists of books printed, income and expense reports, and lists of household property, were introduced as evidence in the various lawsuits relating to Henry Dunster's administration of Elizabeth Glover Dunster's estate. The documents included in the Dunster-Glover lawsuits insight into the workings of the early colonial legal system, including accounts of testimony, evidence, and court rulings.
A few documents in the collection relate specifically to Dunster's tenure as president of Harvard and document his academic reforms, some of which gave significant shape to the development of American higher education. These documents include:
Dunster's Memorandum of 1653 December provides an assessment of the condition in which Dunster found Harvard upon his arrival in 1640 and summarizes his activities as president. The Quadriennium memoir, written by Dunster in 1654, outlines Harvard's implementation of a four-year residency, similar to the academic program at the University of Cambridge, England. In his 1654 petition to the General Court, written at the time of his resignation from Harvard, Dunster requested financial considerations from the Court, including permission to remain in the president's house until his accounts with the College were settled. He also requested a reversal of the Court's vote to require an examination of the accounts of the Glover estate.
In addition to records relating exclusively to educational developments at Harvard, the collection includes three documents that pertain to the education of Native Americans and to the printing business in colonial America: Dunster's account of expenses for the colony refers to his work preparing young Native American men for college. The list of books printed in Cambridge contains an entry for an "Indian primmer" printed on the Harvard College printing press, which was originally operated by the Glover family, and later by Henry Dunster. This press, first in the colonies, issued among other titles The Freeman's Oath, The Bay Psalm Book, and later the first Bible printed in North America in the Algonquin language known as the Indian Bible or the Eliot Bible. Stephen Day's testimony of 1656 lists printing jobs which used paper provided by Joseph Glover.
Along with documents recording Henry Dunster's legal and educational activities, the seventeenth-century papers also contain a few personal letters to Dunster. Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century papers, including parish records, letters, leases, and receipts, record Dunster family history and genealogy in England and the colonies.
The papers are arranged chronologically. Titles were assigned by archivists and generally correspond to the titles of published transcriptions or prominent text on the documents themselves. Dates assigned by archivists appear in brackets.
Insofar as archivists are aware of published transcriptions, the transcription is cited in the document description below. Principal sources for these transcriptions are the Publications of the Colonial Society (volume 49), Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, (volume 2, series 4), and Henry Dunster and His Descendants.

List of documents

Acquisition Information :

The papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families were given to Harvard University by the following people:
  • Benjamin Peirce (donated in 1846)
  • Samuel Dunster (donated in 1871)
  • Samuel Dunster (donated in 1886)
  • Theodora Willard (donated in 1903)
  • Harry C. Rice and E. Louise Rice (donated in 1924)
  • Philip Spaulding (donated in 1937)
  • Joseph Gardner (donated in 1937)

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