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HUM 67

Prince, Nathan, 1698-1748. Papers of Nathan Prince, 1714-1747: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUM 67
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Prince, Nathan, 1698-1748
Title: Papers of Nathan Prince, 1714-1747
Date(s): 1714-1747
Quantity: .22 cubic feet (1 flat box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Nathan Prince (1698-1748), who was educated at Harvard College and employed as one of its Tutors for almost twenty years, was believed by many to be the most significant scholar of mathematics and natural philosophy in the American colonies of his time. This collection contains notebooks on mathematics and other subjects Prince created while a Harvard undergraduate, as well as a notebook on a wide range of topics which he appears to have used in teaching. Also in the collection is a notebook in which Prince made entries about various scholars' and church fathers' accounts of the Resurrection.

Acquisition information:

Four of the items in this collection were purchased through the Bright Fund in 1908, and the other two items' provenance is unknown. Provenance information is included for each item in the list below.

Processing Information:

These papers were previously dispersed both physically and intellectually, and classified under separate call numbers. All of the papers were re-processed in 2011 and brought together as a single collection. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival containers, and the creation of this finding aid.
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in January 2011.
Preservation and description of the Papers of Nathan Prince was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The Papers of Nathan Prince are open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Preferred Citation:

Prince, Nathan, 1698-1748. Papers of Nathan Prince, 1714-1747. HUM 67, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
In the Boston Public Library
At the Massachusetts Historical Society

Biographical Note

Nathan Prince (1698-1748) led an adventurous and often tumultuous life. Although educated at Harvard College and employed as one of its Tutors for almost twenty years, he was ultimately forced out of that position because of alleged intemperance and slanderous remarks about his colleagues. After his departure from the College, Prince traveled to Europe before eventually accepting a position as missionary to the Miskito Indians on the island of Roatán. He died within a year of his arrival.
Nathan Prince was born to Samuel Prince and Mercy (Hinckley) Prince on November 30, 1698 in Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was their twelfth child. Prince attended Harvard College and graduated with the class of 1718; his brother, Thomas Prince, had graduated with the class of 1707. Immediately after graduation, Nathan moved to Bristol, Rhode Island, where he kept school for a year. The following year he kept school in Plymouth, Massachusetts. By the fall of 1720, though, Prince had returned to Cambridge, to renew his studies at Harvard. He received an A.M. from Harvard in 1721 and was recommended by the College's President, John Leverett, to preach at Westerly, Rhode Island. He preached at Westerly until April 1722, when he left to preach at Nantucket and Yarmouth.
In April of 1723, Prince was appointed a Tutor at Harvard College, a position to "be holden without Limitation of time." He taught at Harvard until his dismissal in 1742, and served as a Fellow from 1728 through 1742. Many of Prince's peers believed him to be a remarkable scholar of mathematics and natural philosophy, although he published only one scientific article (on the Aurora Borealis). John Eliot asserted in his Biographical Dictionary that Prince was "in mathematicks and natural philosophy superiour to any man in New England." Prince was also widely known, though, to be hot-tempered and unreliable, and these qualities were likely contributing factors to his being overlooked as a candidate for the Hollis Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. When John Winthrop was chosen for the position in 1738, following the resignation of Isaac Greenwood (due to intemperance), Prince was deeply disappointed. The rest of his years at Harvard were tumultuous.
From 1738 onwards, Harvard students and faculty appear to have become increasingly upset by Prince and his behavior. Complaints against him were filed regularly, but it was unclear which, if either, of Harvard's governing bodies – the Corporation and the Board of Overseers – had the authority to dismiss him. Ultimately the Board of Overseers filed the series of complaints against Prince which led to his dismissal. They accused him of intemperance, disturbing the peace, contemptuous speech towards the President and Fellows, stirring up strife, ridiculing his peers, and numerous other misdeeds. In February of 1741/2 the Overseers found Prince guilty of all these charges, and although he appealed their decision they refused his appeal. He then appealed to the General Court for assistance, publishing The Constitution and Government of Harvard-College in an effort to prove that his dismissal violated Harvard's constitution, but the Court also refused to hear his argument.
Following his dismissal, Prince fled to Boston, where after some difficulties establishing himself he was eventually allowed, in February 1742/3, to set up a school. The school was unsuccessful, and a year later Prince relocated once again, to Stratford, Connecticut, home of his brother Joseph. Prince taught in Stratford for several years before accepting a position as schoolmaster on the man-of-war Vigilant. He taught aboard the ship until it landed in Lisbon, Portugal in the summer of 1746, when he learned that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel wished to employ him as a missionary to the Miskito (then called Mosquito) Indians. Prince accepted their offer and traveled on to Portsmouth and London, England for further instructions.
On March 5, 1747/8, Prince sailed for the West Indies aboard the Duke of Bedford. Although the ship was damaged in a storm, it safely arrived in Jamaica in June 1748. The Governor instructed Prince to settle on the "Island of Rattan" (Roatán), which he apparently did in the last month of his life. Nathan Prince died in Roatán on July 25, 1748.



The items in this collection are arranged chronologically. Because none of the items themselves indicate a date of creation, all dates are speculative, based on the items' contents and what is known about Prince's life.

Scope and Content

This collection contains four notebooks which Prince appears to have created as an undergraduate at Harvard between 1714 and 1718, with entries on mathematics (notably logarithms and geometry), geography, astronomy, navigation, and other subjects. It also contains a notebook which Prince appears to have used in his role as Tutor; this notebook contains more sophisticated entries on a range of subjects, including geography, navigation, and mensuration. A sixth notebook contains entries he made about various scholars' and church fathers' accounts of the Resurrection.


This document last updated 2013 April 29.

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