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HUM 91

Sever (Family : Mass.). Papers of the Sever family, 1709-1747, undated: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUM 91
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Sever (Family : Mass.)
Title: Papers of the Sever family
Date(s): 1709-1747, and undated
Quantity: .13 cubic feet (3 volumes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The Papers of the Sever family contain seventeen sermons composed by Nicholas Sever primarily between 1709 and 1722, and a volume of sermon notes and an academic notebook likely kept by Nicholas Sever's son William between 1745 and 1747. Nicholas Sever (1680-1764; Harvard AB 1701), a Harvard College tutor and Plymouth County judge, preached in New England churches as the ordained minister of Dover, New Hampshire between 1711 and 1715, as a substitute for ministers in other parishes, and as a Harvard College tutor between 1716 and 1728. William Sever (1729-1809), a merchant and judge, received an AB from Harvard in 1745 and an AM in 1748. The Sever family, beginning in 1728, resided in Kingston, Mass., and both Nicholas and William participated in the family's successful mercantile business.

Acquisition information:

The commonplace books were purchased in 1940 with the J.J. Lowell Fund, and the book of sermons was received in 1891 from W. W. Sever.

Processing Information:

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980 as two separate collections. The material was re-processed in 2011 and reclassified as HUM 91. A list of superceded call numbers is available at the end of the finding aid. Re-processing involved a collection survey and the creation of this finding aid. Photocopied documents on the genealogy of the Sever Family, donated by Jay J. Seaver in 1975 and originally classified as HUG 1781.55, have been moved to the control file for this collection and are available upon request.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in June 2011.
Preservation and description of the Papers of the Sever family was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The Papers of the Sever family are open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Online access:

All of the papers have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Preferred Citation:

Sever (Family : Mass.). Papers of the Sever family, 1709-1747, undated. HUM 91, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
In the Houghton Library

Biographical Note of Nicholas Sever

Nicholas Sever (1680-1764), a Harvard College tutor and judge, was born on April 15, 1680 in Roxbury, Mass. He received an AB from Harvard in 1701 and an AM in 1704. Between 1706 and 1710, Sever preached in various New England parishes and kept residence at Harvard College. On April 4, 1711, Sever was ordained as the minister of Dover, New Hampshire, and served there until 1715. In April 1716, Sever returned to Harvard as a Tutor and became involved in administrative disagreements including disputes over salaries and the right of Tutors to Fellowship in the Harvard Corporation. He served as a Fellow of the Corporation from 1725 until 1728. Sever resigned from the Tutorship in April 1728 and became a merchant in Kingston, Mass. Sever served as a justice of the peace in 1729, and in 1731, he was appointed a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Plymouth County, and later became Chief Justice. Sever resigned from the bench in 1762 and died on April 7, 1764.
Nicholas Sever married Sarah Warren Little on November 21, 1728, and they had three children: William Sever (1729-1809; Harvard AB 1745), Dr. John Sever (1730-1760; Harvard AB 1749), and James B. Sever (1733-1745). Following Sarah's death in 1756, Nicholas Sever married Susannah Winslow on October 13, 1757.

Biographical Note of William Sever

William Sever (1729-1809), a merchant and judge in Kingston, Mass., was born in Kingston on October 12, 1729, the son of Nicholas and Sarah Sever. He received an AB from Harvard in 1745 and an AM in 1748. Sever joined his father's mercantile business and also served as Town Clerk and Justice of the Peace. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1754 and 1766, and in 1769 was appointed to the Governor's Council. During the Revolutionary War, Sever served in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Following the war, Sever was appointed a judge on the Court of Common Pleas for Plymouth County and served in that capacity until his death on June 15, 1809.




The collection is arranged in three series:

Scope and Content

The Papers of the Sever family contain seventeen sermons composed by Nicholas Sever primarily between 1709 and 1722, and a volume of sermon notes and an academic notebook likely kept by Nicholas Sever's son William Sever between 1745 and 1747. The sermon notes contain abstracts of sermons, delivered most often by Reverend William Rand, between January 12, 1745/6 and November 15, 1747 in Kingston, Massachusetts. The academic notebook is undated and contains notes and short summaries of published works on world history, religion, and natural history.
The items do not bear ownership signatures, and while the sermons can be verified as those of Nicholas Sever, the author of the sermon notes and academic notebook are unknown. The similar handwriting and physical format of the notebooks suggest they were created by the same individual. Of the members of Sever family, Nicholas Sever's son John Sever was attending Harvard College between 1746 and 1749, and would have been unlikely to attend the weekly sermons in Kingston, Mass. that are recorded in the volume of sermon notes. Contrastingly, Nicholas Sever's older son William Sever, who received his AB from Harvard in July 1745, and returned to Kingston, appears to be a more likely author of the volume. He returned to Harvard in 1748 to accept his Master's degree and present an argument on the impermissibility of religious persecution, suggesting that he might have been keeping sermon notes as part of his independent studies before receiving his master's degree. The latest date referenced in the academic notebook is 1744, indicating the entries were presumably made in 1745 or later. Clifford K. Shipton further credits William Sever as the author of the volume by stating in Sever's Sibley's Harvard Graduates biographical sketch that, "The Harvard University Archives has what appears to be Sever's college commonplace book" (Sibley's Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of those who attended Harvard College in the Classes of 1741-1745, page 575 fn).


This document last updated 2015 March 4.


It should be noted that documents whose date is between January 1 and March 25 in the years prior to 1752 has been cited with the double date convention, as January 12, 1739/40. This convention has been followed because the document itself indicates the date in such a manner. 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.

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