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©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2016
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: UAI 15.866
Creator: Leverett, John, 1662-1724
Title: Papers of John Leverett, 1652-1730
Quantity: 2 cubic feet (2 document boxes, 2 legal half document boxes, 4 volumes, 2 flat boxes, 3 microfilm reels)
Abstract: John Leverett (1662-1724) was the first lawyer and jurist to become Harvard College president (1707/08-1724). This collection consists of diaries, lectures, sermon notes, letters, commissions, deeds, sketches, and bills, which document his activities as a Harvard College tutor, as president of Harvard College, as a jurist, and as a lawyer.
This document last updated 2016 November 10.
In the Harvard University Archives
- Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua62011
- Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation papers, 1st series, supplements to the Harvard College Papers, circa 1650-1828 (UAI 5.120): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua09012
- College Books 1, 3, and 4 in Harvard University. Corporation. College Books, 1636-1827 (UAI 5.5): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua53010
- Enchiridion Ethicum, a manuscript copy made by John Leverett in 1694 (Harvard University Archives call number HUC 8694.125)
At Leverett House
- Letter of John Leverett to his wife, Margaret, 1707
At the New England Historic Genealogical Society
- Papers of John Leverett, 1628-1726
IntroductionJohn Leverett (1662-1724) was the first lawyer and jurist to become Harvard College president. He served as president from January 14, 1707/08 to May 3, 1724. He is recognized for his efforts in transforming Harvard College from a divinity school into a secular institution.Early Life and CareerJohn Leverett was born on August 25, 1662 in Boston, Massachusetts to Hudson Leverett, an attorney, and Sarah (Payton) Leverett. His grandfather was John Leverett (1616-1679), a Massachusetts Bay Colony governor from 1672-1679. Leverett attended Boston Latin School and studied under Ezekiel Cheever. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1680) and his Master of Arts (1683) from Harvard College. The honorary degree of S.T.B. was conferred on him by Harvard College in 1692. Upon graduation, Leverett preached irregularly for several years and became a member of the Brattle Street Church of Boston.During Queen Anne's War (1701-1713), Leverett acted as an Indian commissioner from Massachusetts and attended a conference (1704) in order to try to persuade the Iroquois to enter the war on the side of the British. He was unsuccessful in his efforts. In 1707, as a lieutenant in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, Leverett organized and commanded a company of volunteers for an aborted expedition against the French at Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Finally, in 1709, Leverett served as Governor Joseph Dudley's emissary to negotiate with Governor John Lovelace of New York for the establishment of military cooperation between Massachusetts and New York on the frontier and for an invasion of Canada.Before becoming Harvard College president, Leverett pursued a career as an attorney, jurist, and politician. Leverett served as a member of the House of Representatives (1696-1702), Speaker of the House (1700-1702), a justice of the peace (1699), a judge in the Court of Admiralty (1705), a justice of the Superior Court (1702-1708), Judge of Probate Court for Middlesex County (1702-1708), and a member of the Provincial Council (1706-1708).Harvard CollegeLeverett was appointed a resident fellow along with William Brattle in 1685, holding this position for the next twelve years. When President Increase Mather left for England in 1688, Leverett and Brattle assumed responsibility for the management of College affairs. During Mather's absence (1688-1692), Leverett and Brattle revived the practice of disputations and added the reading of Anglican authors to the curriculum. Leverett was appointed President of the College on January 14, 1707/08 after the death of President Samuel Willard.Leverett's major accomplishment as Harvard College president was to help transform Harvard from a divinity school to a more secular institution. As a leader in the Congregational Church, Leverett opposed Increase and Cotton Mather's attempts to impose a new charter containing a loyalty oath which would require faculty members to acknowledge the primacy of scripture. Leverett also associated himself with the Anglican Church's missionary arm, the Society for the Preservation of the Gospel, and helped the Church recruit members from Harvard graduates. Moreover, Leverett allied himself with the Anglican "Cambridge Platonists" whose goal was to combine reason and God and to demonstrate faith by devotion and purity in living.Leverett's secular direction prompted the philanthropy of Thomas Hollis, a London merchant and devout Baptist. Hollis provided books for the library, funds for a scholarship for poor students, and a large gift to endow a chair for a professor of divinity. The candidates for the Hollis chair were not to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, particularly a belief in adult baptism. The Hollis Professorship of Divinity became the first endowed professorial chair at Harvard College (1721).Compared with other Harvard presidents, Leverett's administration made only small changes in the curriculum. However, Leverett introduced the study of French and Hebrew and revived the exercise of having students translate scripture from one ancient language to another. Under Leverett's stewardship, school enrollment expanded, bequests were collected, Massachusetts Hall was erected (1720), and a college periodical, the Telltale, began publication (1721).As president, Leverett lived in relative poverty. His only income was his salary from the college. He did inherit from his great-grandfather, Thomas Leverett, a share of the Muscongus Patent in Maine, and in 1719 Leverett helped form the Lincolnshire Company for the development of these lands. Unfortunately, no development took place during his lifetime, and the grant was later taken over by Samuel Waldo, a Boston merchant.FamilyLeverett married Margaret Rogers Berry, the daughter of former Harvard College president John Rogers, on November 25, 1697. They had nine children, six of whom died in infancy. Margaret died on June 7, 1720. Shortly after, Leverett married Sarah Crisp Harris. Sarah died on April 4, 1744.John Leverett died on May 3, 1724.ConclusionJohn Leverett was noted for being a widely cultivated and broad-minded person. His experience as lawyer, jurist, and politician helped maintain Harvard College's standing during his critical years as president. Leverett brought vigor, integrity, and devotion to the Harvard presidency. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1713 and two centuries later, his contributions to Harvard College were recognized when Leverett House, one of the original houses in President Lowell's housing plan, was opened in 1931.Footnote on date conventionsPlease note that descriptions of documents dated between January 1 and March 25 before 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g., 1649/50 February 27. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year by the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year by the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.
- Forbes, Allyn Bailey, ed. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Harvard College Records, Part II, Vol. 31. Boston: The Society, 1935.
- Kaledin, Arthur Daniel." The Mind of John Leverett." Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1965.
- Lovett, Robert W., ed. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Documents from the Harvard University Archives, 1638-1750, Vol. 49. Boston: The Society, 1975.
- Morison, Samuel E." John Leverett. " Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Biography Resource Center. 2004 December 10. http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezp1.harvard.edu./servlet/BioRc
- Morison, Samuel E. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University Vol. I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.
- Sibley, John Langdon. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vol. III, 1678-1689. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Charles William Sever, University Bookstore, 1885.
- Ward, Harry M." Leverett, John."; American National Biography Online http://www.anb.org.ezp1.harvard.edu/articles/01/01-00515.html; Feb. 2000.
The Papers of John Leverett document his activities as a Harvard College tutor, as president of Harvard College, as a jurist, and as a lawyer. Moreover, these papers contain several of his public orations and scriptural discourses presenting his intellectual and religious beliefs.These papers contain diaries, lectures, sermon notes, letters, commissions, deeds, sketches, and bills.Insofar as archivists are aware of published transcriptions, the transcription is cited in the document description below.