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HUM 94

Ewer, Charles, 1790-1853. Records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer, 1712-1723: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUM 94
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Ewer, Charles, 1790-1853.
Creator: Leverett, John, 1662-1724
Title: Records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer, 1712-1723
Date(s): 1712-1723
Quantity: .26 cubic feet (1 half-legal document box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: This collection contains ten 18th century documents relating to Harvard College and President John Leverett collected by the first president of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, Charles Ewer. The documents primarily pertain to the Harvard Fellowship controversy between 1716 and 1723 that expanded from internal disagreements about the role of Tutors in College governance to a political battle between the Harvard Corporation, Board of Overseers, and the Massachusetts General Court.

Acquisition information:

This collection was received as two accessions by the Harvard University Archives from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The first accession was received on October 2, 1984 and was identified as "documents from the Charles Ewer Papers." The second accession was received on November 14, 1984 and identified only as manuscripts "relating to Harvard, 1716-1726." While the second accession does not specifically identify the papers as coming from the Charles Ewer Papers, only three documents (HUM 94 Box 1 Folders 2, 5 and 9) have not been directly linked to the Ewer Papers through references and citations in secondary sources.

Processing Information:

These papers were received as two accessions in 1984. The papers were processed in 2011 and brought together as a single collection. Processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival containers, and the creation of this finding aid.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in June 2011.
Preservation and description of the records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The Records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer are open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Online access:

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

Preferred Citation:

Ewer, Charles, 1790-1853. Records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer, 1712-1723. HUM 94, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
In the New England Genealogical Society

Biographical Note of Charles Ewer

Charles Ewer (1790-1853) was a Boston bookseller and a principal founder and first president of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, established in 1845.

Biographical Note of John Leverett

John 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.
Leverett was born on August 25, 1662 in Boston, Mass. He received an AB from Harvard in 1680 and an AM in 1683. Leverett was appointed a Harvard Tutor in 1685 and held the position until 1697. Before becoming Harvard College president in 1707/8, Leverett pursued a career as an attorney, jurist, and politician, including six years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1696-1702) and two years as Speaker of the House (1700-1702). Leverett became president of Harvard on January 14, 1707/08 after the death of President Samuel Willard. Leverett's major accomplishment as 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. His secular direction prompted Thomas Hollis (1659-1731), a London merchant and devout Baptist to make several generous donations to Harvard. Under Leverett's stewardship, school enrollment expanded, bequests were collected, and Massachusetts Hall was erected (1720). Leverett's autocratic governing style created conflict with College Tutors in the late 1710s and early 1720s that expanded into larger difficulties with conservative members of the Harvard Board of Overseers and the Massachusetts General Court. John Leverett died on May 3, 1724.

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 several administrative disagreements including disputes over salaries and the right of Tutors to Fellowship in the Harvard Corporation. He later 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, Sever was appointed a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Plymouth county, where he later became Chief Justice. Sever resigned from the bench in 1762 and died on April 7, 1764.

Historical Note of the Harvard Fellowship controversy

Between 1716 and 1723, disagreements between Harvard President John Leverett and the College Tutors, led by Nicholas Sever, over the management of the College dissolved into political challenges between the Corporation, the Board of Overseers, and the Massachusetts General Court. The Fellowship Controversy, as it came to be known, centered on whether the Harvard Charter of 1650 granted Tutors the right to Fellowship in the Corporation, but also encompassed larger political issues related to the President Leverett's authority and perceptions towards the College by Massachusetts leaders.
The Charter of 1650 established the Harvard Corporation as the primary governing body of the College. The Corporation was to be comprised of seven individuals: a President, Treasurer and five Fellows. The Charter named the first members of the Corporation and gave them the power to elect new members upon the loss or removal of any current members. The Board of Overseers, comprised of magisterial and ministerial ex-officio members, was identified as an advisory body with sanctionative powers over the Corporation. In October 1684, the English Court of Chancery's voided the Royal Charter of the Massachusetts colony, and seemed to render the College Charter of 1650 and, subsequently, the Corporation defunct. For the next twenty-three years, multiple new Charters were drafted for the College until 1707, when Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley restored the Charter of 1650 upon the General Court's approval of John Leverett as Harvard's president. The Resolve of 1707 reduced the number of Fellows from fifteen back to five, as indicated in the Charter of 1650. In College records following the Resolve of 1707, the Fellows of the Corporation were identified as the "Fellows of the House," even though only members Henry Flynt and Jonathan Remington were actually resident Tutors. In subsequent years, the terminology of "Fellow of the House" grew confused with a "Fellow of the Corporation."
During Leverett's tenure as President, his autocratic and, at times, demeaning governing style led to increasing friction with the Harvard Tutors. On April 9, 1716, in conjunction with offering Nicholas Sever a position as College Tutor, the Corporation voted to impose three-year term limits on the College Tutor appointments (known as the Triennial act). Sever accepted the position on April 16, 1716 and, by early 1718, had begun to express his dissatisfaction with President Leverett. Sever wrote multiple documents outlining his grievances against President Leverett that focused primarily on his apparent disregard for the Tutors' authority in managing College affairs and disciplining students.
In spite of the disagreements between Sever and Leverett, on April 28, 1719, Sever's appointment was renewed for another three years, and on May 24, 1720, William Welsteed was appointed as the fourth "Fellow of the House," along with Sever, Flynt, and Thomas Robie. On the same day of Welsteed's appointment, Flynt, Sever, and Robie presented a memorial to the Corporation calling for the tutors' right of Fellowship in the Corporation. The eight-point petition focused on the Tutors' belief that the Charter of 1650 intended the term "fellows" to reflect the understanding "in ye Universities abroad" that "members of their Corporations are Usually residing w'th in ye Several Houses." They also requested that measures be taken to strengthen the role of the Tutors in College governance and to increase their salaries. The petition was reviewed by the Corporation, but no official response was made.
In subsequent years, Sever continued to generate materials in support of the right of Tutors to Fellowship in the Corporation. While Tutors Flynt and Robie withdrew from the controversy, Sever found allies in Judge Samuel Sewall and Elisha Cooke the younger, both conservative members of the Board of Overseers who were suspicious of President Leverett and the Corporation's liberal religious leanings.
On June 23, 1721, Sever and Welsteed presented a memorial to the Board of Overseers claiming that the Charter of 1650 granted them membership in the Corporation because they were resident Fellows of the College. The Overseers created a committee chaired by Justice Sewall to address the issue. As the disagreement unfolded, the Corporation refused to re-elect Sever as a Tutor in 1722, and Sever presented memorials to both the Corporation and the Board of Overseers. The Overseers responded on June 3, 1722 by recognizing Sever as a Tutor and declaring that they had not approved the Corporation's vote mandating three-year terms. On June 13, 1722, the Overseers also petitioned the General Court to enlarge the size of the Corporation to accommodate both the current non-resident Fellows and the Tutors. On June 29, 1722, the House of Representatives passed a resolve supporting a Committee report that stated that the Charter of 1650 intended the Tutors to be members of the Corporation "provided they exceed not five in number." Governor Samuel Shute signed the resolve on July 2, 1722, with the condition that none of the current non-resident Fellows be removed from the Corporation. In 1723, the House sent the 1722 resolve to the Governor's Council, hoping to remove Governor's condition. On August 23, 1723, both the members of the Corporation and Sever made presentations before the Governor's Council in defense of their positions. The Governor's Council responded by voting not to concur with the House resolves, and the Fellowship controversy effectively ended.
As the General Court argued over the legislation in 1723, Leverett drafted a new Harvard Charter to accompany a request for a royal charter from King George I. The draft called for John Leverett to be President "for and during his natural life," with a Vice-President elected annually, and eliminated the Board of Overseers while expanding the Corporation. Leverett died on May 3, 1724, and there is no evidence that the draft was ever presented.



The records are arranged in chronological order.

Scope and Content

This collection contains ten 18th century documents collected by Charles Ewer relating to President John Leverett and Harvard College. The documents primarily pertain to the Harvard Fellowship controversy between 1716 and 1723 that expanded from internal disagreements about the role of Tutors in College governance into a political battle between the Corporation, Board of Overseers, and the Massachusetts General Court. The collection also includes a 1712 letter from John Leverett to Addington Davenport regarding a College petition before a Massachusetts General Court Committee; a 1716 bond between grantees John Leverett and Elisha Cooke and the grantor, Harvard Treasurer John White; and a 1722 bond between grantee John Leverett and the grantor, Harvard Treasurer Edward Hutchinson.
The records related to the Fellowship controversy date between 1721 and 1723 and comprise a letter from John Leverett detailing the membership history of the Harvard Corporation, Leverett's copy of a paper by Nicholas Sever to Judge Samuel Sewall, a copy of the June 29, 1722 report of a House Committee related to the composition of the Corporation, a copy of the June 1723 petition of Sever and William Welsteed to the Massachusetts General Court, a draft of President Leverett's 1723 Harvard Charter, a copy of the Harvard College Charter of 1650 annotated by John Leverett, and an undated, unannotated copy of the Charter of 1650.
The collection provides evidence of the intensive review and interpretation of the College's foundational documents by both Tutor Nicholas Sever and President Leverett during the Fellowship controversy. The documents also reflect a period when the composition of the Harvard Corporation, the role of the Harvard faculty in College governance, and the influence on the Board of Overseers and the Massachusetts General Court in College governance was scrutinized and politicized.


This document last updated 2015 July 13.

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