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© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Call No.: UAI 20.718
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University.
Title: Records relating to the Fellowship controversy
Quantity: .18 cubic feet (6 folders)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: This collection contains six documents related to the Harvard Fellowship controversy from 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 documents in this collection are in College Tutor Nicholas Sever's hand and include manuscript copies of Sever and Tutor William Welsteed's 1721 and 1722 petitions to the Harvard Board of Overseers requesting their right to Fellowship in the Corporation based on their status as resident fellows, and related documents in support of the Tutors' argument.
In the Harvard University Archives
- Abstracts of legislation relating to Harvard College governance (UAI 20.723).
- Harvard University. Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814 (UAI 15.100): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua10011
- Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1933 (UAI 5.30): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua51010
- 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. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806 (UAIII 5.5): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua21010
- Leverett, John, 1662-1724. Papers of John Leverett, 1652-1730 (UAI 15.866): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua29004
- Ewer, Charles, 1790-1853. Records relating to Harvard College collected by Charles Ewer (HUM 94): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua33011
- Records related to the Harvard fellowship controversy compiled by Albert Matthews (HUY 55)
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, 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.
William Welsteed (1696-1753), a Harvard College Tutor and Boston minister, was born on June 28, 1696. He received an AB from Harvard in 1716 and an AM in 1719. Welsteed served as College Librarian in 1718 and 1719, before being appointed a College Tutor in 1720. Welsteed joined Nicholas Sever in the Fellowship Controversy of the 1720s, but appears to have acted in a more supporting role than Sever who wrote the petitions and researched for historical precedent in the case. On March 27, 1728, Welsteed was ordained as the minister of the New Brick Church in Boston and served there until his death on April 29, 1753.
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 of 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 assured 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.
- Hoffmann, John Maynard. Commonwealth college; the governance of Harvard in the Puritan period.Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Harvard University, 1972.
- Morison, Samuel E. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936.Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: John Owen, 1840.
- Shipton, Clifford K. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vol. V, 1701-1712. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1937.
- Shipton, Clifford K. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vol. VI, 1713-1721. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1942.
- 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.
The records are arranged in chronological order.
This collection contains six documents related to the Harvard Fellowship controversy from 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 documents in this collection are in Tutor Nicholas Sever's hand and include manuscript copies of Sever and Tutor William Welsteed's 1721 and 1722 petitions (also called memorials) to the Harvard Board of Overseers requesting the Tutors be acknowledged of their right to Fellowship in the Corporation, and related documents outlining the historical precedence within College laws and Charters for the Tutors' argument. The documents provide evidence of the intensive review and interpretation of the College's foundational documents by Sever in his effort to change the membership of the Corporation.Titles in this collection were transcribed from the documents unless noted otherwise at the item level.
This document last updated 2013 November 8.