Stories of Early Harvard

To see our critique of Harvard University's April 2022 report titled, "Harvard & The Legacy of Slavery," click here.


1643 early sketch of Veritas seal. President Josiah Quincy,  History of Harvard University,  Vol. I (1840). Source: Google Books

Stories of Early Harvard*

by A. J. Melnick


Stories adapted from the pre-published book:
DUNSTER: THE MAN WHO SAVED HARVARD - AND GAVE IT EXCELLENCE

If you'd like to know when this book is published, please send an email to: Dunster Book


##########################################################

        Podcast No. 1. [1636]. The John Harvard Story: How Did Harvard College Get Its Name?




Statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard (1884 sculpture). Source: Wikipedia Commons
For more information about John Harvard, for whom Harvard is named, go to: www.johnharvard.us



        Podcast No. 2. [1638-1639]. The Eaton Disaster - How Harvard Almost Went Out of Existence Soon After It Began (we open with an historical fictional account with the Rev. Thomas Shepard)


Nathaniel Eaton was Harvard College's first teacher and also its first traitor. Externally, Eaton appeared to be the ideal Puritan, but in reality he was a liar, sadist and thief who betrayed everything that the Puritans believed in. It is a wonder that Harvard even survived his treachery. An unforeseen incident led to a trial - a trial where the whole sordid truth of what Eaton and his wife were doing came tumbling out. The authorities were appalled that this could happen right under their noses. Listen to this podcast to find out how the story unfolded!


        Podcast No. 3. [1641-1642]. The First Threat to Academic Freedom in America

   

The annual election day sermon in 1641 in Massachusetts helped launch what became the first threat to academic freedom in America - one that, unsurprisingly, had political overtones. Who started it, how did it affect Harvard, and how did it end?


        Podcast No. 4. [1643-1649]. The Inspiring Story of Matthew Day, the 'Second' Printer in America, and His Devotion to Harvard


   

Although largely forgotten today, Matthew Day (Daye) was an important figure in Harvard's early history. He was President Dunster's right-hand man at a time when Dunster had few people he could rely on. He served as College Steward before that position became formalized. His more famous father, Steven Day, is known as the first printer in America, but Matthew should also be honored - at a minimum for being the 'second' printer in America. He produced some of the earliest and rarest examples of American printing, including the 1647 Almanac by Harvard graduate Samuel Danforth. This was a book about "firsts" and was a "first" itself - the first known booklet published in America that carried the name of its printer - Matthew Day - on its cover! (see below). Matthew was deeply devoted to Harvard and to the Dunster family, which probably put him at odds early on with his self-serving father, who died in poverty many years after his son. Listen to this podcast to learn about Matthew's amazing gift to Harvard before he died.



Cover page


Page of "firsts" from 1647 Almanac by Samuel Danforth, published by Matthew Day.
This includes (top entry): "The first Indian that held forth a clear work of conversion to Christianity was Wequash of Say-brook." Source: Google Books

##########################

        Podcast No. 5 [1654]. 'Penny Beer' at Harvard: The Sister Bradish Story


What in the world was 'penny beer'? How was it different from beer today?

'Penny beer' was very popular with Harvard's students at the time. But President Henry Dunster had a problem: students were going off-campus to a nearby 'penny beer' establishment. And while there, they were spending too much of their parents' money! What a shock! The dilemma for Dunster was that he actually did want them to go there - just not too often! Listen to this podcast to learn what Dunster did to solve his problem and how it affected Harvard's students.


#########################################



Title page of the Massachusetts Almanac of 1659. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division (2022)


Title page of Astronomia Instaurata. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University (2015)



        Podcast No. 6 [1640-1659]. Teaching Astronomy at Harvard: Bringing the Copernican Theory to the New World


So when was the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun first presented in the New World? This podcast presents a brand new discovery - that Copernican ideas may have been discussed at Harvard College as early as the 1640s under President Dunster. It turns out that Dunster owned a copy of the famous 1617 third edition of Copernicus's revolutionary book, De Revolutionibus. This third edition was titled, Astronomia Instaurata, or "A Restored Astronomy." It now seems very unlikely to think that Dunster did not at least discuss the Copernican theory with this first generation of Harvard students, even as he presented the Ptolemaic system to them.

One of his students, Zechariah Brigden, went on after graduation to write a special pro-Copernican essay published in the Massachusetts Almanac of 1659. As famed Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison has noted, this essay was "the earliest extant scientific essay by a Harvard graduate. Dunster's successor, Charles Chauncy, along with the governor of Connecticut at the time, John Wintrop, Jr., were so thrilled with Brigden's essay that they sent copies to one of the stalwart pillars of the Puritan establishment, John Davenport. How did Davenport respond, and what does this tell us about freedom of thought then in New England regarding one of the most revolutionary theories in history? How does it compare with leftist censors and institutions today who 'cancel' those with whom they disagree?


Dunster's inscription of "Locus est..." in the 1617 edition of Astronomia Instaurata. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University (2015)


Library bookplates of the 1617 Copernicus volume. From Yale back to Harvard. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University (2015)
######################################

Music: Opening melody - "York Fusiliers" - popular fifer tune performed by the Colonial Faire band (from "A Colonial Sampler: Popular Music of Colonial America)


*Copyright 2019-2022 by A. J. Melnick. All rights reserved. This site is not affiliated with Harvard University nor any Harvard entity.