The Massachusetts Bay Colony named their college at Cambridge “Harvard College” after benefactor John Harvard today in 1639. Now WE know em

Bronze statue representing John Harvard, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Bronze statue representing John Harvard, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

John Harvard was born November 26, 1607 in Southwark, England as the fourth of nine children to a wealthy father who owned a tavern.  His maternal grandfather was also an associate of William Shakespeare’s father.

In 1624, the Black Plague took the lives of his father and seven of his siblings.

His mother remarried in 1626 to a man that also died within a few months.

Then she married Richard Yearwood in 1627 who went on to die in 1632.

That same year, John graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

John then lost his mother to the plague in 1635, the same year he earned his Masters Degree.

He was then ordained as a dissenting minister before he married Ann Sadler, the sister of a college classmate, in 1636.

Upon losing his only remaining sibling 1637, John inherited a considerable sum of money, and with no family remaining, John emigrated to New England with his new wife and settled in Charleston, a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.

There he became a teaching elder and assistant preacher of the First Church.

By 1638, John was deeded a tract of land and appointed to a committee by the Massachusetts Bay Colony “to consider of some things tending toward a body of laws.”

Around this time, the Massachusetts Bay Colony desired to “advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity: dreading to leave and illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”

On October 28, 1636, they in turn appropriated £400 toward a “schoale or colledge”

On November 15, 1637, they decided the location of the “colledge to bee Newtowne.”

On May 2, 1638, it was ordered that “Newtowne shall henceforward be called Cambridge” after the English university attended by many of the colonists including John Harvard.

John Harvard then died September 14, 1638 of tuberculosis and was buried at Charlestown’s Phipps Street Burying Ground.

In his will, the childless John Harvard left half of his estate to his wife Ann and bequeathed the remainder (some £780) to this planned for “colledge.”

Perhaps more importantly, John Harvard left his 320 volume scholar’s library to the new colledge.

This bequest by such “a godly gentleman and a lover of learning” was so gratefully received that they decided to name it after him.

Harvard Colledge

On March 13, 1639, The Massachusetts Bay Colony subsequently ordered that “the colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge.”

Today we all now of this institution as “Harvard” University.


In 1828, Harvard University alumni erected a granite monument statue to John Harvard’s memory, his original stone having disappeared during the American Revolution.

 John Harvard statue

Original site west of Memorial Hall

Original site west of Memorial Hall

On June 27, 1883, at the Commencement Day dinner of Harvard alumni a letter was read from “a generous benefactor, General Samuel James Bridge, an adopted alumnus of the college”:

To the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Gentlemen, — I have the pleasure of offering you an ideal statue in bronze, represent­ing your founder, the Rev. John Harvard, to be designed by Daniel C. French of Concord … I am assured that the same can be in place by June 1, 1884

However there was nothing to indicate what John Harvard had looked like, so the sculptor Daniel Chester French used a Harvard student descended from an early New England family for inspiration.

John Harvard was also featured on a 1986 stamp as part of the United States Postal Service’s Great Americans series.

A figure representing John Harvard also appears in a stained-glass window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.

Now WE know em



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