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SERIES Identifier: UAI 5.30

Corporation minutes extracted from the College books, 1643-1827

Scope of the Corporation Minutes for 1643-1827

This series contains handwritten copies in bound volumes of the proceedings of the meetings of the Corporation and the Board of Overseers recorded in College Books 1 and 3 and full transcriptions of College Books 4 and 7-10. Each volume includes a general subject index. Beginning with College Book 4, the proceedings include a list of attendees at each meeting.

The volumes in this series represent an effort by the Corporation in the mid-19th century to preserve a formal record of the votes and actions of the President and Fellows of Harvard College based on Harvard's earliest extant records. The minutes do not record deliberations.

In the 18th and early 19th century, the Corporation held regular meetings to discuss both complex policy issues as well as the day-to-day management of the College. The votes and orders of the Corporation often reflected their fiduciary role through the disbursement of gifts, donations and income, fund allocation, and property management. As a result of their control over the College's money, the minutes regularly record orders to the treasurer, students selected to receive scholarships and college employment, changes in tuition and fees, and the appointments and dismissals of faculty, and staff, along with salary and wage decisions. The Corporation minutes are a resource for locating the names of individuals involved with the College including students, faculty, the Stewards and Butlers, Librarians, as well as community members who did work for the College as servants, merchants, and tradesmen, and those who leased College properties or held bonds with Harvard.

While the meetings were often focused on routine financial decisions and position appointments, the Corporation made policy decisions, disciplined students, set College laws and academic requirements, and addressed larger institutional issues. The minutes serve as a repository for copies of official documents drafted by the Corporation including memorials and petitions to the General Court, the inaugural addresses of Harvard Presidents, College Laws, and correspondence. Similarly, wills naming Harvard as a beneficiary were often copied into the minutes. The Corporation relied on Committees to investigate larger institutional issues, and often Committee reports and the subsequent Corporation responses are recorded in the minutes.

The minutes are also a resource for studying the College's actions during the American Revolutionary War and include votes related to its temporary move to Concord, a transcription of the honorary degree given to General Washington in 1776, a memorial to the General Court about repairs needed at the College after its occupation by the Continental Army, and Corporation votes and correspondence documenting the College's strained relationship with Treasurer John Hancock. They also contain many entries on the Charlestown Ferry, one of the College's primary sources of income, and the challenges it faced in maintaining revenue when two bridges were constructed across the Charles River. In addition, information about commodity prices can be gleaned from entries related to the Steward and Butler, and many entries relate to Harvard's support of missionaries among Indian tribes. Numerous important historical and political events, and their effects on the Harvard community, are reflected in the Corporation minutes.


  • 1643-1827

Researcher Access

The Corporation records itemized in this finding aid are open for research. For volumes 1-21 please use the bound photostat copies available in the Harvard University Archives reading room.


.6 cubic feet (6 volumes)

Biographical / Historical

F.C. Gray's appointment as the first Corporation Secretary on April 12, 1827 signaled the beginning of a standardized recording process for Corporation minutes. Minutes were taken in draft form and copied into bound volumes as formal proceedings. As part of Gray's early activities as Secretary, he oversaw the copying of the Corporation's November 1810 to March 1827 proceedings by A. A. Gould from a series of Corporation Waste-Books. Gray presented the records to the Board in 1828.

On December 27, 1851, following the recommendations of the Committee appointed to examine the condition of the Records and other College papers, and to develop methods for their security and preservation, the Corporation voted to build cases suitable for the safe-keeping of all College records and other manuscripts relating to the history of Harvard University. It took one year for these documents to be classified, arranged, and bound in permanent form. A catalogue of twenty-two series of College papers was presented before the Corporation at their meeting on December 24, 1852. During the meeting, President Jared Sparks requested that copies be made of those Records of the Corporation for which no duplicate existed, as well as indexes.

James W. Harris, who served as an assistant in the Library and an occasional assistant to President Sparks was assigned the task of extracting, transcribing, and indexing the records of Corporation meetings found in the College's oldest records: the College Books. Acting on the Corporation vote of December 24, 1852, Harris extracted only those parts of the College Books that documented early Board of Overseer and Corporation votes and orders to create a chronological record of the proceedings. On June 19, 1855, Harris presented the Corporation with four volumes that would be bound as College Records 1-4. The two volumes copied under the direction of Secretary Gray became College Records 5-6.

Related Materials

The finding aid for the College Books provides detailed descriptions of the topical scope of the volumes.

Within the series of ten volumes known as the College Books, three did not include Corporation minutes: College Book 2 contained records of the Board of Overseers and was destroyed in the Harvard Hall Fire of 1764, College Book 5 contains Treasurer's records and is now included in the Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University, and College Book 6 contains records related to donations to the College by Thomas Hollis.


Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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