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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.874

Papers of Samuel Langdon


Samuel Langdon (1723-1797) was a schoolmaster, army chaplain, pastor of the First Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from 1747 to 1774, and thirteenth president of Harvard College, serving from 1774 to 1780. This collection contains a small number of letters written by Langdon, a few of Langdon’s sermons, and a few documents pertaining to other aspects of Langdon’s life.


  • 1745-1790, 1896.


Conditions on Use and Access

The Papers of Samuel Langdon are open for research use. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Please consult the reference staff for further details.


0.2 cubic feet (1 boxes)
This collection consists of five letters written by Langdon, seven of Langdon’s sermons, including a sermon delivered by Langdon as chaplain to the Continental Army in Cambridge on May 21, 1775, and a small series of documents pertaining to other aspects of Langdon’s life, including a summary of Langdon’s activities as army chaplain during the Revolutionary War.


Samuel Langdon (1723-1797) was the thirteenth president of Harvard College, serving from 1774 to 1780 and presiding over the College during the American Revolution.

Langdon was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1723. The youngest of six children and of limited financial means, he worked his way through Harvard College as a waiter and as the recipient of several scholarships. He received his A.B. degree in 1740 and his A.M. degree in 1743.

Langdon began his career as a schoolmaster in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1741, accepting a teaching position in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, three years later. In 1745, he was named Chaplain of a New Hampshire regiment sent to Cape Breton Island to lay siege to the fortress of Louisbourg. Following his military service, Langdon married Elizabeth Whipple Brown in 1746 and was appointed Pastor of the First Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1747.

For the next twenty five years, Langdon established his reputation as a man of learning and piety, promoting religious tolerance and education. As the colonies’ dispute with England grew, Langdon worried that the Crown would establish Anglican control over the colonies, and he placed his support with the colonists.

Chosen primarily for his political sympathies, Langdon was installed as President of Harvard College in 1774. The unfortunate combination of a smallpox epidemic in Cambridge, economic inflation, a decline in revenues, and the distractions of impending war left the College in a state of disarray and undercut Langdon’s ability to effectively manage College affairs. Temporary evacuation of the College from 1775 to 1776 further hampered Langdon’s administration. Ultimately, it was Langdon’s attempts to impose a more religious character on College life that infuriated students and led to Langdon’s resignation in 1780.

Langdon returned to New Hampshire, where he served as pastor in Hampton Falls until his death in 1797.

  1. Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  2. Peterson, Mark A. Langdon, Samuel ; American National Biography Online February 2000.
  3. Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University, Vol. II. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.
  4. Samuel Langdon. Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington, Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009:
  5. Sanborn, Franklin B. Reverend Samuel Langdon. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. XVIII, 1903, 1904. Boston: The Society, 1905. 192-232.
  6. Sanborn, Franklin B.Two New Hampshire Libraries in Hampton Falls, 1785. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, October, 1909-June, 1910, Vol. XLIII. Boston: The Society, 1910. 33-45.
  7. Shipton, Clifford K.Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College in the Classes 1736-1740, Sibley's Harvard Graduate Series, Vol. X. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1958.

Series in the Collection

Acquisition Information

The Papers of Samuel Langdon were acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation and purchase. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the folder list below. The acquisitions are as follows:
  1. No date, Massachusetts Historical Society
  2. 1902 Mrs. M.L. Harrison
  3. 1902 Edith S. Brown
  4. 1914 Mary S.D. Ferris
  5. 1917 Bright Fund
  6. 1923 Lawrence W. Jenkins
  7. 1926 Mrs. O.W. Charles
  8. 1927 Paul Sachs
  9. 1931 Charles P. Everett
  10. 1936 Philip Spaulding
  11. 1948 Mrs. Mary Barrows

Related Material

  1. Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100):
Search HOLLIS (Harvard's online library system) for works by and about Samuel Langdon.

Citations to published versions of the documents in this collection are noted in the folder list.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 April 11.

Processing Information

Processing Note This material was first classified and described by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1980. The collection was reprocessed in 2005, with subsequent preparation for digitization in 2009. Reprocessing involved a collection survey, rehousing in size- and format-appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. Preparation for digitization involved minor adjustments to the physical arrangement of the collection, with corresponding updates to the finding aid and the addition of links to the digital copies.

The digitization of Samuel Langdon's papers was made possible in part by generous support from the Sidney Verba Fund.
Link to catalog
Langdon, Samuel, 1723-1797. Papers of Samuel Langdon: an inventory

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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