Papers of Samuel Williams
Extent.60 cubic feet (1 document box, 1 microfilm reel)
Williams was born to Abigail Leonard (1703-1789) and the Reverend Warham Williams (1699-1761) on April 23, 1743 in Waltham, Massachusetts. He received an A.B. from Harvard College in 1761, though he was absent from commencement exercises because he was on an expedition to Newfoundland, accompanying professor John Winthrop on a voyage to observe the transit of Venus on June 6, 1761. Following graduation, Williams taught school in Waltham for two years before becoming a licensed preacher in Concord in 1763 and Congregational minister of Bradford, Massachusetts in 1765. He remained in Bradford as minister for the following fifteen years, from 1765 to 1780, combining his religious work with intensive studies and teaching in the areas of philosophy, theology, astronomy and other sciences. Williams married Jane Kilbourne in May 1768; they would have five children together.
In 1780, Williams was appointed Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard; he was the third individual to hold the position. His research was primarily in astronomy, meteorology and magnetism, and he expanded Harvard's curriculum in these areas; he also lectured on a wide range of other scientific topics. During his tenure as Hollis Professor, Williams was involved in several important expeditions, including one to observe – behind British enemy lines – a solar eclipse at Penobscot Bay in 1780 and another to survey the boundary between Massachusetts and New York State in 1787. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a member of the Meteorological Society at Mannheim, the American Philosophical Society and the New York Historical Society. Williams taught at Harvard for eight years, from 1780 until 1788, when he resigned in the face of charges brought against him by the Board of Overseers. The Overseers accused Williams of forgery in the settlement of an estate of which he had been appointed treasurer.
Williams left Cambridge the same day he submitted his resignation from Harvard and moved his family to Rutland, Vermont, where he was preacher from 1789 to 1796. He was also founder and co-publisher of The Rutland Herald, first published in 1794, and a short-lived monthly journal, The Rural Magazine: or Vermont Repository, published from 1795 to 1796. He assisted in the founding of the University of Vermont in 1791 and would later lecture there, from 1807 to 1809, on natural philosophy and astronomy. In 1794, he published the Natural and Civil History of Vermont, the earliest full-length history of the state; it was published in a larger second edition in 1809. He was appointed by Governor Tichenor to survey the northern boundary of the state of Vermont in 1806.
Samuel Williams died in Rutland, Vermont on January 2, 1817.
- Student Work, 1762
- Lectures, 1780-ca. 1790
- Scientific Observations, 1752-1791
- Sermons and Scripture Duties, 1794
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in April 2010.
Preservation and description of the Papers of Samuel Williams was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Williams, Samuel, 1743-1817. Papers of Samuel Williams, 1752-1794: an inventory
- EAD ID
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.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA