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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.878

Papers of Samuel Webber


Samuel Webber (1759-1810) was President of Harvard University from May 6, 1806 to July 17, 1810. The Papers of Samuel Webber touch on some of his activities as President of Harvard University and also include materials related to Webber's son, John, and his wife, Rebecca.


  • 1806-1815.


Conditions on Use and Access

Permission of the University Archives is required for access to the Papers of Samuel Webber. Researchers are advised to use published versions of these papers, both because of the fragility of the originals and their early nineteenth-century handwriting and spelling, which may make them difficult to read for those who are unaccustomed to it. Please consult the reference staff for further details. Additional restrictions may apply.


0.1 cubic feet (13 folders)
18 documents
The Papers of Samuel Webber touch on some of his activities as President of Harvard University and also include materials related to Webber's son, John, and his wife, Rebecca.

These papers contain incoming and outgoing correspondence, news clippings, tax returns, pamphlets, and a memorandum book.



Samuel Webber was the eldest son of John Webber and Rachael (Harris) Webber born on January 13, 1760 in Byfield Parish,Newbury,Essex County,Massachusetts. The Webbers had three other children, John Jr. (1762), Joanna (1766), and Sarah (1772). Webber's father was a farmer, and in 1771 he moved the family to Hopkinton,New Hampshire, then known as one of the best agricultural towns in the state.

Early Life and Education

Although Webber spent his early years working on his father's farm, he was encouraged to pursue his intellectual interests by the pastor of the First Congregational Church, the Reverend Elijah Fletcher. Webber attended the Dummer Academy grammar school and entered Harvard University in 1780. A talented mathematics student, Webber received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1784 and his Master of Arts degree in 1787. Although ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church in 1785, Webber returned to the Dummer Academy to teach. However, shortly after, he resigned his teaching position to become a Tutor of Mathematics (1787-1789) at Harvard University.

Harvard Teacher

Webber was recognized for his capabilities as a tutor when he was elected the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1789, serving in this position for the next seventeen years.

Webber's major areas of accomplishment were in mathematics,surveying, and astronomy. In 1791, Webber observed an annular eclipse of the sun which he described in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1793). His major work on mathematics, the System of Mathematics, was adopted for use by Harvard University and other New England schools in 1801. The following year, Webber wrote a revised introduction for the fourth edition of Jedidiah Morse's The American Universal Geography and although not published until 1824, Webber wrote the appendix to the astronomical part of the Institutes of Natural Philosophy by William Enfield. Finally, acknowledged for his astronomical, mathematical, and surveying skills, Webber was selected to serve on a three-man committee to help settle a boundary dispute between the United States and Canada.

Harvard University President

Noted for his good sense, uprightness of character, sound judgment, and learning, Webber was elected to the Harvard presidency in 1806. However, he was unable to achieve anything notable during his short administration. Webber's most significant accomplishments during his tenure as Harvard President were realized in his efforts to increase financial contributions from individuals and the state legislature, an expansion in the number of members on the Board of Overseers (1810), and the creation of a Professorship of Natural History. His one great ambition was the creation of a Harvard Astronomical Observatory, but Webber died before his plans for this project could be realized.

Samuel Webber (1760-1810) was the thirteenth President of Harvard University, serving from May 8, 1806 to July 17, 1810.


Webber married Rebecca Smith (1762-1837) on October 21, 1789. They had seven children: George (1791), Aria (1792), Sophia (1794), Matilda (1795), Samuel (1797), John (1799), and Caroline (1801).

Samuel Webber died suddenly on July 17, 1810 and was buried in the Old Burying Ground in Cambridge,Massachusetts.
  1. Eliot, Samuel A. A Sketch of the History of Harvard College and of its Present State. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848.
  2. Jones, Bessie Zaban and Lyle Gifford Boyd. The Harvard College Observatory, The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
  3. Morison, Samuel Eliot.Three Centuries of Harvard.Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,1936.
  4. O'Reilly, Noel Sever. Samuel Webber, The Thirteenth President of Harvard University (1806-1810). Dallas, Texas: by the author, 1989.
  5. Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Vol. II. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.

Acquisition Information

The Papers of Samuel Webber 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. 1882 Jeremiah Colburn
  2. 1961 Sidney M. Williams
  3. Accession number: 12786; 1993 October 25.
  4. Accession number: 18324; 2011 July 14.

Related Material

Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100):

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 April 11.

Processing Information

Processing Note Most of this material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. In 2005, Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed these papers.

Re-processing included the re-housing of materials in the appropriate containers, establishment of a folder list, and the creation of this finding aid. The archivist placed the documents into acid-free folders, re-housed the materials into an archival document box, and examined the folder contents to establish the date of the material.

The material was arranged chronologically by the archivist.

In the folder list, wording such as "in Webber's handwriting" or "handwritten" have been used instead of the terminology "autograph" or "holograph."

Published versions of the documents in this collection are noted in the folder list.
Link to catalog
Webber, Samuel, 1759-1810. Papers of Samuel Webber : 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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