Extent.63 cubic feet (16 volumes)
Winthrop's notes were never published, but they were thoroughly reviewed and utilized by Sibley in the mid-19th century. While Winthrop joined Nicholas Gilman (AB 1724), Jeremy Belknap (AB 1762), and John Pierce (AB 1793) in gathering information about their fellow Harvard alumni, Winthrop was by far the most prolific. His emphasis on collecting the memories of individuals through his network of correspondents saved information that otherwise would have been lost. In his work, Winthrop emphasized the role of Harvard alumni in United States history, "many of whom have made a conspicuous figure, from the early settlement of the country to the present time, both in the learned professions, as well as Statesmen & warriors" (July 4, 1808 letter), and helped promote Harvard's alumni as a unique and historically important community.
After graduating from the College, Winthrop was minimally involved in troop movement to Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War before playing a small role in John Hancock's problematic tenure as Harvard's Treasurer. Hancock authorized Winthrop to escort the College's financial records from Boston to him in Philadelphia in 1776. After the war, Winthrop held several civic appointments including Town Clerk and Selectman in Cambridge. In 1784 was appointed Justice of the Peace and Register of Deeds for Middlesex County.
Winthrop spent many years researching the biographical histories of Harvard's graduates. Winthrop described his hobby in a September 28, 1797 letter to Benjamin Pickman of Salem, noting that in his "leisure hours" he first began researching the professional placement and places of residence of alumni clergymen. Successful, he explained that, "I then enlarged my plan, & endeavored to find out the residue and after some trouble have ascertained most of them." His work served as an important reference for the 18-volume Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University created by Harvard Librarian John Langdon Sibley in 1873. Winthrop's own entry in Biographical Sketches notes that, "Winthrop never married, and the devotion which would otherwise have gone into a family he lavished on an effort to determine the profession, resident, and date of death of every man listed in the Harvard Alumni Catalogue" (Vol. 17, page 462). He served as a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, American Antiquarian Society, and the New York Historical Society. Winthrop died in Cambridge on February 5, 1825.
- Triennial Catalogues, 1782-1824
- Research memoranda, 1794-1825
The Triennial Catalogue of 1809 was donated by Elizabeth Harris, originally from the papers of Rev. Dr. McKean. The name "McKean" is also inscribed on the front of the 1782, 1809, and 1815 Catalogues in this collection, and the 1773 Catalogue in the collection of Triennial Catalogues annotated by unknown hands, suggesting a shared provenance, and perhaps annotations by multiple hands. Reverend Dr. Joseph McKean (1776-1818, Harvard AB 1794) was the College's Boylston Professor of Rhetoric, Oratory and Elocution from 1809 until 1818 and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society; his son, Dr. Joseph William McKean (1800-1839), graduated from the College in 1819. The relationship of the McKeans to Winthrop and the Catalogues is unclear, though Winthrop recommended the younger McKean to Harvard President Kirkland for a transcription task in 1822 (College Papers, Volume X, January 5, 1822).
Specific acquisition information is noted at the item level
- Shipton, Clifford K. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts, Volume XVII 1768-1771. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1975.
- Sibley, John Langdon. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts, Volume I. 1642-1658. Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1873.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in June 2010.
Preservation and description of the William Winthrop Collection was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Winthrop William, 1753-1825. William Winthrop Collection, 1782-1825: 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