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COLLECTION Identifier: HUM 79

Papers of Eliphalet Pearson


Eliphalet Pearson (1752-1826) was a graduate of the Harvard Class of 1773, the second Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard from 1786 until 1806, a member of the Harvard Corporation from 1800 to 1806, and the College's interim President from 1804 to 1806. The papers of Eliphalet Pearson contain materials he created over more than a half century as a student, educator, and administrator. The collection contains Pearson's student work, an account book kept of his daughter Mary's estate, annotated and interleaved almanacs, research notes and reports compiled as a Harvard administrator, a notebook of student essay prompts, a notebook of student disorders, and miscellaneous correspondence, reading notes, and book lists. The collection offers a resource for studying undergraduate education at Harvard, and the administrative issues facing the College in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


  • 1768-1819


Researcher Access

The Papers of Eliphalet Pearson are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.


.79 cubic feet (2 volumes, 1 legal document box, and one flat box)
The papers of Eliphalet Pearson contain materials he created over more than a half century beginning as a Harvard undergraduate between 1768 and 1773, and later, as the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages and as a member of the Harvard Corporation. The papers are divided into eight series: Student work, Papers relating to the estate of Mary Holyoke Pearson (Pearson's daughter), Papers relating to Harvard teaching and student disorders, Book lists, Annotated almanacs, Papers relating to Harvard administration, Miscellaneous notes and correspondence, and Reading notes. The collection offers a resource for studying undergraduate education at Harvard, and the administrative issues facing the College in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Notably, the collection includes a notebook listing essay topics that Pearson assigned his students as a Harvard professor (HUM 79 Box 1, Folder 24), a notebook of College disorders (HUM 79 Box 3) where Pearson recorded the details of student misbehavior, and an account book (HUM 79 Box 1, Folder 22) where Pearson documented his management of his daughter, Mary's, estate up until her marriage in 1814. The largest series in the collection are the papers related to Harvard administration (Series VI). The items in this series touch on Pearson's work providing research information for the Harvard Corporation, and his work as one of its members from 1800 to 1805. Pearson approached legal and financial issues facing the Harvard Corporation by examining historical precedent, and many of the papers are extracts and calculations from earlier College and government records. Issues documented in this collection include Harvard's attempt in 1798 and 1799 to expand its real estate tax-exemptions, and the persistent impact of inflation and currency depreciation on the cost of living for Harvard staff and faculty in the post-Revolutionary War economy.

Several documents that were originally part of this collection were distributed to various University record collections. Many of the remaining documents are undated, and often their subjects must be inferred. The collection is not comprehensive, and instead provides snapshots of certain events in Pearson's life and the history of the College.

Biographical Note

Eliphalet Pearson (1752-1826) was Harvard's second Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages from 1786 until 1806, the College's interim President from 1804 to 1806, and a member of the Harvard Corporation.

Pearson was born in Byfield, Massachusetts on June 11, 1752 and was educated at the Dummer Academy. He entered Harvard College in 1769 and graduated with an AB in 1773. He was Master of the grammar school in Andover, Massachusetts from 1773 to 1774, before returning to Cambridge to study for the ministry. During the American Revolution, Pearson was commissioned to manufacture saltpeter and gunpowder for the patriot army with a grammar school friend, Samuel Phillips (Harvard AB 1771). In 1778, he became the first preceptor of Phillips' newly formed grammar school, Phillips Academy. Pearson held the position for eight years until 1786, when he returned to Harvard to become the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages. In the late 1700s, Asian languages were rarely taught at Harvard, and Pearson offered courses in English composition and rhetoric. As a teacher, Pearson had a poor reputation among his students and was known for his severity and lack of humor. He was characterized in a 1787 a student poem: "But Pearson with an awful frown/ Full of article and noun: / Spoke thus…But whether I be right or not / I'll not recede a single jot."

In addition to his duties as a professor, Pearson contributed to Harvard committees and occasionally represented the school before the Massachusetts General Court. In 1800, he was elected a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, and was active in College affairs. After the death of Harvard President Joseph Willard on September 24, 1804, Pearson acted as interim President, and soon became enmeshed in argument with other Corporation members over the proper religious leaning of the next Hollis Professor of Divinity. When liberal minister Henry Ware was chosen the next Hollis Professor, and Pearson himself was rejected as a candidate for the Harvard presidency, he resigned from the Corporation and as professor on March 8, 1806 and returned to Andover. Upon the establishment of the Theological Seminary in Andover in 1808, he was named that institution’s Professor of Sacred Literature, but only served for one year before resigning. Pearson then focused on his role as president of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, a position he held from 1803 until 1821. Pearson died on September 12, 1826.

Pearson married twice, first on July 17, 1780 to Priscilla Holyoke (1739-1782), daughter of President Edward Holyoke, and the couple had one daughter, Mary Holyoke Pearson (1782-1829). After Priscilla Pearson's death in 1782, Pearson married Sarah Bromfield, with whom he had four children.


The collection is arranged in eight series:
  1. Student work, 1768-1773
  2. Papers related to the estate of Mary Holyoke Pearson, 1780-1814
  3. Papers relating to Harvard teaching and student disorders, 1788-1805
  4. Book lists, [1790]
  5. Annotated almanacs, 1790-1819
  6. Papers relating to Harvard administration, [1790]-1806
  7. Miscellaneous personal papers and correspondence, [1791]-1805
  8. Reading notes, 1802-1805, undated

Former call numbers

Formerly classified as HUG 1676.705 Papers of Eliphalet Pearson, 1780-1813 (inclusive). Exceptions are noted at the series or folder level.

Acquisition information

The complete provenance of the papers of Eliphalet Pearson is unknown. Many of the records presumably were created in the course of University business and may have remained at Harvard after Eliphalet Pearson resigned his professorship and Corporation membership in 1806. The almanacs were donated as the gift of Dr. Daniel Denison Slade of Chestnut Hill on June 19, 1883, and the Greek Testament volume was originally a gift to the Tufts College Library from Rev. Alonzo Ames Miner, D.D. in June 1887. Additional items originally in this collection were moved to University record collections the 20th century and many are marked with a handwritten note "originally in the Pearson papers."

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Harvard University. Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814 (UAI 15.100):
  2. Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation Papers: 1st Series Supplements, 1781-1799 (UAI 5.120):
  3. Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1933 (UAI 5.30):
  4. Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806 (UAIII 5.5):
  5. Harvard University. Corporation. Laws and statutes of Harvard, 1655-1890 (UAI 15.800):
  6. Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826.Notes compiled by Eliphalet Pearson relating to the foundation of the Alford Professorship of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, ca. 1805 (UAI 15.987)
  7. Ware, Henry, 1764-1845. Papers of Henry Ware, Sr., 1783-1842 (HUG 1871):
  8. Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826. Records compiled by Eliphalet Pearson relating to the election of Henry Ware as Hollis Professor of Divinity (UAI 15.955):
  9. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of the Corporation relating to College tax exemptions, [1797]-1799 (UAI 20.799):
  10. Harvard University. Records of the Faculty relating to disorders, 1768-ca. 1880s (UAIII 15.21.6):
  11. Harvard University. Corporation. Records relating to the founding of the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory (UAI 15.970):
  12. Harvard University. Records relating to the West Boston Bridge (UAI 20.800)
  13. Pearson, Henry B. (Henry Bromfield). Henry Bromfield Pearson letters to his parents, 1815-1816 (HUD 815.69)
In the Andover Theological Seminary
  1. Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826. Papers, 1765-1815 (Mss. 1985-8)
In the Massachusetts Historical Society
  1. Eliphalet Pearson journal, 1799-1801 (Ms. SBd-8)
In the Phillips Academy Archives
  1. Eliphalet Pearson Papers


  • Wright, Conrad Edick. "Class of 1773: Eliphalet Pearson." In Sibley's Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of those who attended Harvard College in the Classes of 1772-1774. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1999.
  • "Lines upon the late proceedings of the College Government" collection, 1787-1917. HUD 2787.2, Harvard University Archives.

General note

This document last updated 2019 April 26.

Processing Information

These papers were previously dispersed both physically and intellectually, and classified under separate call numbers. All of the papers were re-processed in 2011 and brought together as a single collection. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival containers, and the creation of this finding aid.

This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in March 2011.

Preservation and description of the papers of Eliphalet Pearson was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826. Papers of Eliphalet Pearson, 1768-1819: an inventory
Description rules

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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