Papers of Eliphalet Pearson
- Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826 (Person)
Extent.79 cubic feet (2 volumes, 1 legal document box, and one flat box)
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.
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.
- Student work, 1768-1773
- Papers related to the estate of Mary Holyoke Pearson, 1780-1814
- Papers relating to Harvard teaching and student disorders, 1788-1805
- Book lists, 
- Annotated almanacs, 1790-1819
- Papers relating to Harvard administration, -1806
- Miscellaneous personal papers and correspondence, -1805
- Reading notes, 1802-1805, undated
Former call numbers
- 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.
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.
- Pearson, Eliphalet, 1752-1826. Papers of Eliphalet Pearson, 1768-1819: an inventory
- Description rules
- 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