Extent2.7 cubic feet (16 volumes, 1 document box, and 22 folders)
The collection consists of seven series that often overlap in purpose and information, and can be better understood in the context of the Steward's process for calculating and collecting student payments. Every quarter the Steward tallied the students' expenses (for tuition, room, and board) in the quarter bill books (Series II). From the books, he filled out and delivered quarter bills (Series III) to the students. Individuals delinquent in paying their bills would be noted on the returns list (Series IV). To combat unpaid debts, the College required parents to sign bonds Series VI) assuring payment for their child's studies and living expenses. In 1750, the Corporation also began requiring the Steward to sign his own bond (Series V) securing the money he would manage in the position. Finally, the Steward recorded all of the students' debts and payments during their time at Harvard in his ledger (Series I). The Steward also used to the ledger to document the money he paid out for salaries, scholarships, services, and supplies, that would be paid both with funds from the College as well as with the money collected from the students. Certain expenses such as kitchen labor, the costs of special dinners, and grants to College tutors were also noted in expense bills and receipts (Series VII) to Harvard College. The ledgers and quarter bill books are the most complete; other series have substantial gaps. For instance, although the College Laws reference student bonds as early as 1655, the collection holds no 17th century bonds, and only one from the 18th century.
The collection offers insight into the residential life of Harvard students. The use of social status as an organizational method, as well as documentation of fees incurred by individual students and their payment methods, help to place students and their families within the socio-economic structure of the larger community. In some cases, the documents also offer the only evidence of students who for various reasons did not remain at Harvard long enough to graduate and have their names recorded in the Commencement Theses and Catalogues. The quarterly accounting schedule used by the Steward offers one of the most consistent records of the students attending the College at specific times.
The early records of the Steward provide an extensive view of the cost of a college education within the context of the greater Cambridge and New England economy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Given the consistency of recordkeeping, the volumes offer information about changing commodity prices, payment methods, the costs, quantities, and types of supplies needed to maintain the institution, and the names of laborers and merchants who conducted business with the Steward.
History of the Harvard Steward
The first students to attend Harvard, in 1638, suffered under the care of Nathaniel Eaton, appointed to head the new College a year earlier. Eaton and his wife shared responsibility for overseeing the residential life of Harvard students, duties that would later become the domain of the College Steward. The conclusion of Eaton's problematic one-year term came with his wife's apologies for the "sin of neglect" in providing for the students' basic nutritional needs, and his termination. His successor, Henry Dunster, served as Harvard's President from 1640 to 1654, and during his tenure, the Corporation created the position of College Steward.
In September 1642, Dunster welcomed the students into the still incomplete "Old College," the first building constructed specifically to house the institution. In 1653, Dunster remembered that eleven years earlier, he was forced "to bee their [the students] steward, & to Direct their brewer, baker, butler, Cook, how to apportion their commons." As the College developed into a true residential institution, the demands of feeding, housing, and accepting payment from the students required the hiring of an administrator to manage the operations, the Steward.
The Steward's Responsibilities
In Harvard's records, the Steward first appears in College Book I, "Certain Orders by the Schollars & officers of the Colledge to bee observed, written 28 March 1650." His duties were further specified in an Overseers' Meeting on March 27, 1667, and continually refined in the College Laws. One of the Steward's principal roles as a College officer was that of purchasing agent for food, fuel, and services. He supervised the College Butler and kitchen staff, paid their wages, and received account information from them; he, himself, reported to the President and Corporation. In his role, the Steward also monitored the amount of food and drink taken by students, both in sizing (food or drink ordered from the Buttery) and commons (food provided in the dining hall). The daily activities of feeding and housing the Harvard community fell to the Butler, Cook, and related servants.
The Steward also acted as the financial officer for student accounts calculating and settling the students’ credits and debits with the College. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Harvard's Treasurer oversaw the College's finances, and the Steward managed the money spent in feeding and housing the students. The small debts owed for snacks and sundries at the Buttery were paid to the Butler, but the full cost of tuition, room, and board was calculated by and paid to the Steward. The "Orders" cautioned that the Steward "shal not pmit but upon his owne peril, any students to bee above Two pounds indebted" to the College (College Book I, page 49). Many of the students used payment in kind to pay their bills, and the Steward was warned against taking "any pay that is useless, hazardful, or importing detriment to the Colledge, as lean Cattle to feed" (page 49).
The Corporation appointed the Steward with the approval of the Board of Overseers. The Corporation strictly guided the actions of the Steward, setting the amount charged to students for food and Commencement dinners, determining when additional allowances might be made for unexpected expenses, and reviewing accounts. The Corporation expected the Steward to seek out the "cheapest and best" supplies available. During the year, the Steward acted with considerable autonomy in maintaining his accounts, settling them with the Treasurer at the close of each school year. With the approval of the Corporation, the Treasurer could also advance money to the Steward as needed.
The early history of the position remains incomplete. The first man appointed specifically as the College Steward was Matthew Day (ca. 1620-1649), better known as one of Massachusetts and Harvard's first printers. There are no known contemporary records linking Day to the position, and no indication of when he first assumed the role. The earliest reference appears in College Book III, begun around 1654, with the note of the bequest of "Matthew Day Steward of the Colledge" of land for the Fellows Orchard upon his death on May 10, 1649 (page 32).
The position of Stewards was a career often spanning decades. The Bordman Family kept the position in the family from 1682 to 1750. Stewards were as active in the Cambridge community as they were at Harvard, and many held civic appointments such as town selectman.
The demands on the Steward grew over time with the expansion of the College's physical plant and the number of students. In 1874, the Steward's title, reflecting a more finance-oriented position, was changed to Bursar.
Harvard Stewards, 1642-1800
- Matthew Day
- Thomas Chesholme
- 1660- ?
- John Sherman
- William Bordman
- Thomas Danforth
- Andrew Bordman I
- Aaron Bordman
- Andrew Bordman II
- Andrew Bordman III
- Jonathan Hastings
- Caleb Gannett
- Ledgers, 1650-1804
- Quarter bill books, 1687-1812
- Quarter bills and related correspondence, 1735-1800
- Returns, 1770-1800
- Steward's bond, 1753
- Student bond, 1785
- Expense bills and receipts, 1780-1799
- Dunster, Henry, 1609-1659?. Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families. Memorandum of Henry Dunster, 1653 December. UAI 15.850 Box 1, Folder 16, Harvard University Archives.
- Harvard College. College Book I. Transcribed and published in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts: Transactions, 1925, Volume XV.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in June 2010.
Preservation and description of the Early records of the Steward was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Steward. Early records of the Steward, 1649-1812: 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.
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