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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 71

Early records of the Steward, 1649-1812


The Steward was appointed by the Corporation to manage the residential operations of Harvard College. The Steward purchased the College's food provisions and fuel, and supervised the Butler and kitchen staff. The Steward also acted as the financial officer for student accounts, collecting tuition and room and board fees. This collection contains account books, bonds, bills, and receipts. The records document the day-to-day expenses of Harvard students, and place students and their families within the socio-economic structure of the larger community. The collection also documents 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.


  • 1649-1812

Researcher Access

The Early records of the Steward are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.


2.7 cubic feet (16 volumes, 1 document box, and 22 folders)

The collection documents the financial activities of the Harvard Steward in the 17th and 18th centuries. The materials consist of account books, bonds, bills, and receipts. The documents in the collection, at their most basic level, may be understood as evidence of the Steward's two key pecuniary responsibilities: collecting money from students and purchasing goods and services for the College.

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

Early Years, 1638-1642

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


The records are is arranged in seven series:

  1. Ledgers, 1650-1804
  2. Quarter bill books, 1687-1812
  3. Quarter bills and related correspondence, 1735-1800
  4. Returns, 1770-1800
  5. Steward's bond, 1753
  6. Student bond, 1785
  7. Expense bills and receipts, 1780-1799

Acquisition information

Most of the documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business; others were donated by individuals. Six ledgers were discovered by Cambridge historian Rev. Lucius R. Paige in a neighbor's library in 1860, and he donated them to the University Archives. A report of the donation was published in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 5, (1860 - 1862), pp. 60-63. When known, acquisition information is specified at the series or item level.

Online access

All of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives

  1. Bordman Family. Papers of the Bordman family, 1680-1808 (HUG 1228):
  2. Harvard University. Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University (UAI 50.xx):
  3. Harvard University. Bursar. Records of the Bursar, 1801-1957 (inclusive) (UAI 70)
  4. Harvard University. Butler. Records of the Butler, 1722-1795 (UAI 90):
  5. Harvard University. Steward. Records of the Steward, 1801-1875 (UAI 70)


  • 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.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 January 11.

Processing Information

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980 as part of the financial records series UAI 70. The material was re-processed in 2010 and reclassified as UAI 71. Only pre-19th century records of the Steward were processed as part of UAI 71. A list of superceded call numbers is available at the end of the finding aid. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid.

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
Language of description

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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