Records of the Butler
Extent.28 cubic feet (4 volumes, one half document box, 1 flat folder)
The Butler's records provide a record of Harvard students' residential life. In some cases, the documents 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 records reveal students who made no purchases with the Butler, indicating that they likely boarded in town; other students made numerous purchases suggesting their family's wealth. The Butler's purchases, recorded in the quarterly account books, provide a valuable resource for researching the types of food available to the Harvard community in the 18th century.
The records are also a resource for information about life outside of Harvard's gates. The Butler's purchases also document the cost and availability of items in 18th century Massachusetts. The Butler reported to the Steward, the Treasurer, and the Corporation, but his position also held a large degree of autonomy, and accompanying accountability. The records reveal the Butler's interactions with members of the local community and his role in Cambridge's commercial activity, as he conducted business with local merchants and borrowed money from individuals outside of Harvard.
History of the Harvard Butler
The first mention of the Butler appears in College Book I, the earliest volume of Harvard records, which contains “Certain Orders by the Schollars & officers of the Colledge to bee observed, written 28 March 1650,” and states “to the Butler belongs the Cellar & butteries & all from thenceforth to the furthest end of the Hall with the South Porch” (College Book I, page 50). The Butler’s duties included cleaning and supplying the Buttery, managing the inventory, manning the Buttery hatch during mealtimes, and keeping the accounts for purchases by students and tutors. In addition, the Butler was responsible for the fires that heated the common rooms, managing the College’s candle supplies, ringing the morning and evening bells, and helping to ensure that utensils were not stolen. The Butler reported to the Steward, who paid his salary and supplied the beer and bread that were the mainstay of students’ meals.
Students appointed as Butler assumed a central role in College life. The Buttery sold “Wines & other Liquors, Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Sugar, Bisket, Pans, Ink & Paper, & other suitable articles for scholars.” The Butler was also permitted to sell the “Butler’s cyder.” Students kept personal accounts with the Butler, who provided weekly accounts of their sizing bills (for food and drink) and collected on their Buttery debts. The Butler provided quarterly reports to the Steward and annually paid the money he had collected to the Treasurer. Along with noting Buttery purchases, the Butler also tallied student absences, fines, and punishments. Occasionally, the Butler also served as the College librarian. In front of the Buttery stood the Buttery book, a notice board with the prices of sundries and the names of all Harvard students listed by seniority. The first action against expelled students was to direct the Butler to remove their names from the posted list.
During the 18th century, Butlers were appointed regularly by the Harvard Corporation. The Corporation records often document resignations and appointments, but there is no complete list of all of the Harvard Butlers. On August 12, 1788, Thomas Adams (1764-1797), a member of the Class of 1788, assumed the position and held it until November 15, 1790, when he accepted a ministry in Camden, South Carolina. His successor, Samuel Shapleigh (1765-1800, Harvard AB 1789) took up the position and held it for three years before his appointment as College librarian. Joseph Chickering (AB 1799) was the last person to hold the position. When the position disappeared, the Steward, Master of the Kitchen, Tutors and Regents each assumed some of the Butler’s duties. The Buttery was closed in 1800.
- Quarterly accounts, 1722-1799
- Butler's bills, 1788-1794
- Correspondence, 1789-1793
- Promissory notes, 1790-1793
- Receipts, 1790-1794
- Statements, 1791-1794
- Calculations, 1794
When known, acquisition information is specified at the series or item level.
- 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.
- Harvard University. Corporation. Records of the Harvard Corporation, 1650-1992 (bulk), ca.1636-1992 (inclusive). Harvard University Archives.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in June 2010.
Preservation and description of the Records of the Harvard Butler was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Butler. Records of the Butler, 1722-1799
- 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