Papers of William Bentley
Extent.27 cubic feet (1 half-legal document box and 1 folder)
The papers of William Bentley offer a resource for studying the informational channels among New England intellectuals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. James Winthrop, William Winthrop, and Professor William Dandridge Peck's letters reflect Bentley's efforts to use correspondence to locate information, engage in debate, remain involved in the book trade, and collect content for his newspaper columns. Notably, both James Winthrop (beginning in 1811) and W. D. Peck (in 1815) mention Bentley's pupil Hannah Crowninshield (1789-1834) and reference her artistic and academic pursuits, offering information about the education of a young Salem woman in the early 1800s.
Biographical Note of William Bentley
Bentley was born in Boston on June 22, 1759. He received an AB from Harvard in 1777, and upon receiving an AM in 1780, the College appointed him a Latin and Greek tutor. Bentley remained a tutor until his ordination on September 24, 1784 as the minister of the East Church in Salem. In 1794, he began writing a weekly news summary for William Carleton's Salem Gazette. Bentley wrote the column until 1817 and also contributed regularly to the Essex Register and the Essex Gazette. The Reverend knew more than twenty languages and collected a private library of over 4,000 volumes. In 1805, while planning the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson invited Bentley to be its first president, but Bentley declined in order to continue as the minister of the East Church.
Among his many friends, he maintained regular communication with James Winthrop (Harvard AB 1769), a fellow Harvard alumnus and son of Harvard Professor John Winthrop. Winthrop and Bentley visited each other regularly and shared correspondence for over thirty years, and Bentley was aware of Winthrop's reputation as an eccentric. Bentley noted in a diary entry for July 10, 1804 that Winthrop "boasts a theory of life different from mine. He says he intends to purchase every thing with ease, I by labour... Had not my friend betrayed in early life very great excentricity, I should think more kindly of his theory which is rather a convention than a direct conquest, agreed on but not yet signed." Bentley also corresponded with James Winthrop's brother, William Winthrop (Harvard AB 1770), as part of their mutual efforts to collect the biographical histories of Harvard's graduates.
Bentley never married and boarded for more than twenty years with Hannah Crowninshield, daughter of Hannah Carlton and Jacob Crowninshield. Bentley tutored Hannah Crowninshield's niece, Hannah Crowninshield (later Armstrong) (1789-1834), the daughter of Benjamin and Mary Lambert Crowninshield; he also tutored Nathaniel Bowditch (1752-1836) and Andrew Dunlap (1794-1835). Bentley received an honorary AM from Dartmouth in 1787 and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Harvard in 1819. Bentley died on December 29, 1819. Bentley bequeathed his manuscripts and books on history and natural science to the American Antiquarian Society, and the rest of his library to Allegheny College.
- Correspondence from James Winthrop, 1783-1815
- Correspondence from William Winthrop, 1801; 1810
- Biographical note on John Stark, 
- Correspondence with Levi Hedge and Sarah Dunlap, 1811
- Correspondence from W. D. Peck, 1815
- [Announcement for Elisha Sylvester], 1815
- Bentley, William. The Diary of William Bentley, D. D., pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1962.
- Buckingham, Joseph T. Specimens of newspaper literature: with personal memoirs, anecdotes, and reminiscences. Boston, C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1850.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in May 2011.
Preservation and description of the Papers of William Bentley was supported, in part, by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Bentley, William, 1759-1819. Papers of William Bentley, 1783-1815: 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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