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COLLECTION Identifier: HUM 86

Letters to John Lowell relating to Harvard College faculty salaries

This collection contains three pieces of correspondence sent to John Lowell (Harvard AB 1760) by Harvard Professors Edward Wigglesworth and Samuel Williams, and College Treasurer Ebenezer Storer regarding the state of Harvard faculty salaries in 1781 and 1782. During the Revolutionary War, the depreciating value of money in Massachusetts made it difficult for the Harvard Corporation to provide College officers with adequate salaries. In the colonial era, the General Court had provided regular grants to partially fund the salaries of Harvard officers, but in the 1780s, the Legislature grew increasingly unresponsive to the faculty and Corporation's petitions for funds. These letters provide quantitative information about Harvard's financial difficulties, and were presumably sent to Lowell because he was an ally of the College serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Dates

  • 1781-1782

Researcher Access

The Letters to John Lowell relating to Harvard College faculty salaries are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

.04 cubic feet (4 folders)

This collection contains three pieces of correspondence sent to John Lowell by Harvard Professors Edward Wigglesworth and Samuel Williams, and College Treasurer Ebenezer Storer regarding the state of Harvard faculty salaries in 1781 and 1782. The documents include the two original letters from Professors Wigglesworth and Williams and handwritten copies of both letters, and a manuscript copy of the correspondence from Treasurer Storer.

The letters provide information about the financial instability faced by the College in the early 1780s, and its effect on Harvard's professors. In 1780 and 1781, Professor Wigglesworth assumed the role of acting President, and his letter was presumably written in this capacity. Wigglesworth's letter offers recommendations to Lowell regarding the General Court's grants to the College and provides background on the effect of depreciation at the College. Professor Williams' letter is focused on his specific financial difficulties, and Treasurer Storer's correspondence provides financial information related to the amounts of, and sources for, the salaries of the College officers. These letters provide quantitative information about Harvard's financial difficulties, and were presumably sent to Lowell because he was an ally of the College serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The collection offers a resource for studying the College's precarious financial state and effects of the inflation and currency depreciation at the end of the Revolutionary War, and the College's changing relationship with the Massachusetts General Court in the late 18th century.

Prior to re-processing in 2011, this collection was classified as UAI 20.781, Letters relating to faculty salaries, 1781-1812.

Historical Note

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Harvard College received annual grants from the Massachusetts General Court to partially fund faculty salaries. During the Revolutionary War, the depreciating value of money in Massachusetts made it difficult for the Harvard Corporation to provide College officers with adequate salaries. Between 1756 and 1778, salaries tripled in response to inflation but remained inadequate, and President and the faculty regularly petitioned the Corporation for salary increases.

In 1778, the Corporation had directed College Treasurer Ebenezer Storer to invest most of the College's money in Continental certificates and Massachusetts treasury notes. These investments coincided with the beginning of a period of rapid depreciation of paper money. As the College's Treasury was diminishing, the new state government was growing increasingly unresponsive to the faculty and Corporation's petitions for additional grants. In its attempt to support the faculty, the Corporation charged students additional fees (known as assessments) to provide pay raises, and in December 1781, the Corporation advanced cash to each professor. In 1784, the Corporation began providing loans to College officers with the expectation that the General Court would provide reimbursement. While the General Court did pay the President's salary from 1784 to 1786 and provided some additional grants for the professors in the early 1780s, the General Court did not provide regular grants as it had previously in the colonial era, and the last grant issued to any of the College officers by the General Court was made on May 31, 1786.

Even as the Corporation increased salaries, both the tutors and the professors continued to request additional money into the 19th century. By 1810, inflation had started to decrease in Massachusetts, and the repeated requests for salary increases by Harvard faculty and staff ceased.
Biographical Note of John Lowell John Lowell (1743-1802), a Massachusetts lawyer and judge, was born on June 17, 1743 in Newburyport, Mass. He received an AB from Harvard in 1760, an AM in 1763, and an LLD in 1792. Lowell began practicing law in 1763 in Newburyport. In 1778, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and between May and August 1782 represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Lowell was appointed first Judge of the Court of the District of Massachusetts in 1792, and in 1801, the Chief Justice of the First United States Circuit Court. In 1784, Lowell was elected as a Fellow of the Harvard Corporation and served until his death on May 6, 1802.

Arrangement

The letters in this collection are arranged chronologically by letter date.

Acquisition information

The collection was purchased from The Rendells, Inc. of Newton, Mass. in 1984 with a May 29, 1812 letter from Andrews Norton to John Lowell (now part of the Papers of Andrews Norton, HUG 1614.12). The letters were presumably inherited by John Lowell's children upon his death in 1802. The verso of the handwritten copy of Ebenezer Storer's letter (HUM 86 Box 1, Folder 4) contains the note, "The originals, my brother Charles took" indicating that the original was once owned by Charles Lowell (1782-1861; Harvard AB 1800), and the copy was likely made by his brother John Lowell (1769-1840; Harvard AB 1786).

Online access

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

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
In the Houghton Library
In the Massachusetts Historical Society
  1. Eliphalet Pearson journal, 1799-1801 (Ms. SBd-8)

References

  • Harris, Seymour E. The Economics of Harvard. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
  • Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Cambridge : J. Owen, 1840.
  • Shipton, Clifford K. Sibley's Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of those who attended Harvard College in the Classes of 1756-1760. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1968.

General note

This document last updated 2018 November 6.

Processing Information

This material was first classified and described by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1980 as part of the Chronological Miscellany collection of the Harvard University Corporation. The collection was re-processed in 2011 and reclassified as collection of John Lowell's personal papers. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid.

This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in May 2011.

Preservation and description of the letters relating to faculty salaries was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Title
Lowell, John, 1743-1802. Letters to John Lowell relating to Harvard College faculty salaries, 1781-1782: an inventory
EAD ID
hua22011

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.

Contact:
Pusey Library
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