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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.850

Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families


Henry Dunster (1609-1659?) was the first president of Harvard College, serving from 1640 to 1654. These papers primarily document the business transactions and family history of members of the Dunster and Glover families during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The financial and legal documents provide a partial record of family property in colonial New England, as well as insight into the legal system in colonial America. A few documents, including memoranda and reports, provide details about Dunster's tenure as president of Harvard, early colonial education in New England, local missionary efforts to educate Native Americans, and operations of the first printing press in the colonies. Of particular interest is "the List of 1655/6", considered by some to represent the beginning of American bibliography.


  • Creation: 1638-2007


Conditions on Use and Access

This collection is open for research use. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Please consult the reference staff for further details.


1.24 cubic feet (4 folio boxes)

Most of the papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families record business transactions and other affairs of the Dunster and Glover families. Many items in the collection, including estate inventories, lists of books printed, income and expense reports, and lists of household property, were introduced as evidence in the various lawsuits relating to Henry Dunster's administration of Elizabeth Glover Dunster's estate. The documents included in the Dunster-Glover lawsuits insight into the workings of the early colonial legal system, including accounts of testimony, evidence, and court rulings.

A few documents in the collection relate specifically to Dunster's tenure as president of Harvard and document his academic reforms, some of which gave significant shape to the development of American higher education. These documents include:

  1. Memorandum of Henry Dunster, 1653 December
  2. Quadriennium memoir, 1654
  3. Petition of Henry Dunster to the General Court of Massachusetts, 1654 November 4

Dunster's Memorandum of 1653 December provides an assessment of the condition in which Dunster found Harvard upon his arrival in 1640 and summarizes his activities as president. The Quadriennium memoir, written by Dunster in 1654, outlines Harvard's implementation of a four-year residency, similar to the academic program at the University of Cambridge, England. In his 1654 petition to the General Court, written at the time of his resignation from Harvard, Dunster requested financial considerations from the Court, including permission to remain in the president's house until his accounts with the College were settled. He also requested a reversal of the Court's vote to require an examination of the accounts of the Glover estate.

In addition to records relating exclusively to educational developments at Harvard, the collection includes three documents that pertain to the education of Native Americans and to the printing business in colonial America:

  1. Account of Henry Dunster's expenses for the colony, 1646 October 8
  2. Books printed at Cambridge, 1656 January 26
  3. Testimony of Stephen Day, 1656 April 1

Dunster's account of expenses for the colony refers to his work preparing young Native American men for college. The list of books printed in Cambridge contains an entry for an "Indian primmer" printed on the Harvard College printing press, which was originally operated by the Glover family, and later by Henry Dunster. This press, first in the colonies, issued among other titles The Freeman's Oath, The Bay Psalm Book, and later the first Bible printed in North America in the Algonquin language known as the Indian Bible or the Eliot Bible. Stephen Day's testimony of 1656 lists printing jobs which used paper provided by Joseph Glover.

Along with documents recording Henry Dunster's legal and educational activities, the seventeenth-century papers also contain a few personal letters to Dunster. Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century papers, including parish records, letters, leases, and receipts, record Dunster family history and genealogy in England and the colonies.

The papers are arranged chronologically. Titles were assigned by archivists and generally correspond to the titles of published transcriptions or prominent text on the documents themselves. Dates assigned by archivists appear in brackets.

Insofar as archivists are aware of published transcriptions, the transcription is cited in the document description below. Principal sources for these transcriptions are the Publications of the Colonial Society (volume 49), Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, (volume 2, series 4), and Henry Dunster and His Descendants.

Biographical / Historical

Henry Dunster was the first president of Harvard, serving from 1640 to 1654.

Dunster, the son of Henry Dunster and Isabel Kaye Dunster, was baptized on November 26, 1609 in Bury, Lancashire, England. He studied at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, receiving Bachelor of Arts (1630) and Master of Arts (1634) degrees. After graduation, he taught at the local free school, served as headmaster of the Bury Grammar School, and served as minister of Saint Mary’s Church in Bury.

In the summer of 1640, following the outbreak of the Civil War in England, Dunster emigrated to the English colonies in New England. Soon after his arrival, Dunster was appointed president of Harvard College on August 27, 1640.

When Dunster arrived at Harvard, the College was in dire financial straits and the students had left. As president, he oversaw reform of the academic program, including establishment of a requirement for four years’ residency, introduction of a code of conduct for students, oversight of construction of the College’s first building, funding from the General Court as well as from individual donors, and attracting students back to the College. Perhaps Dunster’s most important action was to secure the College’s papers of incorporation, approved by the General Court of Massachusetts as the Charter of 1650. The Charter established the President and Fellows of Harvard College (the Harvard Corporation) as one of Harvard’s two governing boards.

Dunster was forced to resign from the Harvard presidency in 1654, owing to a dispute with members of the General Court over the religious validity of infant baptism.

In 1641, Dunster married Elizabeth (Harris) Glover, widow of Joseph Glover.* When Elizabeth Glover Dunster died in 1643, she left her property, including land and a printing press, to Dunster, along with shared administrative responsibility for her estate and five children. Dunster continued to operate the printing business until 1654, when he sold the press to Harvard College.

In 1644, Dunster married Elizabeth Atkinson, with whom he had five children. Henry Dunster died on February 27, 1658/9**, and is buried in the churchyard of the First Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Elizabeth (Atkinson) Dunster died on September 12, 1690.

*Note regarding Joseph Glover

In documents and published sources, Joseph Glover is also referred to as Jose or Josse Glover. For consistency, his name has been standardized as Joseph Glover in this finding aid.

*Note regarding Joseph Glover

In documents and published sources, Joseph Glover is also referred to as Jose or Josse Glover. For consistency, his name has been standardized as Joseph Glover in this finding aid.

**Note regarding date conventions

Some documents dated between January 1 and March 25 before 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g., 1658/9 February 27. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year according to the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year according to the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.


  1. Allen, Charles William. I spake the Truth: The Life and Times of Henry Dunster, Founding President of Harvard University, 1609-1659. Macon, Nauvoo, Illinois: privately printed, 1990.
  2. Chaplin, Reverend Jeremiah. Life of Henry Dunster, First President of Harvard College. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company,1872.
  3. ___Link directly to item in Google
  4. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, volume 31. Boston: D.B. Updike, the Merrymount Press, 1935.
  5. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Documents from the Harvard University Archives, 1638- 1750, volume 49. Portland, Maine: Anthoensen Press, 1975.
  6. Costigan, George P. Henry Dunster, Harvard's First President. Harvard Graduates' Magazine (March 1906) : 395-401.
  7. ___Link to Harvard Graduates' Magazine through HOLLIS
  8. Dunster, Samuel. Henry Dunster and His Descendants. Central Falls, R.I.: E.L. Freeman and Company, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1876.
  9. ___Link directly to item in Google
  10. Fallows, I.B. Bury Grammar School : A History c. 1570 to 1976 Cheshire: The Estate Governors of the Bury Grammar Schools, 2001.
  11. Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1935.
  12. Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Part I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  13. Morison, S.E. Henry Dunster, First President of Harvard. Harvard Alumni Bulletin (13 December 1928): 335-338.
  14. Paige, Lucius R. History of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630-1877, with a genealogical register. Boston: H.O. Houghton and Company, 1877.
  15. ___Link directly to item in Google
  16. Ward, Andrew Henshaw. A genealogical history of the Rice family descendants of Deacon Edmund Rice, who came from Berkhamstead, England, and settled at Sudbury, Massachusetts, in 1638 or 9: with an index. Boston: C.B. Richardson, 1858.
  17. ___Link directly to item in Google (Vol. 1)
  18. ___Link directly to item in Google (Vol. 2)
  19. Winship, George Parker. The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692: a re-examination of the Evidence concerning the Bay Psalm Book and the Eliot Indian Bible as well as other contemporary books and people. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945.

Acquisition Information

The papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families were given to Harvard University by the following people:

  1. Benjamin Peirce (donated in 1846)
  2. ___Indenture of Stephen Day, original and manuscript copy
  3. ___Bill to Henry Dunster from Nathaniel Eldred, original and commentary
  4. ___Agreement between Henry Dunster and his farmer, Edmund Rice, original and manuscript copy
  5. ___Deed of sale for the Glover house in Boston given by Henry Dunster and others to Theodore Atkinson, manuscript copy
  6. ___Petition by Henry Dunster to the General Court of Massachusetts
  7. ___Petition of John Appleton to the General Court of Massachusetts
  8. ___Reply of Henry Dunster to reply of John Appleton, original
  9. ___Thoughts on the petitions of Henry Dunster and John Appleton
  10. ___Petition of Henry Dunster to the General Court of Massachusetts
  11. ___Settlement of the estate of Joseph Glover proposed by Henry Dunster
  12. ___Appraisal of Mrs. Dunster's wood lot
  13. ___Books printed at Cambridge
  14. ___Motions presented to the General Court of Massachusetts by Henry Dunster
  15. ___Inventory of Glover estate acknowledged in court by Henry Dunster
  16. ___Motion presented to the court by Henry Dunster
  17. ___Testimony of Stephen Day regarding paper for printing provided by Joseph Glover
  18. ___Affidavit of Stephen Day regarding the Glover family silver
  19. ___Testimony of John Stedman about John Glover's land
  20. ___Verdict of the jury
  21. ___Testimony of Sarah Bucknam regarding Glover plate
  22. ___Account between Henry Dunster and John Glover
  23. ___Memoranda from the Dunster-Glover case
  24. ___Order to pay Belcher and Longhorne for two days attendance at court
  25. ___First section of the final decision in the Dunster-Glover Case
  26. ___Second section of final decision in the Dunster-Glover case
  27. Samuel Dunster (donated in 1871)
  28. ___Quadriennium memoir
  29. Samuel Dunster (donated in 1886)
  30. ___Letter from Henry Dunster of Balehoult, Lancashire, England, to his son, Henry Dunster, Cambridge, New England
  31. ___Letter from Richard Saltonstall to Henry Dunster
  32. ___Notes by Henry Dunster on the birth date of Christ
  33. ___Letter from William Cutter to Henry Dunster
  34. ___Letter from Edward Roberts to Henry Dunster
  35. ___Letter from Thomas Greene to Henry Dunster
  36. ___Land agreement between Edward Winshipp and Henry Dunster
  37. ___Deed of gift from Jonathan Dunster to Henry Dunster, his son
  38. ___Deed of sale from Jason Russell to Henry Dunster
  39. ___Will of Henry Dunster
  40. ___Deed of sale from Jonathan Snow to Isaiah Dunster
  41. ___Love poetry said to be in the hand of Isaiah Dunster
  42. ___Ordination charge to the colleague of the Reverend and worthy Mr. Lewis
  43. ___Lines for an inscription to the Reverend Isaiah Dunster
  44. ___Receipt to Hannah Dunster from Asaph Soule for two gravestones
  45. ___Letter from Josiah D. Foster to Hannah Dunster
  46. ___Letter from Isaiah D. Foster to Hannah Dunster, 1811 October 19
  47. ___Letter from Isaiah D. Foster to Hannah Dunster, 1812 August 19
  48. ___Letter from Isaiah D. Foster to Hannah Dunster, 1812 October 25
  49. ___Letter from Noah Fearing Willis to Hannah Dunster
  50. ___Elkanah Fauman desires the prayers of the congregation
  51. ___List of rules found in the study of King Charles of blessed memory
  52. ___Commission of Jason Dunster as an Ensign in the Fifth Company, Twenty-Second Regiment of New Hampshire Militia
  53. ___Papers relative to the claim of Jason Dunster's widow for a pension, 1838 October 3
  54. ___Papers relative to the claim of Jason Dunster's widow for a pension, 1838 November 22
  55. ___Genealogical details in the Dunster and Foster families partly in the hand of Samuel Dunster
  56. ___Manuscript of remarks read by the Reverend Collyer at the home of Eliza Anne (Dunster) Baker
  57. ___Parish records relating to the Dunster family from the register of Christ Church, Chicago, signed by Charles Edward Cheney, Rector
  58. ___Letter from Charles Edward Cheney to Samuel Dunster
  59. Theodora Willard (donated in 1903)
  60. ___Memorandum of Henry Dunster
  61. Harry C. Rice and E. Louise Rice (donated in 1924)
  62. ___Receipt to Goodman Watson from Jonathan Dunster on account of Jonathan Rice
  63. Philip Spaulding (donated in 1937)
  64. ___Letter from Josiah Quincy to Hannah, Mary, and Judith Dunster
  65. Joseph Gardner (donated in 1937)
  66. ___Papers served at the command of Hannah Dunster upon the firm of Calvin Chaddock and Company
  67. ___Genealogy of Hannah Dunster
  68. ___Real and personal estate of the late Hannah Dunster

Related Material

At the Harvard University Archives:

  1. Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100):
  2. Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation papers, 1st series, supplements to the Harvard College Papers, circa 1650-1828 (UAI 5.120):
  3. College Books 1 and 3 in Harvard University. Corporation. College Books, 1636-1827 (UAI 5.5):
  4. Harvard University. Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814 (UAI 15.100):
  5. Report of the Committee about Harvard College, 1654 March 30 (UAI 5.20.654). Published transcription in Harvard in the Seventeenth Century by S.E. Morison, volume 2, pages 570-573.
  6. General information about Henry Dunster, 1880-1970 (HUG 1342)
  7. Search HOLLIS for works by and about Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families.

At the Houghton Library, Harvard University:

  1. The Holy Bible : containing the Old Testament and the New, 1634. Dunster family Bible, donated to Harvard in 1841 by Hannah, Mary, and Judith Dunster.

Separated Materials

Account book of Isaiah Dunster of Harwich, 18th century, formerly Harvard University Archives call number HU 337.41.8.2 and call number HU 294.1.3, should form a part of this collection but was apparently transferred to Houghton Library. It now bears the title Dunster, Isaiah, 1720-1791. Account book : manuscript, 1759-1789 and call number MS Am 777, (7) Volume 1. It has been digitized and can be seen at:

General note

This inventory last updated 2022 July 20.

Processing Note

This material was first classified and described by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1980. The collection was re-processed in 2004, with subsequent preparation for digitization in 2009. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in size- and format-appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. Preparation for digitization involved minor adjustments to the physical arrangement of the collection, with corresponding updates to the finding aid and the addition of links to the digital copies.

Dunster, Henry, 1609-1659? Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families : an inventory
Language of description
The digitization of Henry Dunster's papers was made possible in part by generous support from the Sidney Verba Fund.

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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