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SERIES Identifier: UAI 15.866

Papers of John Leverett, 1652-1730


John Leverett (1662-1724) was the first lawyer and jurist to become Harvard College president (1707/08-1724). This collection consists of diaries, lectures, sermon notes, letters, commissions, deeds, sketches, and bills, which document his activities as a Harvard College tutor, as president of Harvard College, as a jurist, and as a lawyer.


  • 1652-1730


Conditions on Use and Access

The Papers of John Leverett are open for research use. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Please consult the reference staff for further details.


2 cubic feet (2 document boxes, 2 legal half document boxes, 4 volumes, 2 flat boxes, 3 microfilm reels)
The Papers of John Leverett document his activities as a Harvard College tutor, as president of Harvard College, as a jurist, and as a lawyer. Moreover, these papers contain several of his public orations and scriptural discourses presenting his intellectual and religious beliefs.

These papers contain diaries, lectures, sermon notes, letters, commissions, deeds, sketches, and bills.

Insofar as archivists are aware of published transcriptions, the transcription is cited in the document description below.



John Leverett (1662-1724) was the first lawyer and jurist to become Harvard College president. He served as president from January 14, 1707/08 to May 3, 1724. He is recognized for his efforts in transforming Harvard College from a divinity school into a secular institution.

Early Life and Career

John Leverett was born on August 25, 1662 in Boston, Massachusetts to Hudson Leverett, an attorney, and Sarah (Payton) Leverett. His grandfather was John Leverett (1616-1679), a Massachusetts Bay Colony governor from 1672-1679. Leverett attended Boston Latin School and studied under Ezekiel Cheever. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1680) and his Master of Arts (1683) from Harvard College. The honorary degree of S.T.B. was conferred on him by Harvard College in 1692. Upon graduation, Leverett preached irregularly for several years and became a member of the Brattle Street Church of Boston.

During Queen Anne's War (1701-1713), Leverett acted as an Indian commissioner from Massachusetts and attended a conference (1704) in order to try to persuade the Iroquois to enter the war on the side of the British. He was unsuccessful in his efforts. In 1707, as a lieutenant in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, Leverett organized and commanded a company of volunteers for an aborted expedition against the French at Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Finally, in 1709, Leverett served as Governor Joseph Dudley's emissary to negotiate with Governor John Lovelace of New York for the establishment of military cooperation between Massachusetts and New York on the frontier and for an invasion of Canada.

Before becoming Harvard College president, Leverett pursued a career as an attorney, jurist, and politician. Leverett served as a member of the House of Representatives (1696-1702), Speaker of the House (1700-1702), a justice of the peace (1699), a judge in the Court of Admiralty (1705), a justice of the Superior Court (1702-1708), Judge of Probate Court for Middlesex County (1702-1708), and a member of the Provincial Council (1706-1708).

Harvard College

Leverett was appointed a resident fellow along with William Brattle in 1685, holding this position for the next twelve years. When President Increase Mather left for England in 1688, Leverett and Brattle assumed responsibility for the management of College affairs. During Mather's absence (1688-1692), Leverett and Brattle revived the practice of disputations and added the reading of Anglican authors to the curriculum. Leverett was appointed President of the College on January 14, 1707/08 after the death of President Samuel Willard.

Leverett's major accomplishment as Harvard College president was to help transform Harvard from a divinity school to a more secular institution. As a leader in the Congregational Church, Leverett opposed Increase and Cotton Mather's attempts to impose a new charter containing a loyalty oath which would require faculty members to acknowledge the primacy of scripture. Leverett also associated himself with the Anglican Church's missionary arm, the Society for the Preservation of the Gospel, and helped the Church recruit members from Harvard graduates. Moreover, Leverett allied himself with the Anglican "Cambridge Platonists" whose goal was to combine reason and God and to demonstrate faith by devotion and purity in living.

Leverett's secular direction prompted the philanthropy of Thomas Hollis, a London merchant and devout Baptist. Hollis provided books for the library, funds for a scholarship for poor students, and a large gift to endow a chair for a professor of divinity. The candidates for the Hollis chair were not to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, particularly a belief in adult baptism. The Hollis Professorship of Divinity became the first endowed professorial chair at Harvard College (1721).

Compared with other Harvard presidents, Leverett's administration made only small changes in the curriculum. However, Leverett introduced the study of French and Hebrew and revived the exercise of having students translate scripture from one ancient language to another. Under Leverett's stewardship, school enrollment expanded, bequests were collected, Massachusetts Hall was erected (1720), and a college periodical, the Telltale, began publication (1721).

As president, Leverett lived in relative poverty. His only income was his salary from the college. He did inherit from his great-grandfather, Thomas Leverett, a share of the Muscongus Patent in Maine, and in 1719 Leverett helped form the Lincolnshire Company for the development of these lands. Unfortunately, no development took place during his lifetime, and the grant was later taken over by Samuel Waldo, a Boston merchant.


Leverett married Margaret Rogers Berry, the daughter of former Harvard College president John Rogers, on November 25, 1697. They had nine children, six of whom died in infancy. Margaret died on June 7, 1720. Shortly after, Leverett married Sarah Crisp Harris. Sarah died on April 4, 1744.

John Leverett died on May 3, 1724.


John Leverett was noted for being a widely cultivated and broad-minded person. His experience as lawyer, jurist, and politician helped maintain Harvard College's standing during his critical years as president. Leverett brought vigor, integrity, and devotion to the Harvard presidency. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1713 and two centuries later, his contributions to Harvard College were recognized when Leverett House, one of the original houses in President Lowell's housing plan, was opened in 1931.

Footnote on date conventions

Please note that descriptions of documents dated between January 1 and March 25 before 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g., 1649/50 February 27. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year by the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year by the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.
  1. Forbes, Allyn Bailey, ed. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Harvard College Records, Part II, Vol. 31. Boston: The Society, 1935.
  2. Kaledin, Arthur Daniel. The Mind of John Leverett. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1965.
  3. Lovett, Robert W., ed. Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Documents from the Harvard University Archives, 1638-1750, Vol. 49. Boston: The Society, 1975.
  4. Morison, Samuel E. John Leverett. Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Biography Resource Center. 2004 December 10.
  5. Morison, Samuel E. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  6. Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University Vol. I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.
  7. Sibley, John Langdon. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vol. III, 1678-1689. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Charles William Sever, University Bookstore, 1885.
  8. Ward, Harry M. Leverett, John.; American National Biography Online; Feb. 2000.

Acquisition Information

The Papers of John Leverett were acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation and purchase.
  1. 1797 Donation from the Wigglesworth family: Diary
  2. 1839 Donation from Reverend Dr. Andrews of Newburyport: Book of Latin orations, Commission of John Leverett as Justice of the Superior Court, Commission of John Leverett as Judge Probate, Commission for Penn Townsend and John Leverett to negotiate with the Indians at Albany.
  3. 1853 Gift of Edward Everett: Notes of sermons taken by John Leverett
  4. 1882 Donation from Jeremiah Colburn: Note to Charles Chambers of Charlestown from John Leverett for £106 for one year
  5. 1923 Charles Eliot Norton: Memorandum book of John Leverett as Tutor and Fellow and Commission from Governor Samuel Shute to John Leverett as Justice of the Peace.
  6. 1925 Gift of Oliver Wendell HolmesL Draft of Cotton Mather's letter regarding the nomination of John Leverett as president
  7. [1928?] Donation from W.R. Castle, Jr.: Bill to Edward Wigglesworth from Stephen Prentice for John Leverett's tomb
  8. 1932 Samuel Eliot Morison: Letter from John Rogers to John Leverett and Plan of John Leverett's Cambridge estate in the College yard.
  9. 1936 Donation from Philip Spaulding: Deed of sale for a wood lot from John Leverett to Joseph Coolidge and Order for the release of John Johnson.
  10. 1936 Albert Matthews: [Copy of diary]
  11. 1946 Estate of Albert Matthews: [Transcript of diary by Albert Matthews]
  12. 1952 Transfer from Houghton Library: Account book
  13. 1952 Benjamin L.: Letter from John Leverett to Stephen Sewall, 1713/14 January 6, Answer from Stephen and Margaret Sewall to Edward and Hannah Goffe, Letter from John Leverett to Stephen Sewall, 1718/1719 March 4, and Letter from John Leverett to Stephen Sewall, 1719 October 6.
  14. 1997 Purchase from George Gregory Smart Associates: Letter from John Leverett to [Samuel Sewall,] 1719 May
  15. n.d. Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts: Letter from John Leverett to Stephen Sewall, 1719 April 14

Related Material

In 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, 3, and 4 in Harvard University. Corporation. College Books, 1636-1827 (UAI 5.5):
  4. Enchiridion Ethicum, a manuscript copy made by John Leverett in 1694 (Harvard University Archives call number HUC 8694.125)
At Leverett House
  1. Letter of John Leverett to his wife, Margaret, 1707
At the New England Historic Genealogical Society
  1. Papers of John Leverett, 1628-1726

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 November 10.

Processing Information

Processing Note This material was first classified and described by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1980. The collection was reprocessed in 2004, with subsequent preparation for digitization in 2009. Reprocessing involved a collection survey, rehousing 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.

Documents were removed from the Papers of John Leverett and transferred to the Harvard College Papers (Harvard University Archives call number UAI 5.131) in December 1944 include 1720 December 6 Leverett's letter to "Mr. Speaker" setting forth his arrears in pay, 1720 December 15 Leverett's letter to Mr. Speaker Lindall regarding criticisms, 1721 December 14 Leverett's letter to Mr. John White denying criticism of him in the House of Representatives.

Documents noted on the original shelflist which were missing at the time of the 2004 reprocessing are Some account of several things relating to College contained in the Charter, Laws, etc., with references to the originals 1720 [?] (photostat) and Letter of Leverett probably to Benjamin Coleman endorsed "Extracts out of the Records of H.C." 1721 August 28 (photostat). These are probably filed in another collection at the Harvard University Archives.

The digitization of John Leverett's papers was made possible in part by generous support from the Sidney Verba Fund.
Link to catalog
Leverett, John, 1662-1724. Papers of John Leverett : an inventory
The digitization of John Leverett'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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