Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 5.5

College Books, 1636-1827


This collection consists of eight bound volumes, known as the College Books, which contain Harvard Corporation records from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. They include the earliest known Corporation records. In addition to extensive minutes from Corporation meetings, the College Books also contain early minutes of Harvard's Board of Overseers and entries about a broad range of other topics, including donations from Thomas Hollis, the roles and responsibilities of the College Butler and Steward, and myriad gifts and bequests of money and property to the College. Also in the collection is an index to College Books 1-6, created by Harvard President Benjamin Wadsworth. Although it indexes a selective and relatively small number of topics, this volume is useful in locating entries on those topics and demonstrates which events and decisions Wadsworth deemed most important during his presidency.


  • 1636-1827


Researcher Access

The College Books are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.


3.43 cubic feet (8 volumes, 3 folders, 1 legal document box)
This collection contains College Books 1, 3, 4, and 6-10. College Book 2, which contained records of the Board of Overseers, was destroyed by fire in Harvard Hall in 1764. College Book 5, which contains Treasurers' records, is now included in the Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University: Although the College Books primarily contain records of the Corporation, many entries also document the activities and decisions of Harvard's other governing body, the Board of Overseers, and of various individuals acting on behalf of the College and its administration. College Books 1, 3, and 4, in particular, contain somewhat unsystematic entries on many topics, written in multiple hands; these have been described as "the most important sources for the history of Harvard College in its first half century." Later records, in College Books 7-10, consist primarily of minutes from Corporation meetings. College Book 6 contains records related to donations to the College by Thomas Hollis. Benjamin Wadsworth's index to College Books 1-6, while useful in discovering entries on certain topics, is far from comprehensive.

It should be noted that the College Books overlap chronologically, e.g. multiple volumes contain entries made the same year – often on the same topic – and entries within a volume are frequently out of chronological order. For these reasons, chronological arrangement of the volumes is not possible and multiple volumes should be consulted to find all entries from a given date or year. It should also be noted that entries in many of the volumes have been marked in the margins with a pencilled "X." This appears to indicate that the marked entry contains information about a book or books donated to the Harvard College Library. It is not known who made these marks, though it seems likely that it was done by a single individual, as the marks are found in almost all of the College Books, rather than in just one.

Since its creation in the mid-17th century, the Corporation has held meetings. Those meetings appear to have become more regular in the 18th century, when the Corporation met to discuss complex policy issues as well as the day-to-day management of the College. The votes and orders of the Corporation often reflect their fiduciary role through the disbursement of gifts, donations and income; the allocation of funds for various purchases, projects, and services; and the management of extensive land and property holdings. As a result of this control over the College's money, the Corporation minutes regularly record orders to the treasurer, list students selected to receive scholarships and college employment, changes in tuition and fees, and the appointments and dismissals of faculty and staff, along with salary and wage decisions. The College Books are a valuable resource in finding the names of individuals either employed by or attending the College, including students, faculty, Stewards and Butlers, Librarians, and community members who worked for the College as servants, merchants, and tradesmen. Corporation minutes also frequently refer to those who leased College properties or held bonds or mortgages with Harvard.

While Corporation meetings often focused on routine financial decisions and position appointments, those assembled also made policy decisions, disciplined students, set College laws and academic requirements, and addressed broader institutional issues. The College Books also served as a repository for copies of official documents drafted by the Corporation, including memorials and petitions to the General Court, inaugural addresses of Harvard presidents, College laws, and correspondence (including that with King George and with Thomas Hollis and his descendants). Similarly, wills naming Harvard as a beneficiary are often copied into the minutes. The Corporation relied on committees to investigate broad institutional issues, and often committee reports and the subsequent Corporation responses are recorded in the minutes.

The College Books are also a resource for studying the College's actions during the American Revolutionary War and include votes related to its temporary move to Concord, a transcription of the honorary degree given to General Washington in 1776, a memorial to the General Court about repairs needed at the College after its occupation by the Continental Army, and Corporation votes and correspondence documenting the College's strained relationship with Treasurer John Hancock. They also contain many entries on the Charlestown Ferry, one of the College's primary sources of income, and the challenges it faced in maintaining revenue when two bridges were constructed across the Charles River. In addition, information about commodity prices can be gleaned from entries related to the Steward and Butler, and many entries relate to Harvard's support of missionaries among Indian tribes. Numerous important historical and political events, and their effects on the Harvard community, are reflected in the Corporation minutes kept in the College Books.

Historical Note: Harvard Corporation

In 1642 the Massachusetts General Court established the Harvard College Board of Overseers; members of this board were initially responsible for overseeing all important affairs at the young College. Eight years later, through the Charter of 1650, the Court established the Harvard Corporation (also known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College) and transferred the Overseers' expansive duties to the Corporation. From 1650 onwards, the Overseers served as an advisory body with sanctionative powers over the Corporation, but with decreased managerial responsibilities. The Corporation, instead, became largely responsible for the management of the College, with duties including the appointment and removal of administrators, faculty, and staff; the creation of orders and by-laws for the College; the management of College finances, properties, and donations; and other decisions necessary to ensure Harvard's stability and longevity. The first recorded meeting of the Corporation was held on December 10, 1654; previous meetings were likely held but were not recorded. Since Corporation records from the 17th and 18th centuries are somewhat sporadic and unsystematic, there are many gaps and possibly omissions in the written records of the Corporation. The proceedings recorded in the College Books document the Corporation's role in the governance of the University and include information about the origin and development of the Corporation's exercise of executive power at Harvard, the Corporation's decision making process, the conduct of routine University business, and the evolution of Harvard from a small college into a modern university.


The collection is arranged in three series. The first two series contain original materials and the third series contains use copies (photostat negatives) of selected items. The first series, which contains the College Books, is arranged by volume number. It should be noted that the College Books overlap chronologically, e.g. multiple volumes contain entries made the same year – often on the same topic – and entries within a volume are frequently out of chronological order. For these reasons, chronological arrangement of the volumes is not possible and multiple volumes should be consulted to find all entries from a given date or year.
  1. College Books, 1636-1827
  2. Benjamin Wadsworth's Index to College Books 1-6, created ca. 1736
  3. Use copies, 1726-1790

Acquisition information

The materials in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business.

Online access

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

The Colonial Society of Massachusetts has published online transcriptions of College Books I, III, and IV, along with useful annotations. Links to these transcriptions appear below in the Container List, at the entry for each volume.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. "Harvard College Records, 1636-1750" in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. (Boston: 1925), Volumes XV and XVI. These contain complete transcriptions of College Books 1, 3, and 4, along with useful annotations.
  2. Davis, Andrew McFarland. "An analysis of the early records of Harvard College, 1636-1750," in Library Bibliographical Contributions, no. 50, 1895. This indexes Books 1 and 3, and also contains additional information on Book 4.
  3. Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1933 (UAI 5.30): These volumes contain nineteenth century transcriptions of portions of the College Books.
  4. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of the Harvard Corporation, 1650-1992.
  5. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of Grants for Work among the Indians, 1720-1812 (UAI 20.720):
  6. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of land and property owned by Harvard University, 1643-1835 (UAI 15.750):
  7. Harvard University. Corporation. Laws and statutes of Harvard, 1655-1890 (UAI 15.800):
  8. Harvard University. Corporation. Wills naming Harvard as a beneficiary, 1660-1931 (UAI 15.1404):
  9. Harvard University. Board of Overseers. Formal meeting minutes, 1707-1932 (UAII 5.5):
  10. Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806 (UAIII 5.5):
  11. Harvard University. Treasurer. Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University (UAI 50.xx):
  12. The Bertha Illsley Tolman Index of Early University Records:, located in the Harvard University Archives reading room, is a name and subject index to official University records from 1636 to 1870. It should be noted that this indexes the transcriptions of College Books (UAI 5.30) rather than the originals.


  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: John Owen, 1840.

  • Davis, Andrew McFarland. "A Few Notes Concerning the Records of Harvard College." Bibliographical Contributions / Library of Harvard University 27 (1888): 3-14.
  • Davis, Andrew McFarland. "Early Records of Harvard College." Bibliographical Contributions / Library of Harvard University 50 (1895): 3-21.
  • Hoffmann, John M. "An Analysis of College Books I-III; The Principal Records of Early Harvard." In volume 50 of Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts: Documents from the Harvard University Archives 1638-1750, 799-830. Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1975.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: John Owen, 1840.

General note

This document last updated 2018 November 26.

Processing Information

The materials in this collection were first classified and described in a Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980, and included as part of the Records of the Harvard Corporation. Archives staff decided to unify the call number for the College Books and index to Books 1-6 as UAI 5.5, rather than replace them with the general call number for the Records of the President and Fellows of Harvard College (UAII 100). The material was re-processed in 2010. Re-processing involved a collection survey, enhanced description of records from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and the creation of this finding aid. Post-1800 materials are listed in this finding aid, although they are not fully described.

This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in December 2010.

Preservation and description of the College Books was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Harvard University. Corporation. College Books, 1636-1827: an inventory

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.

Pusey Library
Harvard Yard
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2461