Records of books spared from 1764 Harvard Hall fire and subsequent gifts
- Harvard College Library (Organization)
Extent.65 cubic feet (1 document box and 1 flat box)
Historical Note: Harvard College Library and the fire of 1764
On the night of January 24, 1764, Harvard Hall (sometimes referred to as "Old Harvard Hall," since another building named Harvard Hall was later built) burned to the ground, destroying all of the volumes in the library except for the approximate 400 which were then out on loan and another 100 or so books which had been received but were not yet unpacked and shelved. This fire took place during the College's winter vacation, while the Massachusetts General Court was temporarily holding session in the building due to a smallpox epidemic in Boston. Apparently a fire was left burning in the library's fireplace and spread to the floor beams, quickly destroying the entire building and its contents. The General Court took responsibility for the loss of the building and agreed to pay for its replacement, and the burning of the library prompted an immediate and tremendous outpouring of generosity from myriad other sources, which included both financial donations and thousands of new books. By the time a new home for the library - Harvard Hall - was completed in 1766, the size of the library collection had surpassed what it was before the fire just two years earlier.
The library was located in the upper west chamber of the new Harvard Hall, with books arranged on shelves within alcoves. Some of these alcoves were designated to hold the volumes donated by specific benefactors, including Thomas Hollis V, John Hancock, the Province of New Hampshire (whose General Assembly voted to donate £300 previously allocated for the creation of New Hampshire's own university to Harvard instead), the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, Lieutenant Governor William Dummer, Harvard Treasurer Thomas Hubbard, Jasper Mauduit, and Thomas Wibird. There were initially ten alcoves in the library, though that number increased as the collection grew. By 1790, when the third printed catalog was published, the library contained over 12,000 volumes. The library remained in Harvard Hall into the nineteenth century, expanding to comprise the entire second floor in 1815 when commons and recitation were moved to the newly completed University Hall.
- Lists of books spared from the fire, ca. 1764
- Records of gifts and donations made after the fire, 1764-1778
Former call number
- An Account of the fire at Harvard-College, in Cambridge; with the loss sustained thereby. Boston: Printed by R. and S. Draper, 1764.
- Bond, W. H. and Hugh Amory, eds. The Printed Catalogues of the Harvard College Library, 1723-1790. Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1996.
- "History of the Library." In The Library of Harvard University: Descriptive and Historical Notes, 4th ed., 12-35. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934.
- Carpenter, Kenneth E. The First 350 Years of the Harvard University Library: Description of an Exhibition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
- Harvard Library Notes. No. 29, March 1939. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936.
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in January 2011.
Preservation and description of the records of books spared from 1764 fire and subsequent gifts was supported by the Arcadia-funded project project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard College Library. Records of books spared from 1764 Harvard Hall fire and subsequent gifts, 1764-1778: 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.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA