Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: HUM 354

William Wells collection of books

Overview

William Wells (1773-1860) was a bookseller and educator in Massachusetts. He emigrated from England to Boston with his family in June 1793, settling in Brattleboro, Vermont, and entered the junior class of Harvard in the fall of 1795. This collection consists of books owned by Wells, including Richard Price’s A review of the principal questions in morals (1787), inscribed by Harvard President Joseph Willard and given to Wells as a Detur Prize in 1795; Volume 2 of Les voyages de Cyrus: avec un discours sur la mythologie (1753); and three volumes of an eight-volume set of Plutarch’s lives (1821).

Dates

  • 1753-1825

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Extent

.11 cubic feet (5 volumes in 2 flat boxes)
This collection consists of books owned by Wells, including Richard Price’s A review of the principal questions in morals (1787), inscribed by Harvard President Joseph Willard and given to Wells as a Detur Prize in 1795; Volume 2 of Les voyages de Cyrus: avec un discours sur la mythologie (1753); and three volumes of an eight-volume set of Plutarch’s lives (1821). The copy of Price's Morals contains Wells' marginalia and underlined passages. The other volumes are inscribed by Wells, his daughter, Mary Love Wells, and son William Boott Wells.

Biographical Note on William Wells

William Wells (1773-1860) was a bookseller and educator in Massachusetts. He emigrated from England to Boston with his family in June 1793, settling in Brattleboro, Vermont, and entered the junior class of Harvard in the fall of 1795. Wells was awarded Price’s Morals by the College as a Detur Prize the same year. He graduated Harvard with an AB in 1796 and received his AM in 1799. After serving as a Latin Tutor at Harvard from 1798 to 1800 and an usher in the Boston Latin School from 1802 to 1804, Wells established himself as a bookseller in Court Street, Boston. Engaging in both publishing and retail sales, Wells supplied Harvard with textbooks including the Latin reader Excerpta quaedam e scriptoribus latinis probatioribus, which he issued with printer Thomas B. Wait and Co. in 1810, and Hugo Grotius’ De veritate religionis Christianae. In 1814, he formed the firm Wells and Lilly with Robert Lilly (circa 1782-1834). Thomas Jefferson was among the company’s customers in 1818. In 1827, Wells retired and moved to 175 Brattle Street in Cambridge, where he opened a classical school for boys. Wells remained involved with Harvard as an alumnus, serving on the Overseers Committee for examination in Greek and Latin in 1825, and on multiple committees to examine the accounts of the Treasurer of the Hopkins Fund in the 1830s. Wells married Frances Boott (1786-1873) in 1808, and they had seven children, including Mary Love Wells (1809-1874), William Boott Wells (1812-1844), Frances Boott Newell (1815-1895), Francis Boott Wells (1816-1877; Harvard AB 1835), and Kirk Boott Wells (circa 1819-1897). William Wells died in Cambridge on April 21, 1860.
Historical note about the Detur Prize Since 1727, the charity of Edward Hopkins (1600-1657) has funded the Detur Prize, a book prize awarded to Harvard students for academic achievement, and the oldest prize at the College. The prizes are typically awarded to sophomores who attain very high academic standing at the end of their freshman year, but in the past have been given to juniors. In addition to William Wells, recipients of the prize in 1795 included his classmates Samuel Dana (1778-1864) and Charles George Cabot (-1811). Wells' son, Francis Boott Wells, won the prize in 1833 when he was a sophomore at Harvard.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically by publication date.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John S. Moore, December 2014; accession 19649.

Related Materials

The Harvard University Archives holds approximately ten books given to students as Detur Prizes from 1762 to 1812, as well as several collections related to funding of the awards and Detur Prize bookplates including:
  1. Trustees of the Charity of Edward Hopkins. Records of the Trustees of the Charity of Edward Hopkins, 1700-1983 (HUY 26): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990017131690203941/catalog
  2. Harvard University. Corporation. Seals, 1650-[1926] (UAI 15.1310): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990017238770203941/catalog
  3. Harvard College Library. Harvard College Library printing blocks and plates used the production of bookplates, [1765], 1850-1971 (UAIII 50.15.20.6): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990134641530203941/catalog
The Archives also holds collections related to William Wells' undergraduate education and later connections to Harvard including:
  1. Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806 (UAIII 5.5): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990016833540203941/catalog
  2. Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1938. (UAI 5.30): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990126459750203941/catalog
  3. Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990131436880203941/catalog
  4. Harvard University. Corporation. Reports to the Board of Overseers, 1650, 1685, 1761-1854 (UAII 10.5): http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990125981380203941/catalog

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Brooke McManus in September 2019. Processing included physical re-housing and the creation of this finding aid.

Titles are also cataloged separately in HOLLIS, Harvard Library's online catalog.
Link to catalog
Title
Wells, William, 1773-1860. William Wells collection of books, 1753-1825: an inventory
Language of description
English
EAD ID
hua22019

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