Harvard University Library


nAbout HUL



: Archive


nMaking a Gift


nStaff Resources


<< Return to News

The last will and testament of Henry Dunster (

"In the name of God amen. I Henry Dunster . . . ." The last will and testament of Henry Dunster ("Being weak in Body, but of perfect mind & memory") is among the documents related to Dunster and his family that are now available online. The digitization project was completed with support from the Sidney Verba Fund. Harvard University Archives, UAI 15.850 Box 3, Folder 14. View the object.

An October 1652 petition of Henry Dunster,

An October 1652 petition of Henry Dunster, "Guardian of the children of Mr. Joseph Glover," to the Massachusetts General Court, carries a strong example of Dunster's signature. Harvard University Archives, UAI 15.850 Box 4, Folder 1. View the object.

Digitizing Dunster

In Celebration of His 400th Year, the Papers of Harvard's First President Are Now Online

November 9, 2009—On an unrecorded November day 400 years ago, Henry Dunster, Harvard's first president, was born in the Lancashire town of Bury and baptized there on November 26, 1609. To celebrate Dunster's 400th year, the Harvard University Archives, with generous support from the Sidney Verba Fund, has digitized the Dunster family papers and made them freely available on the Internet.

Overall, the papers document the business transactions and family history of members of the Dunster and Glover families during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, while others offer insight into the legal system in colonial America.

Key documents, including memoranda and Harvard's first annual report, provide details about Dunster's tenure as president of Harvard, early colonial education in New England, local missionary efforts to educate Native Americans, and the operations of the first printing press in North America.

Dunster (1609–ca. 1659) studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he received bachelor of arts (1630) and master of arts (1634) degrees. Subsequently, he returned to Bury, where he served as headmaster of the Bury Grammar School and minister of Saint Mary's Church.

Following the outbreak in 1640 of civil war in England, Dunster emigrated to the English colonies. On August 27 of the same year, he was appointed the first president of Harvard College.

With the College in dire financial straits, Dunster reformed the academic program, established a four-year residency requirement, and introduced a student code of conduct. With funding from the Massachusetts General Court and—significantly—from individual donors, Dunster oversaw construction of the first College building. Dunster secured the College's papers of incorporation, approved by the General Court of Massachusetts, as the Charter of 1650 and established its governance by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (commonly called the "Harvard Corporation").

"Four hundred years after his birth, Henry Dunster continues to hold a place at the heart of Harvard history and culture," notes Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library. "Appointed Harvard's first president, he had chosen the title himself based upon a related position at his Cambridge alma mater. He is understood to be the author of the Charter of 1650, under which the University is governed to this very day. His newly digitized papers offer brief but tantalizing glimpses of the man, his family, and his aspirations for Harvard."

View the Dunster papers online, or visit the Harvard Presidents web site for more overall information.


Return to the top.