3. Logic Of Colonial Colleges: Why Harvard, Why Yale?

Alma Mater/2014
January 29, 2014
Lecture # 3
3. Why Harvard?, Why Yale?

Virginians in place 86 years (1607-1693) before getting around to founding a college;
New Yorkers took  almost 130 years (1624-1754) to do so?
Harvard established in 7th year of English settlement in Mass. Bay

Mass. Bay conceived of a a temporary exile – an “errand into the wilderness” – by distressed and threatened religious dissenters of a high intellectual caliber

“Puritans” – Englishmen dissatisfied with the limited extent to which the Church of England departed from  the rituals and theology of Catholicism/Arminianism; its failure to embrace Calvinist tenets about the sovereignty of God and matters of church structure; its pressure on dissenters to conform

Puritanism in part a product of the Reformed universities – Oxford and Cambridge, but especially the latter, and even more especially. Of Cambridge’s Emmanuel College (founded 1587)
Emmanuel (30) — John Cotton/Thomas Shepard/Thomas Hooker/John Harvard
Trinity – John Winthrop/Hugh Peter/Nathaniel Eaton

Cambridge in 1623 – 3000 students; not surpassed for two centuries
English colleges governed by the property-holding tutors/faculty

General Court in 1636 – 15 of 43 were graduates of Oxbridge
Mass. Bay had 100 Cambridge grads; of whom, 43 Emmanuel graduates

                                           University Graduates in New England, 1660






Other English universities





All university men


85% of the University men were ministers

The idea for a college came from the colony’s political and religious leadership – a public undertaking of magistrates (Governor Winthrop) and  clergy  (Wilson, Shepard)
To be governed by overseers from the clergy and political positions until faculty in numbers…;

To be financed by tolls collected on the Charlestown ferry – and contributions from towns (“college corn”); and fund-raising in England [Hugh Peter, New Englands First Fruits (1643)]

1642 – Governance by 6 ministers and 6 magistrates, plus president, gov’r, lt. gov’r
1650 – Most governance shifts to the Harvard Corporation – President/Treasurer/5 Fellows (chosen from among the teachers)
1716 – Fellows elected who were not teachers  à teachers who were not Fellows//break with English pattern

Public Function
To prepare young men for the clergy??  50% of 17th C graduates into ministry
For public responsibilities more broadly?
To contain the crazies? Anne Hutchinson/Antinomiamism/Baptists/Quakers….
To  avoid the slide into barbarism? Half of university graduates return to England in 1640s….


Commercial character of Boston à merchants more accepting of Anglicanism (1684 – King’s Chapel);
Harvard and Cambridge more accommodating of Arminianism/Brattle Street Church
Fewer graduates into ministry; Increase and Cotton Mather badmouthing the institution for backsliding

The View from Connecticut

10 Connecticut ministers (9 of them Harvard graduates) secure charter for a “collegiate school” as an alternative to sending their young men to distant and religiously suspect Cambridge

Early locale shifts – Saybrook/Wethersfield/  until Elihu Yale gift in 1718 secured by Cotton Mather for school in New Haven

1708 – Saybrook Platform – Ct. churches depart from Congregationalist pattern of individual churches having full autonomy in selecting their ministers; Ct. ministers to be pre-approved by county-wide association/synod  of ministers and laymen à Presbyterianism



Public Function:

Yale’s colonial future to be representative/champion of Presbyterian way – “Old Light/Side”as opposed to:

1. Creeping Anglicanism/rationalism on the right (Rector Timothy Cutler’s defection in 1722; joined by tutor Samuel Johnson); Johnson a close student of Newton, Locke, Anglican theologians

2. Revivalist enthusiasms on the left in the persons of “New Light” evangelists, some their own graduates:  Jonathan Edwards (1720);  James Davenport ( 1737); Eleazar Wheelock (1733)
others: William and Gilbert Tennent; George Whitefield; Eleazar Wheelock

Rev. John Clap – 4th rector/1st president – 1740 – 1766 – Pugnacious champion of Old Light religion until well into his presidency when he comes to see rationalism/Anglicanism more of a threat. Forced out of presidency by student rioting and legislative inquiries


If Puritan Harvard’s  (1636) descent into Arminianism (Unitarianism next) begot Presbyterian Yale (1701), Yale’s adherence to “Old Light”  Presbyterianism in opposition to the rise of revivalistic Protestantism of a multi-denominational character (“New Lights”) directly begot Princeton (1746), and indirectly and somewhat later the revivalist-focused   Brown (1766), Rutgers (1768)  and Dartmouth (1769), while Princeton’s establishment as a pioneering  New Light college begot  a more immediate response from the ecclesiastical right in the forms  of the anti-reviavalist  King’s College (1754) and the College of Philadelphia (1755)

Last updated: December 30, 2013


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