the Concord MagazineOctober '98

Concord Year of Harvard

By D. Michael Ryan, company historian with the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century historic interpreter with the National Park Service and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

Historically, Concord has been renowned for its events, people, ideas and literature. However, the fact that venerable Harvard College once existed for a year (1775-76) within this town is little remembered.

Harvard and Concord were not strangers. Town founders Peter Bulkeley and Simon Willard had sons graduate from the College. Citizens pledged monies to support the school's beginnings and insure a source of ministers, lawyers and teachers. Local boys attended Harvard and annually selectmen visited the campus recruiting students (needing tuition money) to instruct at its schools. Many of the local ministers were Harvard graduates and these town-gown relations insured that during a period of educational and intellectual depression (late 17th/early 18th Century), Concord remained enlightened and updated.

HA-vahdFollowing the 1775 fights at Lexington and Concord, an army formed in Cambridge needing buildings for headquarters, barracks and hospitals. On 1 May, the Committee of Safety ordered the students and faculty removed from Harvard College. The fledgling army's needs increased with the battle of Bunker's Hill and the July arrival of Gen. Washington as commander-in-chief. Tradition holds that at this time, Rev. William Emerson (alumnus) while visiting the troops and school, offered the support of Concord as a site at which the College could resettle. Harvard officials accepted. Students (about 143) and faculty (about 10) were requested to gather in Concord on 4 October.

Harvard settled into its new home. President Samuel Langdon resided at Dr. Timothy Minot's house (site later of Middlesex Hotel; now a park at town square); Professor Sewell at James Jones' (Bullet Hole House); Professor Wigglesworth at Bates/Anderson's (near present intersection of Old Bedford Rd./Bedford St.); Dr. and Mrs. John Winthrop at the Whitneys' (Wayside) or possibly at Capt. Stones' (west of Hildreth Corner on Barrett's Mill Rd. #222?). The College library was located in the Humphrey Barrett house (Monument Rd., halfway between the Manse and town square), while science apparatus remained with Dr. Winthrop. Students lodged some at taverns much to the faculty's dismay and some at private homes (unheated, unfurnished back rooms). Dr. Joseph Lee hosted 12 students (area near 38 Willard Rd.) including son Samuel '76.

While it is certain that the core of the College was in Concord center, traditions located it at other sites. Due to the number of students at the Lee home, the Willard Farm area was thought to be the school's focal point. As the road near Annursnack Hill off Barrett's Mill Rd. contained cellars of former houses which might have hosted students, was used by students to walk local girls ("lover's lane") and was named College Road, it was believed to be the College's central location. However, recitations were held at the court house, meeting house and empty grammer school all in Concord center. Travel (1-5 miles) to these locations and the homes of faculty for instruction presented hardships especially in winter.

Benefits and problems of hosting Harvard were shared by Concord. The state-of-the-art, unique College Clock was moved to town for public use as was the school's fire engine. Harvard boys courted local girls, wore their academic gowns to church and spent money. They also broke the windows of the meeting house and other buildings with snowballs. Of 26 Freshmen, the average age was 15 thus leading to maturity difficulties. Student illnesses, especially smallpox, were also of concern to the citizens. However, honor came to Concord in the form of Harvard conferring its first Doctor of Laws degree on Gen. Washington in April 1776.

more HA-vahd Once the British evacuated Boston (March 1776) and the American army vacated Cambridge, impatient students pressed for a return to campus. In June, Harvard College adjourned home and held its annual exercises for the 43 Seniors. Grateful College officials forwarded a letter of appreciation to the Concord people which included an apology for any "incivilities...of behavior...attributed to the inadvertence of youth". The broken windows were paid for and a sum of 10 Pounds voted to the town.

While some of Concord's Class of '76 went on to greatness elsewhere (a governor, 2 state Chief Supreme Court Justices and Harvard's first professor of chemistry and materia medica), others returned to serve their host town. Dr. Isaac Hurd would be a physician; Jonathan Fay, an attorney; and in 1778 Dr. Ezra Ripley would return to be First Parish minister and marry Rev. Emerson's widow Phoebe.

The Concord-Harvard connection continued. Alumnus and prominent Concordian John Cuming would leave money to the College to fund a professor in physics (beginnings of Harvard Medical School). Graduates, friends and townsmen Ralph Waldo Emerson (school's Hall of Philosophy named for him) and Henry David Thoreau would bring fame to themselves, Concord and Harvard. Daniel Chester French, Concordian and creator of the Minute Man statue, would sculpture the famous statue of John Harvard.

Thus, once upon a year, Concord and Harvard College were one. The history, traditions and destinies of these noted institutions did and continue to enrich and educate our citizens and nation.


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The Illustrations on this Page

These images of Harvard in Revolutionary times have become a part of the nation's idea of upper-class higher education as it has been nurtured over the centuries.

We show them here as a comparison to what the Harvard students experienced in the much more rural setting of Concord. Certainly, the buildings in which they spent their Concord year were not as splendid as the ones they left behind in Cambridge.



Sources:
  • "The Sojourn of Harvard College in Concord" by Percy W. Brown, Harvard Graduate Magazine 1919
  • Harvard College in Concord, Special Collections, Concord Free Public Library
  • "The Meeting House on the Green" by John Whittemore Teele 1985
  • "Concord: Climate for Freedom" by Ruth R. Wheeler 1967
  • "Concord: American Town" by Townsend Scudder 1947 "History of Concord, Mass." by Lemuel Shattuck 1835


    Text: © D. Michael Ryan
    Drawing of Harvard: courtesty of Art Today


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