|John Harvard, Cambridge man,|
Yet at the time of the American Revolution more than 130 years later, the colonies had a free population of about 2 million and a slave population of about 300,000, plus children of the slaves who were not at the time counted.
So the colonies grew more than 40-fold during these pre-Revolutionary years of Harvard's existence.
By the end of those 130 years of the colonial era, ten institutions of higher education were founded and nine were open for business, the very first plan for a university being still-born.
Using their modern names, and in order of foundation, the nine institutions that were opened by 1776 are: Harvard (Massachusetts), William and Mary (Virginia), Yale (Connecticut), Princeton (New Jersey), U. Pennsylvania (Pa.), Columbia (New York), Brown (Rhode Island), Rutgers (New Jersey) and Dartmouth (New Hampshire):
- Four of the universities are in New England – Harvard, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.
- Two of the other five are in New Jersey, the only colony to have two universities – Princeton and Rutgers.
- The remaining three are in New York (Columbia), Pennsylvania (U. Penn.) and Virginia (William & Mary).
The Colonies vs. The Mother Country
Having nine institutions of higher education in eight of the thirteen colonies by the time of the Revolution was quite impressive, when one considers that as of 1832, more than half a century after the American Revolution, England still had only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
Scotland, however, had five universities in four locations–St Andrews (the first university, in Fife), Glasgow, Aberdeen, Marischal (also in Aberdeen) and Edinburgh.
The First American Colonial Universities - Harvard, William & Mary, Yale
Three threads sum up the religious orientation of the early universities in the American colonies:
1. One church, orthodoxy (Roman Catholicism).
2. An alternative orthodoxy (Church of England).
3. Rejection of both (Dissenters).
Harvard was founded by dissenting ministers, especially from Cambridge. William & Mary was created primarily for Anglicans. Yale was for created for dissenters from the new orthodoxy at Harvard.
Because Harvard was first in line, it tended to influence the universities that followed. Stephen Trachtenberg, former president of The George Washington University and a former Churchill Traveling Scholar at Nuffield College, Oxford, argues that John Dunster's having come to Harvard from Cambridge at a time when they had a four-year undergraduate program meant that Harvard and then other universities required four years for the B.A. degree.
Oxford and Cambridge later reduced the time for the B.A. to three years for most subjects (Greats is still a four-year program), but American universities were by then wedded to the four-year degree.
By and large, Oxford men were Roman Catholics or orthodox Anglicans. Cambridge men were dissenters, including dissenters from the original dissenters. Among the exceptions was Alexander Whitaker, a Cambridge alumnus who was an Anglican and who paved the way for the first effort to create a university. Unfortunately, it failed.
Henricus College would have created the first university in the colonies. It was planned in Henrico (named after James I's son Henry) for Varina, Virginia, in 1618, 18 years before Harvard was created. Cambridge-born alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge (and son of much-admired William Whitaker, Protestant scholar and Master of St. John's College, Cambridge) Alexander Whitaker (1585–1616) paved the way for this plan through his active work in the Virginia Colony in 1611-1616. Coming from Anglican parishes in the north of England, he established two churches near Virginia's Jamestown colony. He baptized Pocahontas, creating the illusion that it would be easy to bring the native Americans into the church. James I was initially enthusiastic about the plan for a university at Henrico, Va. with the idea of providing a place to teach both Anglican and Puritan seminarians and to convert the local Indians to Christianity. An area of 10,000 acres on the side of a river was picked out for the campus. However, the idea was still-born. Before it had any students, the Indians targeted for conversion decided to fight back. They laid waste Henrico with a deadly attack in 1622. The king lost his enthusiasm. The colony of Virginia lost its charter. The university idea was ended in 1624.
Harvard was the first durable university, founded by a Cambridge alumnus (Emmanuel College), John Harvard, who donated his library and some money to create the first colonial college that still survives. John Harvard was born to a butcher (married to a woman from Stratford-upon-Avon) in Southwark, a borough of London. Many of John Harvard's family were wiped out by the plague. He emigrated to Boston and served as a dissenting minister. Harvard College was formed in 1636 and was at first called "New College". In 1638, John Harvard was on his deathbed with tuberculosis, he bequeathed his 320-volume library and half his estate to the college. The college was then gratefully renamed after him. It was envisioned as a place dedicated to educating dissenting (Puritan and other) ministers. It opened for teaching and degree-granting in 1642.
|Rev. Dr. James Blair|
Yale was founded, like Cambridge University, as a refuge for teachers and students troubled by trends in the university they left. The initial step by the Colony of Connecticut to create an institution to train ministers, future politicians and others was passed in 1701, probably because Connecticut was subject to different laws and customs. The initial Yale Fellows, led by James Pierpoint, were all alumni of Harvard - ten Congregationalist ministers who jointly contributed books to create the first Yale library. The first diploma was granted in 1702. The major impetus for the endowment of Yale came from Harvard's sixth (and largely absentee) president Increase Mather, a staunch Puritan who alienated some by being involved in the Salem witch trials and others by then urging restraint. Mather was concerned that the clergy on the Harvard faculty were relaxing their Puritan standards and hoped that Yale would maintain Calvinist religious orthodoxy. In 1718, Increase's son Cotton Mather contacted a Welshman, Elihu Yale to ask him for financial help. Eli Yale had made a fortune while trading in India for the East India Company and gave the university 417 books, nine bales of goods sold for £560, and a portrait of King George I. The university in return took Yale's name in the hope of further gifts that, alas in the end, did not ensue, in perhaps the first recorded Major Disappointment in a university's Major Gifts campaign.
The Next Three Universities, Founded in the 1740s
Princeton was the first university founded in New Jersey, originally as "the College of New Jersey", in 1746 (it was renamed in 1896). It started teaching a year later and gave its first degree a year after that. It was sponsored by Presbyterians but educated students for ministries in many religions. Its impetus was the Great Awakening, which can be said to have originated from the Oxford "Holy Club" of Charles Wesley and then John Wesley. George Whitefield arrived at Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1732, a provincial youth with a West Country accent (for example, it is recorded that he pronounced “Christ” as “Chroist”). He described himself as coming from the tap-room of the family inn. Whitefield had heard of the “Holy Club” before he arrived, and open-hearted Charles Wesley included him. Charles became Whitefield's chief Oxford mentor. In 1736, steely John Wesley entrusted the newly ordained Whitefield with the oversight of the Oxford methodists, while he went with Charles to Georgia. (In 1739, Whitefield returned the favor.) Whitefield soon became as famed as the Wesleys and is given equal billing as the leading inspiration of the worldwide evangelical Great Awakening. This spirit took shape in Pennsylvania in Log College in Bucks County, founded by Presbyterian Minister William Tennent in 1726. The seven founders of the College of New Jersey were Log College participants, all Yale Presbyterians except for one who attended Harvard. They asked Governor Lewis Morris for a charter and he, being Anglican and a Loyalist, refused it. When Governor Morris died, John Hamilton became Acting Governor, and he, being somewhat more liberal, provided the charter. Aaron Burr, Sr. turned the evangelical ideals of the College's founders into a reality during his presidency, from 1748 to 1757.
The University of Pennsylvania was founded as an Anglican institution in a state founded by an Oxford-educated Quaker, William Penn. It was originally called the "College of Philadelphia".
Columbia University, originally called "King's College" because it claims a royal charter, was founded in 1754. It was intended for Anglican ministers but was charged with a policy of religious liberty. The impetus for the creation of Columbia was in part that evangelicals across the river had formed the college that was later called Princeton. In 1746 an act was passed by the general assembly of New York to raise funds for the this purpose. In 1751, the assembly appointed ten New York residents, seven of whom were members of the Church of England, to direct state lottery proceeds towards the foundation of a college. Classes were initially held in July 1754 and were presided over by the college's first president, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was the only instructor of eight students.
The Final Three Universities, Founded in the 1760s
Brown University was founded by Baptists in 1764, but its trustees were required to come from a balanced portfolio of religions, including Anglicans. The Governor of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, was a Cambridge graduate. Rhode Island was a haven for dissenting ministers who were expelled by the Puritan leadership of Massachusetts for straying from Puritan dogma. In 1763, The Reverend James Manning, a Baptist minister, an alumnus of Princeton (as it would be called), was sent to Rhode Island by the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches to found the college. At the same time, local Congregationalists were working toward a similar end. Former colonial governors of Rhode Island Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward were involved. The college's charter was granted in the form of an Act passed by Rhode Island's General Assembly. The college was called Brown after a a gift from Nicholas Brown, Jr. The charter required that the makeup of the board of 36 trustees include, 22 Baptists, five Friends, four Congregationalists, and five Church of England members.
Rutgers was created in 1766. Originally chartered as Queen's College, Rutgers was renamed in appreciation of Col. Henry Rutgers, a New York City landowner, whose gift allowed the college to reopen after financial insolvency. Rutgers was originally a private male-only liberal arts college affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. It was named as the state's sole land-grant college in 1864 under the Morrill Act. It evolved into a coeducational public research university after being designated "The State University of New Jersey" by the New Jersey Legislature in 1945 and 1956. It is one of only two colonial colleges that later became public universities, the other being William & Mary.
Dartmouth College was created as a Puritan (Congregational) college in 1769 by Eleasar Wheelock, a Congregational minister. New Hampshire itself was founded in part by Cambridge alumnus John Wheelwright, whose dissenting religious views forced him to leave Massachusetts. Dartmouth went through a long period of difficulties and found its feet in the early 20th century.