Campus & Community

This month in Harvard history

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Oct. 5, 1740 – Fresh from haranguing 15,000 on Boston Common, the dynamic revivalist George Whitefield breezes in to preach at the Cambridge meetinghouse, inspiring division within families and churches, and much soul-searching among College youth. President Edward Holyoke entertains him, but Whitefield has harsh words for a Harvard in which tutors “neglect to pray with, and examine the hearts of, their pupils,” who read “bad books.”

After Cambridge extends no invitation on his next New England tour, Whitefield and his ilk mount their pulpits to denounce Harvard’s sinful ways. In 1744, the faculty publishes a rebuttal that sparks a yearlong pamphlet war. Nevertheless, when fire destroys the College’s original library in 1764, Whitefield donates books and money, and solicits large gifts from other benefactors. The College later adds his image to its portrait gallery.

Oct. 27, 1780 – The first total solar eclipse in the New World to be visible to American colonists takes place. Despite the Revolutionary War, the Rev. Samuel Williams, the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, leads an expedition to observe and measure the event from the shores of Penobscot Bay (in modern-day Maine), the only accessible viewing location. For reasons not clearly understood, however, Williams and his group miss the path of totality by a few miles.

– From the Harvard Historical Calendar, a database compiled by Marvin Hightower