Campus & Community

This month in Harvard history

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Oct. 17, 1640 – The Great and General Court grants Harvard the revenues of the Boston-Charlestown ferry, which plies the shortest route between Boston and Charlestown, Cambridge, Watertown, Medford, and the plantations of Middlesex County. (From Charlestown, travelers could head for Connecticut.)

“The Charlestown ferry rent [. . .] was the most substantial and lasting financial contribution that the College received from the Colony, and for a time the only certain income,” notes Samuel Eliot Morison in “The Founding of Harvard College.”

The gesture takes its cue from the centuries-old practice of English monarchs “for rewarding faithful services, or aiding some worthy cause” (Morison) by setting aside specific funds for a beneficiary.

Oct. 14, 1763 – At the College library in Old Harvard Hall, Ephraim Briggs, Class of 1764, checks out “The Christian Warfare Against the Deuill [sic] World and Flesh” by John Downame, one of several hundred books that John Harvard had bequeathed to the College in 1638.

The book remains overdue on Jan. 24, 1764, when flames destroy Old Harvard Hall. Only 404 volumes survive, including Briggs’s overdue book, which thus becomes the only surviving text from John Harvard’s bequest.

In 1942, Downame’s book leaves Widener Library to become the first volume placed in the newly completed Houghton Library, where it remains today.

October 1784 – Harvard awards an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Maj. Gen. Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

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