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 historian Samuel Eliot Morison in “The Founding of Harvard College.”

“If New England had been old England, Harvard College would still be deriving an immense revenue from all passengers crossing the Charles by its several bridges. As it was, the College was ‘devested of its right’ in 1785, as President Quincy wrote, when the Charles River Bridge was built from Boston to Charlestown. The bridge corporation was required to pay to the College £200 or $666.66 per annum for forty years, when the bridge was to become State property, ‘saving to the said College a reasonable and annual compensation for the annual income of the ferry, which they might have received, had not said bridge been erected.’ When this corporation was made bankrupt by the State’s building a free bridge next to its property, in 1828, the annuity came to an end; and the only compensation made to the College for the loss of this ancient source of income was a State grant of $3,333.30 in lieu of five years’ income, in 1846.”

Oct. 7, 1642 — By order of the Great and General Court, a reorganized Board of Overseers becomes a permanent part of College governance.