Local and Regional History

17th- and 18th-century collections in the Harvard University Archives reflect an active and diverse community in Cambridge and throughout New England. Donations from private individuals and grants from the Massachusetts General Court often enmeshed the College in local affairs. Harvard's property investments were a primary source of income, and land records, tenant petitions, and account books reflect the role of College administrators as de facto landlords across New England.

From 1640 until 1785, the General Court granted Harvard the revenue from the Boston–Charlestown ferry, bringing a source of income and frustration as the College was forced to wrestle with ferrymen over tolls.

Early University records and personal papers reveal the connections that Harvard students, faculty, and staff had with the local communities and beyond. As one of the largest institutions in New England, the College employed members of the community and made purchases from local merchants. In turn, College faculty and staff were active participants in the community, often serving as town officers.

The multiple generations of men from the Bordman family who served as the College's Steward from the mid-17th century through the close of the 18th century also served as the Cambridge Town Clerk. Diaries in the collection contain descriptions of local celebrations, religious services, disease epidemics, and community activities. In his diaries for more than 20 years, Harvard professor and scientist John Winthrop made regular notes of baptisms and deaths in the local community, noting both white and black individuals.

Finding collections:

Search HOLLIS, the Harvard Library catalog, to find descriptions and links to online content for 17th and 18th century collections in the Harvard University Archives.

  • Use the terms listed below as a subject in a HOLLIS advanced search.
  • Use "Harvard in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" as a title in a HOLLIS advanced search.​ 

Subjects include:
African Americans
Native Americans
Relations with Massachusetts

Collection finding aids in HOLLIS for Archival Discovery:


See also Colonial North America at Harvard Library for online access to 17th and 18th century collections held by the Harvard University Archives and other special collections and archives at Harvard.