Death of John Harvard 

U.S. #2190 from the Great Americans series.

Clergyman John Harvard died on September 14, 1638, in Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Harvard was born on November 26, 1607, in Southward, Surrey, England. He was the fourth of nine children and his grandfather was reportedly an associate of Shakespeare’s father.

Item #55517 – Harvard First Day Proof Card.

The bubonic plague later claimed the lives of most of Harvard’s family, leaving just him, a brother, and his mother. Harvard went on to attend Emmanuel College where he earned a B.A. and M.A. and was eventually ordained a dissenting minister. Harvard was married in 1636, and the following year moved with his wife to New England.

The Harvards settled in Charlestown, the oldest neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, and Harvard became a teaching elder of the First Church and an assistant preacher. Also while in Charleston, Harvard was made part of a committee “to consider of some things tending toward a body of laws.” He had a home with 120 acres that he intended to use to raise cattle.

However, Harvard would not get a chance to carry out this plan. He died of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, on September 14, 1638.

U.S. #2190 FDC – Harvard Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Two years before Harvard died, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a college in what was then called Newtowne (later Cambridge) to “advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity.” Over his lifetime, Harvard had inherited a significant amount of money following the deaths of his parents and brother. Having no children, he told his wife on his deathbed that he wished to donate half of his estate (£780 – worth over $590,000 in today’s currency‍) to the young school, and she would receive the other half. Harvard also bequeathed his 400-volume library to the school. Unfortunately, all but one of these books was destroyed in a fire in 1764.

Item #M86-66 – Harvard First Day Maximum Card.

In recognition of Harvard’s significant contribution to the school, it was renamed in his honor in 1639.

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  1. Bubonic plague killed most of his family. Tuberculosis took his life. People were at the mercy of nature and diseases. Many of those diseases are well controlled now. Cancer and heart attacks took their places. People live longer now, thanks to science and discoveries. He was very generous on death bed. Harvard education is very prestigious. Medical school is top.

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