It is common knowledge that the majority of schools in the new American colonies were founded as institutions for religious training. So important was this training to the new colonists that upon settling in, they immediately began to think of their spiritual growth and future. This required pastors steeped in the Word who would be trained in all areas of caring for a local church community. They knew that without this strong spiritual foundation in their midst, other philosophies would soon usurp the minds of the next generation.
So as early as 1636, while many of the Massachusetts’ colonists were still arriving and building settlements, a college for religious teaching was established. From England came a wealthy young man of deep religious conviction, John Harvard, who upon his death left 1700 pounds towards the building of the school. He also donated his entire library, one of the largest even in his homeland at the time. It was appropriate that the new institution should bear his name. The building committee selected Cambridge as the site, noting that it had beauty and grace in its pastoral fields. The college classes included Greek, Latin, and the study of the Hebrew Bible.
The college committee also inscribed in the Charter this vision statement:
“Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”
John Harvard was born in Southwark, England, and baptized at Southwark Cathedral in 1607. His maternal grandfather was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Both were learned men and students of the Bible, but used that knowledge in vastly differing paths. Harvard’s entire family was taken in the Plague, leaving him great wealth. Instead of squandering it on luxuries, Harvard purchased a huge library of religious and philosophical books which he took with him to America. He died young at 31 and did not live to see his legacy. Sadly, a 1764 fire destroyed most of the volumes donated by John Harvard.