Skip to main content

Harvard and the American Revolution

In Focus

1776 at Harvard

At 140 years old at the time of the American Revolution, Harvard—and members of the Harvard community—played an important role in the country’s early history.

A Prospect of the Colledges in Cambridge in New England, William Burgis, 1726. Courtesy of the Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images and Slides Collection

During the American Revolution, students were dismissed early and the Harvard campus was turned over to the Continental Army.

Learn more about Harvard during the Revolution

An original copy

Harvard’s Houghton Library contains one of only a few surviving Dunlap broadside copies of the original Declaration of Independence.

Eight Harvard alumni signed the Declaration of Independence

The beginning of a revolution

In 2013, signed petitions dated “Boston, October 28, 1767” were discovered at Houghton Library. The documents reveal that the signers would not buy goods imported from Britain and its other colonies—including furniture, loaf sugar, nails, anchors, hats, shoe leather, glue, and malt liquors—after December 31. Civil actions like this petition foreshadowed the American Revolution.

Read more about the discovered documents

The passion to boycott even crossed political lines. It’s not all firebrand revolutionaries.”

John Overholt

Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and early modern books and manuscripts

A man stands in a library, with books and a painting behind him