Harvard and the American Revolution
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.
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.
On July 6, 1776, President of the Continental Congress John Hancock sent one of the just-printed copies of the Declaration of Independence to General Artemas Ward, commander of the Continental Army troops in Boston. Hancock’s letter came to Houghton as part of John Hubbard Collection of signers of the 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.
The passion to boycott even crossed political lines. It’s not all firebrand revolutionaries.”
Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and early modern books and manuscripts
A place in history
Colonial North America at Harvard Library
Harvard Library recently completed a 10-year project to digitize all its unpublished 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts and archives related to colonial North America.
Professor of American History and African and African American Studies Vincent Brown says that understanding Tacky’s Revolt, the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the 18th-century British Empire, gives context to the American Revolution.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Doctoral student Keidrick Roy discusses Frederick Douglass’ famous 1852 speech, in which Douglass looks at the contradictions between the reality of slavery and the claims of a just society outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
The Sussex Declaration
While assembling a database on every known edition of the Declaration of Independence, researcher Emily Sneff discovered a previously unknown document. She and Professor Danielle Allen delved into the mystery.
A part of the future
At the American Repertory Theater, high school students performed “Proclamation 7: Freedom Acts,” a play written by and starring them, with inspiration from the Declaration of Independence.
Expand your knowledge
Keep learning and exploring with these Harvard courses.
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