Records relating to Harvard's interest in the Charlestown ferry, 1646-1806

About this Collection

Harvard University , Corporation.
Bonds (legal records).Legal instruments.
Collection Title
Records relating to Harvard's interest in the Charlestown ferry, 1646-1806
.34 cubic feet (1 volume and 1 half-legal document box)
Harvard University Archives

Content Notes

This collection contains documents created and collected by the Harvard Corporation in its capacity managing the Charlestown ferry from the 1640s until 1785, and after the completion of the Charles River Bridge in 1785, in their efforts to secure a compensatory annuity for their loss of income. Records include leases and bonds with ferrymen, and copies of petitions by the ferrymen and the Harvard Corporation to the General Court regarding fare increases, bridge development, and income related to the ferry. The documents reflect Harvard's role as an academic institution attempting to maintain stable funding and, essentially, as commercial owners of a Boston ferry. The collection offers a resource for studying the College's financial and legal history, and, more broadly, the development of transportation and infrastructure in 17th and 18th century Boston. A 1785 letter from Judge Francis Dana to the Selectmen of Charlestown criticizing Harvard Corporation's demands in regards to the ferry, and legal opinions written in 1800 by prominent statesmen and lawyers Nathan Dane and Levi Lincoln are also included in the collection.

Biographical Notes

In 1640, the Massachusetts General Court granted Harvard College the revenue from the Boston-Charlestown ferry to help support the institution. Between 1640 and 1785, the College managed the Charlestown ferry and periodically contended with ferrymen, bridge investors, and the General Court to protect its income. The arrangement relieved the colony of having to manage the ferry, and the College negotiated an annual rent from the ferrymen. The College relied on the ferry as one of its only consistent forms of income and often used the money to help pay Tutor salaries. In March 1785, despite active lobbying by Harvard, the General Court granted a charter for the Charles River Bridge to be built from Boston to Charlestown "in the place where the ferry was then kept." In compensation for divesting the College of the income from the ferry, the General Court ordered the bridge proprietors to pay the College an annual annuity. In 1828, the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge declared bankruptcy and Harvard's annuity ceased. Finally in 1846, the State granted the College $3,333.30 as a final payment on the Charlestown ferry grant first provided in 1640.