J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Souvenir of Harvard College in 1767

We have a good idea of what Massachusetts Hall and the rest of Harvard College looked like just before the Revolutionary War thanks to a surveyor named Joseph Chadwick and our busy friend Paul Revere. They collaborated to issue the engraving shown above.

On 4 July 1767, Revere entered into his account book a charge of £4 “To one half of Engraving a Plate for a Perspective View of the Colleges” and “To Printing.” Evidently Chadwick and Revere split the cost of publishing this image, and presumably the proceeds.

Harvard held its commencement every year in July. It was a public holiday, bringing big, festive crowds to Cambridge, some people because they had links to the college and others because they wanted to watch or sell things to the first group. In 1767 commencement was on Wednesday, 15 July, and I suspect Revere and/or Chadwick were in Cambridge selling their print to those who would want it most.

That might explain why Revere never advertised this image for sale in newspapers. Advertising might have been much less cost-effective at reaching reach the target audience of Harvard graduates.

Revere may also not have printed many copies. The scholar of his engravings, Clarence S. Brigham, reported in 1954 that he had found only four surviving examples, owned by the Essex Institute, the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard itself, and an individual. However, the image has been reproduced many times, so there are lots of later copies of this view hanging on walls.

In May 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress commissioned Revere to engrave and print currency. His wife Rachel and most their children got out of besieged Boston early that month, and they must have brought the old engraving plates. Revere cut the image of Harvard College in half and used the reverse side to make money. That piece of copper is now at the Massachusetts Archives.

Also at the state archives is Chadwick’s journal of a surveying expedition in Maine in 1764, as recounted and transcribed (with maps) in this article.

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