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Published: May 19, 2011

Henry Dunster (1609–1659)

Englishborn clergyman and teacher and, in effect, the founding president of HARVARD COLLEGE. Although Harvard opened in 1636, its first “president,” the ne’er-do-well NATHANIEL EATON, left the school without funds, faculty or students, and it was closed after one year of his tenure. It reopened in 1640 under Dunster, a graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge University. He immediately organized Harvard along the lines of English colleges—a form it would retain over the next two centuries. By the time he resigned 14 years later, Harvard could boast of 74 eminent alumni, a library of more than 1,000 volumes, three buildings and a president’s house that Dunster himself had built and which housed a printing press. Although he contributed a tract of land and often donated his small salary to save the college from bankruptcy, he was nevertheless forced to resign when he converted to Baptism in 1654. Espousing the Baptist principle of postponing baptism until a child reached adulthood, he was tried and convicted for refusing to have his infant child baptized. He spent the remainder of his life in Scituate, Massachusetts, where he served as a minister and tried without success to recover the back salary that Harvard owed him.