John Harvard, a Puritan minister from Charlestown, left his library and half his estate to the new college. The school was named for him in 1638.
The name “Harvard” comes from the family name of John Harvard’s mother, who married Richard Dunster, the first president of Harvard College.
Harvard College was founded by the colonial legislature in 1636. It was named after its first benefactor, a wealthy young merchant from Southwark in London named John Harvard (1607-1638). A graduate of Emmanuel College in Cambridge University, he came over to New England with his friend Thomas Hooker in 1633 and settled at Newtowne (later Cambridge), Massachusetts. When Hooker’s congregation moved to Connecticut in 1636, Harvard remained behind as minister of Charlestown’s First Church until his death two years later. He died at age thirty-one after being accidentally struck by an Indian arrow during a skirmish between English settlers and Indians near present-day Boston.
The college that bears his name was chartered by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 28, 1636 as “an institution or society of learning whereunto may be admitted such scholars or other persons as shall be thought fit.” Its first president was Henry Dunster (1608-1660), who had been president of Harvard since 1637.