New England First Fruits

Reverend John Wilson’s son, John Wilson Jr, graduated in the first class at Harvard, the Puritan College. The name Pilgrim was applied to the Puritan two hundred years after they landed at Plymouth. There are five generation of John Wilson. John Wilson Jr. was born in Windsor Castle and came to America on the ‘Eagle’ with Winthrop. Why has no Harvard student or graduate studied these First Fruits. Two ex-friends are Harvard graduates. That a child born in the foremost castle of England and Europe, walks with Native Americans in a New England. This is the start of a paper.

John Wilson Rosamond

“Harvard’s first commencement was a solemn affair. There were nine graduates in the class of 1642: Benjamin Woodbridge, George Downing, John Bulkeley, William Hubbard, Samuel Bellingham, John Wilson, Henry Saltonstall, Tobias Barnard, and Nathaniel Brewster. The graduates embarked on various religious and political careers, which oftentimes took them throughout the English Atlantic.”

John Wilson, Jr.

Birthplace: London, Middlesex, England
Death: August 23, 1691 (69)
Medfield, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Immediate Family: Son of Rev. John Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson
Husband of Sarah Wilson
Father of Sarah Torrey; Thomas Wilson; Elizabeth Weld; Dr. John Wilson, III and Susanna Rawson
Brother of Dr. Edmond Wilson; Elizabeth Rogers; Deacon Edward Wilson and Mary Rock
Occupation: Minister


About Rev. John Wilson

John “had the benefit of joining the church of his father 3 Mar. 1644, but was not freeman until 1647, ordained as colleague with Rev. Richard Mather at Dorchester in 1649, but contined only two years and was then setted at Medfield.”12

ca 1647 John married Sarah Hooker, daughter of Rev. Thomas Hooker (ca 1586-7 Jul 1647) & Susanna Garbrand (1593-17 May 1676). Born ca 1630 in Essex, England.19 Sarah died on 20 Aug 1725 in Braintree, MA.49

JOHN WILSON, Jr., was born in Windsor, Essex, England, in September 1621. He came with his father to New England in 1630. He graduated from Harvard College in 1642, was ordained and settled in Dorcester, Norfolk, MA, where he was a colleague of Rev. Richard Mather.

SARAH HOOKER was born in the Little Baddow section of Chelmsford, Essex, England, in 1629. She came to America with her father. She was planning her wedding when her father, the Rev. THOMAS HOOKER, died suddenly. She and JOHN married shortly thereafter.

In 1651, they removed to Medfield, Norfolk, MA, where Rev. JOHN WILSON, Jr., was the first minister of that town, and he remained there until his death, Aug. 23, 1691.

SARAH moved to Braintree, Middlesex, MA, and died there, Aug. 8, 1725

From May through June, millions of Americans mark the end of the academic year with the commencement, a ritual that dates from the earliest universities founded in Europe in the Middle Ages. The first university commencement in English America took place in 1642 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard College. More than a celebration of hard-working students, Harvard’s first commencement was designed to send a clear message to England that its American colonies were a going concern.

The commencement—or graduation, in which degrees are conferred upon students who have completed their studies—is a ceremony with which we are doubtlessly familiar. Its name derives from the medieval commensatio, the feast that followed the inceptio, which was the actual conferral of degrees. Commencements are held in many parts of the world, particularly those that had been subjected to European imperialism. In the Americas, Europeans deliberately founded institutions, like universities, modeled on those of their home countries. Scholars refer to the practice of founding universities in the Americas as translatio studii, the “transfer of knowledge” from the Old World to the New by way of institutions of higher learning. As historians of education have noted, the university in the early modern period was viewed as the key institution that held and disseminated a known body of knowledge, which included Scripture, the trivium and quadrivium, and the works of Aristotle, all the bases of university curricula. Elites believed that without the civilizing impact of this knowledge, which preserved political and social order for future generations, societies would crumble. Catholic universities thus dotted the landscape of Spanish America, with the first established in 1551 at Lima, still extant as the National University of San Marcos. In New France, a Jesuit seminary opened in 1663, and it too still operates today as Université Laval.

In what would become the United States, it was in Massachusetts Bay that leaders founded a college modeled on Cambridge University. Puritan graduates of Cambridge (and Oxford) proliferated in Newtown, later renamed Cambridge, where in 1636 the Massachusetts General Court established the college later named for John Harvard, a Cambridge graduate who donated his library and portions of his land to the college. Harvard admitted its first students in 1638 under the brief and infamous mastership of Nathaniel Eaton, who was removed after the General Court found that he had severely beaten a student and that his wife had served students a “hasty pudding” laced with livestock feces. In 1640, Henry Dunster, a Cambridge-educated preacher, was appointed president, and thereafter the college came into its own. Harvard held its first commencement in late September 1642, the first in the English colonies and an important indication of the viability of the college and the society it served.

Harvard’s first commencement was a solemn affair. There were nine graduates in the class of 1642: Benjamin Woodbridge, George Downing, John Bulkeley, William Hubbard, Samuel Bellingham, John Wilson, Henry Saltonstall, Tobias Barnard, and Nathaniel Brewster. The graduates embarked on various religious and political careers, which oftentimes took them throughout the English Atlantic. For instance, Downing, the namesake of London’s Downing Street, would be responsible for acquiring New Amsterdam from the Dutch. Brewster was likely Harvard’s first American-born graduate, and he later ministered in Norfolk, England, before earning an M.A. from Trinity College, Dublin, while in the service of Henry Cromwell; he settled as first minister of Brookhaven on Long Island.

Writing in his journal in October 1642, Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop described the graduates as “young men of good hope” and noted that the commencement drew “all the magistrates and elders over the six nearest churches and the president.” A description of the ceremony is also found in New Englands First Fruits, a fundraising pamphlet written by preachers Hugh Peter and Thomas Weld, published in London in 1643. The account begins with a letter dated September 26, 1642 and identified those in attendance. Colonial leaders took the event seriously, lending their weight to the ceremonies. The dignitaries present comprised a collection of local Puritan elites, including members of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, established in 1637 to administer college governance. They included Governor Winthrop, his deputy John Endicott, magistrates Thomas Dudley and Richard Bellingham, the Cambridge minister Thomas Shepard, and the Boston ministers John Cotton and John Wilson. Together with President Dunster and the graduates, these officials likely began the exercises by processing to the commencement site.

Today’s Harvard commencement is held in Harvard Yard, with honorees, officials, and the president seated on a dais on the steps of Memorial Church. In 1642, much of the present-day Yard (and Cambridge itself) was cow pasture. In its first few years, Harvard had been confined to a single building, Peyntree House; the structure, long gone, would have today stood atop Massachusetts Avenue between the new Smith Campus Center and Wadsworth House. A new building built specifically for Harvard, the Old College, opened in September 1642. It is not unlikely that the commencement was held around this time to coincide with the completion of the Old College, as opposed to being held in the summer, as was tradition at Cambridge University. The exercises were probably held in or near both Peyntree House and the Old College, about 200 yards from the present-day commencement site.

There was no sheriff of Middlesex County to bring the ceremony to order, as he does today. According to First Fruits, the day’s exercises began with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew orations. Harvard’s commencement still features a speech delivered in Latin by an undergraduate, with graduating seniors astonishing the audience by laughing and cheering at appropriate moments thanks to the English translation provided to them. But Latin was the primary language of instruction in early modern universities, and all scholars would have been proficient; knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was essential for those seeking to make a career among the Puritan clergy.

Following the orations, college officials, local dignitaries, and the graduates dined together before beginning the afternoon exercises: several hours of Latin disputations, in which graduates were tested on their ability to defend a series of philosophical theses. Disputations were commonplace at early modern commencements, the final trial for “commencers” before they embarked on their careers. Harvard’s first graduates defended theses on grammar, rhetoric, logic, ethics, physics, and metaphysics. By passing this test, the nine were empowered to “read Lectures in the Hall upon any of the Arts” and granted liberty to continue to use the library. The latter was a convenient alumni privilege. The former recalled the medieval tradition that authorized university graduates to teach anywhere in Christendom. At the examinations’ conclusion, President Dunster conferred degrees upon the graduates, “pro more Academiarum in Anglia”—according to the custom of the English universities. The first American commencement was very much an English affair.

For Harvard in 1642, the commencement was an essential indicator of the college’s continued growth. The authors of First Fruits were sure to include an account of these exercises, and especially the disputations, in order to make the commencement ceremony recognizable to the Cambridge- and Oxford-educated audience for whom First Fruits was written. It was meant to indicate clearly for English statesmen that the rumored college in the wilderness was in fact fully functional.

To the modern observer, there are aspects of the 1642 Harvard commencement that are familiar: a procession of officials, honored guests, and students that evokes a sense of the university’s status and identity; the division of the festivities into morning and afternoon exercises; and the conferral of degrees. But it was in the rituals that are most unfamiliar to us today that were most important to publicize in the seventeenth century. By including an account of the commencement, First Fruits’ authors sought to demonstrate that the colony in New England was capable of producing its own ministers and magistrates out of the English settlers there and, perhaps, the native peoples as well. Indeed, half of First Fruits was dedicated to recounting the progress of Christian missionary work among New England’s Native Americans; the presence of a functioning university would aid this effort. But the college needed money in order to continue educating future generations of churchmen and statesmen. The 1642 Harvard commencement was a key step for the fledgling New England colony and its future, and demonstrated for English benefactors that the enterprise in America warranted further investment.

New England’s First Fruits was a book published in London in 1643 about the early evangelization efforts by the Puritans in colonial New England in defense of criticisms from England that little evangelism was being pursued in New England.[1][2] It was the first publication to mention Harvard University.[3]

The book describes various evangelization efforts and results, including the conversion experience of Wequash Cooke (d.1642) as allegedly the first Native American conversion to Protestant Christianity in New England.[4] The book also describes the conversion Dorcas Ye Blackmore, an early African slave to Israel Stoughton, who joined the First Parish Church of Dorchester in 1641 and evangelized her fellow Native American servants and eventually attempted to gained her freedom with the help of the local church.[5][6][7] Roger Williams’ A Key Into the Language of America was written partially to contradict the book’s claims about successful evangelization in New England.

The History of the Founding of Harvard College

AFTER GOD HAD carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and led the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust. And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman and a lover of learning, there living among us) to give the one-half of his estate (it being in all about £700) toward the ing of a college, and all his library. After him, another gave £300; others after them cast in more; and the public hand of the state added the rest. The college was, by common consent, appointed to be at Cambridge (a place very pleasant and accommodate) and is called (according to the name of the first founder) Harvard College. The edifice is very fair and comely within and without, having in it a spacious hall where they daily meet at commons, lectures, and exercises; and a large library with some books to it, the gifts of diverse of our friends, their chambers and studies also fitted for and possessed by the students, and all other rooms of office necessary and convenient with all needful offices thereto belonging. And by the side of the college, a fair grammar school, for the training up of young scholars and fitting of them for academical learning, that still as they are judged ripe they may be received into the college of this school. Master Corlet is the master who has very well approved himself for his abilities, dexterity, and painfulness in teaching and education of the youths under him. Over the college is Master Dunster placed as president, a learned, a conscionable, and industrious man, who has so trained up his pupils in the tongues and arts, and so seasoned them with the principles of divinity and Christianity, that we have to our great comfort (and in truth) beyond our hopes, beheld their progress in learning and godliness also. The former of these has appeared in their public declamations in Latin and Greek, and disputations logic and philosophy which they have been wonted (besides their ordinary exercises in the college hall) in the audience of the magistrates, ministers, and other scholars for the probation of their growth in learning, upon set days, constantly once every month to make and uphold. The latter has been manifested in sundry of them by the savory things of their spirits in their godly versation; insomuch that we are confident, if these early blossoms may be cherished and warmed with the influence of the friends of learning and lovers of this pious work, they will, by the help of God, come to happy maturity in a short time.Over the college are twelve overseers chosen by the General Court, six of them are of the magistrates, the other six of the ministers, who are to promote the best good of it and (having a power of influence into all persons in it) are to see that every-
one be diligent and proficient in his proper place.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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