Monday, January 26, 2009


I've mentioned before, I think, my practice of occasionally picking the
name of one of my ancestors and doing a Google web and Google Books
search to see if I can find some new information on them. This has had some
good results for me and provided me with material for blog posts as well. A
few weeks back I mentioned I was planning a post about Simon Willard (it's
coming soon). But first I want to discuss his relative by marriage, Henry
Dunster, the first President of Harvard College.

After the death of his first wife Mary Sharpe, Simon Willard married Elizabeth
Dunster, one of Henry Dunster's sisters, but she died shortly after their marriage.
Simon then married Mary Dunster. There seems to be some confusion as to
whether she was another of Henry Dunster's sisters or a cousin but it is agreed
that she was related to him. What interests me about this connection is not so
much that Henry Dunster was Harvard's first President, but how he came to
be so and how I first learned the story behind it.

Harvard's first professor was a man named Nathaniel Eaton who from all
accounts was a great believer in the "spare the rod, spoil the child" school of
education and frequently beat his students. In 1639 he apparently went too
far and injured a student badly enough to spark an investigation into his
methods and into his handling of the school funds. Among other accusations,
it was charged that he and his wife had skimped on the food allowance. Mrs.
Eaton was supposed to have confessed that she'd added goat dung to the
hasty pudding! In the face of this scandal, Eaton left Boston for Virginia and
Harvard was closed for a year until 1640 when Henry Dunster was appointed
to take his place.

Ironically, it appears I am also related to Nathaniel Eaton through my ancestor
Peter Eaton, who might have been his brother.

Now when I saw all this on my Google search, I had to smile. I'd already read
about it several years ago in a novel "Harvard Yard" by William Martin. I've
mentioned it before as a book that involves genealogy as part of a mystery and
I highly recommend all of William Martin's books. Better still, if he stops in
our bookstore again to autograph his books as he's done many times in the past,
I'll tell him about my ancestor's connection to his novel!


Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Wow, what connections! It is wonderful that you can dot these "i's" and cross some of the "t's" too. Can't wait to hear what the future will hold for this story! Happy hunting.

Heather Rojo said...

Great fun! My husband and I walked around Harvard Square recently, and were reminiscing about our college days. We had a friend at Dunster House, which was probably named after your ancestor. There used to be a favorite pub at 33 Dunster St. but, of course, it's not there anymore.