Webber, Samuel, 1759-1810

Alternative names
Birth 1759
Death 1810-07-17

Biographical notes:

Samuel Webber was President of Harvard University from May 6, 1806 to July 17, 1810.

From the description of Papers of Samuel Webber, 1806-1815. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77072197

Samuel Webber (1760-1810) was the thirteenth President of Harvard University, serving from May 8, 1806 to July 17, 1810.

Samuel Webber was the eldest son of John Webber and Rachael (Harris) Webber born on January 13, 1760 in Byfield Parish, Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts. The Webbers had three other children, John Jr. (1762), Joanna (1766), and Sarah (1772). Webber's father was a f armer, and in 1771 he moved the family to Hopkinton, New Hampshire, then known as one of the best agricultural towns in the state.

Although Webber spent his early years working on his father's farm, he was encouraged to pursue his intellectual interests by the pastor of the First Congregational Church, the Reverend Elijah Fletcher. Webber attended the Dummer Academy grammar school and entered Harvard University in 1780. A talented mathematics student, Webber received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1784 and his Master of Arts degree in 1787. Although ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church in 1785, Webber returned to the Dummer Academy to teach. However, shortly after, he resigned his teaching position to become a Tutor of Mathematics (1787-1789) at Harvard University.

Webber was recognized for his capabilities as a tutor when he was elected the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1789, serving in this position for the next seventeen years.

Webber's major areas of accomplishment were in mathematics, surveying, and astronomy. In 1791, Webber observed an annular eclipse of the sun which he described in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1793). His major work on mathematics, the System of Mathematics, was adopted for use by Harvard University and other New England schools in 1801. The following year, Webber wrote a revised introduction for the fourth edition of Jedidiah Morse's The American Universal Geography and although not published until 1824, Webber wrote the appendix to the astronomical part of the Institutes of Natural Philosophy by William Enfield. Finally, acknowledged for his astronomical, mathematical, and surveying skills, Webber was selected to serve on a three-man committee to help settle a boundary dispute between the United States and Canada.

Noted for his good sense, uprightness of character, sound judgment, and learning, Webber was elected to the Harvard presidency in 1806. However, he was unable to achieve anything notable during his short administration. Webber's most significant accomplishments during his tenure as Harvard President were realized in his efforts to increase financial contributions from individuals and the state legislature, an expansion in the number of members on the Board of Overseers (1810), and the creation of a Professorship of Natural History. His one great ambition was the creation of a Harvard Astronomical Observatory, but Webber died before his plans for this project could be realized.

Webber married Rebecca Smith (1762-1837) on October 21, 1789. They had seven children: George (1791), Aria (1792), Sophia (1794), Matilda (1795), Samuel (1797), John (1799), and Caroline (1801).

Samuel Webber died suddenly on July 17, 1810 and was buried in the Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Eliot, Samuel A. A Sketch of the History of Harvard College and of its Present State. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848. Jones, Bessie Zaban and Lyle Gifford Boyd. The Harvard College Observatory, The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. Morison, Samuel Eliot.Three Centuries of Harvard.Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,1936. O'Reilly, Noel Sever. Samuel Webber, The Thirteenth President of Harvard University (1806-1810). Dallas, Texas: by the author, 1989. Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University. Vol. II. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.

From the guide to the Papers of Samuel Webber, 1806-1815., (Harvard University Archives)


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