Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866

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Jared Sparks (1789-1866) was the President of Harvard University from February 1, 1849 to February 10, 1853. He was also a Unitarian minister, editor, and historian.

Jared Sparks was born to Joseph Sparks and Elinor (Orcut) Sparks on May 10, 1789 in Willington, Connecticut. Sparks was one of nine children and came from a family of modest means. When he turned six years old, Sparks went to live with an aunt and uncle in Camden, New York, to help relieve the family of a mouth to feed. Although Sparks was a bright and intelligent young boy, there was little time for schooling with his relatives and in 1805 he returned to his parents.

Sparks displayed an interest in literary and historical pursuits in grammar school, becoming known as the "genius." Interested in astronomy, in 1807, Sparks observed a comet with a homemade cross-staff. At 18 he worked as a journeyman carpenter and school teacher. His study of mathematics and Latin began at the age of 20. With the aid of a local pastor, Sparks obtained a scholarship to the Phillips Exeter Academy. At Exeter, Sparks wrote articles on education and astronomy for the local newspaper. In 1811, Sparks was admitted to Harvard University. He dropped out of college in 1812 for financial reasons and tutored a family in Havre de Grace, Maryland, where he witnessed a British naval bombardment during the War of 1812. Sparks later published an account of this event in the North American Review. Returning to Harvard University, Sparks (A.B. 1815) became a leader in his class. He won the Bowdoin prize with an essay on Isaac Newton, joined the Phi Beta Kappa, and delivered a commencement part at graduation. From 1817 to 1819, while studying at the Harvard Divinity School, Sparks served as a tutor of geometry, astronomy, and natural history.

After leaving Harvard University, Sparks became a minister at the First Independent Church (Unitarian) in Baltimore, Maryland, and for one year was the chaplain of the United States Congress. He was a popular preacher and was invited to speak throughout the southern United States. Nevertheless, Sparks, whose feelings for the ministry were at best lukewarm, resigned his position in April 1823. He returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and embarked on a new career as the owner and editor of the North American Review.

Returning to Boston in 1823, Sparks literary career blossomed over the next decade. Under Sparks's leadership, the North American Review became the leading literary journal in the United States, comparing favorably with its French and English counterparts. Its articles were noted for their high quality and range, both geographical and intellectual.

Sparks's literary talents began to be recognized with the publication of The Life of John Ledyard (1828). In 1827, Sparks began what was to become his greatest effort, the publication of the writings of George Washington. Assembling material for this work, Sparks started searching for primary source material at Washington's home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, and also at other public and private archives around the country. Moreover, he interviewed and questioned survivors of the American Revolution and visited and mapped historic Revolutionary War sites. The first of twelve volumes of The Writings of George Washington appeared in 1834 and the last in 1837.

Sparks became a pioneer in the collecting of manuscript material and argued in an important groundbreaking essay in the North American Review that before the history of the United States could be written, the historical manuscripts and archives of the nation had to be assembled and made more accessible. Over the next several years Sparks wrote and published several multivolume works including, The Life of Governeur Morris (1832), The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1836-1840), and The Library of American Biography (1834-1838). To gather materials for The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution (1829-1830), Sparks became the first American historian to travel to Europe and investigate foreign primary source documents.

Sparks was instrumental in the systematic collection and saving of historical documents from the Revolutionary War era. His efforts were a boon to students and historians for the next fifty years. He also judged his audience correctly, for Sparks's books sold well and turned a handsome profit.

Despite Sparks's efforts he was not free from criticism. His critics noted that he edited original documents freely, corrected spellings and capitalization, and undertook to improve his subject's English grammar. Holding an American Romantic historian viewpoint, Sparks was inclined to portray his subjects without blemish and in a favorable light. Therefore, in order to avoid offense and embarrassment, Sparks freely edited the letters of historical figures before publication. It should be noted, however, that Sparks was following the common practice of the historians of his day and that the American public had no desire to see their heroes revealed or exposed in a negative fashion.

In 1838, Sparks returned to Harvard University as the McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History. His first course on American history began in March 1839. Teaching until 1849, Sparks was an innovator in the classroom. He abandoned the method of recitation based on set textbooks for advanced classes and instructed his students with lectures, assigned readings and essays.

On February 1, 1849, Sparks was elected President of Harvard University. Although Sparks's election was welcomed by both the student body and Harvard community, he was unhappy as president, and his administration was short-lived. Tired of petty disciplinary duties and clerical responsibilities, Sparks resigned his position on February 10, 1853 to continue pursuing his literary interests.

In his short administration, Sparks was able to arrange and reclassify the early records of Harvard University. Ironically, Sparks himself is indirectly responsible for the existence of this very document describing his papers.

Sparks spent his last years in Cambridge, Massachusetts living quietly and advising students and young historians. He continued to collect manuscript material and published the Correspondence of the American Revolution, Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington in 1853. In 1857, Sparks traveled to Europe visiting various museums, historical sites, and archives. Sparks died of pneumonia on March 14, 1866.

Although Sparks's writings cannot be regarded as definitive because of his editorial methods, he was nevertheless, a pioneer in documentary editing. Moreover, he was instrumental in introducing the American public to a new conception of their history and providing a host of future writers and historians access to documents that, without his efforts, would have been lost.

Jared Sparks married Frances Anne Allen on October 16, 1832. They had one daughter, Maria Verplanck (1833). Frances died on July 12, 1835. A few years later, on May 21, 1839, Sparks re-married to Mary Crowninshield Silsbee, an heiress twenty years his junior. They had five children, Mary Crowninshield, Florence, William Eliot, Lizzie Wadsworth, and Beatrice.

Adams, Herbert B. The Life and Writings of Jared Sparks, Comprising Selections From His Journals and Correspondence. Boston:Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893. Bassett, John Spencer.Jared Sparks. In The Middle Group of American Historians.New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917. Kraus, Michael.Patriots, Romantics-and Hildreth. In The Writing of American History.Norman, Oklahoma:University of Oklahoma Press, 1953. Morison, Samuel Eliot.Jared Sparks. In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. Morison, Samuel Eliot.Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936.Cambridge,Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.

From the guide to the Papers of Jared Sparks, 1820-1861, 1866., (Harvard University Archives)

Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant Governor of the Virginia Colony from 1751 to 1758, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 3, 1692. Educated at the University of Glasgow, he graduated in 1710 or 1711. Although the years following his graduation are undocumented, it is assumed that he entered a trade, probably in the counting house of his father. By the age of 30, Dinwiddie had become a successful trader and one of the richest men in St. George’s Parish, Bermuda. In 1738 Horatio Walpole (brother of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole) appointed Dinwiddie as Surveyor General of the Southern Part of the Continent of North America, making him the overseer of customs services in South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the Bahama Islands, and Jamaica. He was also a member of the Council of Bermuda.

As Surveyor General, Dinwiddie was required to reside within the district he oversaw. In June 1741, Dinwiddie arrived in Virginia, taking up residence near Norfolk, where he and his family remained until 1746. In that year Dinwiddie consigned the Surveyor General post to Peter Randolph of Virginia and returned to London, where he invested in the shipping business. During these years Dinwiddie won the good will of John Carteret, Earl of Granville, and George Dunk, Earl of Halifax.

These gentlemen, as well as Horatio Walpole, were influential in obtaining Dinwiddie’s appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia on July 4, 1751. Although he performed the duties of governor and coveted the title, Dinwiddie was never titular governor of Virginia. William Anne Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, held the title and shared the salary assigned to the governor’s position.

During the seven years of Dinwiddie’s term he was a staunch advocate of the authority of Great Britain over the colonies. He has been called the “Grandfather of the American Revolution” because of his patronage of George Washington, but he was not and never became a supporter of colonial rights. In fact his pistole tax, which colonists were required to pay to the Governor each time his seal was affixed to a document, was a source of great dissension in Virginia.

Dinwiddie was indirectly involved in the initiation of the Seven Years War, because of his direct participation in the French and Indian War in the colonies. Although France and England would not make formal declaration of war until May, 1756, the conflict began in the colonies in 1753. Following reports of French establishment of forts on the Ohio River, Lt. Governor Dinwiddie dispatched Virginia Militia Major George Washington to assert British sovereignty over that territory and to demand immediate French withdrawal. The French refused and Dinwiddie sent Colonel Trent to build and defend a fort at a strategic position on the Ohio River. The fort was later named Fort Necessity.

On May 28, 1754, Washington, who had been dispatched to reinforce Fort Necessity, attacked and defeated a French detachment lead by Ensign Joseph Coulon, sieur de Jumonville. Outraged, the French responded by attacking and forcing Washington’s surrender of the fort on July 3, 1754. The war escalated in the colonies in 1755, with the French dominating. The French defeat of General Edward Braddock and his regiments of British regulars at the Monongahela River on July 7, 1755, was a tremendous blow to the colonies and to Robert Dinwiddie.

In March 1756, the Earl of Loudoun was appointed the Governor of Virginia and Commander-in-Chief of all North American military forces. By the fall of 1757, Robert Dinwiddie and his family left Virginia for England, where he resided for the remainder of his life. In poor health, Dinwiddie made frequent visits to Bath for therapeutic treatments. On July 27, 1770, Robert Dinwiddie died at Clifton, near Bath.

Alden, John Richard. Robert Dinwiddie: Servant of the Crown. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1973. Baker-Crothers, Hayes. Virginia and The French and Indian War. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1928.

From the guide to the Official correspondence and military letters of Virginia Colony Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie, 1754–1756, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

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creatorOf Dinwiddie, Robert, 1692-1770. Official correspondence and military letters of Virginia Colony Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie, 1754–1756 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
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creatorOf Sprague, William B. (William Buell), 1795-1876. Autograph collection 1799-1872 Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Adams, James Truslow, 1878-1949. Barrett assorted authors collection, 1814-1947 University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Cheney family. Letters, 1778-1933 Connecticut Historical Society
referencedIn Ward, Samuel, 1814-1884. Papers, 1647-1912 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Allen, William. William Allen family correspondence, 1802-1872 (inclusive), 1802-1850 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Bigelow, John P. (John Prescott), 1797-1872. Papers, 1805-1896 (bulk 1814-1863) Houghton Library
referencedIn Washington, George Corbin, 1789-1854. Letter, 1834 December 23, George Town, to Daniel Webster, [n.p.] Dartmouth College Library
referencedIn Hemenway, Amy. Collection of autographs, 1791-1873 Houghton Library
referencedIn Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. Correspondence and other papers, 1821-1877 Houghton Library
referencedIn Quynn, William, and Quynn, Allen. Papers, 1750-1844 Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf American Philosophical Society Library. Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection. 1668-1983. American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IId, 1837-1844 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Hall, Hiland, 1795-1885. Papers, 1786-1885 (bulk 1832-1881) Bennington Museum
referencedIn Guizot, François, 1787-1874. Letters, 1837 November 13-1842 October 14, Paris, to George Ticknor, [n.p.] Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Receipt for pen and points from James Perry & Co., February 27, 1844 Harvard University, Archives
referencedIn Humphrey, James, Jr., 1837-1868. Autograph album pages, 1852-1854 Litchfield Historical Society
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Letter: Cambridge, Mass., to Lydia Sigourney, 1850 March 8 Connecticut Historical Society
referencedIn Draper, Lyman Copeland, 1815-1891. Papers, 1833-1893 Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
referencedIn Cushing, Caleb, 1800-1879. Papers, circa 1785-1906 (bulk 1820-1878) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Autograph album, 1877-1893. Houghton Library
referencedIn Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866. Papers, 1774-1924 William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Autograph letter: London, to William Vaughan, 1829 Jan. 5 Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Letters: Cambridge, to George Ticknor, Philadelphia and Boston, 1825 January 22-1860 February 1 Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Autograph letter: Cambridge, to Rev. Dr. [Andrew Preston] Peabody, 1865 Aug. 22 Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Jared Sparks collection of American manuscripts [microform] 1582-1843. Maryland Historical Society Library
referencedIn Hoar, George Frisbie. 1826-1904. Autograph collection, 1598-1945 Houghton Library
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