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Samuel Williams Papers

Identifier: mss-018

Scope and Content Note

The Samuel Williams Papers consist of sermons, scientific notes, lectures, correspondence and business papers. The collection includes: sermons by Williams, 1768-1808; photocopies of lectures by Williams at Harvard in the 1780s; manuscripts pertaining to Williams' years at Harvard and the financial problems that led to his move to Vermont; scientific notes, letters and lectures; and some personal and family correspondence. There are also some papers relating to Williams' "History of Vermont," including a partial manuscript of the revised second edition. A handful of manuscripts from the mid-nineteenth century Williamses and some family biographical-genealogical material rounds out the collection.

The Williams Papers are a mix of original manuscripts and photocopies of materials in other collections. Many of the original manuscripts came to UVM in November 1985 as part of the purchase of the Clark/Field Family Papers. The listings in this inventory for these manuscripts, which may have been part of the Vermontiana collection of Rutland, Vermont, antiquarian Henry Clark (1828-1899), are marked with asterisks. Most of these originals deal with Williams' pre-Vermont career, especially his scientific studies and relationships with other American and European scientists. Most of the photocopies in the Papers are of materials in the Harvard University Archives and the personal collection of Mr. Frank Oliver, Chicago, Illinois. The Oliver collection photostats came to UVM through the generosity of Mr. Oliver and Mr. Robert Rothschild of New York City. The arrangement of the Williams Papers is chronological, with undated material grouped at the end of the collection.


  • 1732-1811



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Historian, scientist, minister, educator and editor, Samuel Williams was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, on April 23, 1743. He graduated from Harvard University in 1761 and became pastor at Bradford, Massachusetts, in 1765. Williams remained in Bradford for the next fifteen years, combining his religious work with intensive study in astronomy and other sciences. In 1870, he accepted election as Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural History of Harvard, where he taught with considerable distinction for the next eight years. In 1788, however, he left Harvard under a charge of forgery in the settlement of the finances of an estate. He moved to Rutland, Vermont, where he served as Congregational pastor from 1789 to 1796, and became founder and co-publisher of the Rutland Herald in 1794. In addition, Williams published a monthly periodical, "The Rural Magazine," for two years 1795-96. He also assisted in the founding of the University of Vermont in 1791 and lectured there on natural philosophy and astronomy in 1808-09. Williams is best remembered in Vermont for his "Natural and Civil History of Vermont," the earliest full-length history of the state. First published in 1794 and then revised and enlarged in 1809, the "History" proved to be an extremely significant source for later students of Vermont's past. At the same time, through its discussion of natural history, philosophy, Indians and science, the book solidified its author's reputation as one of the nation's leading early scholars. Samuel Williams died in Rutland, Vermont January 2, 1817, at the age of 73.


1 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



Samuel Williams was a Congregational minister, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard, and a founder of the University of Vermont. This collection includes correspondence, sermons, lectures, and other papers, relating to Williams’ teaching career, compilation and publication of his Natural and Civil History of Vermont (1794), astronomical observations (1806) to determine the northern boundary of Vermont, and other scientific topics. Includes partial manuscripts of the second edition (1809) of his history and reflections on religion and philosophy.


Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Related Materials Note

Researchers working on Samuel Williams should be aware that there are other Williams manuscripts at Harvard University, the Library of Congress, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the New York Public Library, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Vermont Historical Society, and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.


  • Merle Curti and William Tillman, eds. "Philosophical Lectures by Samuel Williams. LL.D., on the Constitution, Duty and Religion of Man," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 60, pt. 3 (1070).
  • Marcus A. McCorison, ed., "A Daybook from the Office of The Rutland Herald Kept by Samuel Williams, 1789-1802," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (Oct. 1966), 293-395.
  • Ralph N. Miller, "Samuel Williams' 'History of Vermont,'" New England Quarterly, 22 (1949), 73-84.
Guide to the Samuel Williams Papers
1987 January
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)