Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dunster, Henry

DUNSTER, HENRY (d. 1659), president of Harvard College, was the son of Henry Dunster of Balehoult, Bury, Lancashire. He received his academical education at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded B.A. in 1630, M.A. in 1634. He took orders, but unable to submit to high church tyranny, he sought a home across the Atlantic in the summer of 1640. For a while he resided at Boston, of which he was admitted a freeman 2 June 1641. Soon after his arrival in America he was appointed, 27 Aug. 1640, president of the newly established Harvard College in the room of Nathaniel Eaton [q. v.], an office which his piety, learning, and administrative ability enabled him to fill with rare distinction. But having imbibed the principles of anti-pædobaptism, and publicly advocated them, he was persuaded, after a reign of fourteen years, to resign in favour of Charles Chauncy [q. v.], 24 Oct. 1654. ‘President Dunster,’ says Quincy, ‘united in himself the character of both patron and president, for poor as he was he contributed at a time of the utmost need one hundred acres of land towards the support of the college’ (History of Harvard University). He is thought to have obtained the charter of 1642, and certainly secured that of 1650 on his own petition. He also built the president's house. He was then invited to Ireland by Henry Cromwell and his council, but he thought it better to decline, and retired to Scituate, where he continued to preach until his death, 27 Feb. 1658–9. By his will he desired to be buried at Cambridge, where, he says, lay the remains of some of his babes. He bequeathed legacies to the very persons who had clamoured the loudest for his removal from the college. Dunster was twice married. His first wife, Elizabeth, widow of the Rev. Joseph Glover, whom he married 21 June 1641, died 23 Aug. 1643, leaving no issue; and the following year he married another Elizabeth, whose parentage is unknown. By this lady, who survived until 12 Sept. 1690, he had David, Henry, Jonathan, Dorothy, and Elizabeth; an interesting account of these children, by the Rev. L. R. Paige, will be found in the ‘New England Historical and Genealogical Register,’ xxvii. 307–10.

Dunster was an excellent Hebraist. After the publication of Eliot's ‘Bay’ Psalms in 1640 it was found necessary to subject it to a thorough revision. Dunster undertook the task, and with the assistance of Richard Lyon produced the version used by the churches of New England for many subsequent years. A life of Dunster, by J. Chaplin, was published at Boston, U.S.A., in 1872.

[Savage's Genealog. Dict. of First Settlers in New England, ii. 82; Mather's Magnalia Americana Christi, bk. iii. pp. 99–101, bk. iv. pp. 127, 128; Allen's American Biogr. Dict. (3rd edit.), p. 313.]

G. G.