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Our Ninth Great Grandfather Co-Founded Harvard University

The Meetinghouse in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1799. By John Ritto Penniman, Art Institute of Chicago.

Sir Thomas Dudley, 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 14th Governor
of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and first resident of
Cambridge, Massachusetts, signed the Harvard Charter
authorizing Harvard College, May 30, 1650.

New York, N.Y. Sir Thomas Dudley, the third Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and our ninth great-grandfather, signed the charter to establish Harvard on May 30, 1650 – making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.


Sir Thomas Dudley, 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 14th Governor of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony and first resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, signed the
Harvard Charter authorizing Harvard College, May 30, 1650.

There was once a Dudley Gate to the Harvard Yard bearing words written by Thomas’ daughter, the first American poet, Anne Dudley Bradstreet. Unfortunately, the gate was torn down in the 1940s to make way for the new Lamont Library. However, the small, secluded Dudley Garden was created behind the library in honor of the school’s founder. 


Plaque in memory of Thomas Dudley at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Thomas Dudley had quite an eventful life. Both of his parents died before he reached his teens and he was placed with the family of Lord Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton, to be his Page and be educated as a Knight. 

In 1597, at the age of 21, Thomas received a Captain’s Commission from Queen Elizabeth and fought in the Siege of Amiens under King Henry IV of France. This battle fought during the Anglo-Spanish War. Five years later, he married Dorothy Yorke and they had eight children together. 


The Arabella carried Gov. John Winthrop and sons, along with our ancestors,
Thomas and Dorothy Dudley, arriving in Salem Harbor in the spring of 1630.

In the spring of 1630, at the age of 53, Thomas and Dorothy sailed on the ship Arabella to Salem Harbor – arriving two months later with their six living children. Ironically, the two children who had died young were their first child named Thomas and their last child named Dorothy.

Upon the Dudley’s arrival, there were only three hundred immigrants in Massachusetts Bay Colony – all of them Puritans from England. The first governor, John Winthrop, and the Deputy Governor, Thomas Dudley, quickly established the communities of Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury & Lynn, and by the 1640s, there were some 20,000 inhabitants.



Puritans held very strict religious beliefs and the church leaders zealously sought to prevent any independence of religious views – actually banishing anyone with a differing belief. These Puritans established a theocratic government which was limited to church members. We have many ancestors who rebelled against this narrow-minded thinking and moved on to other New England colonies… but more about them later!

In 1637, as payment for their service, the General Court of Massachusetts awarded 2,200 acres of land to Governor Winthrop and Deputy Governor Dudley. The two men decided to divide the land into two parcels, with the acres “south of the two large boulders by the Concord River” belonging to Governor Winthrop and the land “north of the Brothers Rocks” to belong to Deputy Governor Dudley. 


Thomas Dudley co-signed the Harvard Charter, creating the university.

In 1643, Dorothy Dudley died of the “wind colic” – an intestinal disorder. Thomas was 66 years old by this time, but a year later he married Catherine Deighton Hackburne who was 38 years his junior and they had six more children. One of his sons with Catherine was Joseph Dudley who also became a Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Thomas died in Roxbury in 1653 at the age of 76. There is a plaque on the wall of the State Capital Building which reads “A Puritan gentleman. Well-born, well-educated, well-rounded, self consistent, austere, sensible, honest, and a devoted and dependable servant of Massachusetts.” 


James Jay Dudley Luce of New York is the great (x9) grandson of
Thomas Dudley, Third Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Photo: The Stewardship Report

This column, written by several including Molly Luce Larkin, focuses on American history through the eyes of one family. In 2010, Jim Luce wrote in the Huffington Post, Mayflower Roots – and a Metrocard – Get One on the Subway. In this piece, he began to explore the impact of Brahmin roots in today’s American soil. Most families, as ours, had both heroes and horse thieves. We cannot change the past, but we can report and reflect upon it.

See: “Our America” – Exploring U.S. History through Family’s Eye

Our Ninth Great Grandfather Co-Founded Harvard University (May 11, 2020)

TAGS: American ColoniesAmerican poetsAnne Dudley BradstreetBostonCatherine Deighton HackburneDorchester MassDorothy DudleyDorothy YorkeDudley GateEarl of NorthamptonEnglandGeneral Court of MassachusettsGov. John WinthropGov. Thomas DudleyHarvard CharterHarvard CollegeHarvard Dudley GardenHarvard UniversityHarvard YardJim LuceJohn Ritto PennimanJoseph DudleyLord Henry HowardLynn MassMassachusetts Bay ColonyNew EnglandNew YorkOldest American UniversityPuritansRoxbury massSalem HarborSiege of AmienssliderThe ArabellaTheocracyUnited StatesUSA

Jim Luce
Jim Luce
Raising, Supporting & Educating Young Global Leaders through Orphans International Worldwide (, the J. Luce Foundation (, and The Stewardship Report ( Jim is also founder and president of the New York Global Leaders Lions Club.


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