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Henry Ware (1810, 1828-1829)

Henry Ware Acting President from 1810, 1828-1829

Henry Ware
Acting President from 1810,

Henry Ware, a son of John and Martha Ware, was born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, April 1, 1764. His advantages of education were but small, as the school which he attended was kept only from six to ten weeks during the winter, and the rest of the time he worked with his elder brothers on his father’s farm. He was very quiet in his disposition, a great lover of play, and far more apt to learn than any of his schoolmates.

At the age of fifteen death deprived him of his father; and his portion of the estate amounted to no more than one hundred pounds, of the currency of that day. As this was quite inadequate to secure him a college education, his brothers, with exemplary generosity, agreed to combine their efforts to aid him. Accordingly, in November 1779, he was placed, as a student, under the care of the Rev. Elijah Brown, the minister of his native parish, where in due time he completed his course preparatory to entering college. He graduated Harvard in 1785 as the first scholar of his class, and immediately after his graduation took charge of the town school of Cambridge. At the same time he studied theology under the direction of the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, then minister of the First Parish in Cambridge.

His first sermon was preached on his twenty-third birthday, April 1, 1787, in his native place, in the pulpit of his early pastor and instructor. His first efforts, as a preacher, were received with much more than common favor; and in a short time he received a call to settle as pastor of the First Church in Hingham, then recently rendered vacant by the death of Dr. Gay. He accepted the call from Hingham, and was ordained and installed October 1, 1787. The sermon on the occasion was preached by the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, and was published.

Mr. Ware soon found that his salary (four hundred and fifty dollars) was unequal to the support of a rising family; and, in order to make up the deficiency, he was obliged to resort to keeping boarders and fitting boys for college. Though this must necessarily have abridged in some degree his professional attainments, he was still highly acceptable to his people, and was greatly esteemed for his talents and virtues through the whole surrounding region. In 1806 Mr. Ware was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard College.

In the year 1805, when he was in his forty-first year of age, he was chosen to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity in Harvard College, the chair having been recently vacated by the death of Dr. Tappan. The appointment was confirmed by the Overseers on the 14th of February, his inauguration took place on the 14th of May, and he removed to Cambridge the following month. Mr. Ware’s election was an occasion of a memorable controversy. Dr. Tappan, his predecessor, had always been regarded as a Trinitarian and a moderate Calvinist; but Mr. Ware was understood to be a Unitarian. Vigorous efforts were made to prevent the nomination, when submitted to the Overseers, from being confirmed; but it was confirmed by a vote of thirty-three to twenty-three. The “orthodox” clergy generally were greatly dissatisfied with the result, and Dr. Pearson, who had been both a Professor and a Fellow in the College, the next year resigned both these offices, giving as a reason that “the University was the subject of such radical and constitutional maladies as to exclude the hope of rendering any essential service to the interests of religion by continuing his relation to it.” Dr. Morse also published a pamphlet, entitled “True Reasons on which the Election of a Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard College was opposed at the Board of Overseers.” This may be regarded as the beginning of the Unitarian controversy, which was prosecuted with great vigor until the lines between the two parties were distinctly drawn.

In this controversy Dr. Ware took no immediate part until the year 1820, when he published a volume entitled “Letters to Trinitarians and Calvinists, occasioned by Dr. Woods’s Letters to Unitarians,” which passed through three editions the same year. In 1821 Dr. Woods replied to these letters; and in 1822 Dr. Ware continued the controversy by an Answer to Dr. Woods’s second work, and to this Answer he subsequently added a Postscript, making a considerable pamphlet. This exchange of arguments was generally known as “the Wooden Ware controversy.”

In the discharge of his duties as professor, Dr. Ware read to the students lectures on the Evidences, Doctrines, and Ethics of Religion, and on Biblical History and Criticism, and conducted the instruction in those departments. After the establishment of public worship in the college chapel, in 1814, he took his share in the pulpit service. After the death of President Webber, and again after death of President Kirkland, he was invested with the temporary government of the college, and there was no diminution of its prosperity under his administration.

In 1811 Dr. Ware began to give courses of lectures for resident students in divinity, out of which grew the Divinity School, which has since been connected with the college. When this school was formally organized in 1816, he became Professor of Systematic Theology and the Evidences of Christianity, and continued to occupy this place for twenty-four years.

About the close of the year 1839 Dr. Ware, in consequence of a cataract which had been for several years forming on his right eye, found it necessary to relinquish a portion of his labors; and from that time he limited his attention to the Divinity School. He died June 12, 1845.

—Abridged from Heralds of a Liberal Faith, Volume 3, edited by Samuel A. Eliot, 1910.

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