In 1638, John Harvard (1607-1638) bequeathed his personal library of 329 titles (totaling 400 volumes) as well as half his estate (£779) to the New College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In monetary terms, the gift represented value equivalent to Massachusetts Bay Colony's annual tax receipts. The College was renamed in “Harvard” in recognition of this great and generous gift.
Most of the books from John Harvard’s library focused on religious topics but also included dictionaries, grammar books, and classical literature. The “Catalogue of John Harvard’s Library” can be found in the records of the Harvard University Corporation’s College Book I, 1639-1795 [Call number: UAI 5.5, Volume 1] and can also be found transcribed in the March 1919 Transactions of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
On January 24, 1764, a fire destroyed much of Harvard Hall including the contents of the College’s Library (approximately 5,000 books). Only 400 volumes escaped incineration and these volumes are listed in the Records of books spared from 1764 Harvard Hall fire and subsequent gifts [call number UAIII 50.27.64] There was one only surviving volume from John Harvard’s collection, John Downame's The Christian Warfare against the Devill World and Flesh, 4th ed. (London, 1634).