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Over 300 years ago a minister by the name of Thomas Shepard was pastor of the church in Cambridge and figured prominently in having Harvard College founded at its present site. In his memory the two branches of the First Church of Cambridge have erected a bronze plaque on the iron fence bordering the Yard near Wadsworth House.
The plaque reads: "In honor of Thomas Shepard, Pastor of the Church in Cambridge, 1637-1649. It was with respect unto the vigilancy and enlightening and powerful ministry of Mr. Shepard that when the foundation of a college was to be laid, Cambridge rather than any other place was picked upon to be the seat of that happy seminary." --Cotton Mather.
Born in 1605 in Towcester, England, Shepard received his A. B. from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and became an ordained deacon, later priest. As an occasional lecturer on religious matters he was in 1630 silenced for non-conformity by Laud, the Bishop of London. He was not allowed to speak publicly henceforth in England because of the example set by Laud, and so in 1634 he set sail for Boston, but was driven back by a storm and remained in hiding in Kingland until the next year, when he sailed again, reaching his destination October 3, 1635.
Very soon upon his arrival he was chosen pastor of the church in Cambridge constituted after Thomas Hooker had moved to Connecticut. In 1636 a plan for an institution of learning was brought before the General Court, and there was some question as to its location.
In the meantime Shepard had established his ministry so firmly that Edward Johnson in his "Wonder-Working Providence" speaks of it as "soul flourishing," and for this reason, as well as the fact that Shepard's congregation had been "preserved from the contagion of Antinomianism," Cambridge was chosen as the site.
Shepard was an admirer and almost surely a friend of John Harvard, and in 1636 Harvard College became an actuality. The Cambridge minister took immediate and active part in the early controversies of his day. His theology was that of Calvin, and most of his early sermons illustrate the doctrine of salvation by grace.
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