George Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.
His family had been in Massachusetts Bay since 1632, and his father, Aaron Bancroft, was distinguished as a revolutionary soldier, a leading Unitarian clergyman and author of a popular life of George Washington. Bancroft was born in Worcester, and began his education at Phillips Exeter Academy and entered Harvard College at thirteen years of age. At age 17, he graduated from Harvard and went to study in Germany. Abroad, he studied at Heidelberg, Göttingen and Berlin. At Göttingen he studied Plato with Arnold Heeren; history with Heeren and Gottlieb Jakob Planck; Arabic, Hebrew, New Testament Greek and scripture interpretation with Albert Eichhorn; natural science with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach; German literature with Georg Friedrich Benecke; French and Italian literature with Artaud and Bunsen; and classics with Georg Ludolf Dissen. In 1820, he received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen.
Bancroft capped off his education with a European tour, in the course of which he sought out almost every distinguished man in the world of letters, science and art; among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lord Byron, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Christian Charles Josias Bunsen, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, Varnhagen von Ense, Victor Cousin, Benjamin Constant and Alessandro Manzoni.