J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pitt Clarke and “an unjust pecuniary punishment”

Among the students punished by the Harvard College faculty for damaging the dining hall during a Thanksgiving banquet on 29 Nov 1787 was a sophomore designated as “Clarke 2d.”

That was Pitt Clarke (1763-1835) of Medfield. (“Clarke 1st” would have been Edward, class of 1788, a senior.) His college diary survives, was published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and can be read here. This picture of Clarke much later in life, when he was a Unitarian minister in Norton, comes from that article.

Clarke was unusual in coming to Harvard when he was his mid-twenties, his education having been delayed by the war and family financial troubles. Most college students of this time were in their mid-to-late teens—the age of high-school students today. But every class had one or two older men without a lot of money who were really dedicated to starting a clerical career.

Clarke’s description of the Thanksgiving banquet was quite different from what appeared in the Harvard faculty records. His diary said:
Thanksgiving, very pleasant. Went to meeting. Mr. Hilliard preached from Psalms 107, verses 31, 32. After meeting had an elegant dinner in the hall; each one carried in a bottle of wine, & all joined in drinking toasts, & singing songs in praise of the day, & with thankful hearts.
Curiously, the four lines about the dinner are in a smaller handwriting than everything else on that page, as this image shows.
Did Clarke cram those lines in later? Did he have a strong reason to go into such innocuous detail?

As discussed yesterday, on 8 December the Harvard faculty decided after much discussion to fine every student who was at that dinner and couldn’t prove that he had left early. That upset Clarke, who wrote in his diary that day:
Very unexpectedly received from the President & the rest of the government, an unjust pecuniary punishment, together with a number of my classmates, for being in the Hall at Thanksgiving day a little while after Supper.
Two days later Clarke wrote:
I together with those who were punished, went to the President to know the justness of it, & to desire him to take it off. He promised us another hearing.
The Colonial Society edition of Clarke’s diary suggests the fine stuck, but the Harvard faculty minutes show otherwise.

On 14 December the college faculty met again to consider the petition from Clarke and his classmates, “Sophimores who were punished…ten shillings each for the disorders which took place on the Thanksgiving day, praying to have the punishments remitted.” The immediate decision was:
Voted, that as various disorders & irregularities have taken place since the last meeting of the Government, they cannot with propriety take into consideration the said petition at present, but that as soon as the Students in general shall manifest a proper disposition to discountenance such conduct as is inconsistent with decorum and the respect due to the Government of the Society, the said petition & any other that may be received on the same subject shall be considered.
That of course gave students who wanted to get out of the fine an incentive not to just stand by but to push their classmates to behave better.

The official record of that 14 December meeting suggests that tactic worked. A note states:
The Government took so much notice of their [the sophomores’] petition as to suspend the entering of their punishments in the second Quarter Bill which went to the Steward, while the punishments of those Seniors & Juniors who were in like manner consined at the same meetings, and who did not shew so submissive a temper, were entered in the Bill.
Clarke wrote no more about the fine in his diary, which presumably means he never had to pay it. On 2 Jan 1788, furthermore, the faculty appointed Clarke to be one of the waiters in the hall, a way for him to earn money and a position of trust.

For Charles Adams and his fellow juniors, however, the ten-shilling punishment remained.

TOMORROW: Another source of trouble.

2 comments:

Don Carleton said...

Why do a feel that a Yalie might enjoy airing all this Harvard dirty laundry...Hmmmm....

Mike said...

Today I learned that Animal House was based on factual events...