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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Monday, September 09, 2019

The Adams Brothers at Harvard College

For a year in the late 1780s, all three sons of John and Abigail Adams were students at Harvard College.

The first to enter was the middle son, Charles, born in 1770. I described the many little challenges of equipping him for dormitory life in the summer of 1785 back here. (Though I missed the family buying him “a Hat and Cravats” in July.)

John Quincy Adams took his entrance examination the following March, as discussed here. He was older and more experienced than the average new student. (He had been secretary and translator for the U.S. of A.’s first minister to the court of Russia, for goodness’s sake.) The college admitted John Quincy straight into the junior class, and he graduated in 1787.

Finally, Thomas Boylston Adams arrived later in 1786 and studied at Harvard through 1790. Tommy was two years younger than Charles but only a year behind him, his education not interrupted by traveling to Europe with their father.

The Harvard College records of this time designate students by their surnames. When there was more than one student with the same surname, they were called Smith 1, Smith 2, and so on. The case of the Adams brothers was further confounded by the presence of at least one unrelated boy named Adams—Thomas Adams, class of 1788. Thus, when one sees a record of, say, “Adams 2,” one has to know which other Adamses were at Harvard at that exact time and what seniority they had.

Fortunately, in the early 1900s Bertha Illsley Tolman compiled a card index for the Faculty Records, and Harvard recently digitized it. (And Dr. Caitlin G. DeAngelis kindly pointed me to this resource.) I’m going to trust the way Tolman sorted out the Adams brothers rather than retracing each path.

The index records when the faculty officially disciplined all Harvard students. Comparing Tolman’s entries for the three Adams brothers offers a study in contrast. In reverse order of their admission—

Thomas Boylston Adams, punished for absence from prayers, V:296.

John Quincy Adams, punished for absence from prayers, V:252.

Charles Adams, punished for absence from reciting, V:236, 240, 245, 253, 267, 282, 295, 305, 317. VI:19, 26.
punished for absence from prayers, V:346, 253, 267, 282, 295, 317. VI:7, 19, 26.
punished for tardiness from prayers, VI:26.
fined and publicly admonished, V:249-250.
charged for damage done in the Hall, V:278.
fined, V:279.
punished for absence from public lectures, VI:26.
punished for going to a tavern, VI:30.

And that wasn’t even all the trouble Charles got into in four years.

TOMORROW: Unabashed gossip.


Mike said...

Young Mr. Adams sounds like he was one food fight away from double secret probation.

J. L. Bell said...

Funny you should mention food fights.