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 30, 2019

“He wanted a free conversation with us”

After his fight with James Otis, Jr., became a big deal, Customs Commissioner John Robinson published his version of what had led up to it. That account was dated 7 Sept 1769 and appeared in Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy four days later.

According to Robinson, on Friday, 1 September, he arrived at the Board of Customs’s meeting room in Concert Hall about 10:30 A.M. and was told that Otis had come by that morning and asked to speak to him and a fellow Customs Commissioner, Henry Hulton. After Hulton came in, the two men sent “Green the Messenger”—probably Bartholomew Green—to find Otis.

About 11:00, Otis arrived at the door with Samuel Adams. The board’s secretary invited him in, but he declined. The two Commissioners went to the door, and Robinson said:
Your servant, Gentlemen; pray what is your business with us?----

Mr. Otis answered, that he wanted a free conversation with us:

I replied, It is necessary that we should first know upon what business, Will you not walk into a room Gentlemen?

He answered, that his business was of such a nature, that it could not be transacted in our own houses, and he could not mention it until he met us: and he proposed, that each of us should bring with him a friend, and he would bring a friend with him.

I then asked him, whether his business was official?

He answered, he did not understand what I meant by official:

I replied, does it relate to us as Commissioners?

He said, it is related to his character, he wanted a free conversation with us on that subject, and that he was to meet Mr. [William] Burch [another Customs Commissioner] at the coffee-house the next morning at seven o’clock.

I answered, that as I lived in the country, I did not know whether I could attend at that time, and Mr. Hulton [who lived in Brookline] said the same in respect to himself.

Mr. Otis then said any other time will do.

We answered, we would see him at a convenient opportunity, and then parted.
I share that all to show the genteel, even arch, tone of the interaction, and to suggest how frustrating it must have been to figure out what Otis was on about. It’s notable that he didn’t have a particular beef with Robinson—he was making the same approach to three of the five Commissioners. (Of the remaining two, John Temple was a political ally of the Whigs and Charles Paxton a longtime foe, so Otis probably didn’t see approaching them as worthwhile.)

The next morning, Robinson decided he’d go to the coffee house at the same time as Burch, but he arrived late, closer to 7:30, and found Burch coming out. He and Otis ended up alone in a back room sharing a “dish of coffee.” [Because you need some kind of caffeine for a breakfast meeting.]

Finally Otis got to his grievance. In Robinson’s recollection he said:
I am informed that I have been represented to government by your Board, as a rebel and a traitor, and I have two or three questions to put to you, that I think, as a gentleman, I have a right to an answer, or at least to ask. The first is, whether your Board as Commissioners, Gentlemen, or in any other manner, ever represented me in that light, in any of their memorials or letters to the Treasury.
There had been another leak from London, and Otis was taking things personally.

TOMORROW: The Customs Commissioners’ reports.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

James Otis and John Robinson

Before the month ends, I must address the sestercentennial of a significant moment in Revolutionary politics. Digging into Harvard students’ misbehavior in a Cambridge tavern, fun as that was, put off the important task of examining top officeholders’ misbehavior in a Boston coffeehouse.

I speak of the fight between Boston Whig leader James Otis, Jr., and Customs Commissioner John Robinson on 5 September 1769.

Otis was, of course, the loudest and boldest voice against Parliament’s new measures for North America. He started his political career as an advocate for the provincial government but turned against the administration of Gov. Francis Bernard and became the preferred attorney of Boston’s discontented merchants.

In the 1760s Otis dominated Boston town meetings and the Massachusetts General Court. He was a driving force behind the Stamp Act Congress and the Massachusetts Convention of Towns. Though he didn’t coin the phrase “No taxation without representation,” Otis established that principal as crux of the imperial debate.

As for Robinson, he rose through appointments within the royal government. He appears to have been born in Wales—at least Samuel Adams attacked him in print with ethnic stereotypes of a Welshman. He may also have had legal training. In 1764 Robinson arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, as collector for the Customs service. Naturally, enforcing laws against smuggling made him unpopular with local merchants and mariners, and the Stamp Act turmoil drove him out of town.

When the British government created a Board of Customs for all of North America in 1767, it appointed Robinson one of the five commissioners. He relocated to Boston, then occasionally had to relocate to Castle William because of more mob violence. He did find some friendly faces, however. By 1769 Robinson was engaged to marry Nancy Boutineau, daughter of a merchant of Huguenot descent.

As described back here, in August 1769 the Boston Whigs had managed to drive Gov. Bernard out of Massachusetts by publishing his letters to the ministry. They pushed on with their campaign against the Townshend duties, pressuring all merchants to sign a non-importation agreement.

The Customs office worked with Boston Chronicle printer John Mein to weaken that boycott by releasing data on what merchants were still importing. Meanwhile, the Whig press was running extracts of Bernard’s letters, “Journal of the Times” dispatches reprinted from newspapers in other provinces, and attacks on importers. As discussed here, the newspaper debate had already turned violent when Mein attacked Boston Gazette printer John Gill in January 1768. (James Otis was wrapped up in that fight, too.)

Two hundred fifty years ago this month, Otis had a personal bone to pick with the Customs Commissioners. On Saturday, 2 Sept 1769, John Adams wrote in his diary:
Heard that Messrs. Otis and Adams went Yesterday to Concert Hall, and there had each of them a Conference with each of the Commissioners, and that all the Commissioners met Mr. Otis, this Morning at 6 O Clock at the British Coffee House. The Cause, and End of these Conferences, are Subjects of much Speculation in Town.
Indeed, there was enough interest for the Boston Chronicle to report on 4 September:
We hear that on Friday forenoon, Mr. Otis and Mr. Adams, waited on the Commissioners of his Majesty’s Customs here, and the next morning early a meeting was held, between two of the Commissioners and the above Gentlemen, at the British Coffee-House, King-street, the design of which has not yet transpired.
TOMORROW: One side of that discussion.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to Remember Our Revolution

Here are a couple of interesting newspaper articles from this week.

In a local section of the Boston Globe, Ben Jacques wrote about the stories of enslaved individuals in this region’s towns as preserved in old burying-grounds. This approach brings home the overlap between slavery in eighteenth-century New England and the celebrated Revolutionary movement on the local scale.

In Charleston, South Carolina, the Post and Courier reported on the launch of the state’s Revolutionary War Sestercentennial Commission. As the article notes, “more battles took place in the Palmetto State than almost anywhere else.” (The other claimants are New Jersey and New York, each with “more than 200 separate skirmishes and battles,” according to the American Battlefields Trust. The exact count depends, of course, on how one defines each fight.)

South Carolina was undoubtedly a major battleground. The British military launched two major campaigns to take Charleston, the first thwarted in 1776 and the second successful in 1780. In the second half of the war there was continuous fighting in the state, including major battles like Camden, Ninety Six, Kings Mountain, and Eutaw Springs.

The state commission should also be able to find political events in the colony leading up to the outbreak of war. Charleston was the fourth largest port in North America, the colony’s rice planters among the richest class of colonists. South Carolinians participated in the Stamp Act Congress and the non-importation movement against the Townshend duties, as this 1769 document attests.

For the present, however, the South Carolina commission is defining itself against Boston. The article even quotes one participant this way:
“Boston and Lexington and Concord stole the Revolutionary War. We’ve got to steal it back. Fortunately, the facts are on our side,” said Doug Bostick, executive director of the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust and a member of the commission.
Likewise, the article states, “Charleston even had its own protest of Britain’s tea tax weeks before Boston’s famous Tea Party in 1773.”

America’s first signifiant public protest against tea importing came on 3 November when a Boston crowd attacked the Clarke family’s warehouse, demanding they resign as consignees. East India Company tea arrived in Boston, the big North American port closest to Britain, on 28 November. Local Whigs immediately began holding massive meetings and patrolling the docks.

Tea chests reached Charleston on 1 December. Two days later, the merchants and politicians of Charleston had a meeting and agreed to store that tea, taking it off the ships but for legal purposes pretending it wasn’t unloaded.

Back in Massachusetts, royal officials didn’t allow such a compromise, producing the more dramatic destruction of the tea on 16 December. Parliament’s response to that act included the Boston Port Bill, Massachusetts Government Act, and other actions that led to the outbreak of war. In—it’s really hard to deny—Massachusetts.

I think a South Carolina commission can and should define itself according to how the Revolution unfolded in that state. There must be a better way to start than “launching a decade-long education campaign in March, the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre.” Maybe the May arrival of Charleston’s William Pitt statue. And the South Carolina sestercentennial can run more than a decade, all the way to the 250th anniversary of the British evacuation in December 2032.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Earthquakes and a Volcano in 1783

Early this month the European Geosciences Union shared a blog essay by Katrin Kleemann on Europe’s frightening geological events of 1783:
Southern Italy and Sicily experience regular earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. However, the earthquakes of early 1783 did not follow the normal pattern of one strong quake and weaker fore- and/or aftershocks. Instead, there was a seismic sequence of five strong earthquakes. A seismic sequence is an unusual event, in which one earthquake increases the stress on other parts of the fault system, which triggers subsequent earthquakes. This process is called Coulomb stress transfer.
As a sign of how dire contemporary observers thought of these quakes, Kleemann quotes an account sent to the Royal Society by Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies:
The Earthquakes in Italy were, perhaps, the most terrible and destructive of any that have happened since the Creation of the World. Four hundred towns, and about four or five times as many villages, were destroyed in this dreadful calamity. The number of lives lost, are estimated at between forty and fifty thousand.
Hamilton had already published papers about Italy’s earthquakes and volcanos. In 1770 He had even won a medal from the Royal Society for one. But he’s better known in history for his second wife’s love affair with Lord Nelson, fictionalized by Susan Sontag in The Volcano Lover.

Kleemann continues:
At the time, it was believed that sulfuric fogs were a precursor to strong earthquakes, a dry fog was observed in the days before the 1755 Lisbon earthquake – most likely produced by an eruption of the Icelandic volcano Katla. A similar fog was also reported in Calabria on February 4, 1783.

We now know that the Icelandic Laki Fissure eruption, of 1783, released large amounts of gases and ash, which were carried towards continental Europe via the jet stream. However, news of this took almost three months to reach Europe, by which time the dry fog had vanished again, making it difficult to explain the phenomenon at the time.

The sheer number of unusual subsurface phenomena observed during this time seemed overwhelming. Many theories were developed to explain the “year of awe,” one suggested the Calabria earthquakes had created a crack in the Earth, which was releasing the sulfuric fog observed over Europe. . . .

In the late eighteenth century, it was believed that all volcanoes, most often coined “fire (spitting) mountains,” were connected via fire channels inside the Earth. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were believed to be caused by chemical reactions—between gas or metals and water for instance—in subterranean passages and caverns.
As discussed back here, in early 1784 Benjamin Franklin linked the Laki volcano to the dry fog and speculated that it affected the weather in Europe. (Of course, he also suggested the atmospheric haze might have been caused by meteors, so we mustn’t think Franklin got everything right.)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

“There was an intention to extirpate them”?

At the Age of Revolutions blog, Jeffrey Ostler discusses how American Whigs’ fear of being “enslaved” or subjugated by the British Crown at the start of the Revolutionary War was mirrored by Native nations’ fears of being wiped out by settlers.

He starts with a report of a gathering of Native leaders at the central Cherokee town of Chota:
Taking a wampum belt in hand, the Shawnee spoke of a long history of injustice at the hands of the “Virginians,” a term many Native people applied to greedy settlers from Virginia and other colonies. The “red people,” he said, had once been “Masters of the whole Country,” but now they “hardly possessed ground enough to stand on.” Not only did the Virginians want their land, the Shawnee contended, they wanted their lives. It is “plain,” he said, that “there was an intention to extirpate them.” Although the term genocide had not been invented, this is precisely what the Shawnee feared Native people were up against: a project that threatened their very existence. . . .

As I was researching my recent book, Surviving Genocide, I found several examples of what I call “an Indigenous consciousness of genocide.” In March 1776, for example, a Cherokee leader named Dragging Canoe told a British agent that his nation “had but a small spot of ground left to stand upon” and that the colonists’ unrelenting demands for land proved that it was their “Intention…to destroy [the Cherokees] from being a people.”

Three years later, as the Continental Army was about to invade Iroquoia, the homeland of the Six Nations (Haudenosaunees), Mohawk leader Joseph Brant wrote of his “determination to fight the Bostonians,” another designation for rapacious colonists, observing that “it is their intention to exterminate the people of the Longhouse.”

I also discovered that U.S. officials were well aware that Native people were making allegations like those of Dragging Canoe and Joseph Brant. Evidence of their knowledge was sitting in plain sight in the first written treaty between the United States and an Indian nation—the 1778 Fort Pitt Treaty with the Delaware Nation. Article 6 of the treaty addresses the charge that “it is the design of the [United] States…to extirpate the Indians and take possession of their country.” The text, which U.S. commissioners wrote, attributes this allegation to the “enemies of the United States” (i.e., the British), who “have endeavored by every artifice in their power” to convince the Indians of this “false suggestion,” as if Native people wouldn’t have arrived at this conclusion on their own. To convince the Delawares of U.S. benevolence, the treaty promises to guarantee Delaware rights to their lands and offers to consider creating a fourteenth state for Indians.
Of course, the U.S. of A. didn’t create a state for Native citizens, and it took much of the territory that early treaties reserved for Indians. Whigs’ fear of “slavery” has been recognized as overblown—a tone-deaf metaphor that got out of hand. Natives’ fears of being pushed off their land and extirpated were unfortunately much more prescient.

Folks around here might quibble with Ostler’s description of the 1778 Fort Pitt Treaty as the first between the U.S. and a Native nation. The Treaty of Watertown, negotiated by the state of Massachusetts on behalf of the Continental Congress, was finalized in July 1776. But that was so early the Congress hadn’t yet set up a formal process for treaty negotiation and ratification, and it often escapes notice.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

“What an unparallel’d Stock of Assurance & Self-Confidence”

In the fall of 1769, Boston’s non-importation controversy heated up. The town’s merchants, supported and pushed by the radical Whigs, had agreed not to order anything but necessities from Britain until Parliament repealed the Townshend duties.

Boston’s merchants had set up a committee of inspection to enforce that boycott, which had the added effect of showing the merchants of other towns that they were serious.

Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette ran on the front of each issue a short list of the merchants who hadn’t signed on. One of those names was the bookseller John Mein.

Mein, who also published the Boston Chronicle newspaper, responded by running documents from the Customs office showing what goods were being imported and by whom. Many of Boston’s most prominent merchants appeared in those documents, and they filled the newspapers with angry denials that they had actually imported anything. Or if they had, they had very good reasons.

Few of those angry denials were as angry and denialist as what Francis Green (1742-1809) published in the Boston Evening-Post on 25 Sept 1769, two hundred fifty years ago today. Mein had published Green’s manifest in late August. Green responded with a denial in the Boston Gazette on 4 September. Mein answered in his Chronicle on 7 September and then, when no reply appeared, again on 18 September.

Green then unleashed this magnificent diatribe:
To the PUBLIC.

A Most thorough Disdain of John Mein, is the true Cause of my not having hitherto given any Attention to his late public impertinent and arrogant Queries and Objections.

What an unparallel’d Stock of Assurance & Self-Confidence must this contemptible Fellow be possessed of, to imagine himself entitled to call, Time after Time, with the most audacious Effrontery, upon one and another of his Superiors, for Answers to the most pert and saucy Questions that ever issued from the conceited, empty Noddle, of a most profound Blockhead!

Who gave this Mushroom Judge, Authority, to summon even a Chimney-Sweeper to his ridiculous Tribunal? or wantonly, presumptuously, and very fallaciously to assume the respectable Title of The Public, in his romantic and indecent Addresses to an affronted Community? From whence does this so late an abject and Cap-in-Hand Beggar of Favours in a strange Country, derive the Shadow of Right, to put on a dictatorial Air, and publickly to insult his Benefactors? Ingratitude, Perverseness, and the most obstinate Self-Sufficiency, with a large Share of egregious Folly, can alone account for such Insolence and Stupidity; to the natural Consequence of which I drop him with ineffable Contempt.—

But lest any Part of the Public should be deceived by his Insinuations respecting my Importation in the Susanna, H. Johnson, Master. I now assure the World, that, (tho’ I hold not myself so cheap as to yield any Account to John Mein) if any Gentleman is yet unsatisfied, and chuses to apply either to the Committee of Merchants or to me, he may and shall be convinced, beyond all Possibility of Doubt, that I did not deviate from the Agreement in any Instance, of Course did not import any Tea.

But as I consider the entering into any kind of Contest with John Mein, as too great a Stoop, and as any Notice being taken of him, even in Opposition, may tend to make him of some little Consequence, and seems to be what he is aiming at, the Public, will, I doubt not, excuse my adding to the general Neglect of him, by never answering any of his future Publications, even though his consummate Impudence, should prompt him to be more vulgarly scurrilous, than he has already repeatedly been to the Committee of Merchants.

Sept. 20, 1769.
Green thus attacked Mein as an upstart mechanic, a recent arrival in Boston, and a purveyor of fake news who didn’t deserve to question a gentleman like himself.

For all his anger, however, Green proved to be a less than staunch supporter of non-importation. He had brought in proscribed goods. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, “he was dropped from [the Whigs’] ranks in 1769 for violating the non-importation agreement.” By May 1770 Green was probably arguing to end the boycott, and in early 1774 he was among the Loyalists voting to have the town meeting quash its committee of correspondence.

During the siege of Boston, Green stayed in town with the British military, was an officer in a Loyalist militia company, and evacuated to Halifax. He became just as much of a Loyalist as John Mein.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

“Signally marked by idleness dissipation & intemperance”

Yesterday I quoted two letters that relatives of Charles Adams wrote at the end of May 1789, discussing his predilection to get into trouble at Harvard College.

Meanwhile, in Cambridge Prof. Eliphalet Pearson wrote the following entry into his “Journal of Disorders” with the date of 29 May:
In the evening Russell, Adams 1, Blake first & second, Sparhawk, & Ellery, went to Bradish’s [tavern], & there supped with one Green, an Englishman. The expense was mutual.

About 3 o’clock next morning the company left the house, & on their way to College grossly insulted the President by shouts & yells, challenges, imprecations, curses, threats of laying siege to, burning undermining, and burning his house, by throwing clubs & stones.

In College yard Mr. Abbot found Green & Sparhawk conducting Russell, naked, to his chamber.

Russell, being principal in these disorders, was rusticated 2d. June, & the other scholars punished 6/ each.
The faculty minutes officially repeated this account while leaving out the most interesting detail:
1. Upon examination had it appeared that Russell 1st with several others repaired on the evening of the 29th of May to the anchor tavern in Cambridge, and there, contrary to the law, supped and drank wine; that their conduct, at said tavern, was noisy and profane; that about three o’clock, the next morning, the company separated, and that a part of the same, with tumult, outcry, and abuse, highly insulted the authority and government of this Society, on their return to the College; in all which disorders and outrage said Russell was principal.

And whereas said Russell’s whole Collegiate course has been signally marked by idleness dissipation & intemperance; notwithstanding there various advices exhortation and discipline that have been used to reclaim him, and whereas such an example is highly injurious to this Society, Therefore,

Voted, that Russell be and he hereby is rusticated.

2. Voted, that Adams 1st, Blake 1st, Blake 2d Sparhawk and Ellery be punished 6/ each for going to a Tavern and being in noisy company late at night.

Memo. The sentence upon Russell was executed publickly, in the Chapel, in the usual mode, immediately after morning prayer June 2d.
This is the event that led to the recent myth of Charles Adams and friends running naked through Harvard Yard. As you can see, only one student was “naked,” and that wasn’t Adams. It was Daniel Russell, whose parallel but worse career of misbehavior at Harvard I’ve been slyly dragging along through this series.

Son of prominent merchant Thomas Russell, this young man had already been suspended from the college once and fined numerous times. He never graduated. He went into a general mercantile business on Long Wharf in Boston with John Soley, but a Masonic profile of Soley said, “The result was not favorable.” Russell died in 1804, aged thirty-five, unmarried.

It looks like the faculty couldn’t determine for certain which of the other students made all the noise and thus could do nothing more than fine them for having been in company with whoever did make that noise. That didn’t stop those scholars’ college careers. George and Francis Blake and William Pepperell Sparhawk, who had tried to get the unclothed Russell back to his dorm, all graduated in 1789. Abraham Redwood Ellery graduated two years later.

Charles Adams also graduated in the summer of 1789. At his family’s urging, he didn’t stay for commencement, which usually involved celebratory dinners on an even grander scale. Instead, the Adams family whisked Charles off to New York, where he was to read the law.

[The picture above is a study by the Danish artist Johan Edvard Mandelberg (1730-1786), courtesy of the Harvard Museums.]

Monday, September 23, 2019

“I have many anxious hours for Charles”

In early 1789, as I’ve been chronicling, Charles Adams had a couple more run-ins with the authorities of Harvard College.

Even though those incidents didn’t appear on the official faculty minutes or Charles’s permanent record, word got back to his family. That prompted a new set of conversations and correspondence. Again, we have only hints of what they knew.

On 2 May 1789, John Quincy Adams’s diary says: “Wrote to my brother Charles.” That letter doesn’t survive, but on 27 May he told their cousin William Cranch:
[With respect?] to Charles the tender solicitude, which you feel in regard to his conduct is only an additional evidence of a disposition, which I have long known to be peculiarly yours. it adds to the number of obligations for which I feel myself indebted to you, but it cannot add any thing to the settled opinion which I have of the excellency of your heart.—

I wrote him a very serious Letter three weeks ago and conversed with him at Haverhill upon the subject in such a manner as must I think lead him to be more cautious. However I depend much more upon the alteration which is soon to take place in his situation, than upon any advice or counsel, that I can ever give him. I am well convinced that if any thing can keep him within the limits of regularity, it will be his knowlege of my fathers being [near him and the?] fear of being discovered by him.—
The “alteration” John Q. wrote about was Charles’s impending graduation that summer. The family had already planned for Charles to move to New York, where his father was serving as Vice President, and study the law there.

We might marvel at the idea that New York City would offer fewer temptations than Cambridge, but the Adams family consensus was clear—the problem wasn’t Charles so much as Charles’s companions at college.

Abigail Adams expressed her feelings to John Q. on 30 May:
I have many anxious hours for Charles, and not the fewer, for the new scene of life into which he is going, tho I think it will be of great service to have him with his Father, & more to take him intirely away from his acquaintance. I have written to him upon some late reports which have been circulated concerning him. I hope they are without foundation, but such is the company in which he is seen that he cannot fail to bear a part of the reproach even if he is innocent.
The letter that Abigail wrote to Charles doesn’t survive, either.

Abigail actually opened that topic by expressing concern for her youngest son, Thomas Boylston Adams. As I’ve written, his college disciplinary record was even cleaner than John Quincy’s—he hadn’t done anything! But still a mother worried:
I must request you in my absence to attend to your Brother Tom, to watch over his conduct & prevent by your advice & kind admonitions, his falling a prey to vicious Company. at present he seems desirious of persueing his studies preserving a character and avoiding dissipation, but no youth is secure whilst temptations surround him, and no age of Life but is influenced by habits & example, even when they think their Characters formed.
Even as Charles’s relatives wrote to him, however, he was getting in trouble again at the Blue Anchor Tavern.

TOMORROW: Naked in Harvard Yard.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

“A snow ball was sent against the chapel windows”

As I wrote back here, in December 1788 Harvard professor Eliphalet Pearson began to keep a “Journal of disorders &c.”

It’s possible Pearson had assembled a similar notebook previously and it just doesn’t survive. But I think internal evidence strongly suggests that this journal was a response to an extraordinary spate of student disturbances in the 1788-89 academic year.

The most prominent study of this document is Leon Jackson’s “The Rights of Man and the Rites of Youth: Fraternity and Riot at Eighteenth-Century Harvard,” published in the History of Higher Education Annual in 1995 and then slightly anachronistically in The American College in the Nineteenth Century. (Thanks to Boston 1775 reader Ed Bell for alerting me to the second, more easily read publication.) Jackson treats the record as an undifferentiated whole, documenting a “day after day” litany of drinking, vandalism, and rudeness.

I think it’s more striking that the disorder of the 1788-89 year tapered off abruptly. From June to December 1789, Prof. Pearson recorded only one more disciplinary item in his journal, and he added only one in all of 1790. (Both involved Benjamin Foisson Trapier, a younger brother of Paul, who ended up never graduating.) The journal has no entries for 1791 or all of 1792 until December.

Thus, while we can look at the overall nature of Harvard student disturbances as Jackson did, we should also ask why those events clustered and died off. What made 1788-89 such a troublesome time for the Harvard faculty?

The first incidents Pearson recorded involved a faculty member breaking up a party in a dormitory, the faculty punishing one of the students involved, then that entire class protesting at prayers or lecture by making noise or throwing things. This happened with the juniors, then the sophomores. But tutors had broken up such parties before without seeing such a backlash. Why was this winter different?

Historians have paid a lot of attention to Harvard student activism in the pre-Revolutionary decade: the vandalism of Gov. Francis Bernard’s portrait in 1765, the “Butter Rebellion” of 1766, the identification of a “rebellion tree” in 1768, and so on. The political atmosphere of that period seems to have made the students unusually militant about their own grievances.

Was the same dynamic at work in 1788-89? The economy was still pretty bad. The Shays Rebellion had occurred a couple of years before. The national government was changing. Did that social environment produce a more militant student body? One problem with that theory is that the Harvard student body came largely from the socioeconomic class opposed to popular resistance.

Another possible factor was individual dynamics. I noted yesterday how a couple of the troublemakers in early 1789 came from South Carolina. Before the Revolution, those boys might have gone to Britain for their college experience. Now they were in Cambridge. Were scholars from outside New England more apt to push back against the Harvard establishment?

Pearson named some particular troublemakers, but he also described entire classes protesting en masse. Even before this winter, John Quincy Adams had noted how the freshman class disrupted the sophomore class recitations simply for the sake of rivalry. Such group behavior seems to have been a form of bonding among the boys.

Leon Jackson’s main finding concerned fraternal organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa, which came to Harvard in the early 1780s. Several other student social groups appeared at this time. Jackson said that students who were in fraternal societies were less prone to bad behavior. Looking over the names in Pearson’s journal and on the Phi Beta Kappa roll, I agree that there’s only a little overlap. One exception, appearing on both lists, was Charles Adams.

It’s also striking to me how much the disorder that Pearson chronicled focused on religious services. Classes started by “scraping” the floor to make noise when professors were speaking but soon escalated to throwing coins and pebbles. Professors came into the chapel to find the furnishings in a heap. Chapel windows were broken, in one case the glass striking a faculty member inside. Was there a theological dispute fueling the trouble? Or was attacking that building just the easiest way to target faculty?

That focus on religious services gives a more significant cast to an event that Prof. Pearson recorded on 26 Mar 1789:
Sunday at evening prayers, while the President was praying, a snow ball was sent against the chapel windows, by Adams 1, as by him confessed to Mr. Webber.
The president of the college was Joseph Willard (1738-1804). Samuel Webber (1759-1810) taught mathematics and natural philosophy; he would succeed Willard as president of the college. And “Adams 1” was Charles Adams.

Remarkably, this incident didn’t get into the faculty minutes. There was no official punishment for Adams. Maybe there would have been if the snowball had broken the window. Or if Adams hadn’t convinced Webber that he was sorry, or had been throwing at someone else. Or if Adams wasn’t doing well in his classes and close to graduating.

I must also note that in spring 1789, Adams’s father had become the second highest elected official in the U.S. of A.

TOMORROW: Back at the Blue Anchor Tavern.

(The picture above comes from the Museum of the American Revolution’s depiction of an earlier snowball thrown in Harvard Yard, in the winter of 1775-76, as recalled by Israel Trask.)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

“A company from Bradish’s caused disorders at College”

In discussing Charles Adams’s final semester at Harvard, I must now introduce the setting of the Blue Anchor Tavern in Cambridge.

Located at what’s now the intersection of Mount Auburn and J.F.K. Streets, the Anchor Tavern was run for decades by Ebenezer Bradish (1716-1785). It appears to have been a respectable public house, patronized by Massachusetts legislators when the General Court couldn’t meet in Boston because of smallpox or orders from London.

Because Bradish’s tavern was so close to Harvard Yard, however, it was also where the college students went when they wanted to dine beyond the direct reach of their tutors.

That may have created a conflict of interest for Ebenezer Bradish because, in addition to selling the students drink, he also had the contract for replacing window glass at the college. Here’s the account from the decade before the Revolutionary War. Prof. Eliphalet Pearson’s “Journal of disorders” records a lot of window-breaking during the winter of 1788-89.

By then the tavern had passed to the next generation of Ebenezer Bradish, who was the innkeeper the Adams brothers came to know. I don’t know if he was also a glazier, but his brother Isaac was the college blacksmith and, in these years, keeper of the town jail. So the family may still have had a financial temptation to let students get drunk and rowdy. (Town historian and genealogist Lucius Paige wrote of Isaac Bradish, “Like many of his relatives in different branches of the family, he was occasionally insane, and d. by suicide, May 1790, a. nearly 67.”)

In his journal Prof. Pearson recorded this disorder on Monday, 16 Mar 1789:
A company from Bradish’s caused disorders at College P.M.—In ye. evening the door of ye. Lecture room was burst in & thrown down, ye. table turned topsy turvy, & the chair placed in its frame; & squares of glass also was broken in one of the windows.
It’s not certain that the students coming home from Bradish’s were the same who vandalized the lecture room. There was a lot of uproar that season.

The faculty met the next day and again on 19 March to discuss the trouble. The official records discuss two students by name. The first was a junior named Paul Trapier (1772-1824), from South Carolina. Back on 24 February, the faculty had ordered him to sit out college for six months because he was leading “a dissipated and disorderly life.” The local gentleman who had “the care of him” was Thomas Russell, the same Boston merchant whose own son Daniel had been similarly suspended back in 1787.

On 16 March, Trapier had come back to Cambridge and dined with some classmates at Bradish’s tavern. In response to the trouble that followed, the faculty ordered him not to “visit the college yard or be in company with any student” until his rustication was over.

The faculty record give more attention to Francis Withers (1769-1847), another junior from South Carolina—eventually he settled in the handsome coastal town of Georgetown. The minutes say that Withers
returned to the College about half an hour after four o’clock, and in a noisy and tumultuous manner ran violently up the stairs in the west entry of Massachusetts Hall, by which an Officer of the College [Isaac Smith, the librarian, a cousin of Abigail Adams and a former Loyalist], while attending the exercises of a Class, was greatly disturbed; upon which the said Officer immediately ascended the stairs and overtook Withers at his chamber door; at which place, and also in another part of the entry a short time after this, Withers was guilty of insulting the said Officer by insolent & profane language, of disobedience to his orders, and of uttering a vile and impious imprecation against him; and it also appeared that the said Withers was guilty of behaving with irreverence at evening prayers of said day and of leaving the chapel, before divine worship was closed, with apparent insolence;…and Withers adducing no counter evidence, and making no other apology for his malconduct, but that he was too much heated by wine.
Withers was suspended for six months.

The official minutes don’t mention any other students, but Prof. Pearson named many. He wrote that Trapier sat down to dine with three classmates, and then four seniors and three juniors “called & drank wine with them.” Of that party, “most of them returned to College in a noisy manner.”

Among that group was “Adams 1,” or Charles Adams. (Another member was Daniel Russell.) Adams was in the drinking party, but there wasn’t enough evidence to say he was part of the rowdy return to campus, or the vandalism in the lecture hall. And he certainly hadn’t misbehaved as conspicuously as Withers. As a result, Charles not only suffered no punishment, but there’s not even an official notice of his conduct. Only Prof. Pearson’s journal shows that he was involved in this incident at all.

TOMORROW: An attack on a prayer service.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Climate Change Thinking, Then and Now

I decided to take a day off from Charles Adams’s school days today. Instead, here’s a repeat of some comments from eighteenth-century Boston‘s leading scientists on anthropogenic climate change.

Many Americans of that period were anxious to refute the European perception that North America’s climate was too extreme—too cold in winter and too hot in summer—to be healthy. Winter was changing, they declared, as the European population spread. For example, the Rev. Cotton Mather wrote in The Christian Philosopher in 1721:

our Cold is much moderated since the opening and clearing of our Woods, and the Winds do not blow such Razours, as in the Days of our Fathers, when Water, cast up into the Air, would commonly be turned into Ice e’er it came to the Ground.
Benjamin Franklin was more scientific in his approach, telling the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles in 1763 that Mather’s belief needed to be tested with systematic measurements over a range of time and space:
I doubt with you, that Observations have not been made with sufficient Accuracy, to ascertain the Truth of the common Opinion, that the Winters in America are grown milder; and yet I cannot but think that in time they may be so. Snow lying on the Earth must contribute to cool and keep cold the Wind blowing over it. When a Country is clear’d of Woods, the Sun acts more strongly on the Face of the Earth. It warms the Earth more before Snows fall, and small Snows may often be soon melted by that Warmth. It melts great Snows sooner than they could be melted if they were shaded by the Trees. And when the Snows are gone, the Air moving over the Earth is not so much chilled; &c. But whether enough of the Country is yet cleared to produce any sensible Effect, may yet be a Question: And I think it would require a regular and steady Course of Observations on a Number of Winters in the different Parts of the Country you mention, to obtain full Satisfaction on the Point.
Mather, Franklin, and their contemporaries inherited the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution, but their view of time and space were still limited. Scientists of the nineteenth century made the crucial breakthrough of conceiving of Earth’s age in millions and then billions of years, not just thousands. We have the benefit of a much broader perspective and a whole lot more data. We should listen to the scientists of today.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

“Perswaded that Charles did not deserve the suspicions”

The Harvard College Thanksgiving banquet in November 1787 ended badly. By the evening, window glass and wooden benches were lying on the ground outside the hall. That might have had something to do with how every student had brought a bottle of wine.

The Harvard faculty levied a ten-shilling fine on each student who had gone to that dinner and couldn’t prove he'd left before the destruction started. The administration then relented in the case of the sophomores, but not the seniors or juniors—including Charles Adams, class of 1789.

The fines went out in the quarterly bills at the start of 1788. So there was no way Charles could keep the bad news from his family (as he would try to do with financial reverses in the late 1790s).

At the time, Charles’s parents, John and Abigail, were still on a diplomatic mission in Britain. The task of looking after their sons had fallen to relatives: Abigail’s older sister Mary Cranch in Braintree; her younger sister Elizabeth Shaw and her husband John in Haverhill; and John’s cousin Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who managed the family money.

Eldest son John Quincy Adams (shown above) had graduated from Harvard the year before and gone to Newburyport to study law. On breaks he got together with both younger brothers. On 2 Feb 1788, after one such visit, John Q. wrote in his diary:

I had with Mr. Shaw some conversation upon the subject of the disorders which happened at College, in the course of the last quarter: his fears for my brothers are greater than mine: I am perswaded that Charles did not deserve the suspicions which were raised against him: and I have great hopes that his future conduct, will convince the governors of the University, that he was innocent.
The Rev. John Shaw had tutored both Charles and Thomas Boylston Adams to prepare them for college, as well as other boys. (Including Charles’s first roommate or “chum,” who’d gotten into worse trouble—but I’ll talk about that some other time.) Shaw was clearly worried about Charles’s behavior while John Q. tried to stand up for him.

Two weeks later John wrote to Dr. Tufts for some spending money, noting that he’d asked Charles to pass on the request but, well, “I am apprehensive he forgot to deliver my message.” Like many oldest sons, he seems to have felt both protective of his little brothers and convinced they were incurable idiots.

John Q. went on with more hopeful comments about the situation:
The riotous ungovernable spirit, which appeared among the students at the university in the course of the last quarter gave me great anxiety; particularly as I understood, that one of my brothers, was suspected of having been active in exciting disturbances; but from his own declarations and from the opinion I have of his disposition, I hope those suspicions, were without foundation—I conversed with him largely upon the subject, and hope, his conduct in future, will be such as to remove, every unfavourable impression.
Others in the family were adding their voices, perhaps less optimistically. The next day, 17 February, Aunt Elizabeth wrote to Aunt Mary:
I long to hear from Charles & Thomas I charged them to write to me— I do not know that Mr Shaw & I could have given them better advice if they had been our own Sons— I hope they will conduct agreeable to it—& be wiser than they have been, & more cautious of abusing Government, for what they from choice suffer—the Ten shillings penalty, I mean—
As I wrote a couple of days ago, I think the record shows that only Charles had been fined the ten shillings and Tommy still had a near-spotless record at college. But he was the little brother, and the family didn’t want Charles to lead him astray.

Unfortunately, all those admonitions didn’t keep Charles out of trouble in his senior year.

TOMORROW: A rough winter in Cambridge.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

“Charles has been guilty of a trick”

On 26 May 1786, John Adams wrote from London to his eldest son, congratulating John Quincy Adams on getting into Harvard College:
Give me leave to congratulate you on your Admission into the Seat of the Muses, our dear Alma Mater, where I hope you will find a Pleasure and Improvements equal to your Expectations. You are now among Magistrates and Ministers, Legislators and Heroes, Ambassadors and Generals, I mean among Persons who will live to Act in all these Characters.

If you pursue your Studies and preserve your Health you will have as good a Chance as most of them, and I hope you will take Care to do nothing now which you will in any future Period have reason to recollect with shame or Pain.
In the same letter, the U.S. of A.’s minister to Great Britain urged John Quincy to continue to be an example and mentor for his two younger brothers:
If your Brother Thomas is fitted, I hope he will enter, this Summer: because, he will have an Advantage in being one Year with you. My love to Charles. I hope he loves his Book. I have great dependence on you to advise your younger Brothers, and assist them in their Studies. You talk french I hope, with Charles, and give him a taste for french Poetry: not however to the neglect of Greek and Roman, nor yet of English.
Charles Adams was just finishing his first year at Harvard, and Thomas Boylston Adams was preparing to take the entrance examination.

Around the same time John Quincy received that letter, he caught his brother Charles snooping in his private papers. It’s not clear what Charles saw. John Q. had written about some potentially sensitive subjects in his diary that month:
  • On 12 July he criticized the freshman class—Charles’s class—for feuding with the sophomores.
  • He made multiple comments about the beauty of a young lady the brothers had met in Braintree.
  • On 26 July he wrote crankily about not getting the dorm room he expected, blaming the change on a couple of other collegians. (John Q. went back to his diary and added a note, for himself and posterity, that those classmates weren’t to blame.)
Most likely Charles commented about one of those matters, and that alerted his older brother to his snooping.

On 27 July, John Q. started his diary entry this way:
I perceive Charles has been guilty of a trick which I thought he would despise; that of prying into, and meddling with things which are nothing to him: and ungenerously looking into Papers, (which he knew I wished to keep private,) because I could not keep them under lock and key. If he looks here, he will feel how contemptible a spy is to himself, and to others.
It looks like John Quincy never directly confronted his brother about the invasion of privacy. Instead, he left this passive-aggressive note for Charles to find the next time he went looking in the diary. That approach might suggest that John Quincy’s later admonitions to his brother about behaving better weren’t actually that direct.

John Adams returned to Massachusetts in 1788. On 16 July of that year, he wrote to his eldest child, Abigail Adams Smith:
I am happy to hear from all quarters a good character of all your brothers. The oldest has given decided proofs of great talents, and there is not a youth of his age whose reputation is higher for abilities, or whose character is fairer in point of morals or conduct. The youngest is as fine a youth as either of the three, if a spice of fun in his composition should not lead him astray. Charles wins the heart, as usual, and is the most of a gentleman of them all.
The returning diplomat wrote this letter after the Harvard Thanksgiving banquet of 1787, which ended with Charles being fined ten shillings. As we’ll see tomorrow, other members of the family had been discussing that event in person and in letters for months. Yet it appears John Adams didn’t know anything about it since he still heard “from all quarters a good character” of every son.

No one was telling Papa.

TOMORROW: “The riotous ungovernable spirit.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sorting Out the Adams Boys at Harvard

I started my look at Charles Adams’s experience at Harvard College with a posting on how his aunts clustered around and made sure he had furniture for his dorm room. (His parents were far off in Britain.)

It’s only natural then to wonder how Charles’s extended family responded to his disciplinary problems at college, especially the ten-shilling fine levied at the end of 1787 after some disturbance at Thanksgiving dinner. (Windows were broken. Benches were thrown.)

In order to discuss that topic, I have to lay out how my reading of the Harvard University sources differs from the interpretation of the editors of the Adams Family Papers.

As I wrote back here, the college documents usually refer to undergraduates by last names. When there were two or more students with the same surname, they would be designated as Smith 1, Smith 2, and so on, in order of seniority.

In 1787 there were no fewer than five undergraduates named Adams at Harvard—the three sons of John and Abigail Adams of Braintree and then two more unrelated boys in the class of 1788, Solomon and Thomas. Just to make things more confusing, John Quincy Adams entered Harvard after Charles Adams, but he was admitted straight into the junior class and graduated before the middle brother in a little over a year.

I believe that means Charles was called “Adams 3d” as an entering freshman, “Adams 4th” as a sophomore (the year he hosted a noisy gathering in his dorm), “Adams 3d” again as a junior (when he was at that Thanksgiving banquet), and finally “Adams 1st” as a senior in 1788-89. That appears to be Bertha Illsey Tolman’s interpretation when she indexed the college documents.

The editors of the Adams papers read the record of that Thanksgiving disturbance to say that Charles Adams was “Adams 1st” and his little brother Thomas Boylston Adams (shown above) was “Adams 3d,” both fined ten shillings.

Since “Adams 1st” was a waiter in the senior class in 1787-88, I think that student had to be either Solomon or Thomas Adams. “Adams 3d” was a junior, thus Charles Adams (and not a waiter). Tommy B. Adams wasn’t there at all.

As noted back here, Thomas Boylston Adams’s disciplinary record shows only one minor infraction over four years—the same number that his brother John Q. amassed in a much shorter period. Nevertheless, the family worried about Tommy. I think that reflects their fear that Charles and other college boys would be a bad influence on him, not anything Tommy himself did.

If there’s one thing I can add to the Adams family historiography, it’s clearing Thomas Boylston Adams of accusations of serious misbehavior. He was just pulled into an eddy of family concern about his brother Charles.

TOMORROW: Serious talks with Charles.

Monday, September 16, 2019

“Required Reading” Exhibit at the Athenaeum

On Tuesday, 17 September, the Boston Athenaeum will open its new exhibit, “Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library.”

This display will feature the King’s Chapel Library Collection, a 221-volume set of “necessary and useful” texts—everything that the minister of that Anglican church was expected to need to pastor his flock.

The Rev. Thomas Bray assembled this collection and brought it with him across the Atlantic Ocean on H.M.S. Deptford in 1698, twelve years after the church was founded. At the time and for decades afterward, the Church of England considered Puritan-founded Massachusetts to be missionary territory, so its rector needed all the support he could get.

The collection included:
  • A 1683 atlas of the world
  • Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1666)
  • A nine-language Bible, the “London Polyglot” (1657)
  • A Biblical concordance compiled by Massachusetts minister Samuel Newman in 1658
  • A complete mathematics textbook from 1690
This will be the first time that the King’s Chapel Library collection is on public view for all. The books will sit in a full-scale replica of the “massive, ark-like bookcase designed in 1883” to house them on the Athenaeum’s third floor.

The exhibit will also share the “dramatic and little-known story behind the unique collection’s compilation and its arrival in New England.” The war shut down King’s Chapel after the 1776 evacuation, so preserving this library in Boston was another feat. The new minister who reopened the church in the 1780s steered the congregation toward Unitarianism, quite different from the seventeenth-century theology reflected in those old books.

Having been custodian of this library since 1823, the Athenaeum hopes its exhibit will prompt visitors to explore the idea of “essential knowledge.” The presentation includes perspectives from the Chinese Historical Society of New England, Hebrew College, the Museum of African American History, UMass-Boston, and other partners about what is “required reading” today.

The public exhibit opening will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M in the Boston Athenaeum at 10 1/2 Beacon Street. At 6:00, curator John Buchtel will deliver a thirty-minute presentation about the books and display. This event is free and open to the public. The exhibit will be on view for months to come.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Stiefel on Cabinetmaker John Head in Concord, 19 Sept.

On Thursday, 19 September, the Concord Museum will host a discussion with Jay Robert Stiefel about “The Cabinetmaker’s Account,” on the life and work of joiner John Head (1688-1754).

Head emigrated from Britain to America, and his Philadelphia account book is the earliest and most complete to have survived from any cabinetmaker working in the British Empire on either side of the Atlantic.

Stiefel researched that document for nearly twenty years, and a few months ago the American Philosophical Society published his findings in large-format, profusely-illustrated volume in its Memoirs series.

Head’s business reflects commerce with early Philadelphia’s entire crafts community: “shopkeeping, cabinetmaking, chairmaking, clockmaking, glazing, metalworking, needleworking, property development, agriculture, botany, livestock, transport, foodstuffs, drink, hardware, fabrics, furnishings, household wares, clothing, building materials, and export trade.” Stiefel’s book also serves as a door into 18th-century Philadelphia, its material culture, and the social interactions among that era’s artisans and merchants.

On this evening, Stiefel will be in conversation with Gerald Ward, the Senior Consulting Curator and the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This event will take place from 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. It is free, but advanced registration is required. Copies of The Cabinetmaker’s Account will be available for purchase and signing.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Minute Man Park Celebrates Its Sixtieth

Minute Man National Historical Park is celebrating the sixtieth year since its creation by act of Congress this month.

This weekend there are a couple of recurring programs.

Saturday, 14 September, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
In the News
What were local people talking about in 1775? Visit the William Smith House, talk politics with local residents of 1775, and discuss the potential impact of events.

Sunday, 15 September, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
The British Redcoat
Far from home, the British Redcoat of 1775 was faced with numerous challenges at home and abroad. Join Park Ranger Roger Fuller, dressed as a British Redcoat, at the Visitor Center to explore the experience of the British soldier of 1775.

Next weekend will be the big celebrations.

Friday, 20 September, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Realizing the Vision
Lou Sideris, former Chief of Interpretation and Park Planner at Minute Man, will reflect the founding and ongoing development of Minute Man National Historical Park. Reception and refreshments to follow. At the Lexington Historical Society’s Depot Building, 13 Depot Square in central Lexington. This event is free, but space is limited, so please reserve seats by emailing mima_info@nps.gov.

Saturday, 21 September, 10:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M.
Threads of Resistance: Revolutionary Roles of Women
In 1769 colonial women protested British policies by making cloth in the home, reducing reliance on British imports. Experience the process and learn about the political impact of home manufacturing at the Jacob Whittemore House in Lexington.

Saturday, 21 September, 10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Historic Trades Day
At Hartwell Tavern in Lincoln, learn about various hands-on trades of the period and see skilled artisans at work.

Saturday, 21 September, 4:00-6:00 P.M.
Patriotic Music with the Concord Band
As 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of both the Minute Man National Park and the Concord Band, the park and the band have teamed up to present a concert of patriotic inspired music on the field overlooking the North Bridge. The public is invited to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and a picnic while enjoying the performance. The Friends of Minute Man National Park will present a special birthday cake to the park during the event and will provide free cupcakes while supplies last. As parking is limited, locals are invited to walk to the park. The rain location is 51 Walden Performing Arts Center in Concord.

Finally, on Monday, 23 September, work will begin on preserving the exterior of the North Bridge Visitor Center, also known as the Buttrick Mansion, located on the hillside overlooking the historic North Bridge. The building will be closed to visitors from November to April 2020. This federal contract covers the 1911 building’s roofing system, masonry, doors, windows, trim, portico, and loggia, with a new accessible ramp to be installed. Interior work will include repairing ceilings, restrooms, plumbing, electrical systems, and air conditioning. The building is scheduled to reopen in April 2020.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Prof. Pearson’s “Journal of disorders”

In late December 1787, the Harvard College faculty did some house-cleaning. It was the end of an academic term, the end of the calendar year, and time to address some problems.

Early in the month the college president, professors, and tutors had fined more than thirty students for that disturbance on Thanksgiving. (Then they lifted the fines on the sophomores, because those students were contrite or because the upperclassmen obviously had more power and responsibility.)

At the end of the year the faculty took further action against four students involved in the Thanksgiving disorder, probably because they had all done other things as well. The educators decided that seniors Grosvenor and Wier deserved formal admonitions, and that juniors Emerson and Fayerweather should sit out the next semester.

(In addition, the Boston merchant Thomas Russell reported that he wanted his son Daniel to spend another semester studying in Weston, and the college gratefully agreed to that.)

While Charles Adams was still on the list of juniors who had to pay the ten-shilling fine, he didn’t receive any additional disciplinary attention that season. Evidently he was still keeping up his studies and not leading a completely “dissipated” life.

But Charles got into more trouble in his senior year, and for that we have an additional source beyond the official faculty records. The Harvard University Archives also hold a notebook headed “Journal of disorders &c.” kept by Eliphalet Pearson (1752-1826, shown here).

Pearson had graduated from Harvard College himself in 1773 and then gone into education, teaching in Andover’s town school. He made gunpowder for Massachusetts early in the war and then helped to found Phillips Academy in Andover. After heading that private school for several years, Pearson returned to Harvard in 1786 as Hancock Professor of Hebrew.

Prof. Pearson began his “Journal of disorders” on 4 Dec 1788. He maintained it until 1797, but The Harvard Book: Selections from Three Centuries, edited by William Bentinck-Smith (1982), says, “the most lengthy and frequent entries occurred during December 1788 and January 1789.” Those entries are transcribed here. Apparently the junior and lower classes were particularly restive that winter, and it would be good to know why.

Pearson’s journal is useful because it records more detail about incidents than is in the official faculty records, and it records some incidents that didn’t get into the official disciplinary process at all. And that’s where we can see Charles Adams celebrating his last semester in college a little too much.

COMING UP: A tavern, a snowball, and a naked undergraduate.

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.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Thanksgiving Dinner Gone Wrong

I’m looking at Charles Adams’s disciplinary record as a student at Harvard College in the late 1780s.

In the spring of 1787, Charles was fined six shillings for hosting a noisy gathering in his dormitory room. A year before, John Adams had warned his second son about such socializing:
You have in your nature a sociability, Charles, which is amiable, but may mislead you, a schollar is always made alone. Studies can only be pursued to good purpose, by yourself—dont let your Companions then, nor your Amusements take up too much of your time.
John and Abigail Adams agreed that Charles was the most charming and outgoing of their three boys, but they valued studiousness.

That fall, Charles once again got into trouble in company. The college faculty met on 5 and 7-8 December to consider trouble at the end of the previous month:
It appeared that a number of the Students, who dined in the Hall on the 29th ult. [i.e., of last month] being the day of the public Thanksgiving, were after dinner extremely disorderly and riotous, making tumultuous and indecent noises, breaking the windows of the Hall, throwing the benches out of the windows into the yard &ca. which conduct was greatly to the damage and to the dishonor of the College: Whereupon

Voted, that Adams 1st, Gardner, Gordon, Grosvenor, Hill and Wier, Senior Sophisters——Adams 3d, Blake 2d, Churchill, Coffin, Cutts 1st, Emerson, Fayerweather, Moody, Pierpont, Procter, Shapleigh and Waterman, Junior Sophisters——Clarke 2d, Cutts 2d, Denny, Grout, Ingalls, Moody 2d, Sullivan 1st, Sullivan 2d, Sullivan 3d, Trapier, Ware and Warren, Sophimores, and Tucker a Freshman, who were all of the above company and did not prove themselves to have left the Hall before the riotous proceedings, be charged in their quarterly bill to repair the damage done in the Hall.

Voted, that Adams 1st, Churchill, Emerson and Waterman who were waiters, but upon examination did not give such evidence concerning the disorders as the Governors were convinced they might have given, be dismissed from their waiterships.

Voted, that all who are assessed to repair the damages done in the Hall, those who are dismissed from waiterships only excepted, be punished by pecuniary mulct, ten shillings each.
The minutes also listed nine students by name who had been at the dinner but “left it before disorders arose to a great height.”

The four waiters were working their way through college. The faculty recognized that they didn’t have extra money to pay a fine, but they still took a financial hit in losing their jobs. They maintained student solidarity by not identifying any leaders of the disturbance.

Charles Adams was on that list as “Adams 3d.” In the middle of thirty other boys, there’s no reason to blame him alone for the trouble. Still, it wasn’t a good sign that he was resisting “Amusements.”

COMING UP: A protest from the sophomore class.