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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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.


Jake said...

There's a fair amount of Adams family correspondence on the Thanksgiving Day riot, most of which is pretty oblique. Here are a couple of the more interesting.

"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." JQA to cousin Cotton Tufts

"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." AA's sister Elizabeth Smith Shaw to their other sister Mary Smith Cranch

Interestingly, Thomas Adams' classmate Pitt Clarke only mentions the toasts, songs, and thankful hearts on Thanksgiving day 1787. "Thanksgiving, very pleasant. Went to meeting. Mr. Hilliard preached from Psalms 107, 31, 32 verses. 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."

J. L. Bell said...

I'm planning to discuss the Adams family's response to Charles's college escapades in a separate posting. I interpret some details of the Harvard records differently from the Adams Papers editors and your podcast. In particular, I don't think Thomas Boylston Adams was involved in this holiday dinner at all.

J. L. Bell said...

I initially wrote that the Harvard faculty meeting about the Thanksgiving fracas took place on 28 December. That seemed like a long time after the event, and after the initial meeting on 5 December, but that's what I thought the handwritten records said. Looking again a day later, I see that the meeting wrapped up on "Decr. 7th & 8th 1787." That ampersand tripped me up. I've corrected the posting above.