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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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.

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