The Path to Public Service at SEAS


Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum


Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President


Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study


Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum



LIVING, as we do, at Cambridge, and breathing the most advanced and progressive spirit of the nineteenth century, we are apt to forget that few spots in America have so much historic interest, and are so closely associated with the birth of our Republic, as the immediate vicinity of Harvard College. Although so near the centennial of the Concord Fight, we have met several intelligent students who were totally ignorant of the where, how, and wherefore of the early battles of the Revolution. As no more appropriate time could be found for fighting our old battles o'er again, we have endeavored to glean a few circumstances of interest about Old Cambridge.

An old history informs us that Cambridge is distant "three miles, one quarter, and sixty rods from the Old State House, by the way of West Boston bridge." We also learn that "from the hilly surface of several parts, and the passage of Charles River through the middle of the town, the air is very pure. Many of the inhabitants have attained great longevity; and invalids from other towns have realized the beneficial effects of a salubrious air from a temporary residence in the town." This was evidently written before the discovery of Miller's River. The alewive fishery in these waters was of considerable value. In The Wonder-working Providence of Sion's Saviour in New-England, we read that " the Lord is pleased to provide for them great store of alewives in the spring time; many thousands of these they used to put under their Indian corne."

We find that "there are five College edifices belonging to Harvard University: Harvard Hall, built in 1765, and standing on the site of old Harvard, which was burnt in 1764; Massachusetts Hall, built in 1720; Hollis Hall, built in 1763; Holden Chapel, built in 1745; College House, a wooden building, 1770; and Stoughton Hall, built in 1698. . . . . During this summer, a bath was erected at brick-wharf for the benefit of the students of the University. It was made under the superintendence of Thomas Brattle, Esquire, and happily unites ornament with utility."

Cambridge, or Newtown, was settled in 1631. "About this time, Chicketawbu, the Chief of the Indians in the neighborhood, visited the governor with high professions of friendship, which rendered him less solicitous for a fortified town." An historian from England says: "Newtown was at first intended for a city, but was thought not so fit, being too far from the sea. The inhabitants are most of them very rich." Here we have our first picture of the affluent primeval Portchuck.

In September, 1665, five Mohawk Indians, armed each with a gun, pistol, knife, and hatchet, appeared in the town, but were immediately arrested by the constables, true to their duty then, as now, and ever bold in discharging it. In 1668 "some of the most respectable inhabitants were chosen for katechising the youth of the town."

In the battle of Lexington, Harvard College seems to have taken no active part, doubtless because the system of voluntary recitations had not then been instituted. It seems to us now as if no such exciting event as a battle could have transpired near the College without the students' having a finger in the pie; our only wonder is that the undergraduates did not march to Concord by classes, wearing battered stove-pipes and gowns turned inside out But there was probably no time for the manufacture of the requisite transparencies; and we must remember that the Harvard Drill Corps had not then been organized. It is also very probable that many of the students had Tory sympathies.

At ten, on the evening of the 18th of April, eight hundred British troops embarked at the foot of Boston Common. Among their number was Lieutenant Philippe d'Auvergne, Due de Bouillon. They landed at East Cambridge (in order to avoid being intercepted by the 'Port peelers).Two lanterns, hung from the steeple of the North Church, in Boston, telegraphed news of their movement across the river. The sexton who lighted the lanterns was afterwards arrested by the British at a funeral, and, upon examination, condemned to death. A threat of retaliation made by Washington procured his respite, and he was finally exchanged.

The troops marched on through Milk Street, by the old Davenport tavern, at the corner of North Avenue and Beech Street, and so out of Cambridge. There is a "fine, old, crusted story" to the effect that, on the road, some of the officers met a countryman sowing grain. "Ho, fellow! " says one of the officers, "you may sow, but we shall reap!" "Wa'al," replied the native, "p'raps you will; I'm sowing hemp."

Meanwhile, the country had been alarmed, and a message was sent back for reinforcements. Lord Percy came out, via Roxbury, with eighteen hundred troops and two brass field-pieces. When they arrived at Brighton Bridge, they found the planks torn up; but as they had been carefully piled up on the opposite side, it was an easy matter to replace them. But, in connection with this expedition, is an incident more to the credit of Cambridge. A convoy of provisions found greater difficulty in crossing the bridge, and became detached from the main army. An express was sent from Old Cambridge to Menotomy, announcing the coming of these supplies, and a few men, too old for active service in the field, posted themselves behind a wall to await their arrival. The convoy came, and was called upon to surrender. The drivers whipped up their horses. The provincials fired, killing several horses and two men, when the drivers jumped from their places and fled. The wagons were secured and plundered. The drivers are said to have surrendered themselves to an old woman whom they met, and whose protection they begged. Whereupon there went the rounds of the English papers belonging to the opposition that interesting sum in the Rule of Three:-

"If one old Yankee woman can take six grenadiers, how many soldiers will it require to reconquer America?"*

The late Mr. Benjamin Russell, well known as the editor, during many years, of the Columbian Centinel, used to relate that he was then a boy at school in Boston; and the pedagogue, when he heard that morning of Lord Percy's sally, laconically remarked, "Boys! War's begun. School's done. You may go." Russell followed the soldiers out through Roxbury; but when he returned on that evening, he was refused entry into the city, and was obliged to remain nearly a year, until the evacuation of Boston in March following, beyond the ken of his parents.

On the return of the expedition, almost the last skirmish took place near Porter's Station, where six citizens of Cambridge were killed. Their bodies were brought down, and hastily buried in the old graveyard.

Shortly after the Concord Fight, a detachment of Continental troops, under General Ward, was quartered in the College buildings; and the College was moved to Concord for a time. Thirty years ago, iron spikes were still to be seen in Massachusetts Hall, from which the soldiers had hung their hammocks.

*Cambridge Revolutionary Memorial.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.