The recent Freshman riot at the Yale Commons had a counterpart in the "Great Rebellion of 1776" at the University which had its inception in the Harvard Commons of that day.
In the "Book of Harvard" which was written soon after the uprising is an account in biblical language of the disorders in the College in September, 1776, consequent on the stewards' persisting in serving bad butter in the commons. A contributory cause of the disorders is also to be found in the fact that the faculty had lately refused to accept certain customary and time-honored, but very elastic, excuses for absence from college exercises. The "Book of Harvard" and "Arguments for the Defence" gives the students' side of the question while the faculty prepared a long list of "Representations" to explain their side of the matter to the Overseers.
Trouble was in the air when first the authorities insisted that students should eat in the commons, and that "the scholars should be restrained from dieting in private family."
Decency Required at Meals
In 1776 the faculty drew up a harsh law which precipitated the trouble, the text of which follows in part: "Article 1 . . . And all Scholars while at their Meals shall sit in their Places and behave with Decency; and whosoever shall be rude or clamorous at such time shall be punished by one of the Tutors; not exceeding five shillings.
"Article 10: Every Scholar shall for the Present pay seven-shillings and Four Perce a Week for his whole diet.
"Article 13: No Scholar shall be allowed to go into Debt to the Butler above five Dollars, and shall have no more Credit till that is paid."
"The Book of Harvard" Account of the rebellion which this announcement called forth is given below:
"Chapter First 1. And it came to pass in the ninth month, on the 23d Day of the Month, the Sons of Harvard murmured and said:
"2. Behold! bad and unwholesome Butter is served 'at unto as daily; now let us therefore depute Asa, the Scribe, to go unto our Ruler, and seek Redress.
"3. There arose Asa, the Scribe, and went unto Belcher, the Ruler, and said, behold our Butter stinketh, and we cannot eat thereof; now give us we pray thee Butter that stinketh not.
"4. And Belcher the Ruler, said, trouble me not but begone unto thine own palace; but Asa obeyed him not.
"5. So when Belcher and others of the Rulers departed, the Sons of Harvard clapped their Hands, and kissed and cried, Aha! Aha!
"6. Then Edward the Chief Ruler and John and another Edward (not the chief) and Stephen and Belcher and Simeon and Thomas, surnamed Horsehead, and Andrew and Joseph consulted together and said:
"7. Behold, Asa the Scribe hath risen up against us. and the Sons of Harvard have hissed and clapped in Derision of us;
"8. Now therefore let us punish Asa the Scribe and make him confess before all Harvard; and Belcher the Ruler, surnamed Bowl, alias Beelzebub, said, let him also be placed below his Fellows, and they agreed to that also.
"9. And all, even all, the Sons of Harvard met and agreed also,
"10. That if bad and unwholesome Butter should be served out unto them on the morrow, they would depart and leave the Rulers to the Meditation of their own Hearts, with many other things I heard not of.
"11. So on the Morrow, bad and un wholesome Butter was served out unto them, and they rose up and departed, every one unto his own Place.
"12. But the Rulers were greatly affrighted; and Edward the Chief Ruler, surnamed Gritts, rose up and said, Men and Brethren what shall we do? Behold our Pupils have risen up in Rebellion against us, and have hissed and clapped their Hands, and have committed divers Offenses against us.
"13. But if we treat them severely, behold they will depart and leave us and be here no more, now therefore let us appease their Minds by soft Words and give them Redress, so they agreed to that also.
"Chapter Second. 1. So Edward the Chief Ruler, after the Evening Sacrifice addressed himself to the Sons of Harvard, saying.
"2. Ye Sons of Harvard, listen unto me and attend unto the Words of my Mouth; we confessed ye have been imposed upon and greatly injured and peradventure we have done wrong.
"3. But now ye shall have Redress, and shall have good and wholesome Butter served out unto you and no more bad Butter shall enter within your walls.
"4. So the Minds of the Sons of Harvard were appeased, and they departed in Peace.
"5. But on the Morrow, at the Instigation of Edward, not the chief but surnamed Wiggy, and Thomas, the Rulers called unto them. Daniel, who had first rose up and departed, and threatened him saying, unless thou repent thou and thy comrade, Thomas, shall surely be expelled.
"7. But Daniel confessed not, neither did he it all flinch.
"8. Then they willed him to depart; so he came unto the Sons of Harvard and said,
"9. Behold! The Rulers have called me unto them and have threatened me, saying, unless thou repent, thou and thy Comrade Thomas shall surely be expelled.
"10. Now ye know that I rose up first and departed at your Desire: shall I suffer for your Sake?
"11. Then was the Wrath of the Sons of Harvard kindled within them, and they answered and said, No verily, neither thou, nor they Comrade Thomas shall be expelled; nor shall a Hair of your Heads fall to the Ground.
"12. Now when these things were reported to the Rulers, they consulted together again and desired the Sons of Harvard to repent.
"13. But the Sons of Harvard gathered themselves together and went to the House of Edward the Chief Ruler, and said, we will not confess, and if our Rulers shall punish Asa, or Daniel, or Thomas, we will depart everyone to his own Home.
"14. But Edward said, depart now, and I will hear you after the Evening Sacrifice; so they departed everyone.
"15. And after the Evening Sacrifice, Edward the Chief Ruler, said, will ye confess, or will ye not; but all the Sons of Harvard held up their Hands, thereby signifying that they would not confess: so the Chief Ruler dismissed the Assembly.
"17. So on the 10th Month and on the 11th Day of the Month the great Sanhedrim of Harvard met and caused Daniel to confess, and after Daniel many more were prevailed upon by Threatening of the Members of the Great Sanhedrim and confessed also.
"18. So after this there were no more Murmurings in Harvard but all was Peace and Quietness as it is to this Day.
"Cambridge November 19, 1776."