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One hundred fifty-two years ago America elected its first President. But many years before that, in 1638, Harvard College acquired its first chief executive. Smooth-spoken, well-dressed Nathaniel Eaton, at the age of 27, served for a brief term as Harvard's first President, treasurer, secretary, dean, bursar, professor, tutor, and steward. This amazing yersatility, however, extended even beyond the scholastic realin: thief, bigamist, forger, and con-man, Eaton was not only a scholar of note but a knave of high distinction.
Riotous sabbaths at Cambridge University had brought his short undergraduate career to a degreeless close, but he promptly and incongruously enough prepared a learned Latin tract on proper observance of the Lord's day. And it was the fame of this which won him the headship of the young college in 1638.
Students, who were roomed and boarded by Mistress Eaton, in furious tones which have a familiar ring berated her for "ungutted mackeral" and "hasty pudding containing goat's dung." Unlike her successors, she frankly confessed deficiencies in the cuisine and explained that "the students and the swine have share and share alike."
In General Court Eaton admitted the wretched state of affairs in Cambridge; and, after' thus cleansing his soul, he left town with all the school funds. These were soon squandered in Virginia on wild sprees and a second wife. Next Eaton turned up in Italy at the University of Padua where he received M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, leaving one bounce ahead of $5,000 worth of bad checks.
Arriving in England, he immediately became both a prosperous vicar by joining with the winners in the Restoration struggle and a polygamist by acquiring yet another wife. (The second Mrs. Eaton was still in Virginia as security for his unpaid bills.) But, though past 60, Eaton was not content with his income and ran deeply into debt. After attempting to bribe his creditor's agent and being proved quilty of perjury, the dapper little popinjay was dragged off to King's Bench Prison at Southwark. There his incessant demands for scholastic and clerical privileges fell on deaf ears; and, within sight of John Harvard's old home, this college's first President died a convict.
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