Tuesday, February 27, 2018

College Pranks

Going to college is not supposed to be all academic, one needs a little light-hearted fun as well. In the living unit where I stayed for those five years we usually tried one major prank each year. Here are some of them.

The car – One year instead of having a house mother we had a grad student (working on a PhD), Tom Hansen, who fulfilled that role. He was a pretty straight-laced fellow and we thought he needed a little lightening up. For transportation he used a small two-seater red sports car that belonged to his girlfriend. Late one night we went out to the parking lot behind the building where he kept it. It was usually unlocked, but he must have suspected something so that night it was locked. However, it was not in gear and the brakes were off. With rack-and-pinion steering, you could push/pull on the tires and turn them, so we put one guy on each front tire and the rest of us pushing it. We “drove” it out of the parking lot and up the sidewalk in front of the building. There were three sets of doors – the end ones went to the men’s/women’s residence, the center one to the student center. We went up the sidewalk to the center doors and turned it sideways. It was only three steps up and we had enough guys to lift it up and then slide it sideways between the brick planters on each side (with about an inch clearance on each side).

In the morning that’s where he found his car. Everyone coming down the street was slowing down to look at it. We even had a reporter from the local paper take a picture that appeared on the front page the next day. Everything was fine until the local fire marshal called and said we’d have to move it as it was blocking a fire exit. For some reason it seemed a lot heavier taking down the stairs that it did going up the stairs when we had all that late-night adrenaline!

The clothes – We had a number of pranksters in the dorm, but that didn’t exempt them from being the recipient of a good prank as well. One weekend we decided to pull a really fast one on Skip (real name Addison) Brown. Each of those of us who were in on it had assigned roles so we could work really fast – this was one was going to require speed, precision, and advanced planning. That quarter Skip didn’t have a roommate, but there was a high school student staying with him who wanted to experience college life before making up his mind whether to attend MSU or not, but that didn’t deter us.

We knew that Skip took a long hot shower every morning, so we had someone listening to see when he was in the shower. As soon as he was there for a few minutes and the shower would mask any noise we made, we hit! Going into his room, we first told the startled high school kid, to not say a word. Each of us had an assignment on what we were going to take – one on each drawer of the dresser, a couple on the closet, one for the bedding, etc. Within 30 seconds the room was stripped clean. One person even reached into the bathroom and swiped his towels from the bar opposite the shower. When he came out a few minutes later, he had NO clothes and not even a towel to dry himself. He questioned the poor high school kid who could only say that he didn’t know anyone. Coming out into the hall, the prank organizer didn’t say anything – just handed him a key (to a locker in the college library a mile away).

Skip was a tall (6’5”) slim guy, so finding clothes was difficult. But he managed to convince a few of the other guys in the dorm to lend him some (including too-short jeans and shoes without socks). He then trudged off to the library. There, in a locker in the middle of the study area surrounded by students diligently studying that morning, he found all his underwear – and another key. This key was to a locker at the airport on the other side of town (I told you we had some advance planning). It took him a few hours to convince someone to loan him their car to drive over there.

It took him all day to finally retrieve all the stuff that we’d stashed – each location containing some of his stuff – and another key. (Because we didn’t want to cause any real damage, his suits and good clothes were hanging in another closet in the dorm, not stuffed in a locker somewhere.) He was good natured through the whole thing and very impressed at what we had been able to pull off.

The room – Bill Kimball was majoring in HRIM (Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management) and had a night job at a restaurant. He was also generally the chief prankster (and the organizer of the above stripping a room prank). But that also made him a target. While he was away at his job one night we turned that prank around on him – and stuffed his room. We had accumulated a supply of newspapers as well as half a pallet of broken-down paper milk cartons from the MSU dairy. We unfolded all the cartons and crushed in the ends so they took maximum volume and wadded up all the newspapers – the result being enough volume to totally fill Bill’s room. The final ones we put up against the room door from the inside from the bathroom (shared with the adjoining room) so we could push the bathroom door closed after locking it.

When Bill came home around one in the morning, he pushed on his room door and couldn’t get it as it was stuffed so full of paper. After some trying, he was able to pull enough stuff out into the hall through the small crack he made that he could get the door open. By that time he had pretty much figured out who must have been behind it and was admiring our handiwork. But it was late and he was tired. He cleared enough stuff out into the hall that he could navigate his room, cleared off a spot on his bed and got in – dead tired. He laid down and, as was his sleeping habit, stuffed his hands under the pillow. Unfortunately, since we didn’t want to damage the stuff on the top of his desk and dresser, we had taken a tall statue that he had and put it under the pillow for safekeeping – and Bill skinned his knuckles on the statue! That made him mad and he decided to take all the paper down to the end of the hall and put it in front of the door of the chief perpetrator.

Sometime around 4 in the morning though, his tiredness overtook him and when the rest of us got up later we found Bill – asleep on a pile of newspaper in the middle of the hall, with newspaper strewn all the way from the door of his room to the semi-finished pile outside another room.

The girls – while most of our pranks were directed at ourselves, one year we decided to pull one on the girls who lived in the other half of the dorm. A little background is needed here – the building held about 100 students, half of each gender. It was a three-story building. The lower level had a living room on each side and a common activity room/student center and dining room and kitchen in the middle. The upper two stories of dorm rooms were divided with fire doors between the two halves (to keep us apart), and there was a flat roof. There was a ladder and an access to the roof in a third floor closet on each end, but the one on the girls’ end was secured with a chain and padlock. The rooms and the bathrooms (shared between adjacent rooms) could be locked on the inside for privacy, but no one had keys, only the housemother. Once a week we each had a mandatory house meeting in the living room.

That night the guys’ house meeting was simply a call to order, and a motion for adjournment. One of the guys had rigged a microphone through a window into the girls’ living room and he was listening until they took roll. Then we sprang into action. We took all our supplies for the prank up the ladder to the roof, lifted the access door on the other end the few inches that the chain allowed, and cut the chain with bolt cutters to give us access to the girls’ side of the building. There was one girl who we knew was not at the house meeting – we found her on the phone on the second floor talking to her boyfriend. We simply took the receiver from her, told her boyfriend that she had to go, and hung up the phone. We were going to lock her in one of the bathrooms, but she told us she would not tell on us, so we released her to go down to the house meeting.

In each bathroom we put blue food coloring in the toilet and a small yellow rubber duck or a toy boat. We took all the desk chairs into the hall and locked the doors as we were leaving the rooms. We then threw toilet paper rolls from one end of the hall to the other, running the paper through all the chairs. Then we exited the same way we’d broken in (it took perhaps 10 minutes to do all this).

Regrouping in our living room, we had arranged for delivery of an 8’ sub – it came on an 8’ long board. We shouldered it with six guys carrying it, went outside and up the sidewalk to the girls’ entrance. Going inside (and startling all the girls in the middle of their meeting), we set it down on a table in the middle of the room and simply said, “We’re sorry and this is our apology.” It took them only about 15 seconds to come to the conclusion that we must have done something upstairs and, in panic, everyone ran to the stairway! They found all the chairs and toilet paper “decorations” in the hall, but all their room doors were locked. Wrongly concluding that we had been in their rooms and must have messed them up as well, they panicked and assumed we must have gone into their underwear drawers – but they couldn’t get in! The housemother, an older woman in her late 60’s finally trudged up the stairs with the master key to unlock their rooms. But all they found in the rooms was the cute toy boats and rubber ducks floating in the blue water in the toilets. It was a huge success of a prank.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

James Pierpont and Yale

[The following was written in 1998 and presented at the Pierpont Family Association meeting that year which took place at Yale University. It was originally distributed as a printed document of 16 pages plus a 5-page appendix. This electronic version (2018) has been typed from that paper copy so that it can be more widely available. Minor corrections in the typing and punctuation have also been made, but more major errors are noted and documented in the notes at the end of this paper.]

The Reverend James Pierpont born in Roxbury, Massachusetts (*1) in
1660 (*2) and died in 1714 at age 54
[by Robert Pierpont (*3)]

This presentation must begin with recognizing that it is fuller and more complete because of the wonderful assistance of Judith Ann Schiff to whom I was directed by our devoted family association president Eleanor Pierpont Suydam. Judith Schiff is the Chief Research Archivist, Manuscripts and Archives of the Yale University Library. She led me to the book The Beginning of Yale 1701-1726 by Edwin Oviatt, published by Arno Press and The New York Times in 1969 and to Sibley’s book Harvard Graduates. This presentation is drawn from these two sources – much of it lifted verbatim from Oviatt’s book. The pages from Sibley’s book are attached. (*4)

The story of James Pierpont’s life has origins in Coventry, England where one John Davenport grew up. Coventry was an ancient walled English city in 1597 when John was born. “The opening acts of the coming Puritan period were well underway by the time he first appears as a scholar at the Free Grammar School of his old city.” John went to study at Oxford “to fit himself for the Church.” He could not afford the cost of Oxford and left after two years nevertheless having “made a name for himself as a speaker and writer … natural gifts which were to make him one of the foremost preachers of his time.” Several years later after a succession of minor church positions, he became suddenly vicar of one of London’s most influential churches, St. Stephen’s in Coleman Street. From there he was able to return to Oxford to earn his degree. He returned to London and “seems to have launched himself full upon the troubled waters of the day.” Over the next few years John joined those who were becoming more and more committed to Puritanism. It was at this time that trading between England and the colonies was being developed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and others. Meanwhile, clergy and scholars were exiled to Holland for their disloyalty to the Crown and Church. Davenport spent three miserable years there and in April 1637 sailed to Massachusetts where he joined in establishing Harvard. (*5)

Davenport’s real ambition was to start his own colony. He did when in 1638 he set out for New Haven in the Connecticut Colony where he founded a Calvinistic society on New Haven soil. He preached his first sermon there on April 10, 1638 to half-starved pioneers living in mere earth cellars at Quinnipiac.

In June 1639, a plan for New Haven was adopted at a public meeting held in Newman’s barn. It established New Haven as what is best described as a Church-state. “The rules held forth in Scripture” were unanimously adopted as the only laws. Theopolis Eaton became governor and Davenport the pastor.

Under Governor Eaton, New Haven was surveyed and laid out in nine equal squares or “quarters,” the inner most, now the Green, was to become the marketplace. The whole town was apparently surrounded by a stockade to protect from Indians, the Dutch and wolves.

A rude, square meeting-house, with a watchman’s turret, stood in the precise center of the marketplace. From the turret the town drummer lustily beat the community to church on Sabbath days. To the north a schoolhouse was built. By 1650 a few graves had been dug about the meetinghouse.

In those few years since the earth cellars at Quinnipiac, New Haven settlers – many of whom had been London tradesmen or farmers in comfortable English villages – began to build “proper” homes in the style of those they had in England. In fact, New Haven was noted for its “fair and stately homes that at first outdid the rest of the country.” One of the largest was Davenport’s, facing north on the present Elm Street below Orange, it was build in the shape of a cross and had 13 fireplaces.

On leaving Boston for Quinnipiac in 1638, Davenport brought with him a young schoolmaster, Ezekiel Cheever. He was provided a small cabin at what is now the southeast corner of Grove and Church where he “seems to have begun to teach in New Haven’s first school.” On Christmas Day 1641 Davenport secured a town vote to establish a public school. The school was “for the better trayning upp of youth in this towne, that, through God’s blessing they may be fitted for publique service hereafter, either in church or commonweale.” Some six decades later Yale’s founders were to echo this refrain. Education was heavily influenced by colonists who had studied at Oxford or Cambridge. Emphasis was a Latin grammar which nearly all college bound youth of Connecticut ploughed through during the first half century of Yale. About 1644 a schoolhouse was erected (probably just northeast of the present United Church).

By 1647 (*6) Cheever was into open and violent collision with Davenport and the Church. He was forced to leave but went on to be a productive teacher of Massachusetts youngsters preparing to enter Harvard.

Having nothing to do with Cheever, New Haven was soon in trouble in matters of governance where it was in dispute with other New England colonies and in what we might call a trade war with the Dutch. The trade was ended with a 1642 attack on New Haven traders by two Dutch ships who burned down the trading post that New Haven men had established with a considerable investment on the Delaware River. The final blow was the loss of a great ship into which New Haven traders had poured all their remaining capital. The financial ruin led to an attempt to secure some form of recognition of the New Haven colony from the English government – “a far cry from the political high horse that Eaton and Davenport had ridden to so gallantly when they formed their independent church-state…”. For reasons far too complicated to cover in this presentation the overtures to England failed and Davenport’s dream was seemingly in ruins.

From the beginning, Davenport had envisioned a second Harvard in New Haven, but at this point of financial ruin that too seemed only a dream. Nevertheless, as early as 1641 provisions for funding it had been established and at about that same time in 1647 three acres on what is now Elm Street, facing the marketplace, had been chosen as a site for a college. Some twenty years of political and theological arguments and negotiations followed and in 1668 Davenport delivered his farewell sermon in the meetinghouse before departing for Boston where he died two years later. New Haven had lost its independence and become part of the Connecticut Colony with Hartford as the capital city.

The importance of a school in New Haven survived. And dame good fortune was soon to intercede in the person of Edward Hopkins. In 1656/1657, Davenport, with the help of Eaton, approached Hopkins for financial support. Hopkins, unlike his former colleagues in the New Haven Colony, had added to, not lost, his fortune and had returned to England as a comfortably wealthy American colonist. The outcome was quite unusual, for Hopkins agreed to give substantially to the New Haven college, but then he died suddenly without doing so. Instead his will provided that his estate valued at £1,324 was to be divided between New Haven and the Colony of Connecticut. Davenport and Eaton were named as two of the four trustees of the estate. Years of difficulty and discussions followed. Finally, the Hopkins Grammar School was begun in 1668 as a small endowed Latin school on the marketplace. More turmoil followed. After nine years of Samuel Street’s tenure the school was practically closed. One George Pardee took over in 1673. To the few boys who appeared before him, he taught English grammar and as much of Cheever’s Latin “Accidence” as he could comprehend. But this was again but little. The “college” project having long since entirely dropped out of sight, the New Haven grammar school, which John Davenport had propped up so many times without result, again seemed tottering on its last legs.

There was a general educational decline during this period in the entire Colony. In 1672, the legislature responded, granting each of the four counties public lands for the upkeep of their grammar schools and requiring every town of more than one hundred families to maintain one. But New Haven still lagged behind and was publicly complained of for not keeping a grammar school under the Colony law. The upshot was a “loving debate” in a New Haven town meeting, ending in an appropriation of town money and the hiring of another schoolmaster. By 1684 the results of this final action seem to have been fairly successful. The new Hopkins Grammar School on the marketplace was established and was now admitting the New Haven boys free and charging outsiders ten shillings, dividing its scholars into “English” and “Latin” groups, teaching the latter what was required by Harvard College at that time, and excluding “all Girls, as Improper & Inconsistent with such a Grammar schoole, as ye law injoines & is ye Designe of this Settlement.” The Latin required at this period was sufficient to understand Cicero and to recite Latin prose and verse from memory; in Greek the boys were put through the elements of the grammar only. New Haven boys soon began to enroll at Harvard – studying for the ministry.

Unfortunately, New Haven’s Church was slowly declining in influence under the poor leadership of a Reverend Street who “had no special qualifications for public leadership.” It was at this low time in New Haven’s higher fortunes that a new personality was to come to the disheartened community, and bring in a new era.

The three churches at Branford, Milford and New Haven called to their pulpits three young Harvard graduates. Branford called the Rev. Samuel Russel; Milford, the Rev. Samuel Andrew; and New Haven, the Rev. James Pierpont. These young men were of about the same age and all were Massachusetts-born.

James arrived in New Haven over the old Post-road from Boston in August, 1684. Heralded by the church committee who had been sent to look him over as “a godly man, a good scholar, a man of good parts,” and “likely to make a good instrument,” he had been recommended by the deacon who had chosen him as one who would “desire peace in the church and town and rejoin to hear of it and that there may be no after-troubles.” To this end the New Haven people had assembled in their homes and meetinghouse for a day of fasting and prayer, “wherein to confess their sins before God,” and “beg pardon.” So young James Pierpont, now twenty-five (*7) years old, began his life work in John Davenport’s historic church with good hopes of a reawakened town giving him more support than it had his itinerant predecessors in its long-vacant pulpit.

It was speculated that this young newcomer to the New Haven meetinghouse was probably not the equal of Jon Davenport in purely intellectual endowments. He does not rank with his New England contemporaries in this request, as Davenport did with his. But one sermon of Pierpont’s has come down to us, is “Sundry False Hopes of Heaven, discovered and decried,” preached at Cotton Mather’s North Church in Boston in 1711 and published with a characteristically laudatory preface by Mather. This sermon is said to have fallen short of the originality and intellectual vigor that mark the performances of Davenport. Yet James was unusually endowed in other ways. He was the possessor of social graces and a force of character that were to make him one of the leaders of his times and to gain him a success in life that had been denied Davenport. Contemporary references sufficiently bear this out. The sprightly diarist, Madam Knight, for instance, journeying through New Haven in 1704, wrote down as “the holy Mr. Pierpont.” He was “greatly distinguished,” says Dr. Bacon, “and highly honored in his day.” In that preface to his Boston sermon which Cotton Mather wrote, he said that Pierpont “has been a rich blessing to the Church of God,” and added, “New Haven values him; all Connecticut honors him. They have cause to do it.”

There exists a contemporary painting of James Pierpont, done at Boston in 1711, “by a superior English artist,” doubtless when Pierpont was preaching of a weekend to Cotton Mather’s conservative Boston folk. It shows a face of more than usual sweetness and charm. In it is a certain gentleness, far different from the bold austerity which we associate with the long-faded lineaments of his predecessor. It shows James Pierpont with his long curly hair falling over his shoulders, instead of the usual wig of his day, and his white square ministerial band on his chest. His forehead is high and broad, his mouth sensitive, his large, dark eyes contemplative and even beautiful. This old painting well conveys the feeling of a spiritual leader and a well-born gentleman.

And well-born James Pierpont was. His grandfather, James Pierrepont, was a Puritan refugee, and a nephew through a younger line of the Sir Henry Pierrepont from whom sprang the Dukes of Kingston, and of Sir Henry’s sister who married Francis Beaumont the playwright. An odd story might be told of the long effort of the New Haven Pierponts, living in the crude little Connecticut village, to establish a right to the succession to the Kingston dukedom in the event of a lapse in male heirs of the elder branch. But we have not the time for that today.

All of the fashionable world of over the seas was far removed from the provincial life of such a New England minister as James Pierpont. A far more serious business lay before him than this search for nobility, as he found himself commencing his career in John Davenport’s old pulpits of New Haven. He had work to do.

We may please ourselves with the picture of this young Harvard graduate, as he enters on that long life in New Haven during which he was to prove of such usefulness to his people and to the generations which followed him.

He comes by horseback of the King’s Highway, this energetic young Congregational clergyman, accompanied by a man sent over New London way to meet him and his journey. He is doubtless met at the Neck by the sedately-garbed deacons of the church, and brought to town over the old College Oystershell-fields, to enter the outskirts of the New Haven village of 1684 about where Olive Street now is. The widow of John Davenport’s only son was now living in the ancestral Davenport homestead on lower Elm Street, with her daughter Abigail, then twelve years old – her son John then being in his sophomore year at Harvard. To this house, so full of memories of the first John Davenport, the youthful James Pierpont is doubtless escorted through the shady lanes of the village, bowed to reverently by the men (and observed as cannily), and peeked at through the casement windows of the village houses by maids and maidens to whom the coming of so noble a bachelor divine was an event of no little romance and importance. Here, in the library looking down over the fields and orchards to the harbor, where old John Davenport had ruled his theocracy for twenty-odd years, the young Pierpont settles down to take his place in a new generation and carry forward the church.

During this first year of James Pierpont’s life in New Haven, the church people were building a new parsonage for him, on the Eldred lot on Elm Street. The new minister had come with few personal belongings, so the villagers furnished the parsonage for him, one man bringing, as his best gift, two elm saplings which he planted before the house door. These elms became in time an historic landmark in New Haven. Under their broad canopy, forty-odd years later, Jonathan Edwards was to woo James Pierpont’s daughter, Sarah. Under them, in twenty years more, Whitefield was to stir up the religious emotions of the townspeople in the Great Awakening. They were to see the little troop of New Haven militiamen march off with Benedict Arnold to fight the British at Cambridge, and, come the turn of life’s wheel, see the effigy of that debonair militia captain hooted through the village streets after his apostasy to the British. They were to see the British troops in 1779 parade noisily into the quiet town and bivouac on the Green. One of these trees was said to be standing as late as 1840, “the tallest and most venerable of all the trees in this city of elms and ever the first to be tinged with green at the return of spring.”

The Puritan village in which James Pierpont thus began his career of thirty full years was still more or less in its original condition. It had been re-palisaded against the threatening troubles of King Philip’s War but a decade before, and a few of the great gates that had been erected at the street ends of the outer square were no doubt still in use, if only to keep in the cattle. The marketplace was still much as it had been in John Davenport’s day, though there were fewer trees and more tree-stumps. The causeway that Davenport and Governor Eaton had used to cross the alder swamp was now gone, and a new and larger meetinghouse had been built in the middle of the marketplace, a little southwest of the first one. The watch-house and the stocks still stood on the College Street side, though perhaps less used than formerly. The original log schoolhouse of Ezekiel Cheever was still in use, though now, somewhat enlarged, as the Hopkins Colony Grammar School. A few improvements had come in with the absorption with the Connecticut Colony, and the town was not, in many ways, as provincial as it had been a few decades before.

Nor had the character of the New Haven people, or their manners or affairs, changed much since John Davenport had left them. All of the original commercial promise of the settlement had long since disappeared, and, while there was a little trading by the Sound, especially to Boston, the people had little to do except to plant the fields, trap for furs, and attend to the manifold handicraft occupations of every small community. Except for their dress, the people of James Pierpont’s New Haven had not progressed very far beyond John Davenport’s.

It may well have been the Town Crier who, two years after James Pierpont had settled in his new house facing the marketplace, gave first notice of the approaching visit of the Royalist Governor, Sir Edmund Andros. His visit was something of a test of the stuff of which the young New Haven clergyman was made, as it also furnished a proof of how far he had come, in his few years out of Harvard, into the independent political attitude of his New Haven congregation. It was of a Sunday, and the spirit of John Davenport that was in James Pierpont rose to the occasion (if the story of that day can be believed, as I hope it may). Andros and his retinue walked across the marketplace to the meetinghouse, where all of the townspeople who could manage it were on hand. Young Pierpont, facing the Royal officer’s party over the heads of his stalwart deacons, conducted the services with as little consideration of the rank of his new auditors. The young Harvard minister selected for the hymn – the story goes – reading from his high pulpit each line before it was sung, as was the custom of those days, that vigorous hymn of independence of the old Puritan churches, which began

Why dost thou tyrant boast abroad
Thy wicked words to praise.

and which ended, undoubtedly to the keen relish of Pierpont’s black-cloaked congregation, if to the astonished anger of the scarlet-resplendent Andros in the chief pew below,

Thou dost delight in fraud and guile
In mischief, blood and wrong,
Thy lips have learned the flatt’ring style
O, false deceitful tongue!

Under a young minister who could be as bold as this in those trying times, the New Haven church again prospered. A dozen years slipped by, quiet years for the minister and his provincial little flock. During them, Pierpont busily attended to his congregation’s souls, until a question arose which was, in the outcome, to be a most important one for the Colony.

This question was the old one of a college for New Haven. As to just when the renewal of this old ambition of John Davenport’s was made, or who made it, the old-time records are silent. It is not until about the years 1700-1701 that we find any documents relating to the plan, and it is not until that time that we find any of the Colony leaders becoming publicly active in its behalf. Yet, without doubt, the re-emergence of the old New Haven college project during or just before 1700 was not as sudden as it may seem. It was the logical conclusion of a general situation, largely theological, that had been forming during the years just after 1692.

The exact sequence in the events that occurred, as well as the precise nature of some of those events, are not now known. Contemporaneous records of the founding of Yale are extremely meager. The question is still an open one, when and where the Collegiate School was actually “founded”; it is not precisely known what the relation to the project was, and its start, of a number of Colony leaders who afterwards became closely identified with it.

We have President Thomas Clap’s authority for the statement that “The Design of founding a College for the Colony of Connecticut was first concerted by the Ministers; among which the Rev. Mr. Pierpont of New Haven, Mr. Andrew of Milford, and Mr. Russel of Branford, were the most forward and active.”

Of these three young men, James Pierpont has been given the leadership by all the chroniclers of Yale’s beginnings, and with good reason. We have seen the kind of a man he was, and the influence that he wielded among his fellow ministers. He had become the owner of the books that John Davenport had been accumulating for a New Haven “college” library, and had thus become heir, in a sense, to the long-forgotten educational enterprise. And Pierpont had formed, early in life at New Haven, still another connection with Davenport. During those first years, as we have seen, he had been a sentimental traveler down the shaded Elm Street footpath to the widow Davenport’s house, where his famous predecessor had lived his long New Haven life, and there had been married to the youthful Abigail (granddaughter of John Davenport and the elder Abraham Pierson), whose death came three months later from exposure during a storm.1 So that John Davenport entered into James Pierpont’s life in more ways than one, and the connection bridges for us the gap between the first efforts for a Colony college and its later establishment. (*8)

Under the frowning Calvinistic labels of the old Davenport books in Pierpont’s parsonage library in New Haven, and over the barrels of green wine, and the tobacco and pipes, and rum, which he laid in from the thrifty Captain Browne’s voyages to Boston, there now must have begun that long series of talks between him and his neighboring ministers, Andrew, Russel and Abraham Pierson, which were to do with the condition of the Colony and the need of a college of their own.

If, as the historian Trumbull tells us, the college scheme was publicly broached by Pierpont some time after 1698, it is probable that the next two years saw protracted general discussion but nothing done about it. In 1700-1701 the project rather suddenly came to be a public question.

In the summer and early fall of 1701, the long-discussed and postponed matter of establishing a Connecticut college was rather suddenly brought to a climax by the leader in it.

The particular cause was a vote to hold the October meeting of Connecticut’s General Assembly in that year and thereafter in New Haven, and thus bring the two old sections of the Colony into harmony. If the personal relations of the college promoters to the leaders of the October session were of any promise, it may be considered that Pierpont and his friends saw their opportunity to proceed at once upon their plans.

It is thought that further and energetic meetings began among the small group of ministers (*9) along the Long Island shore who had fathered the college plan, and that the situation created by this sudden meeting of the Assembly in New Haven was thoroughly discussed by them. The General Assembly was to be asked for a charter.

They now sent out, either together or singly, a number of letters, asking for advice, not only on the educational side, but on the highly important matter of the legality of a Connecticut-Colony-granted charter, and if that were to be legal, what it should contain.

They drew up a “Scheme for a College” (or “Instructions for a Collegiate School,” as James Pierpont endorsed it.

A letter to a Judge Sewell had been sent on August 7, 1701. It had been a round-robin letter, signed by five of the seacoast-town ministers – Israel Chauncy of Stratford, Thomas Buckingham of Saybrook, Abraham Pierson of Killingworth, James Pierpont of New Haven, and Gurdon Saltonstall of New London. This was an important letter – perhaps the most important that the trustees sent – and we should not overlook the significance of these signatures or the obvious contents of the letter itself, as reflected in Judge Sewall’s answer of September 17. The ministers of the upper-Colony towns had not come into the affair when this letter was written.

The summer of 1701 now passed while a reply was awaited. [The aforementioned] “Instructions” for a charter had been enclosed in the letter to Sewell and had been handed to him by the latter. Until these arrived, and with the approach of the Assembly which was set for the first week in October, the consultations of James Pierpont’s friends must have been as frequent as the means of travel allowed, and were rapidly coming to a climax. The proposal for the college was doubtless still in the air by September 1701.

Lacking precise facts, one must depend on conjecture to say that Pierpont and the others now proposed to take time by the forelock and, by “founding” the college themselves, forestall the very probably opposition that might crop out in the coming Assembly against the legality of the proposed charter.

Doubtless it was a red-letter day for James Pierpont’s good people when the General Assembly gathered for its first session in New Haven on October 9, 1701.

For the arrival of the honorable members of the two Houses, the Governor and the Deputy Governor, and the usual number of curious and interested outsiders, brought a novel and exciting week and taxed the town’s accommodations to the utmost. Probably the hospitable New Haven folk opened their houses for the official visitors and guests and entertained them in the generously hospitable manner of the day. Scattered farmhouses at that time dotted the broad village lanes on all of the eight outer squares, the greater number being on the southern side, where there was easy access to the harbor and that “little wharf” that jutted out of the present State Street. The town gaol and courthouse of John Davenport’s Mosaic commonwealth were still standing on the upper marketplace, and on the open public square was the meetinghouse, the Hopkins Grammar School, and the village cemetery.

The Pierpont group of coast-town ministers were anxiously awaiting the arrival of that draft of a charter which they had asked of Judge Sewall and Secretary Addington of Boston. This had not come when the Assembly had begun its sessions on October 9, and the college promoters, who would naturally have come to New Haven to see their charter passed, in a great to-do over the delay, until it arrived by post from New London the next day. The Boston packet was addressed to the Reverend Buckingham, and it was now going over by the minsters at Mr. Pierpont’s house and the petition which was to accompany it written. The New Haven ministers’ preliminary draft (no copy of which is now in existence) had undoubtedly been quite in line with the traditional and independent Congregationalist of Pierpont’s circle. The Pierpont scheme had been less, probably, for a Congregational-church school than for a public academy that would bolster up the Congregational churches and yet not be controlled by them.

There apparently was an exchange of correspondence with the Boston lawyer regarding the degree of control the church was to have over the school. And various governing bodies entered into the deliberations and negotiations. All of which James Pierpont and his colleagues followed and endeavored to influence.

The upshot was an Act of the Assembly that was passed establishing the Collegiate School – in Saybrook. The first commencement in Yale’s history was held September 16, 1702. Pierpont died in 1714, having raised funds and secured numerous books to nurture the fledgling school. Turf battles continued throughout this period with efforts to move the school to Hartford and other towns. Eventually Pierpont’s dream was fulfilled when in October 1716 New Haven was selected. So we today stand in the shadow of that great institution of which our own James Pierpont is considered a principal founder.


1 – James Pierpont married Sarah Haynes, granddaughter of Governor Haynes of Connecticut, in 1694, and, on her early death, married Mary Hooker, granddaughter of Thomas Hooker, in 1698. Sarah, daughter of this third marriage, became the wife of Jonathan Edwards.

Editors Notes:

*1 – The original paper unfortunately said Roxbury Connecticut which is so obviously a mistake that it took away from the otherwise well researched nature.

*2 – Most sources say he was born in 1659, but the source used here (Sidley’s book about Harvard) said 1660.

*3 – The original paper was not attributed, but the records of the Pierpont Family Association from 1998 gave the name of the author. He is now living in FL at the age of 86.

*5 – Harvard had been established in 1636, the year before John Davenport sailed to Massachusetts, so this statement is incorrect.

*6 – Was 1674 in original paper, but an obvious mistake. Should be 1647 since Cheever was back in Massachusetts by 1650.

*7 – Was twenty-nine in the original paper, but since this took place in 1684 and he was born in 1659, he would have only been twenty-five.

*9 – For further details on this group of men, see http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2017/03/genealogy-story-harvard-and-yale.html

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Accidental Car Thief

I was talking with a friend this evening about someone who “lost” their car in a parking lot and was reminded of a true story that I thought I’d write about. This happened while I was in college in the late 60s and concerns a few of my fellow students.

There were two students who were rooming together. They were in Shaw Hall, which at the time was an all-male dorm. Then, as now, it was the only dorm that was located in the main part of campus and was surrounded by academic buildings – the rest being on the fringes of the campus. There is a large parking garage directly across the street (appropriately called Shaw Lane).

It was the fall semester and one of the students had bought a new car that summer – as I recall it was a red Mustang, but it’s been 50 years since this incident so my memory might not be totally accurate. The student who did not have a car had some sort of appointment in Lansing, a few miles away, and asked his roommate if he could borrow the car to drive to that appointment. His roommate said, “sure,” and gave him the keys. He said that it was parked across the street in the parking garage.

The student went across the street and walked into the parking garage, almost immediately spotted the car, unlocked it, got in and drove to his appointment.

Perhaps an hour later, he was returning back to campus and taking the rather circuitous route through campus back to the dorm and parking garage when he was pulled over by the campus police. They came up to the car to arrest him and charged him with car theft.

The student was a bit confused as he told the police that they must be mistaken, he had asked his roommate for permission and his roommate had given him the keys. Why was his roommate suddenly declaring that the car was stolen!

The police had him drive back to Shaw Hall, with the police car following him, where the individual who had filed the stolen car report was located so the owner could identify the car and clear up the difference between the two stories.

But the individual who was waiting there was not his roommate. But he did identify the car by the license plate and the things in the trunk. So, either the student was lying or his roommate was the thief and he was an unwitting accomplice. The student who had been accused told the police his room number and the name of his roommate and the police went into the dorm to find the roommate and bring him out to face possible charges. The roommate complied and confirmed that he had loaned the student the keys to his car. He also told the police where his car had been parked and the student who had initially been accused exclaimed that he must be mistaken because he had found the car elsewhere in the parking garage. The whole group then entered the parking garage and sure enough, there was the roommate’s car parked where he said it had been.

They then tried the keys in the car and they fit! It turned out to be a one-in-a-million chance. Two students, from different states, had both bought identical red Mustangs that summer. And not only were they identical in color, options, etc., but they also had identical keys. Thus, when the hapless student borrowed his roommate’s car, he went into the parking garage, but ran into the look-alike car first, did not verify the license plate, but just unlocked it with the key he had been given – which worked – and drove away. So when the owner of the look-alike car later went to where he had parked his car he found it missing and called the campus police.

In the end, no charges were filed and everyone had a good laugh. I believe that one of the students contacted the local Ford dealer who verified that there were only so many variations of keys to be had and that they generally relied on the cars being somewhat randomly distributed throughout the country so this kind of thing would not happen. But it did, and the dealer agreed to rekey one of the two cars to avoid this somewhat unusual situation.

This was reported in the next edition of the Spartan News which is where I read it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Genealogy Story – The Roosevelt Connection


In looking at our church bulletin for the coming week, I noticed that our senior citizen’s group, Thursday Fellowship, was going to be having their monthly meeting. The “speaker” was going to be an actress doing a dramatic presentation of Eleanor Roosevelt. I had just watched a YouTube clip of an old program from 1953 of “What’s My Line” where Eleanor was the mystery guest. With all of my deep roots in the early years of America, this got me to wondering if I could find a genealogical connection to Eleanor.

Presidential Trivia

I’ve written earlier about how I am connected to all 45 US presidents (*1). And that would have included Eleanor’s husband, FDR, as well as Theodore Roosevelt (and Eleanor). That would have made me a 20th+ cousin with a common ancestor back in the 13th century. But I wasn’t looking for that type of distant connection. I wanted something a bit closer and more personal.

There are two Roosevelts who were presidents. Theodore Roosevelt (26th president) was an uncle of Eleanor, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd president) was Eleanor’s 5th cousin in addition to being her husband. So Teddy and Franklin were 4th cousins. That’s much closer than the relationship between Andrew Johnson (17th president) and Lyndon Johnson (36th president) who were 10th cousins, but not nearly as close as the relationship between John Adams (2nd president) and John Quincy Adams (6th president), who were father and son. If Hillary Clinton would have been elected recently she and her husband Bill (42nd president) would have been even closer.

Eleanor’s legal name was Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, but from an early age preferred to be called by her middle name, probably because her mother’s name was also Anna. Her mother died when she was 8 and her father before she turned 10. Her paternal grandparents had both passed before she was born, so she was raised by her maternal grandparents.

Searching for a Connection

I began by building a family tree for Eleanor using publicly available information (such as *2), as well as other family trees in ancestry.com. Since I knew that there were no Roosevelts in my family tree, I initially concentrated on her mother’s family lines. I followed each of them back to the 1600s or whenever that line came to America. While I did find a few family names that were also in my own family tree, none of them intersected. Most of her ancestors were in New York, but mine are primarily in Connecticut or Massachusetts. I then moved to her father’s family lines, following all the wives who married into the Roosevelt family. I was still not finding any connections. But when I reached her great-grandfather, something clicked.

An Unexpected Find

Eleanor’s great-grandfather was Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt (1794-1871) (*3). While that may not seem significant to most people, it was to me. It was a common practice for people to have a middle name that is their mother’s maiden name, and I quickly noted that Cornelius’s mother was Maria Helen Van Schaack, and that “He was the last full-blooded Dutch Roosevelt of his line.”

My wife’s family, Van De Car, were also Dutch and came to what was then New Holland in the early-mid 1600s. And one of the early marriages was between a Van Der Karre (as they then spelled the name) and a Van Schaack (*4). It only took a few more minutes of research to determine that Maria’s great-grandfather was Claas Van Schaack (1635-1709) and that he was the same individual who is my wife’s great*8 grandfather. Both the Van Der Karre and Van Schaack families lived in the Hudson River Valley in Kinderhook, NY (also the birthplace of president Martin Van Buren).

Thus, while Eleanor may not be closely related to me, she is my wife’s 6th cousin, 3 times removed. I had found what I was looking for – and it took less than two hours. I love genealogy!


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Genealogy Story – The Pierpont Wives

I’ve previously written about all the wives on my Russell family line, going back to the original Russell immigrant in 1730 (*1). For completeness, I’d like to do the same on my mother’s Pierpont family line going back to my great*7 grandfather, James Pierpont, who settled in New Haven and is the progenitor of most of the New England Pierpont family. As before, I will look at the maiden name of each of the wives and where they came from. On this line of my family tree, every family mentioned below were immigrants from England during the period 1620-1640.

Like in the Russell family, many of these individuals were married more than once, so this contains information on the 14 women whom these Pierpont men married. In fact, I am struck by the fact that it appears being unmarried was not something that men desired, so that if their wife predeceased them, they shortly remarried, even if they were well along in years.

James Pierpont (1659-1714)
I’ve written about James previously (*2), but I’ll summarize his marriages here.

Abigail Davenport (1672-1691)
Abigail was the granddaughter of John Davenport, the leader of the Puritan group who settled New Haven in 1638.

Sarah Haynes (1679-1696)
Sarah was the granddaughter of John Haynes, an immigrant who was one of the founders of the Connecticut Colony in Hartford, which was named after his former town of Hertford, England.

Mary Hooker (1673-1740)
Mary was the granddaughter of Rev. Thomas Hooker, the other co-founder of the Connecticut Colony.

Joseph Pierpont (1704-1748)
Hannah Russell (1705-1791)
Hannah was the daughter of Rev. Noadiah Russell, one of the other founders of Yale along with Joseph’s father, James. Noadiah was the son of an immigrant from England to the New Haven Colony.

Joseph Pierpont (1730-1824)
Lydia Bassett (1736-1783)
The Bassett family were also immigrants from England to the New Haven Colony.

Annis Warner [Curtis] [Blakeslee] (1734-1800)
The Warner family were among the early settlers of the Connecticut Colony in Hartford.

Ezra Pierpont (1757-1842)
Mary Blakeslee (1762-1827)
The Blakeslee family were among the prominent families who had founded the New Haven Colony. Mary’s mother was a descendant of the Alcox family who were the first settlers in my hometown of Wolcott, CT, then called Farmingbury.

Deborah Curtis Parker (1771-1842)
The Curtis family immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great Migration. At the time that Ezra married Deborah, she was living in Wolcott, CT. Her mother was another descendant of the Alcox family.

Austin Pierpont (1791-1848)
Sally Beecher (1794-1846)
The Beecher family were among the original settlers of the New Haven Colony. For more information on the Beecher family, see (*3).

Emily ?? [Sperry] (1791-) Only married to Austin for 1 year when he was killed by lightning.
Apart from the fact that Emily was a widow from the town of Bethany, nothing else is known about her.

Charles Pierpont (1825-1884)
Mary Ann Warner (1828-1911)
The Warner family were among the early settlers of the Connecticut Colony.

Wilson Pierpont (1855-1921)
Annie Merrill (1859-1898)
The Merrill family came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the Great Migration.

Anna Root [Hall] (1842-1938)
I’ve recounted her story in (*4). The Root family were among the early settlers of the Connecticut Colony.

Harold Granger Pierpont (1898-1969)
Sara Blackman (1898-1979)
I’ve recounted her story in (*5). The Blackman family were among the early settlers of Fairfield, CT, which was part of the Connecticut Colony.