185 Sever’s Defense Against Pierpont
[ca. October 1718]
I pray the favour of a few words, in my defence against Mr. Pierpont, and I’m very glad that I have an opportunity to vindicate my self and my brother from the unjust reflections that have been cast upon us by Mr. Pierpont, and Capt. Heath1 before your Excellency and the Honourable and Reverend the rest of the Overseers of the College. And inasmuch as this controversie arose upon the President and fellows denying Admission to two Young men offered to the College by Mr. Pierpont, I shall give an account how that matter was, and the bad tendency of Mr. Pierponts conduct in that affair to the College.
- 1. I’ll inform your Excellency &c. what had passed som time before that controversie between some of the Gentlemen of the Corporation and the Resident fellows of the College refering to the business of Admissions.
- 2. how far I was concerned in denying admission to those two young men.
- 3. I’ll Endeavour to make it appear that Mr. Pierponts complaint against me is groundless.
- 4. that his conduct in this affair has a bad tendency to the College.
1 as to the business of Admissions, two years ago2 the last Commencement the class to be admited was to come under my Tuition, and several Gentlemen of the Corporation, particularly Mr. Brattle and Mr. Pemberton told me that they understood that the fellows had been too Easie in their Admissions, which had been hurtfull to Learning and the College and they directed me to observe the laws of the house made and provided in that case, and not to receive unqualified members. I told Mr. Brattle that I tho’t a reform in that business would be of service to the College but that in my Opinion it must be gradual, and not at once, that it would be a [. . .] thing, that School Masters would be ready to say, that their Young men were as good as had somtimes been Admited, and their Parents that their Children had been at School the usual time, and being recommended by their Masters would be likly to think that somthing was amiss at the College if they were not Admited, and I believe I never had so much displeasure from those Gentlemen upon any account as because I did not encline to proceed so far at once in that affair as they would have had me.
2 I’ll inform your Excellency &c. how far I was concerned in denying Admission to those two young men. When they came to be examined Mr. Flynt, Mr. Robie and myself were together, I soon perceived that they were very deficient in their Learning and was troubled and concerned to see that they were so. Capt. Heath, the father of one of the young men, and my father when living were nigh neighbors, and since his decease a brother of mine lives in the same house, and there somtimes happened little family differences between them and upon that Account I tho’t that Capt. H. would be likly to impute it to me, and to think that I was his enemy if his son3 was not admited, Although I had never mentioned Capt. H’s name either to Mr. Flynt, or Mr. Robie, or used any means to byass them in that affair. My first tho’t was when their Examination was over to be silent myself because of these circumstances, and to leave the decision to Mr. Flynt and Mr. Robie and Accordingly, they both, without any hesitation, gave their Opinion concerning those Young men, and it was that they were so deficient, that by our laws, they could not be admited into the College.
Obj: Capt. Heath says that I gave threatening words to hinder his son. Ans: the reverse is true, viz: that I gave him all the assurances that I could to be very just to his son, if he came to Cambridge, the Conversation between him and I, that I suppose he refers to was thus. There was a little Controversie in the law, between Capt. Heath and a brother of mine at the inferior Court in january the Winter before Mr. Pierpont offered those two young men to the College and it so happened that Capt. Heath received a judgment against my brother, who appealed to the next Superior Court in May following. And somtime after the january Court I believe in March I went over to Roxbury and in passing by Capt. Heaths house he called me in, and told me that my brother and he were about to agree the matter, and shewed me a paper of proposals in order to an Agrement which I looked upon, and not very well liking of them I told him, I supposed there would be another Opportunity of tryal, refering to my brothers appeal to the Superior Court in May, and had not the least thots of his Son, but he was jealous, as if I hinted that I would hinder his Son, and said I hope you wont hinder my son at Cambridge, upon which I told him no Capt. Heath, I had no reference to your Son, and if your Son comes to Cambridge he shall have all the justice from me, that you can reasonably expect or desire, and so we went on with our task, and when I went away he walked with me about fifty rod, where my brother lives, and then we stood in the Street and talked some time, and before I left him, knowing his jealous temper, I repeated what I had said before, and told him that whatever the Issue of my brothers business with him was, he might be assured that if his Son came to Cambridge he should have the same treatment from me that others had, and that he had no reason to Entertain any jealousie upon that account and thus the reverse of what Capt. H. says upon that head is true.
3 I shall Endeavour to make it appear to your Excellency &c. that Mr. Pierponts complaint against me is groundless. And the matter was thus. Somtime after the Examination of those young men, I was informed that he had made hard reflections upon the fellows of the College in saying that it was through prejudice that those Young men were not Admited, and in saying that they were as fit for Admission (after they had been judged unfit by the President and fellows) as their Tutor was to tutor them. And I tho’t it would become any of the fellows in justice to the College to him, and to themselves, to take the first opportunity and reprove him for those too free airs that he had given himself, Especially considering that he was a Member of this Society, and subject to the Government of it and soon after (while these stories were fresh in my mind) he came to my Chamber with Capt. Heath, and began to find fault, and to quarrel with me, that the Young men were not admited, and after some talk I asked Mr. Pierpont if he looked upon it a decent thing, for a Schoolmaster, when he offered persons to Examine that we could not receive to make so hard reflections on the fellows and represent one as a Rogue, and another as a fool refering to those Stories that I just now mentioned. I told him that I tho’t it was the first time that ever the College was so insulted by a Schoolmaster and that he ought to reflect upon himself for his ill manners. Upon which Mr. Pierpont or Capt. Heath asked me if I made that charge upon Mr. Pierpont, upon which I told him as Mr. Foxcroft4 who was present well remembers, that I did not pretend that he said so of them in words, but that if I was not misinformed, he made such reflections as might admit of that interpretation and so went on to give him some account of those things, that I had heard of him, and I cant but think that their design in coming to Cambridge at that time was to try if they could not force the Admission of those Young men, and if not to pick a quarrel with us, and being apprehensive of Capt. H.’s jealousie, I used all the precaution that was in my power, from time to time to shun every thing that looked amiss, and if after all his bad Suggestions of me, may be received to my Damage, there is no guarding against such a misfortune, and the most innocent man in the world, may be brot to suffer for no fault.
4 I shall Endeavour to make it appear to your Excellency &c. that Mr. Pierponts conduct in this affair has a bad tendency to the College; it tends to Enervate the Government of it and to bring an Odium upon the Society.
1 it tends to enervate the Government of the College. The business of Examination and Admission of Members is by the laws of the house put into the hands of the President and fellows and they are the judges of that matter, and for a Schoolmaster to set up his Opinion in Opposition to them and one who is a member of the house, and in a very plain case too, we look upon as abusive to us in that we are the proper judges, and it is what we think we may and ought to resent and if we may be run over in one instance we may in another too, and it is Easie to say what the End will be, and I doubt not but that your Excellency and the Honourable and Reverend the rest of the Overseers of the College will be ready at all times to guard and defend us, in the faithfull discharge of our proper business, and to discountenance every insult upon us, and in that way to strengthen the Resident Government of the house and Especially now, when its numbers are so greatly Encreased.
2. it brings an odium upon the College. He has been guilty of traducing the fellows of the College and representing them as false to their trust, and partial in their Administration. And for no other reason but because he could not bring us to dispense with the laws of the College that he might crowd in upon us some of his own relations, out of his own School that were not fit for Admission, and he has been so abusive, as to suggest, for no reason, as if the fellows themselves, one or more of them were deficient in their own business. Now by these Stories, abroad the fellows aren’t the sufferers only, but the College is defamed and abused, as far as his credit will go, and by this means the Society suffers abroad, and not only at Roxbury where he resides, but an hundred and fifty miles off where he has been,5 and is it reasonable that our own Member may be suffered not only to abuse us abroad but to come within our doors, and molest us within our own proper line of business and pick a quarrel with us there? If they may be allowed to come there, and treat us so ill, as he has done, to our face, and go away, and make such groundless reflections abroad as he has done, far and wide, it is very hard upon the College and the Gentlemen that reside there, and have the Government of it, and surely in a Society of above one hundred persons, of from thirteen to eighteen, or nineteen years of age, its necessary that somthing of Authority and government be kept up over them for the carrying on the designs of learning and good manners, but if our own members are suffered thus to break in upon us, we must needs of all the Societies in the world, of this Nature appear to be the most despicable. And if it appears that we have been so bad here as Mr. Pierpont has Suggested, I shall expect the just frowns of your Excellency and the Honourable and Reverend the rest of the Overseers of the College but if not, and if the fault lies on the other side, I doubt not but we shall be intirely Vindicated. And it may be observed that these things that are alledged against Mr. Pierpont had never been made publick if it had not been for himself, for in the first place he complained against me, and by that means he necessarily bro’t out these things against himself, and which I had never made publick if it had not been in my own defense. I will add only one word more, and that is with respect to the words of his complaint, which are somthing higher than what I have said, viz. that I charged him with calling the fellows, Rogues, Dogs, and lyars, but whatever the words were, they were spoken nigh a year and a quarter ago, and after so long a time it must be very difficult for any body to remember words, and they are persons of very severe resentments. They suppose themselves to be injured, and I am afraid have somthing bad in their tempers, which might dispose them to make the worst of it and do me a [disservice?]. And Mr. Pierpont when he first came to the College upon that business, was not certain what the words were. He pretended indeed to be pretty certain that I had spoken some hard words but was not certain what they were, and if I am not mistaken he has varied in his account of them more than once, but finally it seems that he with the rest of his Evidences have unanimously fixed upon the words that I mentioned as suiting best with their design, but what the words were, Capt. Heath acknowledged before the Corporation that by the whole of our Fellows he understood that I charged Mr. Pierpont with saying so of us in effect by construction, and Mr. Foxcroft who was present gives evidence to the same purpose, and I think with submission, that our evidences make it appear that he had represented the fellows very ill indeed. And refering to those Stories I only asked him (as I say) if he tho’t it decent to make such reflections upon us, and to represent one as a Rogue, and another as a fool, and said at the same time that I did not pretend that he said so in words, but that he made such reflections as might admit of that construction, and upon the whole I doubt not, but that your Excellency and the Honourable and Reverend the Rest of the Overseers of the College, will be of Opinion that of all this smoak that Mr. Pierpont has raised, there is but very little or no fire and that he has been a very troublesome person, and that it may be proper to make such provision as in your great wisdom you shall se fit that the Resident Government of the House may be better guarded from all persons that may be disposed to treat the College thus in any time hereafter, and I humbly submit myself, and this whole affair to your Excellency and the Honourable and Reverend the rest of the Overseers of the College.
College Papers, i. 54 (No. 118). For background on this case see the note to No. 182. Tutor Sever’s defense so impressed the Overseers at their meeting of October 31 that they upheld Sever and felt that Pierpont should apologize. On November 3 the Charlestown Court quashed the suit Pierpont had brought.