Question: What book contains the first reference to Alexander Hamilton shooting the cannonball that crashes through Nassau Hall and destroys the portrait of King George?
According to a popular story told and retold over the years, during the Battle of Princeton young artillery commander Alexander Hamilton directed his cannons at the remaining redcoats who had holed up in Nassau Hall, and fired a shot straight through the window, neatly decapitating the portrait of King George II which hung in the room. The earliest available reference to Hamilton’s being behind the cannonball I have found is in Sir George Otto Trevelyan’s “The American Revolution” published in 1905. On page 137 of volume three he writes “Even in that quarter there was very little bloodshed, but some profanation; for young Alexander Hamilton, with the irreverence of a student fresh from a rival place of education, planted his guns on the sacred grass of the academical campus, and fired a six-pound shot which is said to have passed through the head of King George the Second’s portrait in the Chapel.” Trevelyan typically employs footnotes when drawing upon primary sources but there is none associated with this passage. When the story is referenced by later historians it almost always traces back to Trevelyan.
Question: Can you definitively document the first use of “Houseparties” as a term for the Spring club bacchanal?
Answer:Writing in the Princeton Alumni Weekly in 1960, Brown Rolston 1910 makes the claim that “It was my section of the Cottage Club and that of Cap and Gown which started Houseparties. It took considerable argument and persuasion to get the college authorities to consent, but under the conditions of strict chaperonage they finally did. The girls stayed at the clubs and each club had a dance to which the girls and members of the other club were invited and a most enjoyable and respectable time was had by all. My mother and several other ladies were on guard but, as I said, the girls were ‘nice’ girls and were quite used to being chaperoned.”
If we take Rolston at his word, it would mean that houseparties originated with the Class of 1910. It’s worth noting however that since he is writing in 1960, Rolston is almost certainly using the term retroactively. While the events Rolston describes may match the definition of houseparties (at least by early 20th century standards) it seems unlikely that they were called that. The first time that the term actually appears in reference to a collective celebration at the clubs seems to be a brief mention in the Daily Princetonian in 1916. After this point it quickly enters the Princeton vernacular and by 1920 there is a “houseparties” issue of The Tiger.
There are two Prince articles which briefly discuss the origin of houseparties that one can review online, as they explain their evolution from smaller “tea parties.”
I hope that this information helps. I cannot find anything in any of our records which would indicate that 1908 was the first year of houseparties. Even if Brown Rolston was only a junior when the events he describes happened (it’s unclear if he was discussing his junior or senior year), then the date still would have been spring 1909. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do; I understand that bragging rights to a century of partying is on the line here.
The staff of the Mudd Manuscript Library answers over 2,000 e-mail inquiries a year, and those which should be of interest to a wider audience will be shared via this blog. This blog category is named Dear Mr. Mudd because in a few instances some of the e-mails sent to our general library account are addressed that way.