Wednesday, June 22, 2016

John Harvard, Ungutted Mackerel and Goat Dung

You may recognize the name John Harvard as belonging to the man for whom Harvard University was named. Did you know that he had no real connection to the school? He wasn't a founder, he wasn't a teacher, he wasn't even a student.

John Harvard's connection to the fledgling university in Cambridge, Mass. was via Nathaniel Eaton who was Harvard's schoolmate back in England and a friend with whom Harvard had sailed to "the New World". John Harvard died in 1638 of tuberculosis and because he liked what his friend Eaton was doing as the first "master" of the newly formed college in Cambridge - John Harvard bequeathed his library of 400 books and a pretty good sum of money. Because of the size of the gift - the good people of the Bay Colony named their university after him.

If Harvard died a year later - everything might have been different because his friend Eaton was fired.

Nathaniel Eaton was fired in 1639 in part because he was a stern taskmaster who beat his students but he was fired mostly because his wife was a lousy cook.

Like today - students paid for not just an education but also for room and board. Back then all the students and the teachers lived under the same roof and the wife of the master provided the meals. Eaton's wife was a lousy provider.

At the hearing there were allegations that Eaton's wife provided no beef and instead served ungutted mackerel (an allegation she denied) and that there was goat dung in her hasty pudding (another allegation she denied). Personally I think Eaton's wife would have been all set if she just served the students more beer (students haven't changed all that much).

So if Harvard died a year later - would he still have bequeathed the money to the college that fired his friend? Would the school have a different name today? Wouldn't "Ungutted Mackerel" be a good name for a band? Will you be able to think of Harvard's Hasty Pudding Award without thinking of the words "goat dung" from now on? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. As to being served more beer, John Harvard's brew pub is pretty good, I thought.

  2. You sound like you've had the tour at the Eaton house in Stratford.