Ringing Bells and Blowing Horns

Colby Bicentennial Seal 1813-1863

July 31, 1833

scroll icon


A lecture by the abolition leader and orator William Lloyd Garrison in Waterville rallied students to the cause. They formed the Waterville College Anti-Slavery Society, holding a rousing meeting on July 4, 1833 (a regular day in the College calendar) in the College dining hall. The cause may have been worthy but the raucous rally violated all of the standards of decorum that President Jeremiah Chaplin held dear.

President Chaplin upbraided the students. They held their ground and demanded he apologize. He refused and the impasse ended with Chaplin’s resignation.

Students continued to demand the apology and a retraction of the president’s remarks, with 57 signing a petition delivered to the faculty. The trustees appointed a committee to endeavour to effect a reconciliation. The same day the committee reported back to the full board that no reconciliation would be effected and that President Chaplin was of the opinion that it would be best to accept his resignation. A professor, George Keely, was assigned to preside at commencement, the next day.

In the trustees’ records, the momentous incident was recorded: 

On the morning of 4th of July, a large proportion of the students in the lower three classes absented themselves from the usual recitation. While the recitation was proceeding, a company of nearly thirty students marched backwards and forwards from the North to the South College, directly in front of the Recitations Rooms, ringing bells, and blowing horns and other instruments. Many of these also followed to their rooms those students who had been present at recitation and made the like noises. These disturbances were made in full view of several members of the faculty. The faculty called upon them to put a stop to their riotous proceedings and with this view they promptly expelled two of the most prominent among them. This measure, Trustees were told, had the anticipated effect of restoring order in College.

The president be requested to furnish the board with a statement relative to late difficulties which occasioned his resignation.

President Chaplin: It is a day of joy, but a joy that ought always to be sober and chastened. The students are not beasts of the field or fowls of the air, but rational and immortal beings. …

For you to pride yourselves on doing that which a boor, a savage or a brute may do as well as you is truly contemptible.

scroll icon