Phi Beta Kappa is founded while army flounders - HISTORY
Year
1776

Phi Beta Kappa is founded while army flounders

On this day in Williamsburg, Virginia, a group of five students at the College of William and Mary gather at Raleigh’s Tavern to found a new fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa. Intended to follow strictly American principles as opposed to those of England or Germany, the new society engaged in the fervent political debate typical of student life at Thomas Jefferson’s beloved college in Virginia’s capital. The fluent scholars of Greek and Latin who gathered to found the society, which was destined to count presidents and poets of the newly declared republic among its ranks, could not have differed more greatly from their Patriot fellows suffering as prisoners of the crown in British-occupied New York.

From the British stronghold, an officer writing on this day described his 5,000 American captives in Shakespearian terms: “…many of them are such ragamuffins, as you never saw in your life; I cannot give you a better idea of them than by putting you in mind of Falstaff’s recruits, or poor Tom in King Lear; and yet they had strained every nerve to cover their nakedness, by dismantling all the beds.”

While students toasted and the captured shivered, General George Washington pled the virtues of a standing army above those of an ad hoc militia. His missive to Congress came at the end of his notice that his batch of ragamuffins and their supplies were still in transit across the Delaware to Pennsylvania, protected from the rampaging redcoats by a rear guard at Princeton commanded by Lord William Stirling and General Adam Stephens.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Prohibition ends

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America. At 5:32 p.m. EST, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority ...read more

Roone Arledge dies

On December 5, 2002, the legendary television producer and executive Roone Arledge dies in New York City, at the age of 71. Born in Forest Hills, Queens, Arledge won his first producing job from New York’s Channel 4, where he worked behind the scenes on a puppet show starring ...read more

Van Buren is born

On this day in 1782, Martin Van Buren, America’s 8th president, is born in Kinderhook, New York, to Dutch parents. He left grammar school with his sights set on studying law and pursuing a career in politics.Van Buren married one of his Dutch cousins, Hannah Hoes, in 1807. The ...read more

Rodeo star Bill Pickett born in Texas

On this day, the great steer wrestling rodeo star Bill Pickett is born near Austin, Texas.The son of black and Indian parents, Pickett learned his roping and riding skills working as a cowboy on a Texas ranch. He attracted the attention of the Miller brothers, who ran the 101 ...read more

O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack released

Released on this day in 2000, several weeks ahead of the film itself, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack would catch on slowly, but it would eventually sell upwards of 7 million copies while winning a broad new audience for contemporary artists performing a style of ...read more

Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez is published

On this day, John Steinbeck’s nonfiction book The Sea of Cortez is published. The book reflects Steinbeck’s serious study of marine biology. He also uses his knowledge of the sea and its creatures in creating Doc, the marine biologist character in Cannery Row (1945).Steinbeck was ...read more

Eddie Murphy stars in Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy stars as the wisecracking Detective Axel Foley in the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop, released in theaters on this day in 1984. The movie marked the first major starring role for Murphy, who went on to become one of the top-grossing actors in Hollywood.Murphy was ...read more

Hundreds die in Brooklyn theater fire

A fire at the Brooklyn Theater in New York kills nearly 300 people and injures hundreds more on this day in 1876. Some victims perished from a combination of burns and smoke inhalation; others were trampled to death in the general panic that ensued.The play The Two Orphans ...read more

George Custer born

On this day in 1839, Union General George Armstrong Custer is born in Harrison County, Ohio. Although he is best known for his demise at the hands of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana,in 1876, Custer built a reputation as a dashing and ...read more