Phi Beta Kappa fraternity is founded - HISTORY
Year
1776
Month Day
December 05

Phi Beta Kappa fraternity is founded

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 the 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.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

TV producer 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

Hundreds die in Brooklyn theater fire

A fire at the Brooklyn Theater in New York kills nearly 300 people and injures hundreds more on December 5, 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