George Washington Breaks Up a Snowball Fight at Harvard

George Washington

George Washington

A snowball fight among Continental Army soldiers threatened to get ugly during the Siege of Boston until George Washington intervened.

It was the snowy December of 1775. Since the summer, Washington had been trying to mold a single army from the many raw militias camped on the hills above Boston.

A 10-year-old boy named Israel Trask from Gloucester, Mass., had joined his father and his Essex County regiment. They were quartered at Harvard College.

Glover’s Regiment was also in Cambridge, interrupting supply ships for the redcoats bottled up in Boston. The regiment was comprised of fishermen and sailors of all colors – English Yankees, African-Americans and Indians. They dressed in short jackets and loose trousers.

One day a large group of Virginia riflemen who had just arrived were strolling around Harvard Yard, looking at the buildings, when Glover’s Regiment caught sight of them. Their outfits, so unlike anyone else’s, were too much for the Marbleheaders. The Virginians wore ‘white linen frocks, ruffled and fringed.’

The Marbleheaders, a jovial crew, began to make fun of the Virginians.

Colonial engraving, Harvard College

Colonial engraving, Harvard College

According to young Israel Trask, insults turned into a snowball fight, which escalated into a riot:

Their first manifestations were ridicule and derision, which the riflemen bore with more patience than their wont, but resort being made to snow, which then covered the ground, these soft missives were interchanged but a few minutes before both parties closed, and a fierce struggle commenced with biting and gouging on the one part, and knockdown on the other part with as much apparent fury as the most deadly enmity could create.Reinforced by their friends, in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field, struggling for the mastery.

And then George Washington showed up:


At this juncture General Washington made his appearance, whether by accident or design I never knew. I only saw him and his colored servant both mounted. With the spring of a deer, he leaped from his saddle, threw the reins of his bridle into the hands of his servant, and rushed into the thickest of the melee, with an iron grip seized two tall, brawny, athletic, savage-looking riflemen by the throat, keeping them at arm’s length, alternately shaking and talking to them.

In this position the eye of the belligerents caught sight of the general. Its effect on them was instantaneous flight at the top of their speed in all directions from the scene of the conflict. Less than fifteen minutes time had elapsed from the commencement of the row before the general and his two criminals were the only occupants of the field of action.

With thanks to Boston 1775.

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