April 10, 2008

"Bad Ben's" schoolboy days

While we certainly can't read everything, we do skim documents for a general idea of their content in order to categorize them. Discovering interesting tidbits about the individuals represented in a collection is one of the joys of processing. Benjamin Chew, Jr.'s voluminous correspondence has provided many such discoveries.

In the letter below, John Eager Howard, Benjamin Jr.'s brother-in-law, wrote to tell him how his sons Samuel and Benjamin III (later known as "Bad Ben") were getting on in their studies at St. Mary's College of Baltimore, a boarding school near the Howards' home. Samuel was apparently an astute student, while Benjamin III struggled to focus on his studies. Independent and strong-willed, Benjamin clashed with his teachers and other students. Later letters indicate that he was able to curtail his problematic behavior enough to succeed in his classes. However, John Eager Howard still reported to Benjamin Jr. in a letter written several months after the one below that Benjamin III had been in another fight: "I admire much Ben's spirit and many good qualities, but the truth is, he is too quick, which at times will lead him into scrapes of this kind" (John Eager Howard to Benjamin Chew, Jr., Baltimore, November 2, 1806). Benjamin's uncle proved correct, as conflict followed "Bad Ben" into adulthood.

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