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War On Campus: Papers Reveal Life At Yale During The American Revolution

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Jonathan Maltby's diary from his days as a student at Yale during the Revolutionary War.

Newly discovered papers from an 18th century Yale alumnus offer a fresh look at campus life during the Revolutionary War.

Jonathan Maltby studied theology at Yale, and graduated in 1779. The Northford, Connecticut native recalled his college years during the Revolutionary War in a letter written in 1848 on his 90th birthday. In the letter, he writes "a war spirit prevailed in all the old 13," referring to the 13 original colonies. He also writes that "patriotism warmed the hearts of the free born sons of Yale."

Peter Cunningham is the web producer for Yale News. He discovered the letter in Yale's Beineke Library. He said the letter describes upperclassmen practicing military maneuvers on campus, preparing to participate in the war.

“He says that when news of the battle of Lexington and Concord reached Yale, a hundred men volunteered to go and fight,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham also discovered Jonathan Maltby's Yale diary at the Beineke. Maltby chronicles how most students were evacuated to nearby towns during the battle of New Haven. Several dozen students did stay to fight the 3,000 invading British troops, according to Maltby. Two of his classmates were wounded in the battle, including Elizur Goodrich, who later represented Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cunningham said there is a juxtaposition between the patriotism expressed by the 90-year-old Maltby, and his bleaker view of war, as expressed in his student days at Yale.

“He mourns what he calls 'poor human nature,' kind of ascribes the war to human sin, and thinks that America is partially being punished for its sin,” said Cunningham. “So it's interesting to hear at the time how distressing the news of the war was, and how immediate the horrors of war were to people as opposed to how patriotic and spirited they made it sound later on.”

After graduation, Jonathan Maltby became a minister, but an illness cut short his preaching career. After living in Georgia for medical reasons, he returned to New Haven. Maltby died in 1850.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”
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