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Happy Saturday, everybody, since this is the last Saturday episode before Christmas of twenty twenty, we were looking for a classic Christmas episode and a lot of them are incredibly sad.


Nobody needs that this year. So we have instead picked one that's a little more absurd. This is our December 24th, 2014 episode on the Eggnog Riot. Like its name suggests, this was a riot over eggnog, specifically about wanting to have alcohol in the eggnog, which took place at West Point in 1826. Enjoy.


Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Tracy B. Wilson.


So happy holidays. Whatever you celebrate. It's no secret that holiday celebrations often involve drinking about a bit of spiked eggnog. I am drinking some eggnog right now, but it is not spiked because I'm at work.


However, I did get some after like I am jealous, but there's no also no big surprise in mentioning that when people drink, they sometimes do really foolish things. And when they drink a lot, the foolishness can reach epic proportions.


I'm sure many of our listeners have some moments like me and I acted like a jerk when I had had too much to drink. Many of us have been there.


So West Point it will seem like I'm jumping, but I'm not West Point. For any listeners who may not know what it is is the United States Military Academy. And it is located in West Point, New York, which is why it is called West Point.


And its roots go right back to the founding of the United States, as West Point was believed by George Washington to be the key strategic spot on the North American continent in the war for independence.


And so West Point began as a military post, and then the military academy was established there in 1892 by President Thomas Jefferson. And it's the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States, which I did not know prior to researching this. Getting into West Point is extremely difficult, and the Academy has a long history of prestige and honor. When you know someone or you hear about someone, like a friend of the family who says, oh my gosh, I got into West Point or my son got into West Point, everybody tends to go, wow.


So it's a big deal. But we today are talking about Christmas at West Point in 1826 and an event that was exactly that was not exactly what you would call honorable and it would not make you go, wow, being impressed. It would make you go, wow, I can't believe that happened. And that is the eggnog riot.


I had never heard of this until someone asked us to talk about it recently. And I passed it your way because my Christmas episode was already spoken for. Yeah. And I'm so glad you did. I had heard the phrase, but I never knew what it was about.


So I got some good learning in and it's a fairly entertaining story.


So first, we're going to start with just a little background about eggnog. It's not 100 percent clear exactly when eggnog was invented, its likely predecessor was this hot milky ale called Posit that was popular in medieval Britain. Monks had started adding eggs and figs to their pots by the 13th century. But it wasn't until the 17th hundreds that eggnog really surged in popularity and became tied to holiday celebrations.


So it was being consumed by people, you know, for many centuries at that point. But part of the reason that it was not this hugely popular drink that everyone had at the holidays was because ingredients like milk and eggs and sherry had been luxury items up to that point.


But in the American colonies, many people had access to cows and chickens, thanks to the many farms in the colonies, and there was available rum that was cheaper. And so the average person could suddenly enjoy eggnog and the colonies loved it, just like I do.


I get excited about eggnog every year. It's so yeah, I get excited about eggnog flavored things the way that I get excited about pumpkin flavored things. I am one of those pumpkin jerks, but I also really, really love eggnog.


Yeah, Patrick hates it, which means it is all for me. George Washington even made his own recipe for eggnog, which included multiple alcoholic ingredients, including brandy, rye, whiskey, Jamaica, rum and sherry. In short, this is a total booze bomb.


Yeah, you can actually find that recipe online, but there's a trick to it, which is that the way he wrote it, he didn't include how many eggs you were supposed to use. So even at the time, people that were using his recipes were kind of guessing.


But basically you would be drunk as a skunk if you drank it, no matter how many eggs you included. He says a lot of alcohol in it.


And so as a beverage enjoyed and endorsed by the Founding Fathers, eggnog really became a vital part of any holiday celebration in the United States at that point.


So let's detour back over to West Point. The superintendent of West Point in 1826 was Colonel Silvanus there. He actually served as superintendent from 1817 to 1833, and he's often called the father of the military academy, was under his leadership that the academic standards for the school were significantly upgraded and codified. He also set rigorous criteria for military discipline and conduct. Yes. So prior to his tenure as leader of the school, it was not quite as.


Sort of, you know, standardized it, I read one historical account that said, like, you know, it was really sort of laughable to consider it an actual learning institution or military academy.


It just it was kind of rough and rowdy collection of sort of like we're gathering people together and we're teaching them as well as we can.


But underneath there, it really just became like a Swiss clock of, you know, good standards, scheduling. He handled everything like everyone that worked there. He hired them. Every student that it was admitted he chose them and he really, really had these very, very high standards.


And one of the major contributions that he made to the school, in addition to pretty much setting it up as an actual institution, and he really the whole country kind of owes him a debt for this contribution, was that he set up this curriculum with engineering at its core. So for much of the 19th century, the vast majority of engineers that were building the infrastructure of the U.S. transportation system came from West Point.


So if you were on a road, if you crossed a bridge, if you traveled by train, probably the people that designed and built those things were West Point graduates.


And that is all thanks to Thayer's recognition that a fledgling country really needed engineers if it was going to actually sustain itself and develop long term. Any biography or description of their notes that he had an intense focus on standards and excellence, he made the school into a meritocracy that was based on performance and threw out any benefit to being from a privileged family. When his nephew was admitted to the school, he made the boys sign a letter of resignation that they are kept in his possession.


So the invent of a single infraction, the younger man would immediately be removed from the school.


Yeah, he wanted there to be no no way that anybody could point to him or his nephew and say that there had been unfair partial treatment. He really was all about sort of everybody comes in as an equal. Everybody behaves as an equal. I don't care if you're rich or poor. I care about how smart and dedicated you are. Really kind of a very new way of thinking at the time.


We should probably point out that everyone here, like the school, was not integrated or anything. So everyone was kind of I just don't want to make it sound as though we are unaware of that aspect, that everyone still had limits. Oh, yes, of course.


This is mostly like in terms of class level, you know, rich kids, we're not going to get treated any better or have any better chances than children, than boys had come from families that were less privileged, but were just as smart and willing to work as hard.


So that was his thing.


And up to this point in the U.S., Ms.


Brief history, it had really become a tradition over the holidays for cadets to unwind a bit. Life as a student at the academy was rigorous. It was even grueling at times, and so is a much needed break from all of that discipline. Homemade eggnog, which was, of course, spiked, had become the drink of choice among the cadets to celebrate Christmas. Colonel Thayer was not OK with this. The superintendent is sometimes described as leading with an almost monk like existence because he was so dedicated to a life of honor and living up to the standards he set for himself as well as the cadets.


So the idea of holiday drunkenness did not mesh with his vision of how disciplined cadets should behave. So he instituted a rule that no cadet could purchase, store or consume alcohol of any kind.


Yeah, that didn't go over. So you can imagine how well a rule like that would be received.


Plenty of the young men at West Point flouted the rule on the down low. They were just like, that's fine. He can say that all he wants, we're still going to drink at Christmas.


But a few cadets that were really sort of bristling at the idea that he would go so far as to make a regulation that would bar spirits from a holiday celebration, made it their personal mission to throw the biggest holiday party the school had ever seen. And when we say biggest, what we really mean is the most alcohol filled.


And before we get to sort of how that played out, do you want to have a word from a sponsor? Let's do.


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Several nights before the Christmas Eve party, three different students together across the Hudson River to visit Martin's Tavern, which was located on the East Bank, and there were other taverns closer to the school, but they were not going to be able to provide the amount of liquor that the cadets were planning to amass for their revelry at a price that the students could also afford.


And so after having a few drinks at Martin's Tavern, the cadets took several gallons of whiskey that they had procured and they headed back to the academy.


When they reach the dock at the academy after crossing back over the river, they ran into a little obstacle, which was a guard, and the guard was an enlisted man who was standing on the dock. This was kind of a minor obstacle because the guard was willing to look the other way for a thirty five cent bribe.


And once the cadets reach the barracks, they stowed their illicit alcohol in their bunks with their more mundane personal effects, they kind of carefully disguised it as just, you know, with everything else. They are new that the cadets were likely to try to smuggle in alcohol into the barracks because it had happened before and he was not a fool. So he assigned Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Lieutenant William A. Thornton to the North Barracks to keep things to keep an eye on things on Christmas Eve.


And initially, the evening was relatively quiet, so the two officers went to bed around midnight thinking that nothing was going to happen.


But several hours later, Captain Hitchcock awoke to the sound of several of the young men partying several floors up. He went upstairs and he discovered a half dozen drunken cadets. And initially he just thought he was breaking up a minor situation and he ordered all of the boys to their rooms. But before he could leave, noises in the next room tipped him off to additional inebriated cadets.


When Hitchcock entered the next room, two drunk cadets were trying to hide under a blanket and a third was hiding his face behind a hat. Doesn't this kind of crack you up like I could? So picture these drunk people thinking they are somehow imperceptible under a blanket.


I feel like this is a weird sitcom set at West Point a long time ago.


So Hitchcock confronted the hat Heider and tried to get him to reveal his identity. And then things pretty quickly became heated.


Yeah, they exchanged some words and Hitchcock eventually left, but the cadets that remained were really angry at having been confronted.


And and his heated exchange with the the young man hiding behind the hat just kind of ratcheted up everybody's a year, a little bit like I think they just felt like they were being hassled.


And it appears that this is kind of in the tone of the revelry took a turn. And eventually someone is said to have shouted, get your dirks and bayonets and pistols if you have them before this night is over, Hitchcock will be dead.


That's what catalyzed the riot. Yeah, well, drunken screeching about violence, so an unruly party, another one sprung up on one of the lower floors and Captain Hitchcock ran to break it up. And on his way, he actually encountered Jefferson Davis, who was intoxicated in the hallway and the slosh. Davis accompanied Hitchcock into the room where this new phase of the party was going on, shouting, Put away the grog, boys. Captain Hitchcocks coming.


But, of course, he was standing right next to. Hitchcocks sent Davies back to his room and he acquiesced, which really saved his bacon later on, his cooperation kept him from being court martialed.


And when Hitchcock attempted to break down a barricaded door in another room where a party was erupting, another cadet tried to shoot him. And this shooting was only thwarted by another young man that jostled him as his pistol went off. And from the accounts I read, it was unclear whether that second man that did the jostling did so on purpose or was just kind of having a a drunken stumble in a moment. A serendipitous prevention of murder.


Yes, sir.


So meanwhile, Lieutenant Thornton had also gotten up from his bed and was trying to stop the various pockets of partying that were popping up all over the barracks. But he was having even more trouble than Captain Hitchcock. At one point, a cadet brandished a sword at him and another whacked him with a piece of wood.


Yeah, and these all sound funny, but I have to, like, step back for a moment and think like, OK, these are young men that have been trained rigorously, physically. They're, you know, in the prime of life in terms of their health. And they are running around drunk. So they do not have full control of their mental faculties brandishing weapons at these poor men. Like it sounds kind of funny, but I can imagine in the moment it was terrifying.


Well, and I am also reminded of a number of blog posts that have been circulating around the Internet lately of white people rioting over stupid things. And I feel like this is a historical example you have of ridiculous riot over something stupid.


Yea, we wanted some booze in our eggnog. So after Captain Hitchcocks near Miss with the drunken shooter, he called for backup and he called for the commandant of cadets. But some of the drunken men misunderstood what he said and they thought he was calling for their campus rivals, which were the artillerymen that were stationed at West Point.


And this set off a chain reaction of these inebriated young men arming themselves to defend against the Bombardier's that they were convinced were coming. As they prepared for the coming enemy, they also trashed the barracks, they broke dishes and windows and tore apart the furniture, they pulled Bannister's away from the staircase cases. Hitchcock had never called for the artillerymen, so they never came. But the violence in the barracks kept escalating anyway. Finally, William Wirth, who was the commandant of cadets, came to Hitchcock's Hitchcock's call and was able to shut it down.


So even though at this point, you know, things subside a bit, what's left is that roughly one third of the cadets at West Point at the time.


So I've seen the number, 90 out of 260 were involved in this booze fueled chaos where they basically destroyed their own surroundings. Some of the young men were still drunk on Christmas morning because remember, this started well after midnight. So it was actually technically Christmas already when it began and they looked a mess at this point, you know, clothes disheveled, some of them torn.


Their barracks were a complete shambles.


And basically what it boils down to is that a few gallons of whiskey had incited nearly 100 young men to do a serious amount of damage to their academy and their home away from home and really sort of the the mental environment where they were as well.


I'm actually kind of dismayed to learn by this episode or maybe have reiterated that rioting over ridiculous things is not actually a new phenomenon. No, not even a little. And I wonder. How much of that is sort of the expression of in this particular case, you know, if they were kept to this incredibly high standard and they were forced to be rigorously devoted to their studies and devoted to being, you know, sort of on point at all times, if this is just sort of like a build up of the normal rambunctiousness that people have, that's been kind of tamped down for a while.


And then you get some whiskey in the mix and you can't hold that back anymore and it goes berserk.


Now, there's actually some really interesting sociological and psychological research about what sparks riots that are made for like combating oppression, basically.


So when it comes to ones that are just about drunkeness. I don't know, yeah, it's I'm like, it might be a. An unfair is not the right word, I mostly like guys. There's no excuse for that behavior when when your reason is that they told you you couldn't have alcohol in your eggnog. Yeah, but there's that thing that happens, right?


When you're drunk and a small mob forms, it quickly becomes a large mob and then just there's not really much logical thought going on. It's just kind of like violence.


And everyone goes off like a rocket, like you just people just get swept up in that weird wave of intensity.


Yeah, but before we talk about sort of what happened after all of these young men lost their minds while they were drunk, do you even have a word from a sponsor? Sure.


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So to get back to what happened after this ridiculous riot was over, Colonel, thare gathered the academy staff together to discuss the matter and eventually two orders were issued by Major General Alexander Makem, who was the chief engineer of the army and inspector of the academy. So following the riot order number ninety eight names, 22 cadets who were placed on immediate restriction and order number 49 opened a court of inquiry into the riot and the events surrounding it. The goal was to identify the key players who led the riot.


Yeah, they were trying to be fair and understanding that like, yes, there were 90 young men involved, but surely.


There were ringleaders and those are the ones we're going to go after and these inquiries took several weeks to investigate just what had happened during the cadets Christmas festivities. And eventually, 19 cadets and one soldier were court martialed for their involvement in the mob that caused all the problems.


The trials began a month after the shenanigans on January 26th of 1827.


Those 19 cadets were William Asquith, Benjamin G. Humphreys, Walter B.. William James, W.M. Burián, Fayette Norvelle, David Imaginarily, George E. Bomford. James L. Thompson. Hugh W Mercer. Benjamin F. Guard. Thomas Saud's Jr.. Richard B. Scriven. Bill Fitzgerald. John C. Stocker. Tom Lewis, William R. Birnley, Samuel Roberts and Anthony Johnson. And William D.. C. Murdoch. And at this point, as they faced this tribunal that had been assembled to try them, these cadets were basically defending themselves to preserve their futures.


If they were not going to be able to effectively plead their cases, their time at West Point would end really abruptly. And at that point, their future was to become military men.


So it really was the stakes were quite high for what was going to happen to them based on this one night of really stupid behavior. And fellow cadets with some now famous names came forward in support of the cadets that were on trial while they testified, including Robert E. Lee and as we mentioned before, Jefferson Davis.


The proceedings concluded on March 8th of 1827, cadet's Askwith, Murcer Saud's, Murdocks Greven, Norval Thompson and Guard were all allowed to remain at West Point. Although Norval Murdoch and Guard eventually left, the rest of the young men were dismissed and were no longer welcome at the academy.


And just as a side note about Jefferson Davis, so he there are many incidents associated with drunkenness on record for him during his time at West Point, he apparently really liked to party.


And as we mentioned earlier, he was not charged over the eggnog riot, though he got into plenty of other troublesome little exploits when he was inebriated.


The North Barrack's, as they were during the eggnogs riot, no longer exist when the school built new barracks on campus in the 1940s, the new structures were made with no interior floor to floor access and short hallways as a form of crowd control to prevent a similar scenario where rowdy cadets could manage another riot.


The barracks that were built in eighteen forties are also long gone, and there's also no longer a holiday celebration at West Point.


So while the eggnog riot had lasting ramifications in the eighteen hundreds, it seems to have been largely forgotten as part of the school's law. I definitely had never heard of it before, and that was even after like a heavy search last year for ideas of Christmas related topics that you. When Smithsonian writer Natasha Gilling interviewed West Point's command historian Sherman Fleak about the 18 26 Christmas episode, she was told, quote, Hardly anyone knows about it. If Huld among 4400 cadets, 3000 federal employees, 1500 military staff and faculty, I doubt 30 people will know a thing about it until now.


Yeah, it's kind of a you know, it's an entertaining story. It's certainly one of those things that you can't I can't help, I'll admit, kind of like sighing and being like idiots.


But, yeah, I might go to your room, guys.


That's how I feel about it. Go to your room. I love it. Yes.


About the eggnog riot, which did, you know, significantly change the trajectory of the lives of the young men that were dismissed from West Point as a consequence of their behavior.


But it is it's one of those things where even when I read the few articles that I found about it, they all kind of summed it up as like, this is a good life lesson to not get too drunk at a Christmas party.


And I'm like, well, it's kind of bigger than that.


But yeah, I definitely feel like it belongs in the same blog posts as like the pumpkin riot that just happened this year and the riots over various sports teams. Winning games are losing games or not actually playing their games or whatever. Like I feel like it's that caliber of foolishness. Yeah. So that's the scoop. Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook Eurail or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete.


Now, our current email address is History podcast at I, heart radio dot com, our old HowStuffWorks. The email address no longer works, and you can find us all over social media at MTT in history. And you can subscribe to our show on Apple podcast, Google podcast, the I Heart Radio app, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.


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And our podcast is our opportunity to dive into hot topics that are relevant to you, from contact tracing to vaccines to social and racial justice. We may not have all the answers, but you deserve to know what goes on in your neighborhood and the decisions that affect you and your family's health. I'm Justin Back. Beck, join me and my co-host, Katherine and Deepti. As we seek truth in health, listen to Contact World, the podcast on the radio, our Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.


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Now at stuff you should know dotcom or wherever books are sold.