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The Theft of the Williams Library by Dustin Griffin `65

Summary: The Theft of the Williams Library
by Dustin Griffin `65
One of the enduring legends about the ancient rivalry between Williams and Amherst is
that when President Zephaniah Swift Moore, second president of Williams College, decamped
from Williamstown in September 1821 to become the first president of Amherst College, he took
with him not only fifteen students one fifth of the student body of the day but a number of
books from the Williams College library. Despite repeated efforts in the last forty years to
dismiss this story as nothing more than an amusing legend, it manages to persist, and can still be
heard repeated as scripture by alumni from either college. What explains the rise and endurance
of the myth?
It's an old tale, but not an ancient one. It's not found in the standard printed histories of
Williams College, not in Arthur Latham Perry's Origins in Williamstown (1894) or
his Williamstown and Williams College (1904). Leverett W. Spring says nothing of the theft in
his 1893 article on "Williams College" in New England Magazine or his 1917 History of
Williams College. And there's nothing in William S. Tyler's 1873 History of Amherst College
(or his 1894 update), or in Claude M. Fuess's Amherst, Story of a New England College (1935).
Perry goes so far as to say in his 1904 book that "there was never any real or rational ground for
a feeling, that has been traditionally kept up in Williamstown almost to the present time, . . . that
somehow or other, by somebody or other, the older institution was wronged or worsted by the
newer one" (p. 415). Perry's words suggest that by 1904 nobody was saying anything about boo


Source: Aalberts, Daniel P. - Department of Physics, Williams College


Collections: Physics