In 1743, Benjamin Chew decided to leave his comfortable home at Duck Creek, Delaware, to study law at Middle Temple, in London. He was 21. After a long and stressful trans-Atlantic trip (the young Chew apparently fell severely ill several times on the journey), he arrived at the legendary law school, expecting, “a better opportunity of contracting an Acquaintance with Gentlemen who were in the Prosecution of the same Studies with myself & I made no doubt but that their Conversations & the frequent Disputes which I did imagine they must necessarily be involved in & which must chiefly twin [?] on the subject of their studies…” Adorable.
But instead Chew describes in this diary entry, above, the devout Quaker’s nightmare come to life. Instead of the bright young men talking incessantly about their studies, he found a scene that seems not dissimilar to today’s college party culture:
"I find the Young Fellows here employ all their Time in Debaucheries and Extravagancies of all kinds… When they meet together their last Debauch is commonly the Subject of the Conversat[ion]. one stretches & swears he was d—d’d drunk last Night another yawns & says he was up all the Night at a Bawdy House, a third at the Gaming Table & so on, in short such is the Depravity of the Times that they are not ashamed of owning nay & bragging too that they are in the constant Practice of every kind of Vice."
Poor Benjamin. Maybe he felt like a country bumpkin around all those Londoners, having grown up in the rural Delaware colony. Maybe he just needed to relax and live a little. It’s clear enough that he felt much more religious than any of the other “Young Fellows.”
In any case, Chew’s nerdery paid off—he was named chief justice of Pennsylvania (under the colonial government—he remained a loyalist in the Revolution) in 1774.
Above is Benjamin Chew’s silhouette, from the Simpson Plates Collection [3237A]
Check out more from our extensive Chew Family Papers collection  on our Digital Library, here.