Drunk Middies, 1839
On the evening of August 31, 1839, First Lieutenant Miner Knowlton received an order from Superintendent Richard Delafield to "quell" a riot at the West Point Hotel on Trophy Point. Knowlton, given leeway to use "such force as it might be necessary to employ," rounded up a sergeant and eight men and set off to the establishment. As he approached, he was met at the gate by the proprietor, Jacob Holt, who urged him to hold off on sending in troops for the time being. Knowlton consented and entered the hotel with Mr. Holt and Lieutenant Benjamin Alvord. Inside, the officers found seven or eight men either drunk or "much excited by spirituous liquors" swearing loudly and causing a ruckus. Alcohol was forbidden on Post and at the Hotel at this time. The story that soon emerged follows:
At 9 o'clock that evening, the group arrived by steamboat at the wharf. They had with them one servant and a steamer trunk. The driver available to take them to the Hotel would not allow the trunk to be brought with them and demanded that they leave it for a porter. The men refused and proceeded to carry the trunk up the long hill to the Hotel. When they arrived, they went to the dining room and asked for the trunk to be sent to one of their rooms. Some of the men were already visibly drunk at this point. While at tea, the hotel management discovered that the trunk was full of booze and locked it up so the men could not get at it. A bottle was also found hidden in a cigar box carried by the servant. When the group of men discovered that their alcohol had been seized, several flew into a rage and demanded their property. A couple scuffles broke out, profanity was thrown about, and at one point, some of the men threatened Mr. Holt with their sword-canes! Mr. Holt, consulting with a Navy officer staying at the Hotel, determined that several of the trouble-makers were U.S. Navy Midshipmen with perhaps one from the Texas Navy.
Eventually, 1LT Knowlton and men arrived and the rowdy Middies turned their anger at him, cursing the Army, the Post, Post regulations, and the Hotel. The inebriated carried on about property rights and illegal search and seizure. Some men challenged the West Point officers to duels. But, with the help of a couple less-drunk members of the naval party, Knowlton got a handle on the group. The trunk of alcohol was brought outside and eventually the rowdies were escorted to the wharf to wait for the midnight steamer to New York.
Sources: Academy records kept by the USMA Library