The Old Fraternity Tie

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In 1841, about a year before his untimely demise at the end of a rope aboard the Somers , young Philip Spencer was a student at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He had already failed in his studies at another college, and was to be dismissed from Union, too, after a scrape with the authorities. But he remained long enough to help found what has since become a national fraternity, Chi Psi.

According to Chi Psi tradition, the young man was not hanged for mutiny at all, but for refusing to reveal or explain his fraternity affiliation: his judges believed his Chi Psi oath conflicted with his oath of allegiance to his country. History fails to support the tradition, but it survives in a fine old Chi Psi song; two of its many verses will give some sense of their flavor:

O here’s to Philip Spencer Who when about to die When sinking down beneath the waves Loud shouted out Chi Psi! So, fill your glasses to the brim, And drink with manly pride Humanity received a blow When Philip Spencer died.