College Charter Granted

Dartmouth is one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

While Dartmouth received its charter in 1769, its beginnings are linked to a small charity school created fifteen years before in Lebanon, Connecticut. A well-known Congregational minister during the Great Awakening, Reverend Eleazar Wheelock opened Moor’s Indian Charity School in 1754. He was inspired by his experience teaching Samsom Occom, a member of the Mohegan nation, who went on to become an ordained minister. Wheelock believed that his Indian pupils would be successful missionaries who could spread Christianity and the colonists' culture upon returning to their tribes.

In 1766, Samson Occom traveled with Nathanial Whitaker to Great Britain to raise funds for the financially struggling school. He delivered hundreds of sermons and his efforts raise £12,000, the equivalent of approximately $2.4 million today.

During this same period, Wheelock attempted to gain a charter for the school to improve its legal standing. He received offers from throughout the colonies, including a generous offer from William Smith, a prominent lawyer in Albany, to establish a larger college or university there. Wheelock passed on the offer due to his strained relations with the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, but the interest may have encouraged Wheelock to expand his vision for the school and its fundraising.

Eventually, Wheelock chose New Hampshire, a colony without a college. Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire John Wentworth granted the charter on December 13, 1769. Written on two large sheets of vellum paper, the charter outlines the school’s mission to serve in “the education & instruction of Youth of the Indian tribes in this Land in reading, writing & all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing & christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences; and also of English Youth and any others.”

Upon returning from Great Britain, Occom is dismayed by these developments, Wheelock's deviated mission, and the move to Hanover. Despite his role in raising a significant portion of Dartmouth's initial funding, Occom never visited Hanover.

A thick pine tree forest awaited on the Hanover Plain. In the summer of 1770, Wheelock made the journey with seven of his slaves and a small group of followers. The group cleared the land and erected a log hut.

The charter played a central role in the 1819 U.S. Supreme Court case Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the College successfully defended its right to remain a private institution.

Learn more from Rauner Special Collections

Listen to Episode #1 of Dartmouth Library's ‘Hindsight is 20/19’, a podcast that examines 250 years of Dartmouth College history through 25 objects.

Join us as we celebrate the 250th anniversary of our charter on December 13, 2019, in Boston.

Photo courtesy of Dartmouth Library

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