The Native Legacy at Dartmouth College
The Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, founded Dartmouth College in 1769. He had earlier established Moor's Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut.
In seeking to expand his school into a college, Wheelock relocated his educational enterprise to Hanover, in the Royal Province of New Hampshire. The move from Connecticut followed a lengthy and sometimes frustrating effort to find resources and secure a charter.
Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock's first students, was instrumental in raising substantial funds for the College. The Royal Governor of New Hampshire, John Wentworth, provided the land upon which Dartmouth would be built and on December 13, 1769, conveyed the charter from King George III establishing the College. That charter created a college "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land ... and also of English Youth and any others."
During the first 200 years of its existence, however, Dartmouth fell far short of its educational goal and a mere 19 Native Americans graduated from the College. This situation changed dramatically when John G. Kemeny became the 13th president of Dartmouth College in 1970. In his inaugural address, he pledged to redress the historical lack of opportunities for Native Americans in higher education. In recommitting Dartmouth to its founding purpose, John Kemeny established a Native American Program at the College and directed the Admissions Office to begin actively recruiting Indian students for the very first time.
The College stands on Abenaki ground, a place with a deep history that dwarfs our brief time here. It is imperative to recognize the enslaved and disenfranchised Black and Indigenous peoples who helped build this town, school, and infrastructure.
We are here because Samson Occom raised the funds, and each new class stands on the shoulders of those first Native students. Our history should be recognized with respect and humility. Especially, as we celebrate – together – the fiftieth anniversary of the Native American Program and Department of Native American and Indigenous Studies.
I invite you to acknowledge the privilege you have in occupying this space and land and commit to using your time here to learn as much as you can—not at the expense of others, like our history teaches, but together, in the community.