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Dartmouth College had its beginning as a school for Indian youths, which was founded in 1755 at Lebanon, Connecticut, and was called “Moor’s Indian Charity School” after its earliest patron, Colonel Joshua Moor, a wealthy farmer of Mansfield, Connecticut. For a time, only Indians were admitted as students, but later, English boys were taught with the understanding that upon graduation they were to become missionaries to the various Indian tribes. They met with such marked success that the numbers at the school steadily increased, so that in 1770 there were enrolled sixteen English boys and only three Indians.
Dr. Eleazer Wheelock was the founder of the Indian school, and it was due entirely to him that the institution enlarged its field and became Dartmouth College. In 1765 Dr. Wheelock sent to England one of his graduates named Occum, who was a full-blooded Indian, in order to show what might be accomplished in the education of the “Red Men.” Occum’s visit proved a remarkable success. He was received among the nobility and he created quite an excitement at London. He preached to immense congregations in England, Scotland and Ireland, and succeeded in raising funds to the amount of eleven thousand pounds for Wheelock’s school in America, even King George giving two hundred pounds.
In 1770 Governor Wentworth, who for many years had been interested in the education of the Indians, voluntarily offered to Dr. Wheelock a large tract of land on the Connecticut River for the purpose of founding a college, and promised a most liberal charter for the institution. Wheelock accepted the proposition and went in person, in August of the same year, to superintend the work of preparing the buildings. The place selected for the college was a hundred feet above the level of the river and covered with an immense growth of pine trees, one of which, measured by Dr. McClure, was said to be two hundred seventy feet from base to top; in fact after the first six acres had been cleared, the surrounding forest was so high that the sun’s rays did not strike into the clearing until late in the forenoon.
The workmen first built a temporary log cabin in which to live while the dormitory and the president’s house were in process of construction. Before they were completed, the president’s family with about thirty students arrived, having traveled over almost impassable roads and endured many hardships. What followed upon their arrival had best be told in President Wheelock’s own words: “The message I sent to my family proved not seasonable to prevent their setting out, and they arrived with nearly thirty students. I housed my stuff with my wife and the females of my family in my hut. My sons and students made booths and beds of hemlock boughs, and in this situation we continued for about a month till the twenty-ninth day of October, when I removed with my family into my house, and though the season had been cold with storms of rain and snow, two sawmills failed on which I had chief dependence for boards, etc., and by series of other trying disappointments, yet by the pure mercy of God the same changed for the better in every respect, the weather continued favorable, new resources for the supply of boards were found till my house was made warm and comfortable, a schoolhouse built, and so many rooms in the college made quite comfortable as were sufficient for the students that were with me in which they find the pleasure of such solitude. And since the settlement of the affair, all, without exception, are sufficiently engaged in their studies.”
Work upon the present Dartmouth Hall was begun in the summer of 1774, but it was not ready for use until 1791, as many difficulties in raising sufficient funds were encountered.
The first commencement was held August 28, 1771. Besides the trustees of the college, Governor Wentworth and a number of gentlemen from Portsmouth were present. In order that the journey might be made in a manner suitable to the dignity of a royal governor, Wentworth caused a road to be made from Portsmouth to Hanover, a distance of over one hundred miles, extending for the most part through the unbroken wilderness.
The graduating class consisted of four students, and it is said that the exercises passed off in a very creditable manner.
From such small beginnings has the present Dartmouth College sprung. It ranks among the oldest of the American colleges, and it has established for itself a reputation of which every New Hampshire citizen may be justly proud.