Dartmouth College, one of the Ivy League Schools, was established by the Royal Charter of King George III in 1769, when New Hampshire was still an English colony. The college’s main goal, according to the charter, was: “to encourage the laudable and charitable design of spreading Christian knowledge among the savages of our American wilderness.”
I first learned this history while taking a self-guided tour of the New Hampshire state capitol. As regular readers know, this blog has explored the artwork in various state capitols and critiqued how these buildings of political power continue to display historic art with images of Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery. (The Doctrine of Discovery refers to the 15th Century religious and legal justification used by European monarchs to seize lands of non-Christian peoples, and to convert or enslave them.)
One of four major paintings in the New Hampshire state Senate chambers pays tribute to education by depicting Dartmouth’s first commencement.
The caption reads: “The First Commencement at Dartmouth College: The Reverend Eleazar Wheelock Receives Governor John Wentworth, 1771.”
Center right in the painting, above Wentworth’s shoulder, the viewer sees the naked torso of a Native man. This is a common image of the Doctrine of Discovery: White people saving the naked savages.
So the question is: Why do New Hampshire’s leaders still deem this painting an appropriate image to place before a legislative body and the people of the state? It is not. It belongs in a museum with appropriate historic interpretation.
Let’s now look at New Hampshire history in more detail and see how it illuminates the Doctrine of Discovery.
New Hampshire was King James’ Timber Source
New Hampshire has a unique history among the 13 original colonies. It’s purpose was not religious freedom, but simply the King’s source for furs, fish and timber.
Here’s how the New Hampshire state website sums it up:
Thus the settlement of New Hampshire did not happen because those who came here were persecuted out of England. The occasion, which is one of the great events in the annals of the English people, was one planned with much care and earnestness by the English crown and the English parliament. Here James the first began a colonization project which not only provided ships and provisions, but free land bestowed with but one important condition, that it remain always subject to English sovereignty. …
Comment: The lack of critical analysis in this state-sanctioned narrative is stunning. Stating that establishing New Hampshire was one of the “great events in the annals of the English people” is hubris at best; it shows a willful ignorance of indigenous genocide (as well as ignorance of other great events in English history.) The use of the term “free land” reflects the 15th Century European thinking that the land was empty before they arrived.
The Royal Charter of 1622 provides more context. In this document, King James conferred a large chunk of New England to two subjects: “Sir Ferdinando Gorges, of London, Knight, and Captain John Mason, of London, Esquire.” The Charter puts the transaction in both religious and economic terms. It refers to King James as “our Sovereigne Lord James, by the grace of God King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.”
The Charter gives detailed guidance on the economic benefits the two men were receiving:
… all the lands, soyle, grounds, havens, ports, rivers, mines, as well royal mines of gold and silver, as other mines, minerals, pearls and pretious stones, woods, queries, marshes waters, fishings, hunting, hawking, fowling, commodities and hereditaments whatsoever … To have, hold, possess and enjoy …
In return for this grant, the King expected a cut, requiring Ferdinando and Mason to pay:
… unto our Sovereign Lord the King, his heyres and successors, the fifth part of all ye care of gold and silver that from time to time … shall be there gotten …
But King James wanted more than gold and silver. The Wikipedia entry on New Hampshire’s early years notes: “The timber trade, although lucrative, was a subject of conflict with the crown, which sought to reserve the best trees for use as ship masts.”
Indigenous People of the Land
The original people in what is now called New Hampshire were the Abenaki and the Pennacock, according to the Native Languages website.
Disease, deceit and war nearly wiped them out. According to another Wikipedia entry,
By the 1740s most of the native population had either been killed or driven out of the province’s territory.
Which brings us back to Dartmouth College, which was founded in 1769 to civilize
“the savages” — after almost all of them had been killed or driven from the land in most uncivilized ways.
Dartmouth Then and Now
Here is more language from Dartmouth’s original Charter:
[The King does] ordain, grant and constitute that there be a college erected in our said province of New Hampshire by the name of Dartmouth College, for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land in reading, writing, and all parts of learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and christianizing children of pagans, as well as in all liberal arts and sciences, and also of English youth and any others. …
And this to continue so long as … there shall be any of the Indian natives remaining to be proper objects of that charity.
Fast forward to today. Here is how Dartmouth’s website describes its “History and Traditions“:
The charter establishing Dartmouth—the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States—was signed in 1769, by John Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, establishing an institution to offer “the best means of education.” For nearly 250 years, Dartmouth has done that and more.
Dartmouth’s founder, the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, established the College as an institution to educate Native Americans. Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock’s first students, was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to found the College. … With nearly 1,000 alumni, there are now more Native graduates of Dartmouth than of all other Ivy League institutions combined.
The “Native American Community Program” portion of Dartmouth’s website, reads in part:
Dartmouth’s commitment to the Native community dates back to the very beginning of the College. In 1769, at Dartmouth’s founding, the charter directed that Dartmouth College exist “for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land… English Youth, and any others.”
In 1970, John Kemeny, Dartmouth’s 13th president, pledged to redress the historical lack of opportunities for Native Americans in higher education. This recommitment not only held Dartmouth to a higher standard than its peers, but also established the Native American Program, laid the groundwork for the Native American Studies department, and directed the Admissions Office to actively recruit Native students.
Comment: I haven’t done a deep dive on Dartmouth, but these on-line narratives put its best foot forward and fail to acknowledge the colleges’ role in assimilation, colonization, and genocide of Native peoples. Stating the Dartmouth’s “commitment to the Native community dates back to the very beginning” fails to acknowledge the broader context — that stripping people of their language, culture and religion is deeply traumatic. The way the website portrays the school’s original Charter sanitizes the language and the college’s history.
Similarly, the painting in New Hampshire’s state Senate chambers sanitizes Dartmouth’s and New Hampshire’s history. Failing to acknowledge, confront, and repair this history harms us all, particularly Native peoples.