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.