Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Dartmouth Charter

A handwritten charter.In 1754, Eleazar Wheelock established a school for tutoring and training Indians in Lebanon Connecticut.  Wheelock’s school began modestly, but he soon realized that if it were to grow he would need to incorporate it, both so he could maintain control of the school, but also so that the school itself could hold real property.  This was the beginning of what would prove to be a long process to acquire a charter.

One of Wheelock’s star students was Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian who became a well-known minister.  Occom’s success boosted Wheelock’s reputation and that of his school.  Soon several Colonies were courting Wheelock to locate his school in their province.  Despite his growing stature in the colonies, Wheelock tried three times to obtain a charter without success.  One stumbling block was that several of the Colonies (Connecticut and Massachusetts specifically) were incorporations in their own right, and under eighteenth-century English law, one incorporated body could not create another.  Another factor was the growing tension between the Colonies and the Crown, which made obtaining a royal charter in England almost impossible.

Undeterred, Wheelock continued his campaign and in 1767 he began to look for a way to obtain a charter within the colonies.  New Hampshire was an obvious place to seek such a solution, in part, because it was a Royal Colony and thus was not incorporated.  But also because the young Governor, John Wentworth, expressed a willingness to grant a charter, something not specifically in his power, but for which there was precedent.

Encouraged by Wentworth’s interest in the school, Wheelock drafted a charter based largely on that written by William Smith for New Jersey College (later Princeton University).  He, rather boldly, wrote in the title of the institution as college rather than academy.  He was also careful to place himself in a central position within the new institution, thus minimizing the oversight from his English trustees, some of whose religious leanings were unpalatable to him.  Wentworth appears to have been as anxious to bring the school to New Hampshire as Wheelock was to obtain a charter, because he made almost no changes, and the document was signed into law on December 13, 1769 very much as Wheelock had written it.

A transcription of the charter is available on our website. To learn more about the charter, ask for Jere Daniell's Eleazar Wheelock and the Dartmouth College Charter (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1969), D.C. History LD1420.D3.

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