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.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Giants Lately Discovered...

A title page for "Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack."The fascination with finding natural wonders in the New World lingered long after the initial rush of first encounters, and exotic "discoveries" continued to catch the public's attention. The cover of this 1768 Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack (London, 1768), depicts the "Giants lately discovered in South America."  The figure of the European sailor is said to be 5 foot 11 and 1/2 inches, and is offering the South American giants a biscuit.

The way this almanac came to our collections was something of a natural wonder in and of itself.  We are on a quest to get everything in our collections cataloged so people know what we have and can find it. Last week, we found this piece in a batch of material that had been in the library for 13 years, but never cataloged.  With it was a 1997 letter from a Boston book dealer that stated "33 years ago" then head of Special Collections, Betty Sherrard, had requested the book.  The dealer had just located a copy and offered it to us because of our past interest. We snapped it up, and now, 46 years later, we are pleased to report that Sherrard's wish has been fulfilled: the almanac is fully cataloged and ready for use.  A giant lately discovered...

Ask for Rare F73.3 B53 1767.  It was worth the wait!