Moor’s Indian Charity School
Moor’s Indian Charity School
“The Great Design.” The Indian Charity School (later known as Moor’s [More’s] Indian Charity School) was founded in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1754 by Eleazar Wheelock. His plan was to remove Indian children from their homelands in order to educate and convert them so that they could return to their societal groups and teach their own people. He believed his plan was divinely sanctioned as the best defense against hostilities between the Indians and colonists. All previous attempts at schooling Indians had been carried out by missionaries in Indian communities, and these efforts failed, Wheelock thought, because the children were easily distracted by friends, families, and duties. Education away from home seemed to Wheelock to be the key to success. Some of the inspiration for the school had come from his experience tutoring a Mohegan named Samson Occom, who studied with Wheelock from 1743 to 1748 and had succeeded beyond his master’s expectations. At the end of 1754 Wheelock opened his charity school in a house on two acres of land, a gift valued at about £500 from Col. Joshua More, a wealthy farmer from Mansfield, Connecticut.
Recruitment. At first Wheelock’s field of recruitment was limited to New England and New Jersey. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) interfered with recruitment outside this area. The school’s first pupils were two Delaware Indian boys, John Pumshire and Jacob Woolley, who arrived on 18 December 1754. By 1760 the male students included two more Delawares, a Pequot, several Mohegans, a Montauk, and a white student from Norwich, Connecticut. In 1761, when France was no longer in a position to encourage Indian hostilities against the English, Wheelock turned to the Iroquois in upstate New York, and that year five Mohawk boys came to his school, followed by three more in 1762. By 1765 fourteen Iroquois boys had entered the school. In 1761 the first two Indian girls enrolled: Amy Johnson, a Mohegan, and Miriam Storrs, a Delaware. By 1765 thirty-nine Indians (twenty-nine boys and ten girls) and seven white boys had studied at the school for varying lengths of time, from several months to six years, with an average enrollment in the 1760s of about eighteen pupils. All had been supported by charity.
Schooldays. The boys boarded in the upper story of the schoolhouse and attended classes on the first floor. They received a basic secular and religious education six days a week and were also trained in husbandry. Each day began with prayer and catechism before dawn. In morning classes the boys were taught Latin and Greek, with instruction continuing in the afternoon until supper. The evening hours were reserved for study. For the girls Wheelock’s curriculum was similar to that for English girls in New England, that is, reading, writing, and domestic skills. He sent them to live in nearby homes, where they could learn housekeeping. Unlike the rigorous training the boys received, the girls’ formal instruction took place just once a week in order to keep expenses down. In Wheelock’s plan the girls were to be educated so they could help the boys in their mission. In 1765 Wheelock’s first students were ready for examination by the Connecticut Board of Correspondents, one of several such colonial boards that represented the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. They graduated eleven students: two white boys became missionaries; three Indian boys became schoolmasters to the Iroquois; and six Indians served as teaching assistants (ushers). Ten of them worked in various Iroquois schools, attended by 127 Indian children.
Fund-raising. Funds for the school came primarily from charity, and therefore much of Wheelock’s time was spent fund-raising. Donations came from many sources, including the general assemblies of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire, and various churches and ministers in New England and New York as well as private citizens and prominent figures such as the marquis of Lothian. By 1760 the enterprise had cost £285.14.4, but revenues had amounted to only £156.9.6. In order to publicize the school and to avoid having to explain repeatedly the school’s purpose in his numerous solicitations, Wheelock decided in 1763 to write a pamphlet that provided details of the school’s history, plan, and progress. His Plain and faithful Narrative of the Original Design, Rise, Progress and Present State of the Indian Charity-School at Lebanon, in Connecticut was published in Boston in 1763 and was revised, updated, and republished eight times before the Revolution. In 1765 Wheelock calculated that he had spent £1,639 of charitable money on the school, but the school’s expenditures had exceeded its income by £280, money that came directly from his personal funds. Continually squeezed for finances, Wheelock sent Nathaniel Whitaker and his former pupil Samson Occum to England in 1765 on an enormously successful fund-raising mission. No other college to date had collected that much charitable money abroad: more than £9,000 from England and £2,500 from Scotland, enough for Wheelock to consider expanding and moving to a larger site.
Dartmouth College. In the mid 1760s Wheelock realized that his original plan of sending Indians and English missionaries to the Indian homelands to educate and Christianize Native Americans was not working as well as he planned, so he decided he needed to change direction. Since 1760 he had wanted to move the school
and add more white students to train as missionaries. With the more than £11,500 Whitaker and Occom raised in Britain, Wheelock received the encouragement he needed to expand, and he started looking for other locations. One possible site was in the Susquehanna valley in Pennsylvania. Another was offered by John Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire, who promised Wheelock a township grant and a charter. Still others were in Albany, New York, and the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts. In 1768 Wheelock sent two men to Portsmouth to discuss Wentworth’s offer and to inspect the land in what would become the township of Hanover, New Hampshire, and to compare this with the sites in Albany and the Berkshires. In April 1769 the trustees chose the New Hampshire site and the following 13 December received the charter for the school, to be named for William, second Earl of Dartmouth, who was president of the trustees of the English Fund—the money that was raised by Occum and Whitaker in 1765. It was a liberal charter for the time because it did not require students or faculty to take religious tests, and of the twelve trustees seven were required to be laymen. Wheelock was appointed Dartmouth College’s first president and at the same time continued to operate the charity school that he had moved to Hanover, where it was newly instituted as More’s Indian Charity School in memory of Joshua More, the first donor. In the meantime, however, Wheelock and his school had fallen out of favor with the Iroquois, and he had lost all of his Iroquois students, so by 1772 he was left with only five students from New England. He started new recruitment efforts, this time in Canada, and by the end of the year, he had seventy students, thirty-nine of whom were charity students. The 1772 catalogue listed forty-one enrolled at the college, five of whom were Indians on charity. During the 1770s his missionary efforts decreased as the demands of the college increased, but he continued to recruit Indian students.
Impact. Wheelock had small successes according to his original plan. He was able to teach the Indian children how to read and write. The girls learned some domestic skills such as dairying, sewing, and spinning and the boys some husbandry skills. He sent his graduates out to teach in schools in Indian communities. But in a larger sense his plan failed because most of the students held onto their cultural values and were caught between two worlds: they were not able to assimilate into colonial society, yet they had learned enough of white culture to be uneasy in their native societies. His experiment represented a departure from the usual missionary work in Indian homelands, but it lasted only about fifteen years, with the most active years from 1761 to 1769. After Dartmouth was founded, Wheelock spent most of his time administering the new college.
James Dow McCallum, ed., The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Publications, 1932);
Leon Burr Richardson, History of Dartmouth College, 2 volumes (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Publications, 1932);
Bobby Wright, “‘For the Children of the Infidels’?: American Indian Education in the Colonial Colleges,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 12 (1988): 1-14.
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