Eleazar Wheelock

Eleazar Wheelock (1711-1779), American clergyman and educator, was the founder of Dartmouth College and led efforts to educate the Indians of New England.

Eleazar Wheelock was born on April 22, 1711, in Windham, Conn. In 1733 he graduated from Yale. The following year he continued his theological studies in New Haven. In May 1734 he was licensed to preach and the following February was called to the pulpit of the Second (or North) parish in Lebanon, Conn. In April he married Sarah Davenport Maltby, a widow, by whom he had six children.

When the movement of religious fervor known as the Great Awakening swept over New England in 1740, Wheelock was its warmest supporter in Connecticut. He traveled extensively, preached persuasively, and served as the chief intelligencer of revival news. Assailed by orthodox persons for his itinerancy, the neglect of his own parish, and the promulgation of "a meer passionate Religion, " he was deprived of his salary in 1743 by the General Assembly.

Though Wheelock owned considerable farmland, the loss of his salary prompted him to take a few boys into his house for college preparation. In 1743 Samson Occam, a Mohegan Indian youth who had learned English and been converted to Christianity in his childhood, entered Wheelock's tutelage to prepare for the ministry. Wheelock was so encouraged by Occam's progress that he decided to found an Indian school that would send educated natives back to their people as missionaries and teachers.

To finance his school, Wheelock appealed, with good result, to charitable groups and the benevolent rich at home and in Great Britain. His school was initially successful. In 1765 it had 46 charity students. But internecine Indian strife, the attrition rate of his students, and the half successes of his graduates caused Wheelock to look toward an expanded institution. He was offered a tract of land in New Hampshire and on Dec. 13, 1769, obtained a charter for Dartmouth College.

In 1770 Wheelock moved his family to the virgin forests of New Hampshire. Living in a few log huts, he and 30 students sought to preserve Anglo-American civilization and to bring the word of God to the Indian. Wheelock was president, professor of divinity, pastor of the Dartmouth church and oversaw the building of a town, its supply, and farming operations.

Because it was removed from the paths of war, Dartmouth survived the Revolution unscathed. But Wheelock's health failed, and he died on April 24, 1779. A son by a second marriage succeeded to the college presidency.


Further Reading on Eleazar Wheelock

Wheelock's only important writing was his continuing Plain and Faithful Narrative of the Original Design, Rise, Progress and Present State of the Indian Charity-School at Lebanon in Conn. (1763, 1765-1775). James D. McCallum is Wheelock's best biographer in Eleazar Wheelock: Founder of Dartmouth College (1939), although Leon B. Richardson, History of Dartmouth College (2 vols., 1932), places many details in a rich educational setting.