Dartmouth is not by any means the oldest college in New England—Harvard was founded in 1636, Yale in 1701, and Brown in 1764—but by 1815, when the great crisis struck, it was more than four decades old. In 1769 King George III had authorized the establishment of a college “for the education & instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this land … and also of English Youth and any others.” The following year Dr. Eleazar Wheelock (Yale ’33) was invited to move his Indian Charity School from Lebanon, Connecticut, to New Hampshire. He settled in Hanover, and there the new college—named for the second Earl of Dartmouth, head of its trustees in England—began in a log hut (above).
Three Indians were among the original scholars; most of the others were charity students preparing for missionary work. They assembled each morning at five, or “as early as the President could see to read from the Bible.” Evening prayers were at six or later. The first graduating classfour students including Wheelock’s son John—received their diplomas in 1771. Eleazar fought hard to interest more Indians in attending, but eventually had to abandon the idea. “None know, nor can any, without Experience, Well conceive of the Difficulty of Educating an Indian,” he once wrote.
In 1779, when the younger Wheelock took over from his father, tuition was twenty shillings a quarter, or $13.32 a year—hardly enough to buy a pair of skates for today’s Winter Carnival. The enrollment expanded rapidly toward the end of the eighteenth century, as Dartmouth began to attract from Connecticut the more rigid Calvinists who thought Yale much too lax. By the time of the controversy it averaged 150 students.