Reverend Eleazar Wheelock

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Eleazar Wheelock

Birthplace: Windham, Windham County, Connecticut
Death: Died in Hanover, Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States
Place of Burial: Hanover, Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Deacon Ralph Wheelock and Ruth Wheelock
Husband of Sarah Davenport Wheelock and Mary Wheelock
Father of Theodora Wheelock; Eleazar Wheelock; Mercy Wheelock; Ruth Patten; Ralph Rodolphus Wheelock and 6 others
Brother of Elizabeth Hendee; Ruth Hebard; Abigail Pomeroy; John Wheelock and Sarah Bingham
Half brother of Mary Bingham

Managed by: Caitlin Daniell Clark
Last Updated:

About Reverend Eleazar Wheelock

Reverend Eleazar Wheelock (1711 - 1779), Congregational minister, orator, educator, and founder of Dartmouth College, the only surviving male child of of Deacon Ralph Wheelock and Ruth Huntington, was born 22 April 1711 at Windham, Windham County, Connecticut. He died at the age of 68 on 24 April 1779 at Hanover, Grafton County, New Hampshire and was buried at Dartmouth College Cemetery. He married (1) Sarah Davenport Maltby and (2) Mary Brinsmead.

Biographical Sketch

In 1729, at the age of 18, Eleazar entered Yale College. His college education was funded with the proceeds of a legacy left by his grandfather, Captain Eleazar Wheelock, of Medfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale in 1733, sharing with his future brother-in-law, Rev. Benjamin Pomeroy, the first award of the Dean Berkeley Donation for distinction in classics.

For a year following his graduation he continued his theological studies at Yale. In May 1734 he was licensed to preach, and in February of the following year he was installed as pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Lebanon, Conn., where he served as minister for 35 years. Two months later on 29 April 1735, he married Sarah Davenport, widow of Captain William Maltby of New Haven, Connecticut.

At the time of Reverend Wheelock's graduation, a religious revival known as the Great Awakening was sweeping the Connecticut River Valley. Itinerant evangelists, dramatic religious conversions, and religious zeal characterized this movement. One popular preacher, George Whitefield, toured the seaboard of the Connecticut River Valley, preaching salvation to crowded churches and hillside throngs. Jonathan Edwards, a preacher from Northampton, Massachusetts, delivered a now-famous sermon in Enfield, Connecticut entitled "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God." Although the Great Awakening drew increased church attendance and membership, it created deep divisions and conflicts within the established church.

Reverend Wheelock participated fully and enthusiastically in the Great Awakening. He was one of its greatest proponents in Connecticut, serving as the "chief intelligencer of revival news". His sermons were enormously popular. In 1741, he wrote "a hundred more sermons than there are days in the year" to promote the revival. He was criticized by some of his contemporaries for stimulating excess emotion and fervor in his preaching. Charles Chauncey, in his work "Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England" criticized Reverend Wheelock (among others) for his overzealous pursuit of revivalism and for encouraging the Separatists, who wanted to form separate communions consisting solely of revival converts.

As a supporter of the Saybrook Platform, Reverend Wheelock was not a proponent of Separatism. But he was an emotional orator, and to that extent Chauncy's charges were substantiated. In 1743, the Connecticut Assembly, in an attempt to regulate revivalist activity, passed "An Act for Regulating Abuses and correcting Disorders in Ecclesiastical Affairs". This act stated that ministers who preached outside their own congregation could not collect a salary. As a result of this, Reverend Wheelock lost his salary. Though he owned a great deal of farmland, much of it inherited from his father, it was necessary to find an alternative source of income. Toward this end, he began to take students into his home, and in 1743, he took in Samson Occom, a Mohican who knew English, and had been converted to Christianity in his childhood. Reverend Wheelock had great success preparing Samson Occom for the ministry. Occom went on to become a popular Presbyterian minister, preaching both to Native American and colonial audiences.

Reverend Wheelock's success with Samson Occom encouraged him to pursue a school for Native Americans, so that the boys could return to their native culture as missionaries. The girls were to be taught "housewifery" and writing. The school was to be supported by charitable contribution. Toward this end, in 1754 Reverend Wheelock accepted two Delaware Indians from New Jersey. The premises for the school (two buildings and some land) were furnished by a contribution from Colonel Joshua More, of Mansfield, Connecticut. Other Native Americans from New England tribes and from the Six Nations were gathered, and by the year 1762, Wheelock had more than 20 youths in his charge.

Reverend Wheelock spent considerable time raising funds to support the school, in which efforts he was quite successful. The records of the Massachusetts General Court show that he made at least four successful appeals for money between the years 1761 and 1767. In 1765, he sent Samson Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker (a Presbyterian minister) to the United Kingdom to raise funds. This two-year effort was a success, and they returned with 12,000 pounds, most of which was placed in the charge of an English board of trustees headed by William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth. Things had not progressed so well on the missionary and recruiting front. Many of the Native Americans under Reverend Wheelock's care became sick and died. Some turned profligate and in other ways failed to successfully pursue the charter of missionary work. Sir William Johnson, an agent of Native American affairs and trusted advocate, perceived that Reverend Wheelock was trying to acquire territory among the Six Nations. After the Fort Stanwix Congress in 1768, he withdrew his favor from the Charity School, and his Native Americans with it. After this, Reverend Wheelock could no longer expect to recruit Native American students from New York.

In addition to this, he was having some trouble with his parishioners in Lebanon, stemming in part from a dispute over his salary. These events, coupled with his desire to enlarge his school to include a college (for the education of whites in the classics, philosophy, and literature), no doubt led him to look for a new location for the school. Samson Occom and the English Board of Trustees headed by Lord Dartmouth were against adding a college to the school, but Reverend Wheelock persevered, and finally obtained a charter from King George III through the efforts of John Wentworth, royal governor of New Hampshire.

This charter, dated 13 December 1769, named Eleazar Wheelock founder and first president of the college, and gave him the privilege of naming his successor. Reverend Wheelock chose the name Dartmouth for the college, even though William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, after whom the college was named was against its establishment.

Several offers of land were obtained for the location of the college. Dresden, New Hampshire (later renamed Hanover) was finally chosen as the site. No clear record exists as to why this site was chosen, though it may have been because of the "healthfulness" of the region, and its proximity to Canada, where Wheelock hoped to recruit Indian students for the Charity School. Reverend Wheelock obtained a dismissal from his church in Lebanon (where he had served 35 years), and left for Hanover in August of 1770. At this time Hanover was largely wilderness, and the first months were spent clearing land and building rough cabins to house the college. The living conditions were rough and considerable fortitude was required to endure the first winter.

In 1771, four students were graduated in the first commencement of Dartmouth. Among these four was Eleazar Wheelock's son, John, who had earlier attended Yale, but came to Hanover with his father to complete his education at Dartmouth. John later became the second president of Dartmouth.

The funds collected in England ran out in 1774, and the institution of Dartmouth was blighted by debt during the remaining years of Reverend Wheelock's life. The American Revolution was particularly hard on the Indian Charity School. Many tribes sided with the English, leaving few recruits for the school. Of notable exception was the Oneida Nation, whose stalwart support of the colonials might be due in part to the existence of the Charity School.

The war left Dartmouth in considerable debt. Many decades would pass before the college again became solvent. In 1786, the Vermont legislature made a grant of 23,000 acres of land to Dartmouth, in the form of Wheelock, Vermont. During the early 1800s substantial support for the college came from this grant of land.

Reverend Wheelock suffered ill health during his later years. He was afflicted with asthma, and "hypochondriac wind", but never slowed down in his duties as founder, pulpit orator, and educator. He was relentless in his pursuit of funds for the college; and excelled in his many administrative duties, which included supervising farming operations, arranging recruiting parties to Canada for Native American pupils, serving as Justice of the Peace, teaching, and presiding as president of the Moor's Charity School (without salary), and of Dartmouth College.

Reverend Eleazar Wheelock died during the Revolutionary War on 24 April 1779. He is buried in Hanover, New Hampshire. He received the degree of D.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1767. His sparse writings include "Narrative of the Indian School at Lebanon", with continuations.

Headstone Inscription

A transcription of his headstone in the Dartmouth College Cemetery in Hanover was taken from the Risley family papers in the Ranuer Special Collections library at Darmouth, and kindly supplied by Rick Gagne. It reads:

"Hic quiescit corpus Eleazari Wheelock S. T. D. Academiae Morensis, et Collegii Dartmuthensis Fundatoris, et primi praesidis. Evangelio barbaros indomuit; Et excultis nova scientiae patefecit. Viator, I, et imitare, Si poteris, anta meritorum premia laturus. MDCCX natus; MDCCLXXIX obiit."

Here rests the body of Eleazar Wheelock S. T. D. Founder and first president, of Dartmouth College, and/ Moor's Charity School. By the gospel he subdued the ferocity of the savage; And to the civilized he opened new paths of science. Traveller, Go, if you can, and deserve the sublime reward of such merit. He was born in the year 1710; and died in 1779.

Notable Descendants

  • John Wheelock, Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army, and second president of Dartmouth College
  • Eleazar Lewis Ripley Wheelock, Captain with the Texas Rangers, and founder of the town of Wheelock, Texas
  • Eleazar Wheelock Ripley, a General in the War of 1812, and namesake of the town of Ripley, Louisiana
  • James Wheelock Ripley, a former United States Representative from Maine


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Reverend Eleazar Wheelock's Timeline

April 22, 1711
Windham, Windham County, Connecticut
April 29, 1735
Age 24
Lebanon, CT, United States
May 23, 1736
Age 25
Lebanon, CT, United States
August 14, 1737
Age 26
Lebanon, CT, United States
December 21, 1738
Age 27
Lebanon, CT, United States
January 12, 1740
Age 28
Lebanon, CT, United States
August 19, 1742
Age 31
Lebanon, CT, United States
April 30, 1744
Age 33
Lebanon, CT, United States
November 24, 1747
Age 36
Lebanon, CT, United States
August 28, 1748
Age 37
Lebanon, CT, United States