Rev. Eleazar Wheelock

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Reverend Eleazar Wheelock

Birthdate: (68)
Birthplace: Windham, Windham County, Connecticut Colony, Colonial America
Death: April 24, 1779 (68)
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 Wheelock and Mary Wheelock
Father of Theodora Young; Eleazar Wheelock; Mercy Wheelock; Ruth Patten; Ralph Rodolphus Wheelock and 6 others
Brother of Elizabeth Hendee; Ruth Hebard; Abigail Pomeroy; John Lincoln Wheelock; Sarah Bingham and 1 other
Half brother of Mary (Wheelock) Bingham

Managed by: Caitlin Daniell Clark
Last Updated:

About Rev. 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



Memoirs of Rev. Eleazar Wheelock D.D.

Founder and President of Dartmouth College and Moors Charity College

So confident was he of success that he cheerfully devoted his whole life to the single object of instructing the heathen.

Possessing strong passions he was most cordial in his friendships, and unwearied in assisting those of whose piety he had a favorable opinion. Of an open and frank disposition, he was unsuspicious, and in some instances was imposed upon by the artful. Though sometimes severe in his resentment toward those, who were vicious or reprehensible, he was very affectionate in his reconciliation on their acknowledgment and submission. On reviewing the works accomplished by Dr. Wheelock, it is evident he must have been remarkably active and indefatigable in his labors. He had no time for amusements or rest; his whole life was a continued series of exertions. He neglected not the minutiae of his concerns; he had a talent of dispatching business with great facility. His correspondence in Europe and America was extensive; and so at command were his thoughts, that often while composing his letters, he at the same time supported conversation on other subjects. He accomplished much because his whole attention was invariably fixed on his favorite object. He pressed every advantage within his reach to one point, the salvation of the heathen. A sentence expressing the character of an ancient worthy, must be applied to him; "Ad id anum natus esse videreter quod aggredereter;" i. e. he seemed to be born for what he had undertaken. According to his devout request, that he might not outlive his usefulness, he died in the full possession of his intellectual powers and in the midst of his usefulness, apparently too soon for his friends, too soon for the church and the world. Through an active life and enterprising life, religion had been his companion and his guide, and in its solemn, closing scene, the consolations of religion were his support and joy. ELEAZAR WHEELOCK, A. M., D. D. the son of Dea. Ralph and Ruth (Huntington) Wheelock, was born at Windham, Ct., April 22, 1711, and died at Hanover, April 24, 1779, AE. 68, minus nine days, as his birth was according to Old Style. He graduated at Yale College in 1733; studied divinity and was ordained pastor of the 2d Cong. Church in that part of Lebanon called Lebanon Creek, now Columbia, Ct, in March 1735. Here his pastorate continued for about thirty-five years, and in 1754 an Indian Charity School was established by him and named after Mr. Joshua Moor of Mansfield, Ct, one of its principal American benefactors. After its existence for sixteen years, devoted to the civilization and education of Indian youth, Dr. Wheelock, whose honorary degree was conferred by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, June 29, 1767, determined on obtaining a more suitable location for it, and adding thereto a seminary of learning wherein they and English pupils should be trained up in classical, philosophical, and all literary, pursuits.

To effect this, early in 1770 he explored the western parts of New Hampshire in search of the contemplated place, and eventually made choice of Hanover, then called Dresden. A more healthy situation could not have been selected. By the United States census of 1850, Vermont, the border State, found to have the smallest mortality for the ten preceding years, in proportion to its relative population, of the entire Union, and Massachusetts the greatest, while the venerable age of the early Dartmouth scholars may be seen in what follows the sketches given of Laban Ainsworth, 1778, and Samuel Wood, 1779. The colony itself was also preferred to others in consequence of the large landed endowments offered by the Hon. John Wentworth, Harv. Univ. 1755, its Royal Governor. Through him also was procured the charter of Dartmouth College, dated Dec. 13, 1769, from his Majesty King George the Third. It was so named in compliment to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, one of the excellent of the earth, who, with the world-renowned John Thornton, had materially contributed to the pecuniary benefit of the Moor School. In this charter, Dr. Wheelock was recognised as the Founder and President of the College, with the privilege of nominating his successor. Twelve persons, including himself and the Governor, were also by this instrument appointed its first Trustees, having power not only to confer degrees, but to fill vacancies, though not to increase or diminish the original number.

President Wheelock removed to Hanover in August 1770, and was soon joined by his wife, Mary (Brinsmaid), and their family; Bezaleel Woodward, A. M. the first College Tutor, who became its first Professor of Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy in 1782; several students, and others designing a permanent residence; in all about 70 persons. A more remarkable settlement for


such a purpose was never made. It was in the midst of A wilderness, and upon a plain where a few of its pine-trees of majestick height had been recently felled, and two or three log huts constituted the only shelter. But Dr. Wheelock was the very man to contend with difficulties, and in the spirit of an enlarged philanthropy to overcome them. The huts were multiplied; a frame house for himself, a College for the students, eight,, feet long and two stories high, a Commons' Hall or Refectory, were speedily constructed under his personal supervision. Nothing, however, was in sufficient forwardness to protect them entirely from the piercing storms of winter. Upwards of four months the snow, shielded from the rays of the sun by the evergreen forest, was four feet in depth. Severe hardships ensued, and throughout the inclement season indefatigable courage and fortitude were requisite in order to maintain the infant seminary.

Nor did they for a moment fail on the part of the distinguished founder. His scholarship for that period was good; his character unblemished; his religious views in accordance with those of the celebrated Edwards and the divines of that school; his popularity as a preacher inferior only to that of his friend, the unrivaled Whitfield; his confidence of enjoying the smiles of Providence upon the great object of his life unbounded. And hence, unwearied in zeal and undaunted by obstacles, he pursued a course without a parallel in the land of his birth, and richly deserving the successful result. Of the ten classes instructed by him, 99 pupils became graduates of Dartmouth, whereas the first ten years of Harvard produced but 53, and those of Yale 36. All this too when that portion of New Hampshire was sparsely peopled, and at a time that the above institutions were venerable from age and deeply seated in the affections of the States they adorned. But my limits forbid enlargement. For nine years the good President occupied his position, commanding universal approbation, and then passed from time to eternity, worthily entitled to the commendation engraved on his monument, -- "By the Gospel he subdued the ferocity of the savage, and to the civilized he opened new paths of science." He married, 1. Sarah (Davenport) Maltby, relict of Capt. William Maltby of New Haven, Ct, and daughter of the Rev. Mr. Davenport of Stamford, Ct, in 1735. 2. Mary Brinsmaid of Milford, Ct. His children were l0 in number, of whom were John Wheelock, D. C. 1771, Eleazar and James Wheelock, both D. C. 1776.

The next President was his second son, the Hon. JOHN WHEELOCK, A. M., LL. D., who graduated at the first

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Dartmouth College had its beginning as a school for Indian youths, which was founded in 1755 at Lebanon, Connecticut, and was called “Moor’s Indian Charity School” after its earliest patron, Colonel Joshua Moor, a wealthy farmer of Mansfield, Connecticut. For a time, only Indians were admitted as students, but later, English boys were taught with the understanding that upon graduation they were to become missionaries to the various Indian tribes. They met with such marked success that the numbers at the school steadily increased, so that in 1770 there were enrolled sixteen English boys and only three Indians.

Dr. Eleazer Wheelock was the founder of the Indian school, and it was due entirely to him that the institution enlarged its field and became Dartmouth College. In 1765 Dr. Wheelock sent to England one of his graduates named Occum, who was a full-blooded Indian, in order to show what might be accomplished in the education of the “Red Men.” Occum’s visit proved a remarkable success. He was received among the nobility and he created quite an excitement at London. He preached to immense congregations in England, Scotland and Ireland, and succeeded in raising funds to the amount of eleven thousand pounds for Wheelock’s school in America, even King George giving two hundred pounds.

In 1770 Governor Wentworth, who for many years had been interested in the education of the Indians, voluntarily offered to Dr. Wheelock a large tract of land on the Connecticut River for the purpose of founding a college, and promised a most liberal charter for the institution. Wheelock accepted the proposition and went in person, in August of the same year, to superintend the work of preparing the buildings. The place selected for the college was a hundred feet above the level of the river and covered with an immense growth of pine trees, one of which, measured by Dr. McClure, was said to be two hundred seventy feet from base to top; in fact after the first six acres had been cleared, the surrounding forest was so high that the sun’s rays did not strike into the clearing until late in the forenoon.


The workmen first built a temporary log cabin in which to live while the dormitory and the president’s house were in process of construction. Before they were completed, the president’s family with about thirty students arrived, having traveled over almost impassable roads and endured many hardships. What followed upon their arrival had best be told in President Wheelock’s own words: “The message I sent to my family proved not seasonable to prevent their setting out, and they arrived with nearly thirty students. I housed my stuff with my wife and the females of my family in my hut. My sons and students made booths and beds of hemlock boughs, and in this situation we continued for about a month till the twenty-ninth day of October, when I removed with my family into my house, and though the season had been cold with storms of rain and snow, two sawmills failed on which I had chief dependence for boards, etc., and by series of other trying disappointments, yet by the pure mercy of God the same changed for the better in every respect, the weather continued favorable, new resources for the supply of boards were found till my house was made warm and comfortable, a schoolhouse built, and so many rooms in the college made quite comfortable as were sufficient for the students that were with me in which they find the pleasure of such solitude. And since the settlement of the affair, all, without exception, are sufficiently engaged in their studies.”

Work upon the present Dartmouth Hall was begun in the summer of 1774, but it was not ready for use until 1791, as many difficulties in raising sufficient funds were encountered.

The first commencement was held August 28, 1771. Besides the trustees of the college, Governor Wentworth and a number of gentlemen from Portsmouth were present. In order that the journey might be made in a manner suitable to the dignity of a royal governor, Wentworth caused a road to be made from Portsmouth to Hanover, a distance of over one hundred miles, extending for the most part through the unbroken wilderness.

The graduating class consisted of four students, and it is said that the exercises passed off in a very creditable manner.

From such small beginnings has the present Dartmouth College sprung. It ranks among the oldest of the American colleges, and it has established for itself a reputation of which every New Hampshire citizen may be justly proud.

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Rev. Eleazar Wheelock's Timeline

April 22, 1711
Windham, Windham County, Connecticut Colony, Colonial America
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
August 28, 1748
Age 37
Lebanon, CT, United States