Dartmouth was founded by Eleazar Wheelock, a Puritan minister from Columbia, Connecticut, who had previously sought to establish a school to train Native Americans as missionaries. Wheelock’s ostensible inspiration for such an establishment resulted from his relationship with Mohegan Indian Samson Occom. Occom became an ordained minister after studying under Wheelock from 1743 to 1747, and later moved to Long Island to preach to the Montauks.
Wheelock founded Moor’s Indian Charity School in 1755. The Charity School proved somewhat successful, but additional funding was necessary to continue school’s operations, and Wheelock sought the help of friends to raise money. Occom, accompanied by the Reverend Nathaniel Whitaker, traveled to England in 1766 to raise money from churches. With these funds, they established a trust to help Wheelock. The head of the trust was a Methodist named William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth.
Although the fund provided Wheelock ample financial support for the Charity School, Wheelock had trouble recruiting Indians to the institution, primarily because its location was far from tribal territories. In seeking to expand the school into a college, Wheelock relocated it to Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire. The move from Connecticut followed a lengthy and sometimes frustrating effort to find resources and secure a charter. The Royal Governor of New Hampshire, John Wentworth, provided the land upon which Dartmouth would be built and on December 13, 1769, issued the charter in the name of King George III establishing the College. That charter created a college “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land … and also of English Youth and any others.” The reference to educating Native American youth was included to connect Dartmouth to the Charity School and enable use of the Charity School’s unspent trust funds. Named for William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth—an important supporter of Eleazar Wheelock’s earlier efforts but who, in fact, opposed creation of the College and never donated to it—Dartmouth is the nation’s ninth oldest college and the last institution of higher learning established under Colonial rule. The College granted its first degrees in 1771.