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Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and enjoys a worldwide reputation for academic excellence and access to a wealth of resources. But almost two decades after its founding in 1636, Harvard ran into financial difficulties. In an attempt to obtain a sustainable endowment, Harvard College published a pamphlet, "The Day Breaking if not the Sun Rising of the Gospel with Indians in New England." To fulfill the mission of Native conversion and education, and in order to avoid the misappropriation of funds that had already occured several years earlier with the Weld-Peter Mission, the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel Among the Indian established the New England Company (NEC). Shortly thereafter, Harvard was able to procure funds from the NEC with the promise that Harvard would waive its tuition and provide housing specifically for American Indian students.
Native students had attended Harvard before the founding of the Indian College. Early Harvard students John Sassamon (Wampanoag) and James Printer (Nipmuc) are critical players in Panel Chair Jill Lepore's 1999 book The Name of War. But, in 1655, Harvard's Indian College was established specifically in order to teach the English language and Protestantism to the local Native peoples that made up the greater Wamponoag Confederacy. The College was part of a wider web of institutions that included missions and praying towns.
II. Early Curriculum
Harvard's seventeenth and eighteenth-century curicullum was based on the English university model, but it was also consistent with the prevailing Puritan philosophy of the first English colonists to Massachusetts Bay Colony. Applicants to Harvard College were expected to be able to recite and translate from Cicero and Virgil in Latin, and Isocrates, Xenophon, and the New Testament in Greek.
Over a period of four years, Harvard students would have completed the prescribed course in six of the Seven Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy), Three Philosophies (Metaphysics, Ethics, and Natural Science), and in Greek, Hebrew, and Ancient History.
The Wampanoag students who were earmarked to attend the new Indian College would already have attended grammar school where they would have been expected to master Latin.
III. The Wampanoag Bible
In 1655, Harvard completed building the Indian College — a two-story brick structure intended to house twenty scholars. The Indian College was the fourth building erected in the “Yard” and was situated near the southern end where Matthews Hall now stands. Within the new Indian College, Harvard installed a press that had previously been housed in the College president's house since 1638. From 1661 to 1663, John Eliot, "the Apostle to the Indians," printed a translation of the Bible into the Wampanoag language-- the first Bible printed in North America. John Eliot's translation remained in use some 200 years later. Between 1655 and 1672, printing presses at the Indian College produced books and pamphlets, along with primers, catechisms, grammars, and tracts— one-eighth of which were in Wampanoag. James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who had attended Harvard several decades earlier, worked the presses.
(Left) The Massachuset Psalter, or, Psalms of David : with the Gospel according to John : in columns of Indian and English : being an introduction for training up the aboriginal natives in reading and understanding the Holy Scriptures. Boston, N.E. : Printed by B. Green and J. Printer for the honourable Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New-England, 1709. The Psalter was translated into Wampanoag by Experience Mayhew who preached at Aquinnah (Martha's Vineyard). Note the acknowledgment of J.Printer (Nipmuc) as publisher along with B.Green.
Only one year after the completion of the Indian College, Harvard's President Chauncey strongly hinted that the building should be converted to house English, not Indian students. Whether Chauncey's request is evidence of a precipitous waning of educational commitment or outright duplicitousness is open to interpretation. What we do know is that only fifteen years after Harvard dedicated itself to the education of Native students, there were no Native students attending the Indian College. In the interim, Harvard had housed and educated five Native students. John Wampus (Aquinnah Wampanoag) left before graduating and became a mariner. Joel Iacoombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag) was murdered shortly before commencement. Two other Wampanoag students, Benjamin Larnell and a young man named "Eleazar" succumbed to disease within one year of enrollment. Of the five, only one, Caleb Cheeshahteamuck (Aquinnah Wampanoag) graduated in 1665.
Without Native students, the Harvard Corporation told the NEC that Harvard would continue to house English students at a site intended for the sole use of Indians. Harvard was careful to assure the NEC that it would also continue to provide for the Indian College's upkeep, securing the building against any damage that might befall it-- a promise that Harvard failed to keep. By 1693, Harvard petitioned the NEC for authority to tear down the structure and use the bricks for a newer edifice. The NEC gave its permission, but forcefully stipulated, "in case any Indian should hereafter be sent to the College, they should enjoy their studies rent-free in said building."
IV. Honoring Those That Came Before Us
In the early 1970s, American Indians representing tribes and nations far from Wampanoag Country began to return to Harvard as students once again. At present, one-percent of students (or roughly 114 students) enrolled at Harvard University are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian. Over twenty tribes and/or nations are represented including, Aleut, Anishaanabe, Athabascan, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Crow, Hawaiian, Hochunk, Gabrieleño, Grand Ronde, Juaneño, Lenape, Lumbee, Mohawk, Navajo, Osage, Seneca, Stockbridge-Brotherton, Taino, Tlingit, and Xaxli'p. With respect to faculty appointments, in the Spring of 2005, the Committee in History & Literature in conjunction with the Program in Folklore & Mythology, and the History Department appointed two junior tenure-track Native scholars within Harvard University's Faculty of Arts & Sciences.
Today, the Indian College Commemorative Plaque (unveiled in 1997 at Matthews Hall) honors the first American Indians to attend the College. To commemorate the Indian College, Harvard University, the Committee on Ethnic Studies, and the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) plan to highlight the work of students, faculty, and alumni through conferences and lecture series; engage the Harvard community in issues, research, and outreach throughout Indian Country; and build an institutional memory of the legacy of Native peoples at Harvard, the Americas, and throughout the world.
V. Significant Moments in the History of Native Harvard
Before 1650, at least two Massachusetts Indians, John Sassamon (Wampanoag) and James Printer (Nipmuc) briefly attend Harvard College. Both are pivotal players in the vitriolic history of colonial Southern New England.
In 1650, Harvard incorporates its charter, calling for “the education of English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness.”
Class of 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteamuck (Aquinnah Wampanoag), is the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard College.
From 1655 to 1698, Harvard Indian College stands in Harvard Yard at the present-day site of Matthews Hall. The Indian College, a two-story structure, is Harvard's first brick building and houses a printing press.
From 1659 to 1663, the Indian College press prints the first Bible in North America. The “Apostle to the Indians” John Eliot's translation of the Bible into Wampanoag remains in use for some two hundred years.
Between 1655 and 1672, the Indian College printing press also produces books, pamphlets, tracts, primers, catechisms and grammars— one-eighth of which are in Wampanoag.
In 1698, Harvard Indian College is torn down due to neglect.
In 1970, the American Indian Program is established at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as part of a larger pan-Indian self-determination movement.
In 1997, the Native American Commemorative Plaque is placed on Matthews Hall and unveiled in Harvard Yard.
In 1998, the Office of the Provost designates the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) as an Interfaculty Initiative.
In 2003, Harvard Law School announces the establishment of the Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law. This chair is the first endowed chair in American Indian studies at Harvard University and the only professorship of its kind east of the Mississippi River.
In 2004-2005, 123 Native students attend Harvard University. Of that number, 49 are enrolled at the college as undergraduates, 18 are Ph.D. Candidates in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and 56 are graduate students at the 8 other schools that make up Harvard University.
Harvard' s Native students represent more than 30 Native nations from North America, including Alaska Native/Aleut, Algonquin Kahnawake, Anishnabe, Athabascan, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Cheyenne River Sioux, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Creek, Crow, First Nations Ojibwa, Fort Peck Sioux, Gabrieleño, Hawaiian, Inuit, Isleta Pueblo, Lakota, Lenape, Lumbee, Mohawk, Navajo, Northern Cheyenne, Oneida, Onondaga, Pee Dee of Beaver Creek, Red Lake Chippewa, Seneca, Southern Ute, St. Regis Mohawk, Taino, Western Cherokee, White Earth Chippewa, Yurok, and Xaxli'p.
Harvard achieves a 95% retention rate of Native students.
Over 800 American Indians have earned degrees from Harvard University's ten schools.
As of 2005, Native graduates of Harvard University have received faculty appointments at some of the nation's most prestigious universities: Cornell University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dartmouth College, University of Victoria, the University of California-Berkeley.
In the Spring of 2005, the Committee in History & Literature in conjunction with the Program in Folklore & Mythology, and the History Department appointed two junior tenure-track Native scholars within Harvard University's Faculty of Arts & Sciences.
(above) Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck's signature from a surviving document
(left) Harvard's Indian College Commemorative Plaque
Richard Cogley, John Eliot's Mission to the Indians Before King Philip's War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Jill Lepore, Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).
Susan Power,'83, J.D. '86, "First Fruits," (short-story) Roofwalker (Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed, 2002).
Note: The background map is John Foster's Map of New England, the first that ever was here cut, and done by the best Pattern, that could be had, which being in some places defective, it made the other less exact: yet doth it sufficiently shew the Scituation of the Country, and conveniently well the distances of Places, Boston, 1677.
Foster's map first appeared in William Hubbard's The present State of New-England, being a Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians, and was printed and published by Foster himself. The orientation of the map is West at the top of the map and east at the bottom, with Cape Cod in the lower left-hand corner, and Rhode Island separate from the mainland.
Monday, April 4, 2005 8:43 AM