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Jonathan Murdock, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1767 February 26

ms-number: 767176.1

abstract: Murdock lists the various reasons why he cannot undertake a mission.

handwriting: Formal handwriting is somewhat uneven, yet clear and legible. The trailer is in an unknown hand.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear. There is a prominent watermark.

ink: Brown ink is lightly faded.

layout: The first page of the letter is on one recto, but the second page is on two recto, not one verso.


Reverend Sir. —
I have recieved your
Letter dated the 17.th ultimo. and now
improve the first Opportunity I have
had to return you my sincere Thanks
for the kind & honorable Proposal you
have made me and for the Love and
Regard you have expreſs'd for me. —
But at Present Sir, there are several
Obstacles against my undertaking the
Office of a Miſsionary amoung the
Natives of America: tho' it is true I
once entertained Thoughts of it and
propos'd it to my Friends but they
were utterly averse to it; and I have
no Doubt but they still remain ſo. —
But were my Friends willing I could
not at Present look on myself, who

Blank page. Am an unexperienc'd Youth, fit or
quali[illegible]fy'd to undertake ſuch a great
and important Work, which, as I
must think, requires a Man of Years,
Knowledge & Experience. —
But if the Objections I have menti=
on'd were remov'd, my present ill State
of Health would by no Means allow
of my undertaking the Work of a Miſ
=sionary, which requires ſo much
Strength of Body as well as of Mind.
For these Reasons, Sir, I must at
Pre=
ſent lay aside all Thoughts of under‐
taking the great Work you have pro=
pos'd to me. — But that [guess: you] God may
bleſs & prosper your great & noble
Designs & Endeavours of gospelizing
the Indian Natives, is the hearty Desire &
Prayer of Rev.nd Sir,

your sincere Friend & Humble
Servant —
Jonathan Murdock
New H. Feeb. 26. AD 1767
From Jonathan Murdock
Feby 26. 1767

To
The Rev.nd
Eleazar Wheelock
at
Lebanon
Murdock, Jonathan
Wheelock, Eleazar

Eleazar Wheelock was a New Light Congregationalist minister who founded Dartmouth College. He was born into a very typical Congregationalist family, and began studying at Yale in 1729, where he fell in with the emerging New Light clique. The evangelical network that he built in college propelled him to fame as an itinerant minister during the First Great Awakening and gave him many of the contacts that he later drew on to support his charity school for Native Americans. Wheelock’s time as an itinerant minister indirectly brought about his charity school. When the Colony of Connecticut retroactively punished itinerant preaching in 1743, Wheelock was among those who lost his salary. Thus, in 1743, he began operating a grammar school to support himself. He was joined that December by Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian, who sought out an education in hopes of becoming a teacher among his people. Occom’s academic success inspired Wheelock to train Native Americans as missionaries. To that end, he opened Moor’s Indian Charity School in 1754 (where he continued to train Anglo-American students who paid their own way as well as students who functionally indentured themselves to Wheelock as missionaries in exchange for an education). Between 1754 and 1769, when he relocated to New Hampshire, Wheelock trained approximately 60 male and female Native American students from nearby Algonquian tribes and from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of central New York. At the same time, he navigated the complicated politics of missionary societies by setting up his own board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, although he continued to feud with the Boston Board of the SSPCK and the London Commissioners in Boston (more colloquially called the New England Company). By the late 1760s, Wheelock had become disillusioned with the idea of Native American education. He was increasingly convinced that educating Native Americans was futile (several of his students had failed to conform to his confusing and contradictory standards), and, in late 1768, he lost his connection to the Haudenosaunee. With his inclination and ability to sponsor Native American missionaries largely depleted, Wheelock sought instead to fulfill his ultimate ambition of obtaining a charter and opening a college, which he did in 1769. To fund this new enterprise, Wheelock drew on the £12,000 that Samson Occom had raised for Moor’s Indian Charity School during a two-and-a-half year tour of Great Britain (1765 to 1768). Much of this money went towards clearing land and erecting buildings in New Hampshire for the Charity School’s relocation — infrastructure that also happened to benefit Dartmouth. Many of Wheelock’s contemporaries were outraged by what they saw as misuse of the money, as it was clear that Dartmouth College was not intended for Indians and that Moor’s had become a side project. Although Wheelock tried to maintain at least some commitment to Native American education by recruiting students from Canadian communities, the move did a great deal of damage to his public image. The last decade of Wheelock’s life was not easy. In addition to the problems of trying to set up a college far away from any Anglo-American urban center, Wheelock experienced the loss of relationships with two of his most famous and successful students, Samson Occom and Samuel Kirkland (an Anglo-American protégé). He also went into debt for Dartmouth College, especially after the fund raised in Britain was exhausted.

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