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Sylvanus Ripley, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1768 September 24

ms-number: 768524.2

abstract: Ripley writes to accept Wheelock’s invitation to write to him to improve his education. Ripley writes in support of the design to Christianize the Indians.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, but formal and clear. The trailer is in an unknown hand.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in good condition, with light-to-moderate staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Black-brown.

noteworthy: Marks -- a plus sign and a P -- have been added to the document in a different, probably modern hand. These marks have not been transcribed. The word "Wilkin's" appears on two verso; this is unexplained.

signature: The signature is abbreviated.

Reverend, & Honoured Sir

I (humbly accepting
your kind invitation to me viz to improve Evr'y
leisure hour in writing to the Dr) now humbly
dedicate the following Epistle, which I trust
will share largely your correction –– perhaps it
would not be disagreeable, should I chuse some
subject to treat on; when to write themeleſs, wou[gap: blotted_out][guess: d]
be too much like building a castle in the air:
I think in it not improper, to turn my thoughts
on the important design in veiw –– & first
I believe their is a vast many obstacles in the way
[below]To Mr Eleazar Wheelock DD,––
Which to human appearance seem to be almost
insurmountable, & the cause in various respects wears
a gloomy aspect; yet the probability of its succeſs is greater;
than that I myself shall Ever be able to aſsist in the for[illegible][guess: d]warding
of it, who) I beleive( will be Rather like a brittle pin, [illegible][guess: which]
which tends more to weaken the fabrick; than promote
its stability; yet I would wish for the best that the great
design of Christianizing the Pagans might be accomplish'd[illegible]
[illegible]the great Redeemers Kingdom advanced; God gloryfied:
Satans strong holds subverted: & the Benefactors most
sanguine expectations answer'd: & may, kind Sir, your
indefatigable labours be crown'd with succeſs, & when the
grand Mandate Moriatur is utter'd in heaven, then may your
Exit be with a composed & Resign'd [illegible][guess: even] spirit; & "Receive an abun
­dant entrance administred to your" & &

I beg Leave to sub­
­scribe myself your dutiful Pupil
Sils Ripy
Blank page.
Silvanus Ripleys
Sep.r 24. 1768


To— —
the Rev'd Eleazar Wheelock DD

[left]pr favour}
ye subsr}
Ripley, Sylvanus

Sylvanus Ripley was a charity scholar at Moor’s Indian Charity School who became one of Dartmouth College’s first professors and Eleazar Wheelock’s son-in-law. After a brief stint at Moor’s proper, Ripley entered Yale in 1768. He undertook several short missions to the Canadian tribes in the early 1770s to seek out a new source of Native American students for Wheelock. His longest mission, from May to September of 1772, garnered 10 students from Kahnawake, the Catholic Canadian settlement. Ripley was an important figure in Dartmouth’s early history: in addition to serving as preceptor of Moor’s from 1775 until 1779, he was a tutor at Dartmouth from 1772 until 1782, a trustee of Dartmouth from 1775 until 1787, and the College’s professor of divinity from 1782 until 1787 (sources differ as to whether Ripley was ever formally ordained). He was also very involved in the political conflicts that characterized the town’s early history. Ripley died in 1787, at age 37, after being thrown from a sleigh.

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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