The Reverend Eleazar Wheelock (1711-1779), 1st President of Dartmouth College (1769-1779)
Oil on canvas
Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth College; P.793.2
The Dartmouth College trustees commissioned this portrait of Eleazar Wheelock (1711-1779), founder and first president of the College, in 1793, about thirteen years after Wheelock’s death. This painting and the portrait of College trustee John Phillips represent the first in a long series of commissioned works depicting Dartmouth presidents, trustees, faculty, and students. The founding of Dartmouth represented the culmination of the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock’s long struggle to incorporate and expand “Moor’s Charity School,” which he established in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1754 for the purpose of educating and converting Native Americans. Wheelock underestimated the cultural complexities of his mission, however, and, as enrollment declined in the 1760s owing to attrition and illness, he altered his original mission and began recruiting young white men to be trained as missionaries to the Indians. With this new goal, he moved the school to Hanover in 1770 and began his modest operations, initially holding classes in crude temporary dwellings. He guided the school through these rugged early years and the tumultuous period of the Revolution, serving as the College’s president until his death in 1779. Joseph Steward may have painted his former instructor from memory or from a now-lost earlier miniature. Ludovicus Weld, parson of Hampton, Connecticut, Steward’s hometown, is said to have sat for the lower half of the picture. Steward depicts Wheelock in clerical garb, holding the Dartmouth College charter granted him in 1769 by the royal governor of New Hampshire, John Wentworth. The artist likely based the interior on features of the artist’s own home in Hampton, whereas the landscape outside the window appears to be imaginary. The view may represent, however, Wheelock’s aspirations for bringing his ideals of civilization and enlightenment to the Hanover Plain.
Last Updated: 5/13/09