A passage from the records of Hanover, New Hampshire’s proprietors continues to have me guessing. At a proprietor meeting held 1 Oct 1770, made up mostly of men from Connecticut, the last order of business was to vote to grant Eleazer Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, 400 acres of land. Immediately following the vote to grant Wheelock land to establish his college, the proprietors “voted that the rights of William Woodward and Elisha Freeman shall have their full proportion notwithstanding this vote.”
My eyes widened with curiosity when I first read this passage sitting at a microfilm reader. I wondered a lot about why this decision was made regarding my ancestor Elisha Freeman. I copied the references, which sat on the shelf for a while until recently. Even though I remain without a definitive conclusion, I do have an educated guess as to what is actually happening. I identified keywords in the passage that stand out to me and I attempted to infer their meaning.
rights, which means land
proportion, the amount that they own
notwithstanding this vote, that despite giving land to Eleazer Wheelock, Elisha and William keeps their property
If this hypothesis proves correct, does this indicate that Elisha and William were received well in the community? Was there a significant relationship between these two men and Eleazer Wheelock? What remains unclear and is a seemingly invisible layer of subtext in the records is the motivation behind this “last minute” vote at the meeting. I decided to look more into the founding of Dartmouth College and it’s first president’s story to see what I could find.
Eleazer Wheelock and the Founding of Dartmouth College
The_Reverend Eleazar Wheelock by Joseph Steward (1793-1796). Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.
Eleazer Wheelock (b. 24 Apr 1711) was raised on a prosperous 300-acre farm in Wyndham, Tolland County, Connecticut. He was born to Ralph Wheelock and Ruth Huntington of Norwich, Connecticut. Eleazer found his calling in service to god and attended Yale in 1729. He became as Alex de Sherbinin describes, “an effective orator and active participant in the 1st Great Awakening” while serving as the town minister in Lebanon, Connecticut. Being a man of principle and vision, he often encountered criticism from older Yankees and in 1743, the town of Lebanon voted to have his salary removed. Forced to find a new means of income, he turned to education and taking on divinity students. This would lead to an interest in missionary work and by the 1750s, he was converting the native population in Stockbridge, Massachusetts at the Moor’s School.
The founding of Dartmouth and the reason for choosing the pine thick plain of Hanover, New Hampshire has an interesting backstory. Wheelock looked to fulfill his religious vision by starting a new school that would educate both colonials and native populations. His missionary work in Stockbridge was increasingly less welcomed, so he decided to look elsewhere that was closer to native populations. His home in Lebanon was not an option because open land was scarce. Around 1767 Wheelock sent a delegation to scout an ideal location for the new school. Proposed locations included near Albany and the Susquehanna River, but the delegation settled on the upper Connecticut valley in present day New Hampshire and Vermont. A major factor in the decision to have the school in New Hampshire was support of the Royal Governor John Wentworth. Twelve surrounding towns, including Hanover, also rallied behind the new college and granted land to Dartmouth because they believed it would increase investment and educational opportunities. In 1769, Wheelock obtained a royal charter from King George III to establish Dartmouth College. The school was named after William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth and main trustee of Dartmouth.
Portrait of Governor John Wentworth (1737-1820) by John Singleton Copley (1769). Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.
A front view of Dartmouth College, with the Chapel, & Hall (1793). Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.
Dartmouth College and the Wheelock family amassed an estate of 4000 acres in the tall pine forests of Hanover, according to Hamilton Childs’ Gazetteer of Grafton Co., N.H. Ex-Governor Benning Wentworth deeded Wheelock 500 acres in Portsmouth 5 July 1770. Shortly after, the proprietors of Hanover contributed 1000 acres to Dartmouth College and 700 to the Wheelock family. Even Wheelock himself purchased “proprietors lots abutting on the north.” Within the proprietor records is a transcription of the 400-acre grant made by the proprietors 1 Oct 1770 to Eleazer Wheelock and his family, in which lays the rights of Elisha Freeman and William Woodward. The first paragraph is especially revealing as to their motives behind giving the land:
“Before the adjournment the following vote was passed:
Whereas the revd Eleazer Wheelock Dm in Divinity President of Dartmouth College now settled in this town has been at great expense and suffered many disadvantages in leaving his interest in Connecticut and his removal at this place in consideration whereof together with the many advantages of said college to this province and to this town and propriety in particular
Voted that this propriety do give the said Eleazer Wheelock four hundred acres of land belonging to us in said Hanover to be laid out in the Easterly part of Hanover adjoining to Canaan…”
Wheelock was so invested in his vision that it would force him to uproot his family and leave life behind in Lebanon for an area that was significantly more remote and harsh in the winter. When he had first moved there, the first lands were still being cleared in Hanover by energetic settlers such as my 5th great-grandfather Elisha Freeman. Understanding that Wheelock gave up his “golden years” for a much more challenging venture, the proprietors and town officials acknowledged Wheelock’s hardships.
Curiously, the Hanover proprietor records do not reference any land grants to Wheelock before the act on October 1st. At the next proprietor meeting held 12 Nov 1770, settlers John Wright, David Woodard, Isaac Bridgman, Edmund Freeman, Isaac Walbridge, Otis Freeman, and John Bridgman each gave up a part of their land right in Hanover, totaling 300 acres, to Eleazer Wheelock and his heirs. All seven men were proprietors of Hanover, NH and were willing to give a part of their right to helping the college and yet comparatively, in the previous grant, the rights of two proprietors, Elisha (originally father Silvanus) Freeman and William Woodard, felt the need to protect what property they had.
Separate from the records of the proprietors are records of the town meetings in Hanover. These are in a separate volume and are able to fill in more gaps. The Hanover town meeting held 26 Mar 1771, voted to grant Dartmouth another three square mile tract on the south side of Hanover and Lebanon. Later on the eve of the revolution (14 Mar 1775), the town of Hanover set off another tract of land to Wheelock and directed to “write a letter of thanks to Rev Dr Wheelock for his repeated favors to this town.”
Dartmouth Green. Taken by Jake Fletcher, 2010.
Eleazer Wheelock was unable to see his college grow into the institution that it has become today. By the time he died in 1779, Wheelock had “near or quite run through the little estate [he] had left in Connecticut.” The college was very much struggling and Wheelock struggled personally since he removed there in August 1770.
To be continued in Part II: Elisha Freeman and William Woodward: the men given their full proportion.
 “State’s Copy of Records of Hanover,” Vol.1: Town Records, 1761-1844, 109: accessed at New Hampshire, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1636-1947, Familysearch.org. Hereafter cited as Hanover, N.H., Town Records, 1761-1844.
 “Eleazer, s. Ralph & Ruth, b. 22 Apr 1711,” Connecticut Vital Records to 1870 (The Barbour Collection), Windham, page 265: Accessed at americanancestors.org
 Alex de Sherbinin’ 84, “Eleazer Wheelock: The Man & His Legacy: Three hundred years after his birth, Dartmouth still owes much to it’s father,” (Apr 2011): accessed at http://www.columbia.edu/~amd155/Wheelock_Biography.pdf . Hereafter cited as De Sherbinin.
 De Sherbinin, 3.
 “History of Hanover,” Hamilton Child, Gazetteer of Grafton County, N.H., 1707-1886, (Syracuse, N.Y.: H. Child, 1886): Accessed at http://www.searchroots.com/documents/grafton/History-Hanover-NH.txt, pdf page 9.
 Hanover, N.H., Town Records, 1761-1844, 109.
 Alex de Sherbinin suggests that Wheelock’s temperament and the consequences of more solitary life had an influence on the school’s motto, Vox clamantis in deserto, meaning “The voice of one crying in the wilderness. De Sherbinin, 7.
 Hanover, N.H., Town Records, 1761-1844, 110.
 H.D. Foster, G.M. Bridgman, S.B. Fay, Town records of Hanover, N.H., 1761-1818, (Hanover, N.H.: Town, 1905), 8-9: accessed at archive.org. Hereafter cited as H.D. Foster, Town Records of Hanover, N.H., 1761-1818.
 H.D. Foster, Town Records of Hanover, N.H., 1761-1818, 20.
 Letter to Samuel Whittaker, dated 1779. Cited in De Sherbinin, 7.
Copyright (c) 2015 Jake Fletcher.