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Happy anniversary, Dartmouth Charter

The Dartmouth College Charter was officially signed 236 years ago today, December 13, 1769, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Developed with persistence and considerable political skill over a period of years, it was a document that was not easy to come by.

Eleazar Wheelock, the College's founder, pursued several possible locations for his new school including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and the Susquehanna region (of which the colonies of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania claimed ownership). The question of a charter, and the legal authority it granted, was central to his decision, and after years of consideration and inquiry, he found his best opportunity to the north.

"New Hampshire...looked quite promising," wrote Professor of History Emeritus Jere Daniell in a 1969 article on the occasion of Dartmouth's bicentennial. "Wheelock didn't know whether he could get a charter there (in New Hampshire) or precisely how to go about seeking one, but he did know political conditions in the province favored the success of his undertaking. New Hampshire was a royal colony governed in accordance with instructions written in England, and imperial authorities in other royal colonies had been willing to incorporate educational institutions..."

Massachusetts and Connecticut, on the other hand, had their own charters to tend.

"Connecticut was a corporation created by a charter granted in the seventeenth century," Daniell wrote, "and, as such, enjoyed much more political independence than most other American colonies. Since English law prohibited one corporation from creating another, provincial leaders hesitated to take any action which might jeopardize their status."

But Wheelock's enterprise held great appeal to John Wentworth, the royal governor of the colony of New Hampshire, who signed the Charter as King George III's representative. "Governor Wentworth," wrote Wheelock to a friend, "has granted me everything material I have asked of him...[the charter] is thought to be the most generous of that Nature upon the Continent & it is without any Clogg or disagreeable appendage."

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Last Updated: 3/29/11