Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Dresden: What Is in the Name


With the signing of the Royal Charter for Dartmouth College on the thirteenth of December 1769 by John Wentworth, governor of the Province of New Hampshire, the way was cleared for the next step in establishing the College: the search for a site-where 'to fix it.'[1] The general area of the western part of the province along the Connecticut River had already been decided on, and from the outset of the search, Eleazar Wheelock, president of the new college, was in full agreement with the governor's wish 'that the College may have the Government of the Town wherever it stands. . . .' [2] Jonathan Parsons, Wheelock's colleague and friend of Newburyport, Massachusetts, after a meeting with the governor, had continued similarly, 'Oxford & Cambridge Universities in England are settled upon their own Lands,' and if a similar arrangement could be obtained for the College, 'ye Civil & Religious Affairs of ye Town [would] be under ye Direction & Management of ye Authority of ye College. . . .'[3] President Wheelock intended this as a way 'to keep out bad Inhabitants, prevent Licentiousness, regulate Taverns & Retailers of strong drink, prevent the corruption of the Students by evil minded persons, Incourage & Support divine Ordinances, &c &c. . . .' [4]

the said Town of Hanover and Lebanon previously consent and petition to the Legislature [of New Hampshire] That a contiguous Parish of at least three Miles square in and adjoining to these aforesaid Towns of Hanover and Lebanon be set off and incorporated into a separate and distinct Parish under the immediate Jurisdiction of the aforesaid Dartmouth College.[5]

The word 'parish' was subsequently replaced by 'town.'

The plan for such a 'distinct and separate town' was approved by town meetings of Hanover and Lebanon and the Governor and Council, but not by the New Hampshire Assembly, a situation repeated in 1773 and 1774. The vote of the College Trustees at their annual meeting of 25 August 1774 summarized matters succinctly under the heading 'Incorporation of the College District':

Voted and Resolved That the President be our Agent to apply to his Excellency the Governor, the Honble his Majesty's Council, and the Honble House of Representatives of this Province for the Incorporation of a Tract of Lands containing about five thousand seven hundred and sixty Acres contiguous to and including Dartmouth College into a Society-the one half to be taken from the Town of Hanover, and the other half from the Town of Lebanon.[6]

This incorporation, however, may never have become a reality without certain political events in western New Hampshire and adjacent territories. These events (at times called the Western Rebellion) took place concurrent with those of the American Revolution, between 1778 and 1784.[7] A prime reason for this revolt was lack of representation of Hanover and neighboring towns in the Provincial Assembly in Exeter. For example, in 1775 Hanover was 'classed' with Lebanon, Grafton, Canaan, Cardigan (now Orange), and Relhan (now Enfield), and this 'class' was allowed only one delegate to the Assembly.[8] Protracted political skirmishes ensued, a situation that became complicated by at least two other events-the emergence of Vermont as an independent state and the conflict (of more than thirty years' duration) over territory known as the New Hampshire Grants.

The original grant in New Hampshire to John Mason had encompassed land that reached from the Atlantic coast westward to a line approximately twenty miles east of the Connecticut River, thus excluding the river valley itself. This territory, extending from the northern border of Massachusetts in the south to Canada in the north, was therefore a constant source of boundary controversy, New Hampshire claiming sovereignty over the whole of the territory while New York sought title to a large part of it. And in the early 1760s, New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth issued hundreds of grants to establish townships on either side of the river-even ignoring a royal decree (1764) declaring the western bank of the river the official boundary of New Hampshire.

The four principal contenders in these disputes were the so-called New York State party; the Bennington party, with Ethan and Ira Allen and others promoting the emergence of the new state (first called New Connecticut and soon changed to Vermont); the Exeter party, representing New Hampshire; and the College party, which also included various towns along the river.

The four leaders of the College party were Bezaleel Woodward of the College; Peter Olcott of Norwich, Vermont; Elisha Payne, first of Cardigan and after 1800 of Lebanon; and Joseph Marsh of Hartford, Vermont. All had highly distinguished careers, and the first three were at one time or another Trustees of Dartmouth College. In order to devote his time fully to the cause, Woodward resigned as Tutor at the College, but he remained as member and clerk of the Board of Trustees. Moreover, President Wheelock and son John in various ways contributed much toward the goals of the College Party-one such goal may perhaps having been the foundation of an independent state covering the territory between the Green Mountains and the western border of Mason's Grant, with the seat of its government 'in the Connecticut valley,' possibly in or near Hanover.[9]

The drive to secede from New Hampshire culminated, for the College District, in the announcement of its incorporation on 'this 19th Day of February 1778.' The lengthy declaration reviews the history of the commitments Lebanon and Hanover had made to the establishment of 'a distinct and separate Town' to benefit Dartmouth College. The document then proceeds: 'We do therefore maintain, publish, and declare, that we are incorporated into a distinct Town, and do hereby by our own act and deed incorporate ourselves into a separate Town, by the name of Dartmouth.'[10]

For some reason, it had been overlooked that there was already a town by that name in New Hampshire's White Mountains area-a town chartered in 1765.[11] This oversight on the part of the College District's incorporators was soon corrected by substitution of the name Dresden.

To date, the reason has remained elusive as to why the name of the city of Dresden, on the Elbe River in the German state of Saxony, was applied to the College District. There is no evidence that any of the contemporary inhabitants of the region surrounding Dartmouth College came from Germany or that a town of that name existed within any of the thirteen American colonies. Names of other German cities were in use, and Dresden may have been a random choice. However, exploring the etymology of the word Dresden has led to a plausible explanation. The name of the German city of Dresden 'derives from the old Sorbian drezg [a] "forest"'; it more properly is the word for an inhabitant of a forest and it goes back to ancient Sorbian Drezd'ane, [html editors note] 'the settlers in the riverside forest,' [12] an appelation fully compatible with that of the early inhabitants of the Hanover Plain.

Who among the people of the College District could have made such an unusual choice? An excellent candidate is Bezaleel Woodward, Eleazar Wheelock's son-in-law, Tutor at the College, one of its Trustees, and within a few years its first Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Prominent among his many interests was geography, as is evident from a letter signed 'An effectionate Pupil pays this tribute of respect to the memory of an Instructor, a Patron, and a Friend,' which appeared in the New England Palladium. The writer of this letter noted that with regard to the subjects taught at Dartmouth by Woodward,

The arrangements of the University assigned to his department Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Moral Philosophy and Geography. In the two last of these he seemed to teach with the most pleasure to himself. . . . Geographical studies afforded the Professor an opportunity of elucidating the characteristic differences of nations; of comparing modes and customs; of interspersing anecdotes; and of communicating much of that sort of knowledge which living, and not lettered oracles can convey.[13]

Knowledge of linguistics was available through Woodward's colleague John Smith (Dartmouth Class of 1773), whose extraordinary abilities as a linguist led in 1778 to an appointment (at age 26) as the College's Professor of the Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Oriental languages. It was declared of Smith:

The Latin, the Greek and the Hebrew were almost familiar to him as his native language. He clearly comprehended the Samaritan and Chaldaic; and far extended his researches in the Arabic. . . . His mind was not wholly isolated in one particular branch. Philosophy, geography, criticism, and other parts of philology held respectable rank in his acquirements; but these yielded to a prevailing bias: the investigations of language unceasingly continued his favorite object.[14]

For the purpose of the present discussion, only a synopsis is needed of the very complex regional developments following the incorporation of Dresden as an independent town. On 11 June 1778 the first union (also called 'East Union') with Vermont took place. Sixteen towns east of the Connecticut River, including Dresden, joined. Wheelock, in anticipation of this event, had sent his son John (later to be the second President of the College) to Bennington, to present an extensive and detailed petition to the state's General Assembly, requesting that Vermont 'take this School under your friendly and Charitable patronage . . . .[and] that the President for the time being be a Justice of the peace. . . . '[15]

The Assembly's reaction was favorable:

State of Vermont Bennington 15th June 1778 In house of Representatives of the freemen of this State &c - Voted, to take the incorporated University, known by the name of Dartmouth College under the protection and patronage of this State . . . Voted, that the Revd Eleazar Wheelock D.D. President of Dartmouth College be appointed, and is hereby appointed a Justice of the peace for said incorporated Society.[16]

The union with Vermont lasted only a little more than half a year; it was dissolved on 12 February 1779. The brothers Ethan and Ira Allen were the principal agitators against the union of Vermont with any town on the east bank of the river, and after the dissolution of this connection with Dresden, Ethan Allen favored strong preventive action of the government of both Vermont and New Hampshire to suppress further attempts at such association-action particularly indicated to deal with the leaders of the Dresden party. Allen wrote:

I have this further Reason for the Exertion of Government; as I am confident that argument will be lost with them, for the heads of the schism at large are a Petulent, Pettefoging, Scribling sort of Gentry, that will keep any Government in hot water, till they are Thoroughly brought under by the Exertions of authority.[17]

During union with Vermont, Dresden was 'in the territory east of Connecticut River in the State of Vermont.'[18] However, when Eleazar Wheelock died on the 24th of April 1779 in his home in Dresden, the town was in political limbo. The first union with Vermont had been dissolved and a petition to come again under New Hampshire's jurisdiction had failed. Wheelock, therefore, died 'stateless' -an awkward situation reflected in the text of the President's last will and testament:

In the name of GOD, Amen-This second day of April A.D. 1779 I Eleazar Wheelock D.D. President of Dartmouth College on the east side of Connecticut River in the county of Grafton formerly supposed to be in, and now claimed by the State of New-Hampshire being infirm in Body and apprehensive that the time of my departure draws nigh . . .[19]

Following Wheelock's death, 'Colo Peter Olcott of Norwich, Capt Aaron Storrs of Dresden and Jonathan Freeman Esqr of Hanover all on the New Hampshire Grants' were appointed to take 'an Inventory of the Estate, both Personal and Real, of the Late Revd Eleazar Wheelock Dresden D.D. Deceased . . .'[20]

A second union with Vermont, in February 1781, involved thirty-eight towns from both sides of the river, including those of the first union. It was an unpopular alliance and lasted only one year. Citizens of Landaff, New Hampshire, chartered to the College on 19 January 1770, declared in the autumn of 1781 their dislike of this union in general and of the College party in particular:

We the inhabitants of sd Landaff having a Laudebel atachment to the State of Newhampshier and Likewise to the thirteen united States of America and as We Live wheir Vermont Claims Jurisdiction have Received so maney insults from that Quarter and are Now in Verry Grate feear of Being insulted by them and Especially from the Emessieries of the Colledge Do humbly Petition to the Honourabel Court of New:hampisher for ade and Protection Against the insults and abuses of the Vermont, and especely the Emeserries of the Coledg.[21]

A few more attempts at union with Vermont also failed, and toward the end of 1782 the Dresden party began to unravel when Woodward returned in September to his teaching at the College. Soon thereafter Woodward also regained his seat as justice of the Grafton County Court of Common Pleas, and he later was elected as the county's Register of Deeds as well as County Treasurer. As a direct result of the Dresden episode, some ill feeling lingered in the New Hampshire legislature, and the state's constitution, adopted in October 1783, contained the clause 'No person holding the office of . . . president, professor or instructor of any college . . . shall at the same time have a seat in the senate or house of representatives, or council. . . .[22] The constitution of 1792, however, generally reworded this section and omitted any reference to academic officers.[23]

The use of Dresden as a name was not limited to the College District. To promote the cause of the Western Rebellion, Eleazar Wheelock initiated a search for a printer and printing press. The effort was successful, and in October 1778, Alden Spooner, a printer from Massachusetts, began printing 'in the South End of Dartmouth College.' The Dresden imprints included broadsides, sermons, political pamphlets, and laws of Vermont, as well as the first printing of the College's charter and its first general catalogue (the latter containing the names of graduates from 1771 to 1779). Spooner also published a newspaper, The Dresden Mercury, and the Universal Intelligencer. How long it appeared is not known-only five copies are extant, the latest dated 27 September 1779. [24]

The name Dresden was not again used locally until the early 1960s, when after some years of deliberation, negotiation, and action by the Vermont and New Hampshire legislatures, an agreement was reached by the Hanover School District and the Norwich School District creating an interstate school district, approved by the United States Congress on 13 November 1963.[25] At the suggestion of William W. Ballard (Dartmouth1928), Professor of Biology at the College and one of the directors of the Town of Norwich School District, the new interstate compact was named Dresden School District, a name in regular use to this date. Professor Ballard wrote, 'the principal reason for recommending the name . . . is that this almost forgotten local name ties together in a symbolic way nearly two hundred years of community relations too vital to be held back by a river barrier or a political boundary.'[26]

Dresden Road in Hanover is yet another instance where the name has been preserved. Francis Lane Childs, Dartmouth 1906 and Professor of English at the College in 1966, helped 'with the selection of names for new streets in the College's sub-division east of Lyme Road and north of Reservoir Road. The names selected . . . were "Dresden," "Curtiss" and "Bridgman" . . . names in early Hanover history worthy of preservation.'[27]

We acknowledge the assistance of Mary Ann Mousley, Senior Secretary, Librarian's Office, in the preparation of this article.

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[1] Eleazar Wheelock to Hugh Wallace, 23 May 1770. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 770323.

[2] Governor Wentworth to Wheelock, 29 January 1770. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 770129.2.

[3] Jonathan Parsons to Wheelock, 27 March 1770. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 770227.

[4] Eleazar Wheelock to William Smith, 30 December 1773. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 773680.

[5] Dartmouth College, Trustees' Records, 1:17. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, DA-1.

[6] Trustees' Records,1:31.

[7] John L. Rice, 'Dartmouth College and the State of New Connecticut,' Connecticut Valley Historical Society, Papers and Proceedings (1876-1881), [1]:152-206; Frederick Chase, A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, ed. John K. Lord, 2 vols. (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1891-1913), 1:422-527; Jere R. Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741-1794 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), 145-163; Jere R. Daniell, 'The Western Rebellion,' New Hampshire Profiles 25:2 (March 1976), 26-28.

[8] Chase, History of Dartmouth College, 1:424.

[9] Rice, 'Dartmouth College,' 174-175.

[10] Articles of Incorporation of the Town of Dartmouth, 19 February 1778. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 778169.1.

[11] A lack of a sufficient number of settlers required by the charter, granted to John G. Goffe, led it to be regranted in 1772 to Mark H. Wentworth and others. In 1796 Dartmouth was incorporated as the town of Jefferson. See also George C. Evans, History of the Town of Jefferson, New Hampshire, 1773-1927 (Manchester, N.H.: 1927); and Elmer Munson Hunt, New Hampshire Town Names and Whence They Came (Peterborough, N.H.: Noone House, [1971]), 227.

[html editors note] [12] Dieter Berger, Duden geographische Namen in Deutschland: Herkunft und Bedeutung der Namen von L�ndern, St�dten, Bergen und Gew�ssern (Mannheim: Dudenverlag, [1993]), 82, 'Der Name der Stadt Dresden geh�rt zu asorb. drezg[a] >Wald<, er ist eigtl. ein Bewohnername und geht zur�ck auf obersorb. Drezd'ane $gt'die Siedler am [Auen] walde$lt;. . .' (translation by Dick Hoefnagel); Gerald Stone, The Smallest Slavonic Nation: The Sorbs of Lusatia (London: The Athlone Press of the University of London, 1972).

[13] 'Tribute to the Memory of Professor Woodward,' The New England Palladium (11 september 1804).

[14] [John Wheelock], Eulogium on the Rev. John Smith, D.D. Professor of the Learned Languages, at Dartmouth College. by the President (Hanover: Printed by C. & W. W. Wpear, 1809), 9, 11.

[15] Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 778354.

[16] Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 778365.

[17] Miscellaneous Documents and Records Relating to New Hampshire at Different Periods [Provincial and State Papers, 40 vols.], 10:335.

[18] This wording of the place name was common in letters written during the Dresden period. See, for example, a deed to land in Dresden given Ebenezer Brewster by Eleazar Wheelock. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 778555.3.

[19] Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 779252; also copy reproduced from original in Grafton County Probate Office in Haverhill, New Hampshire.

[20] Copies of inventory papers reproduced from originals in Grafton County Probate Office in Haverhill, New Hampshire. The exact wording varies among the copies.

[21] Vermont, Records of the Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, 8 vols. (Montpelier: J. and J. M. Poland, 1873-1889), 2:500. See also Volume One of this set, pp. 278, 428, for further evidence.

[22] New Hampshire, Laws, Statutes, etc., The Laws of the State of New-Hampshire, Enacted Since June 1, 1815. To Which is Added an Appendix, Containing . . . The Constitution of New Hampshire of 1783 . . . 2 vols. (Concord: Printed by Isaac Hill, 1824), 2:261.

[23] New Hampshire, Laws, Statutes, etc., The Laws of the State of New-Hampshire; with the Constitutions of the United States and of the State Prefixed (Exeter: Printed by C. Norris & Co. for the State, 1815), 23.

[24] The press is now at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier. Details of its history have often been discussed: Harold G. Rugg, The Dresden Press (n.p., 1918); Ray Nash, Pioneer Printing at Dartmouth with a Check List of Dresden Imprints (Hanover: Dartmouth College Library, 1941); Marcus A. McCorison, 'The Old Press at the Vermont Historical Society,' Printing and Graphic Arts 7 (September 1959):84-88; J. Kevin Graffagnino, '"We Have Long Been Wishing for a Good Printer in This Vicinity:" the State of Vermont, the First East Union and the Dresden Press, 1778-1779,' Vermont History 47 (Winter 1979): 21-36; J. Kevin Graffagnino, 'The Dresden Imprints,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n.s., 17:2 (April 1977): 42-52, and 'The Dresden Imprints II,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n.s.,, 18:1 (November 1977): 6-15.

[25] U.S. Statutes at Large 77 (1963): 332.

[26] William W. Ballard, Letter to the Editor, Hanover Gazette (16 May 1963).

[27] Paul F. Young, Associate Treasurer, Dartmouth College, to Professor Francis L. Childs, 19 April 1966. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 966269.

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