What Is Dartmouth’s Connection to the First U.S. President?

A collection of the first president’s letters and journals, housed at Rauner, holds the answer.

After the Revolutionary War, America’s first commander-in-chief developed a special connection to Dartmouth.

Among the many treasures that visitors can handle with their bare hands, the Rauner Special Collections Library has a collection of George Washington’s letters and journals, written before, during, and after the War of Independence. And a few of those letters show a fondness for the College on the Hill.

In 1783, John Wheelock, Dartmouth’s second president, traveled to Europe in hopes of securing funding for the College. He brought a letter with him, signed by Washington and other notable political figures of the day, stating that both he and his mission to advance Dartmouth were honorable.

Washington also wrote to Wheelock separately about Wheelock’s plans for Dartmouth, stating, “I cannot but hope the Institution will become still more flourishing and extensively useful.”

Then, in August 1789, Dartmouth’s board of trustees wrote to Washington, congratulating him on his inauguration as America’s first president.

“Greater events have been assigned for the eighteenth century than ever before took place in the annals of time,” their letter to Washington reads. “Among these events the revolution of our day in North America may be recorded as the most important. … Through these most interesting scenes the eyes of mankind were turned on you, and in you they confided.

“Influenced by these ideas, and impressed with a sense of that duty and gratitude which are claimed by services for humanity and arts unrivalled in the annals of fame, we embrace the first opportunity as a Corporation to express those feelings of obligation, which can never be erased through the devastations of time.”

Washington wrote back, calling Dartmouth “an important source of science.”

“From your superintending care, Gentlemen, as the Guardians of a Seminary, and an important source of science, we are to derive great assistance in accomplishing those desiderata,” he wrote, referring to ideals of freedom, happiness, and honor fought for in the Revolutionary War. “That your labour may be crowned with success, and render you happy in its consequences is my sincere prayer.”

See these pieces of American and Dartmouth history at Rauner Special Collections Library, open daily this week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except for July 4).