Episode 64: Harvard Indian College, Promises Broken… and Kept

There’s an oft forgotten clause written into Harvard’s 1650 charter promising to educate the Native American youth of Massachusetts.  This week’s episode looks at the early, mostly unsuccessful efforts to create an Indian College on the Harvard campus, the abandonment of that plan after King Philip’s War soured the English settlers on their earlier plans for Christianizing local Native American tribes, and how modern scholarship is helping to rediscover this legacy and rededicate Harvard to embracing Native Americans.  


Harvard Indian College

Featured Historic Site

Located just across the Neponset River from Boston, Moswetuset Hummock is a small, rocky hill along Wollaston Beach in Quincy.  In the early 17th century, it was the summer home of the Massachusett sachem Chickatawbut.  It was at Moswetuset that he met with the Pilgrim leader Myles Standish in 1621, and from there that he journeyed to Boston to break bread with John Winthrop in 1631.

The name Moswetuset is often translated to mean “arrowhead hill” based on a mid-18th century account that said “arrow-heads are called in their language MOS, or MONS, with O nasal, and hill in their language is WETUSET,” but some alternate translations say “site of the great house.”  As the English became acquainted with Chickatawbut, they would use the name Moswetuset, or Massachusetts, to refer to the tribe, the land, the bay, and eventually the colony.

Unfortunately, Chickatawbut and many members of his band died in an outbreak of smallpox, which they didn’t have any natural resistance to, in 1633.

Upcoming Event

On Wednesday, February 7, the Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting a talk by Lisa Brooks of Amherst College and Christine DeLucia of Mount Holyoke.  They will be discussing their recent work viewing King Philip’s War from new perspectives.  King Philip’s war raged across Massachusetts and all of New England in the 1670s, and it fundamentally changed the relationship between the English colonists and their Native American neighbors.  From the MHS website:

Two historians reexamine the narrative of one of colonial America’s most devastating conflicts. Lisa Brooks recovers a complex picture of war, captivity, and Native resistance during the “First Indian War” by relaying the stories of Weetamoo, a female Wampanoag leader, and James Printer, a Nipmuc scholar, whose stories converge in the captivity of Mary Rowlandson. Christine DeLucia offers a major reconsideration of the war, providing an alternative to Pilgrim-centric narratives that have dominated the histories of colonial New England, grounding her study in five specific places that were directly affected by the crisis, spanning the Northeast as well as the Atlantic world. These two works offer new perspectives. The program will include short presentations by both scholars followed by a conversation.

There will be a reception at 5:30pm and the talk begins at 6.  Registration is required and tickets are $10 for non-members.  

2 thoughts on “Episode 64: Harvard Indian College, Promises Broken… and Kept”

    1. Interesting! I was just quoting what the Massachusetts Historical Society event page said, but doing a quick search reveals some sources that identify her as Pocasset or Pocasset Wampanoag. Tribal affiliation often trips me up… does Pocasset identify a band within the wider Wampanoag tribal identity?

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