Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck painting by Stephen Coit.jpg
Born~ 1644
Died~ 1666
Alma materHarvard
Known forGraduating from Harvard

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck (estimated 1644 – 1666) was the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard University.


Cheeshahteaumuck, the son of a Nobnocket (West Chop) sachem Cheeshahteaumuck, was born into the Wampanoag tribe on Martha's Vineyard and he received a formal education.[1] He and his classmate Joel Hiacoomes were taught on the Vineyard by Peter Folger, the maternal grandfather to Benjamin Franklin.

The two went on to attend Elijah Corlet's grammar school in Cambridge in around 1657.[2]

Harvard and death[edit]

Cheeshahteaumuck and Hiacoomes both entered Harvard's Indian College in 1661.[2] Hiacoomes died in a shipwreck a few months prior to graduation while returning to Harvard from Martha's Vineyard. Cheeshahteaumuck became the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard in 1665. He died of tuberculosis in Watertown, Massachusetts less than a year after graduation.[3][4][5]

One document remains from Cheeshahteaumuck's time at Harvard which he purportedly wrote,[2] written entirely in Latin. This short letter, addressed to "most honored benefactors," contains references to Greek mythology, ancient philosophers, and Christian ideology and was meant to thank donors and encourage them to continue their financial support.[2][6] Some consider this to be the earliest extant writing by an Indian on the continent.[2]

In 1674, Daniel Gookin, writing about American Indians in New England, described Cheeshahteaumuck's death and how "Caleb, not long after he took his degree of bachelor of art at Cambridge in New England, died of a consumption at Charlestown, where he was placed by Mr. Thomas Danforth, who had inspection over him, under the care of a physician in order to his health; where he wanted not for the best means the country could afford, both of food and physic; but God denied the blessing, and put a period to his days."[7]

The Harvard Foundation unveiled a portrait of Cheeshahteaumuck on December 16, 2010 in the Annenberg Hall,[8] painted by Stephen E. Coit.


Cheeshahteaumuck is the title character in Geraldine Brooks' book of historical fiction Caleb's Crossing.


  1. ^ Faith and boundaries : colonists, Christianity, and community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1600-1871. Cambridge University Press. 2007-06-11. ISBN 978-0521706957.
  2. ^ a b c d e Drew., Lopenzina (2012). Red ink : native Americans picking up the pen in the colonial period. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 126–132. ISBN 9781438439792. OCLC 781628796.
  3. ^ "Remembering Native Sons" Archived June 3, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Harvard University Gazette, May 1, 1997.
  4. ^ "Harvard Honors First Native American Students" Archived December 23, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Susan Peterson, Harvard University Gazette, May 8, 1997.
  5. ^ "The Ancient Proprietors: Wampanoags" Archived 2006-05-24 at the Wayback Machine, Part I: Nantucket's First Peoples of Color, The Other Islanders, Frances Ruley Karttunen, Nantucket, Massachusetts: Nantucket Historical Association, 2002. Accessed on line October 22, 2007. This online book has also been issued in a print edition (New Bedford, Massachusetts: Spinner Publications, Inc., 2005, ISBN 0-932027-93-8.)
  6. ^ Hochbruck, Wolfgang; Dudensing-Reichel, Beatrix (1992). "'Honoratissimi Benefactores': Native American Students and Two Seventeenth-Century Texts in the University Tradition". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 4 (2/3): 36–40. ISSN 0730-3238. JSTOR 20736601.
  7. ^ "Daniel Gookin. Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650-1710. Trent and Wells, eds. 1901. Colonial Prose and Poetry".
  8. ^ "Wampanoag To Be Honored With Degree | News | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2017-09-22.