FACT: Just a few years after its founding in 1636,Harvard University established the Indian College in the 1640s to educate Native Americans as well as English colonists. It did not attract a sufficient number of students for continued operation and funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England. The college closed by 1693 and the building was torn down. Its bricks were re-used for another building. In 1997, the college installed a historic plaque in Harvard Yard to commemorate the Indian College. Indian College – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
And this is the basis for Brooks’ book, Caleb’s Crossing. How did Caleb,the son of a Wampanoag chieftain, born in Martha’s Vineyard become the first Native American to graduate from Harvard?
When we first meet Caleb he is 12 years old and clad in “Adam’s livery”. In place of a fig leaf, hung a scrap of hide. Bethia Mayfield watched the young Wampanoag boys from her hiding place among the dunes. They had no weapons and appeared to be playing a game. Their bodies were unlike anything she had ever seen. They were tall, lean and muscular and were painted in such a way that they seemed to glisten. Little did Bethia know the part this young “savage” boy would play in her life or she in his.
Bethia Mayfield, was the daughter of a Calvinist minister living in a small puritan settlement in Martha’s vineyard. She was not your typical 12 year old puritan girl. Bethia was curious about the world and longed to learn despite the fact that girls were expected to be content keeping house and having babies. She couldn’t help but ease drop on her father as he schooled her brother Makepeace, soaking in the knowledge far quicker than he ever could, a fact she was careful to keep to herself.
“Your path is not your brother’s, it cannot be. Women are not made like men. You risk addling your brain by thinking on scholarly matters that need not concern you.”
Caleb’s Crossing follows Caleb and Bethia as they grow from children to adult hood. The story is a fascinating one narrated by Bethia herself and the audio version brings this amazing story to life. It is the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, who in 1665 really did become the very first Native American to graduate from Harvard.