Friday Morning Bookclub

January 25, 2013

Caleb’s Crossing By Geraldine Brooks

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 buildincalebg. In 1997, the college installed a historic plaque in Harvard Yard to commemorate the Indian College.  Indian CollegeWikipedia, 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.

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



  1. Kudos to you all! What a great project for a book club.

    Comment by Mary Ellen — January 26, 2013 @ 10:05 am | Reply

    • Thank you Mary Ellen. It always feels good to give to others!

      Comment by Susanbright — January 26, 2013 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  2. I thought this was a fascinating story. I enjoy your blog very much.

    Comment by Ace — January 26, 2013 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  3. Maybe the audiobook is better. I’m a great Geraldine Brooks fan, but I found this one hard to read, largely because of what seemed to me like fake 17th century language. It was so distracting that I couldn’t concentrate on the plot.

    Comment by Gabi Coatsworth — January 27, 2013 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

    • Hi Gabi, This might be one of those cases where the audio book is more enjoyable that the print book.The audiobook is narrated by Jennifer Ehle, (Lizzie Bennet in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.) There were so many unusual names in this book and hearing the way she pronounced them was helpful. Although I am by no means a linguistics expert, the way she read the book did not seem fake to me at all. Her voice really brought the story to life.

      Comment by susanbright — January 27, 2013 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

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