Native Student Biographies

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck and Joel Iacoombs were the first two Native students to attend the Indian College. Both men were from the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, and both attended preparatory school for five years before passing the Harvard College entrance exams at around age 15.

Joel Iacoombs was the son of Hiacoomb, the Wampanoag interpreter for missionary Thomas Mayhew. Iacoombs would have been named Harvard valedictorian, but died just before graduation following a shipwreck. Since attending the commencement ceremony was a requirement for graduation at the time, neither Iacoombs nor his family ever received his Harvard diploma. This past spring, however, almost 350 years after Iacoombs was scheduled to graduate, Harvard University presented members of the Wampanoag community with a special posthumous degree for him at its Commencement exercises on May 26, 2011.

Caleb's bag
Caleb's bag, c. 1650, PM 90-17-50/49302.

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the son of a Wampanoag sachem (chief) from Holmes hole, was the only Native student to graduate from the Indian College. He died of consumption soon after graduation at the age of 20. This fiber bag is the sole object tentatively associated with an Indian College student: museum records state “this purse belonging to Chesshah-teaumuch.” Recent conversations with Wampanoag community members are shedding new light on the history and construction of the bag.

John Wampus "a towardly lad and apt witt for a scholler" was already grown and married before coming to Harvard in 1665. After just one year, he left to become a mariner. In September of 1666, Wampus returned to Boston and bought a house on Tremont Street next door to the son of John Leverett who became governor in 1672. Prior to 1671, the Nipmucs had trusted Wampus because he was literate and fluent in both Nipmuc and English, to draw upon both English and Indian legal systems to preserve their territory. Wampus, however, eventually undermined his people by selling off a large parcel of Nipmuc land to English purchasers, although under tribal law he had no right to sell it because he was not a sachem.

Eleazar died of smallpox before graduating Harvard. Although his life was cut short, one artifact of his college career remains; a Latin elegy for his teacher, the Reverend Thomas Thacher. This work is thought to be the first poem written by a Native American. In addition, a recent Harvard college graduate has completed a new translation of the poem, which will be published in an upcoming anthology authored by Professor Lisa Brooks, Harvard University.

Benjamin Larnell was the last student associated with the Indian College, although the building had by then been razed. According to the diary of Harvard President John Leverett (1708–1724), he was "... an Acute Grammarian, an Extraordinary Latin Poet, and a good Greek one." Larnell died of a fever in 1714 at about 20 years of age.


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