In 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University.
Cheeshahteaumuck, of the Wampanoag tribe, came from Martha’s Vineyard and attended a preparatory school in Roxbury. At Harvard, he lived and studied in the Indian College, Harvard’s first brick building, with a fellow member of the Wampanoags, Joel Iacoomes. Cheeshahteaumuck died of tuberculosis in Watertown less than a year after graduation.
Apart from Cheeshahteaumuck and Iacoomes, at least two other Native American students attended the Indian College. One of them, Eleazar, died before graduating and the other, John Wampus, left to become a mariner. As for Iacoomes, he was lost in a shipwreck a few months prior to graduation while returning to Harvard from Martha’s Vineyard. It is therefore believed that Cheeshahteaumuck is the only native American to have graduated in the lifetime of the Indian College. These first students studied in an educational system that emphasized Greek, Latin, and religious instruction.
On December 16, 2010, a portrait of Caleb Chesshahteaumuck commissioned by the Harvard Foundation was unveiled in the University’s famous Annenberg Hall. A part of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project diversity initiative, it was painted by alumnus Stephen Coit and involved careful historical research and consultation with Wampanoag tribal members. Rev. Peter J. Gomes chaired the project and was present with Harvard President Drew Faust and members of the Harvard Native American Program to commemorate the day.