About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use Accuracy & Fairness Corrections & Clarifications Ethics Code Your Ad Choices
© MEAWW All rights reserved

'Barkskins': Who is Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck? First American Indian Harvard graduate who inspired Yvon's role

Cheeshahteaumuck, much like Zahn's character Yvon, was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665
UPDATED MAY 27, 2020
(National Geographic)
(National Geographic)

Spoilers for 'Barkskins' Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2

'Barkskins' begins with the arrival of two men on the lonely, cold, dirty settlement in Wobik. Hamish Goames (Aneurin Barnard) and Yvon (Zahn McClarnon) are investigating the disappearance of an English agent who works with the Hudson's Bay Company, who went missing on the night of the massacre that killed hundreds of people.

Upon their arrival, things are obviously not easy. No one — the French or the English — gives them any answers. If anything, things are made all the more difficult for the duo. Based on a book by Annie Proulx, 'Barkskins' follows this investigation, which is a tool for land grabbing and establishing control. Yvon, whose character is described as "a Harvard-educated Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) man of the Hudson’s Bay Company", is actually based on a real-life person — Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck.

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. He attended the Harvard Indian College, which was formally chartered in 1650 for "provisions that may conduce to the education of English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness". Cheeshahteaumuck, of the Wampanoag tribe, came from Martha's Vineyard. When studying there, he was taught about the Vineyard by Peter Folger, poet and an interpreter of the American Indian language and the maternal grandfather to Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, he died of tuberculosis in Watertown, Massachusetts, less than a year after taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts.

In the book 'Red Ink: Native Americans Picking Up the Pen in the Colonial Period', Drew Lopenzina wrote how one document from Cheeshahteaumuck's time remains at Harvard, written entirely in Latin. This short letter was addressed to "Honoratissimi benefactores" ("most honoured benefactors") and contained references to Greek mythology, ancient philosophers and Christian ideology. It was meant to thank donors and encourage them to continue their financial support. Lopenzina wrote that many consider this to be the earliest extant writing by an Indian on the continent.

On December 16, 2010, in order to honour Cheeshahteaumuck, The Harvard Foundation unveiled a portrait of his painted by Stephen E Coit in the Annenberg Hall. It hangs on the first floor of the hall. "Cheeshahteaumuck’s portrait symbolizes the college’s early intention for the education of Native Americans play a significant role in the development of positive relations between the new colony settlers and the local tribal communities of Massachusetts," the website says. 

'Barkskins' airs on National Geographic on Mondays at 9/ 8c.