Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923

By Washburn, Wilcomb E. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923


Washburn, Wilcomb E., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923. By DONAL F. LINDSEY. Blacks in the New World Series. AUGUST MEIER and JOHN H. BRACEY, Series Editors. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995. xviii, 305 pp. $39.95.

PERHAPS the one Virginia institution linking blacks, whites, and Indians in a socially significant way over an extended period was Hampton Institute. Founded in 1868 as a normal school primarily for the industrial education of blacks, Hampton developed a smaller program for Indians in 1877. During the next fifty years, 1,388 Indians attended Hampton, although only 160 graduated. Still, Hampton's influence on Indian policy, Indian education, and Indian race relations with both whites and blacks was, as the author of this extraordinary work notes, "disproportionate to the small number of Indians involved" (p. xi).

Based primarily on research in all the relevant manuscript sources, Donal F. Lindsey tells how General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Institute, welcomed the opportunity to educate American Indians side by side with blacks.

The creation of Hampton's Indian program grew out of the request of another dominating figure in Indian education, Captain Richard Henry Pratt, who in 1877 had been charged with taking seventy-two Plains Indian warriors to St. Augustine, Florida, as prisoners. Ordered by the commissioner of Indian affairs to release the prisoners, Pratt turned to Armstrong to take some of the Indians at Hampton. Three years later, Pratt left Hampton to found the Carlisle Indian School. Eventually the two schools and the two men fought bitterly over issues such as funding, recruitment, and objectives (making their respective cases with their funding sources in the federal government, Indian reform groups, and so forth). Lindsey documents from private correspondence the nature of those divisions. In a letter to Thomas Spencer Childs, commissioned by President Grover Cleveland in 1887 to investigate the treatment of Indians at Hampton triggered by complaints of inadequate diet, high death rate, and the like, Pratt asserted that Armstrong's "plans always contemplate owning men and their consciences" (p. 232). Armstrong, on the other hand, bitterly complained that Pratt had poisoned Childs's mind with unfounded accusations against Hampton. …

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