Occom, Mary (née Fowler)

Variant last names: Occom
honorificMrs.
Birth: c. 1730 in Montauk, Long Island
Death: Unknown in Brothertown, NY
Affiliation:

Montaukett Tribe; Mohegan Tribe; Brothertown Tribe

Education:

Studied at Samson Occom's school at Montauk; literate.

Nationality:

Montauk

Residence:

Montauk, Long Island ( to 1764)

Mohegan, CT (from 1764 to 1789)

Brothertown, NY (from 1789 to 1790)

New Stockbridge, NY (from 1790)

Marital status:

Mary Fowler married Samson Occom in 1751 while he was a missionary and school master at her native Montauk. They had between 10 and 12 children.

Biography:

Mary Occom (née Fowler) was a Montaukett woman who married Samson Occom. Although information about her is limited and often comes from male, Anglo-American sources, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of her strength, as well as an alternative to the Eleazar Wheelock-centered narrative of Occom’s life that often dominates the latter’s biography. Mary was born into the influential Fowler family at Montauk, Long Island. She met Samson during his missionary service there (1749-1761). Mary studied at Samson’s school along with her brothers David and Jacob, and was almost certainly literate. She and Samson married in 1751. Wheelock and several other Anglo-American powers opposed their union because they worried it might distract Occom from being a missionary (as, indeed, family life did), and thus many scholars have read in Samson and Mary’s marriage an act of resistance against Samson’s domineering former teacher. Little information about the minutiae of Mary’s life survives, but existing sources speak volumes about her character and priorities. In front of Anglo-American missionaries visiting the Occoms' English-style house at Mohegan, Mary would insist on wearing Montaukett garb and, when Samson spoke to her in English, she would only reply in Montaukett, despite the fact that she was fluent in English. Mary Occom was, in many ways, Wheelock’s worst fear: that his carefully groomed male students would marry un-Anglicized Indian women. It is not a stretch to imagine that Mary provided much of the incentive for Wheelock to begin taking Indian girls into his school, lest his other protégés replicate Samson’s choice. Much of our information about Mary comes from between 1765 and 1768, when Samson was fundraising in Great Britain. Despite promising to care for Samson’s wife and family (at the time they had seven children), Wheelock, by every objective measure, failed to do so, and Mary’s complaints are well documented. Hilary Wyss reads in Wheelock’s neglect (and in letters from the time) a more sinister story, and concludes that on some level Wheelock was holding Samson’s family hostage, in return for Occom curtailing his political beliefs on the Mason Case. Wyss also notes Mary’s remarkable survivance in this situation. Mary drew on various modes of contact, from letters to verbal communication with influential women (including Sarah Whitaker, the wife of Samson’s traveling companion, and Wheelock’s own daughters), to shame Wheelock into action and demand what she needed. One of the major struggles in Mary’s life, and in Samson’s, was with their sons. Both Aaron and Benoni failed to live up to their parents’ expectations. Aaron attended, and left, Moor’s Indian Charity School three times, and both Aaron and Benoni struggled with alcohol and refused to settle down. The Occom daughters did not cause similar problems. Given the nature of existing sources, little is known about Mary after Samson and Wheelock lessened their communication in 1771. Joanna Brooks has conjectured that Mary was likely influential in Samson’s Mohegan community involvement later in life, for instance, in his continued ministry to Mohegan and, perhaps, his increasingly vehement rejection of Anglo-American colonial practices.

Documents written: retrieve them
Documents received: retrieve them
All related documents: retrieve them
Sources:

Brooks, Joanna. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Native America. Oxford 2006. Find a Grave. "Mary Fowler Occom." Accessed 3/27/14 http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=33001206. Love, Deloss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. Pilgrim Press 1899. Silverman, David J. Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010. Wyss, Hilary. English Letters and Indian Literacies: Reading, Writing, and New England Missionary Schools, 1750-1830. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.