Johnson, Joseph

Birth: 1751 in Mohegan, CT
Death: Between June 10, 1776 and May 1777
Affiliation:

Mohegan; Moor's Indian Charity School; Brothertown

Education:

Moor's Indian Charity School (1758-1766)

Faith:

New Light Congregationalist

Nationality:

Mohegan

Occupation:

School teacher, community leader

Residence:

Mohegan, CT (from 1751 to 1758-12-07)

Lebanon, CT (from 1758-12-07 to 1766-07)

Kanawalohale and Old Oneida (from 1766-07 to 1768-12)

Mohegan (from 1771-10-30 to 1772-11-15)

Farmington (from 1772-11-15)

Marital status:

Married to Tabitha Occom. They had several children. All of their children who lived to adulthood remained in Southern New England.

Biography:

Joseph Johnson was a Mohegan who studied at Moor’s Indian Charity School and became one of the most important organizers of the Brothertown Movement (a composite tribe composed of Christian members of seven Southern New England Algonquian settlements). He was a prolific writer and his papers are relatively well-preserved. Johnson’s writing is especially noteworthy for his skillful use of Biblical allusion and his awareness of the contradiction that he, as an educated Native American, presented to white colonists. Johnson arrived at Moor’s in 1758, when he was seven years old, and studied there until 1766, when he became David Fowler’s usher at Kanawalohale. He continued teaching in Oneida territory until the end of 1768, when Samuel Kirkland sent him home in disgrace for drunkeness and bad behavior. After a stint teaching at Providence, Rhode Island, and working on a whaling ship, Johnson returned to Mohegan in 1771 and became a zealous Christian. He opened a school at Farmington, CT, in 1772, for which he seems to have received some minimal support from the New England Company. From his base at Farmington, he began organizing Southern New England Algonquians for the Brothertown project. The goal was to purchase land from the Oneidas, the most Christianized of the Six Nations, and form a Christian Indian town incorporating Algonquian and Anglo-American elements. Johnson spent the rest of his short life garnering necessary support and legal clearance for the Brothertown project. Johnson died sometime between June 10, 1776 and May 1777, at 25 or 26 years old, six or seven years before Brothertown was definitively established in 1783. He was married to Tabitha Occom, one of Samson Occom’s daughters. She lived at Mohegan with their children even after Brothertown’s founding, and none of their children settled at Brothertown permanently. Like most of Wheelock’s successful Native American students, Johnson found that he could not satisfy his teacher's contradictory standards for Native Americans. Although Johnson's 1768 dismissal created a hiatus in their relationship, Johnson reopened contact with Wheelock after his re-conversion to a degree that other former students, such as Samson Occom, David Fowler, and Hezekiah Calvin, never did.

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

Love, Deloss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. Pilgrim Press 1899. McCallum, James. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians. Dartmouth College Press 1932. Murray, Laura. To Do Good to My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson, 1751-1776. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Further reading:

Wyss, Hilary E. “The Writerly Worlds of Joseph Johnson.” In English Letters and Indian Literacies: Reading, Writing, and New England Missionary Schools, 1750-1830. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. pp. 74-108.