Cooper, Tabitha (née Occom)

Variant last names: Cooper; Johnson
Birth: 1754 in Montauk, Long Island
Death: After 1816 in Mohegan, CT
Affiliation:

Mohegan Tribe

Education:

Likely literate

Nationality:

Mohegan

Residence:

Mohegan, CT (from 1764)

Marital status:

Married Joseph Johnson in 1773; they had two children. She remarried a Cooper (either George or Joshua) before 1807; they also had two children.

Biography:

Tabitha Cooper (née Occom, formerly Johnson), Samson Occom and Mary Fowler Occom’s third child, married Joseph Johnson, a Moor’s Indian Charity School alumnus and one of the primary founders of the Brothertown Movement. Although her father and first husband both wrote prolifically, surprisingly little information about Tabitha survives. Tabitha was born in 1754, during Samson Occom’s mission to Montauk. We can conjecture that she was literate in English and also familiar with Montauk and Mohegan culture (Mary Fowler Occom was notorious among Anglo-American missionaries for her adherence to Montauk life-ways). In 1773, Tabitha was courted by Joseph Johnson, and the pair married in December 1773. Tabitha maintained their household and raised their two sons (William, b. 1774, and Joseph, b. 1776) in Mohegan, but Joseph Johnson spent little time there: between 1773 and his death in 1776/7, Johnson was very busy organizing Christian New England Indians to emigrate to Oneida territory (the Brothertown Movement). He worked out of Farmington, CT, and often traveled back and forth to Oneida. Laura Murray attributes Johnson’s absence to some kind of tension between him and the community at Mohegan, but there are no indications of such tension in his writings (rather, he expresses a longing to be at Mohegan). Nor should we attribute Johnson’s absence to marital discord. As Murray demonstrates elsewhere, Johnson’s writings and actions illustrate sincere concern and affection for Tabitha: one letter from him to her after their marriage survives, and he delayed his travels to be with her during her second pregnancy. Tabitha did not move to Brothertown, even once it was successfully established in 1783. She remarried to either a George or Joshua Cooper in the early 1800s (by 1807 at the latest), with whom she had two children, Betsy and Charles. None of her children permanently settled at Brothertown: Joseph, her second son by Joseph Johnson, lived at Brothertown between 1797 and 1820 and married there, but he and his wife ultimately returned to Mohegan. Tabitha lived until at least 1816.

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. Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press 2012. Genealogy.com. "Descendants of Tomockham alias Ashneon: Generation No. 4." familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/a/n/d/Caroline-K-Andler-Dousman/GENE3-0004.html. Accessed 4/10/14. Love, Deloss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. Pilgrim Press 1899. Murray, Laura J. To Do Good To My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson, 1751-1776. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press 1998.

General note:

There is some confusion about Tabitha in the secondary literature. Joanna Brooks transcribes “Talitha” in Occom’s 1785 diary as Tabitha (Talitha, a younger daughter, died in 1785. For an overview of the confusion, see Laura Murray’s essay on Joseph Johnson’s family in To Do Good). Brooks also cites a 1782 Mohegan census, which identified Tabitha as “Anna.” Brooks likely makes this identification because Anna has two sons, William and Joseph, whose birth dates and names line up with Tabitha and Joseph Johnson’s children. Perhaps Anna was a middle name—it is a mystery. Tabitha’s remarriage is also mysterious. According to Murray, an 1804 source names her as the wife of George Cooper, but in 1807, she is described as the wife of Joshua Cooper. She may have remarried twice, or one document may have gotten her husband’s name wrong. In 1816, a Philemon Tracy provided medical care for Tabitha Cooper; thus 1816 serves as a terminus postquem for her death.