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Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to Dennys DeBerdt, 1761 September 22

ms-number: 761522

abstract: Wheelock describes the progress of Occom's mission to the Oneidas, mentions a land dispute in Pennsylvania, and reports on the progress of his school. Mention is made of Kirtland's missionary training.

handwriting: Handwriting is tightly spaced and informal and there are several deletions and additions, all of which suggests that the doucment is a draft. Letter case is frequently difficult to decipher.

paper: Slightly worn at edges, though overall in good condition. The central crease is reinforced.

ink: Dark and heavy, the ink bleeds through to opposite sides. There are some blotches.

noteworthy: Letter is marked as a copy. For Occom's account of the events mentioned in this letter, see 761330.1.

events: Occom's First Mission to the Oneida


My dear & Hond Friend,
I Rec.d Two from You laſt Spring the
Receipt of which I acknowledged in one from Boſton
laſt May which I hope has Reached you before now. Another
I wrote Since which miſcarried thro careleſsneſs,
M.r Occom ſat out on his Long Journey to the Six Nations on
The 10 of June. laſt Accompanied by David Fowler one of my Indian ſchollars,
by the way of New York. where he tarried Several Days. and
preach'd in M.r Boſtwick's Meeting House to an Aſsembly
vaſtly numerous, at which was Collected for his uses £70.
and the Evening following at the Baptiſts Meeting House
£13. (their Currancy) and received ample Recommendation
from the principle Gentlemen in the City. I have ſince recd
a Letter from him Dated German Flatts July 7. in which he
Informs he had met with uncommon kindneſs & reſpect in
all his Travel and that Gen.l Amherſt had given him a Paſs
and Recommendation to all his Officers in the Strongeſt
Terms. & that Gen.l Johnſon had received him with great
Reſpect and promiſed him all the Aſsiſtance he could, in
the Buſineſs he is upon, and Deſigned the Next Day to Intro­
­duce him to the Oneida Nation, illegible the Affair of his Miſsion looked then
with a very favourable & Encouraging Aſpect.
I have also Rec.d another Letter of the Same Date and from
the Same Place, from Gen.l Johnſon by the Hand of Two
Mohawke Lads, who are Recommended and Sent by the
Genl
to this School, to be fitted for Interpreters, or Miſsion[illegible][guess: rs]
in Complyance with my Deſire by Letter to him to ſend me
Six. Three to be Supported by the Honle Scotiſh Com̅iſsrs
in Boſton
, the other Three I ventured to Send for, to be,
in Addition to the Six I had with me before, y.e Objects of
Such Charity as God Shall Diſpose his people to ſhew upon
this Occaſion. Those Two boys were joynd by a Third
after they Left the General & who came without his Knowledge
or Recommendation and is here at ſchool, they all behave
well and are much engaged to Learn Sufficiently Studious & Induſtrious in the Buſineſs. The Gen.l writes me
that he hopes as he paſses thro' the Other Nation on his way
to the Detroit (whither he was going with Preſents to the
Indians) he ſhall be able to ſend me 3 or 4 more to com­
­pleat the Number which I wrote for.
One Sam.ll Kirtland a pious & promiſing Youth whom I've
taken in to the School as a Charity Schollar, to be fitted for
a Miſsion, is now learning the Mohawke Language of
these Boys as fast as he can under the Diſadvantage of ha­
­ving no Book nor Intepreter to Aſiſst him and ſo
alſo are alſo several of my Indian Boys. —
The generous Bequeſt of that Noble Lord the Marqueſs [below]of

of Lothain of £50. Sterling, The Grants of the Honle
Com̅iſsrs
and a number of Private Donations have
Enabled me to Scrabble along hitherto.
The Govern.r of Penſilvania is doubtleſs doing all
in his Power to prevent our People ſetting on the Land
they have purchaſs'd there, The Indians have lately drove
off those who Settled on Delaware, and we hear the Engliſh have Killed two Indians The Proprieters of those
Tracts have united & Chosen Col[illegible].o Eliph.t Dyar of Windham
to be their Agent at the Court of Great Brittain [illegible] by him
they Deſign to make Application for an Incorporation.
They Deſigned he ſhod have ſat out on his voyage this
month, but have lately concluded he ſhall ſtay till Early
next Spring. he is a very fit Gentleman to be imployed
in the Affairs of this School, and I hope we ſhall be able
to prepare matters So as to imploy him there in, and he
will make no Small Acco.t of your Friendſhip & Aſsiſtance
there in.
Not having an Opportunity to ſpeak with M.r Peters I wrote
him Your Errand. my Son informd me y.t he ſaid he had agreed
with a man laſt fall to pay the money to M.r Hazzar[gap: stain][guess: d] of N. York
but the man had deceived & diſopointed him. but Said he would
take Speedy Care that it ſhould be done. He is Settled in Hebron
and none till lately tho't but y.e Society had Sent him there
'till lately an Report is come Spread that he had Orders for Taunton
in the Province of the Maſsachusſetts Bay. I wiſh I could [illegible]you wod
favour me with one of the Societies Returns. his Aſsembly is
very Small indeed. what their means are I can't ſo fully am not able to Say.
Miſs. Williams of Wethersfield was married laſt Spring to
the Honle Wm [illegible][guess: Smith]] Esq.r of N. York & is gone thither to Live.
one Sam.el Aſhpo, a Chriſtian Indian of the Tribe at Mohegan
lodged at my House Last Summer on his Return from Seſquaanna laſt ſummer
about 300. miles from hence, and informd me there was a very
great Concern among the Indians in Several Places near ſ.d River
and a great Deſire to be taught the way of Life. he told
me there was a Number he tho't not leſs than 20. which
he [illegible][guess: verily] tho't were Savingly converted at a Place calld Jeninge near S.d River.
The incloſed was publiſhed amidst a crowd of Buſineſs I doub[gap: worn_edge][guess: t]
not Your Friendſhip will Excuſ all Defects. My dear ſir.
continue writing to. & praying for, him who is with the
moſt Sincere Reſpect.
Yours in the Deareſt Bonds,
Eleazar Wheelock
M.r Dennys DeBerdt.
A Copy of a Letter to
M.r Debert. London
 Septr 1761
Blank page.
Wheelock, Eleazar

Eleazar Wheelock was a New Light Congregationalist minister who founded Dartmouth College. He was born into a very typical Congregationalist family, and began studying at Yale in 1729, where he fell in with the emerging New Light clique. The evangelical network that he built in college propelled him to fame as an itinerant minister during the First Great Awakening and gave him many of the contacts that he later drew on to support his charity school for Native Americans. Wheelock’s time as an itinerant minister indirectly brought about his charity school. When the Colony of Connecticut retroactively punished itinerant preaching in 1743, Wheelock was among those who lost his salary. Thus, in 1743, he began operating a grammar school to support himself. He was joined that December by Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian, who sought out an education in hopes of becoming a teacher among his people. Occom’s academic success inspired Wheelock to train Native Americans as missionaries. To that end, he opened Moor’s Indian Charity School in 1754 (where he continued to train Anglo-American students who paid their own way as well as students who functionally indentured themselves to Wheelock as missionaries in exchange for an education). Between 1754 and 1769, when he relocated to New Hampshire, Wheelock trained approximately 60 male and female Native American students from nearby Algonquian tribes and from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of central New York. At the same time, he navigated the complicated politics of missionary societies by setting up his own board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, although he continued to feud with the Boston Board of the SSPCK and the London Commissioners in Boston (more colloquially called the New England Company). By the late 1760s, Wheelock had become disillusioned with the idea of Native American education. He was increasingly convinced that educating Native Americans was futile (several of his students had failed to conform to his confusing and contradictory standards), and, in late 1768, he lost his connection to the Haudenosaunee. With his inclination and ability to sponsor Native American missionaries largely depleted, Wheelock sought instead to fulfill his ultimate ambition of obtaining a charter and opening a college, which he did in 1769. To fund this new enterprise, Wheelock drew on the £12,000 that Samson Occom had raised for Moor’s Indian Charity School during a two-and-a-half year tour of Great Britain (1765 to 1768). Much of this money went towards clearing land and erecting buildings in New Hampshire for the Charity School’s relocation — infrastructure that also happened to benefit Dartmouth. Many of Wheelock’s contemporaries were outraged by what they saw as misuse of the money, as it was clear that Dartmouth College was not intended for Indians and that Moor’s had become a side project. Although Wheelock tried to maintain at least some commitment to Native American education by recruiting students from Canadian communities, the move did a great deal of damage to his public image. The last decade of Wheelock’s life was not easy. In addition to the problems of trying to set up a college far away from any Anglo-American urban center, Wheelock experienced the loss of relationships with two of his most famous and successful students, Samson Occom and Samuel Kirkland (an Anglo-American protégé). He also went into debt for Dartmouth College, especially after the fund raised in Britain was exhausted.

DeBerdt, Dennys

Dennys DeBerdt was a London merchant of Dutch descent, a dissenter who took an avid interest in American affairs and politics. Although he was not especially prominent in British eyes, many Americans, including Wheelock, venerated him as a valuable ally. DeBerdt tried to help Wheelock secure a charter for Moor's, but his efforts failed because the Connecticut Assembly was opposed. Otherwise, DeBerdt helped Wheelock in much the same way as other supporters did: he collected and forwarded donations and circulated information. He also hosted Occom, Whitaker, and J. Smith on their fundraising tour. In 1765, the Massachusetts Assembly elected DeBerdt as their agent in London, a post he held until his death in 1770. He also served as an agent for the Assemblies of Connecticut and Delaware. He frequently advocated for American interests in London, and was instrumental in the repeal of the Stamp Act. DeBerdt invested heavily in American trade, with poor results for his estate. Perhaps because he was a Dissenter and enjoyed limited opportunities in England, he thought American religious freedom was well worth defending. Virtually all correspondence between DeBerdt and Wheelock dates from between 1757 and 1763. DeBerdt's last letter to Wheelock was written in 1763, and Wheelock wrote to DeBerdt only sporadically after that (his last two letters are dated October 1765 and February 1767). It is not clear why the two men stopped corresponding.

Occom, Samson

Samson Occom was a Mohegan leader and ordained Presbyterian minister. Occom began his public career in 1742, when he was chosen as a tribal counselor to Ben Uncas II. The following year, he sought out Eleazar Wheelock, a young Anglo-American minister in Lebanon, CT, in hopes of obtaining some education and becoming a teacher at Mohegan. Wheelock agreed to take on Occom as a student, and though Occom had anticipated staying for a few weeks or months, he remained with Wheelock for four years. Occom’s academic success inspired Wheelock to open Moor’s Indian Charity School in 1754, a project which gave him the financial and political capital to establish Dartmouth College in 1769. After his time with Wheelock, Occom embarked on a 12-year mission to the Montauk of Long Island (1749-1761). He married a Montauk woman, Mary Fowler, and served as both teacher and missionary to the Montauk and nearby Shinnecock, although he was grievously underpaid for his services. Occom conducted two brief missions to the Oneida in 1761 and 1762 before embarking on one of the defining journeys of his career: a fundraising tour of Great Britain that lasted from 1765 to 1768. During this journey, undertaken on behalf of Moor’s Indian Charity School, Occom raised £12,000 (an enormous and unanticpated amount that translates roughly to more than two-million dollars), and won wide acclaim for his preaching and comportment. Upon his return to Mohegan in 1768, Occom discovered that Wheelock had failed to adequately care for his family while he was gone. Additionally, despite the vast sums of money that he had raised, Occom found himself unemployed. Wheelock tried to find Occom a missionary position, but Occom was in poor health and disinclined to leave his family again after seeing the treatment with which they had met while he was in Britain. Occom and Wheelock’s relationship continued to sour as it became apparent to Occom that the money he had labored to raise would be going towards infrastructure at Dartmouth College, Wheelock’s new project, rather than the education of Native Americans. After the dissolution of his relationship with Wheelock, Occom became increasingly focused on the needs of the Mohegan community and increasingly vocal in criticizing Anglo-Americans’ un-Christian treatment of Native Americans. In September of 1772, he delivered his famous “Sermon on the Execution of Moses Paul,” which took Anglo-American spiritual hypocrisy as one of its major themes, and which went into four printings before the end of the year. In 1773, Occom became further disillusioned when the Mason Land Case was decided in favor of the Colony of Connecticut. The details of the Mason Case are complicated, but to summarize: the Colony of Connecticut had gained control of Mohegan land early in the 18th century under very suspect circumstances, and successfully fended off the Mohegan’s 70-year-long legal challenge. The conclusion of the case came as a blow to the Mohegans, and further convinced Occom of Anglo-American corruption. Along with David Fowler (Montauk Tribe), Occom's brother-in-law, and Joseph Johnson (Mohegan), Occom's son-in-law, Occom helped found Brothertown, an Indian tribe formed from the Christian Mohegans, Pequots, Narragansetts, Montauks, Tunxis, and Niantics. They eventually settled in Oneida country in upstate New York. Occom moved there with his family in 1789, spending the remaining years of his life serving as a minster to the Brothertown, Stockbridge, and Mohegan Indians. Harried by corrupt land agents, the Brothertown and Stockbridge groups relocated to the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, though Occom died in 1792 before he could remove himself and his family there. Occom's writings and legacy have made him one of the best known and most eminent Native Americans of the 18th century and beyond.

Fowler, David

David Fowler was Jacob Fowler's older brother, Samson Occom's brother-in-law, and an important leader of the Brothertown Tribe. He came to Moor's in 1759, at age 24, and studied there until 1765. While at school, he accompanied Occom on a mission to the Six Nations in 1761. He was licensed as a school master in the 1765 mass graduation, and immediately went to the Six Nations to keep school, first at Oneida and then at Kanawalohale. Fowler saw himself as very close to Wheelock, but their relationship fragmented over the course of Fowler's mission, primarily because Wheelock wrote back to Kirkland, with whom Fowler clashed, but not to Fowler, and because Wheelock refused to reimburse Fowler for some expenses on his mission (767667.4 provides the details most clearly). Fowler went on to teach school at Montauk, and played a major role in negotiations with the Oneidas for the lands that became Brothertown. He was among the first wave of immigrants to that town, and held several important posts there until his death in 1807.

Bostwick, David

David Bostwick was a popular Presbyterian minister in New York—so popular, in fact, that two congregations fought over him and the New York Synod had to intervene. He was the president of the New York Board of Commissioners for the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowlege. Bostwick encouraged Occom's mission to the Oneidas; took up a collection at his church for Occom, which reached over 60 pounds; and lent his name to a recommendation for Occom to Sir William Johnson. When Samuel Buell published his sermon from Occom's ordination, it was prefixed with a letter addressed to David Bostwick outlining Occom's character.

Amherst, Jeffery

General Amherst was a major figure in eighteenth-century British military politics, especially for his role in conquering Canada. He began his career during the War of Austrian Succession. In 1758, he was stationed in North America and successfully seized Louisbourg, a French fort on an island off of Nova Scotia. As a result of his success, he was promoted to Commander-in-chief of British forces in North America. Amherst invaded Canada and, in 1760, he captured Montreal. Despite his success in North America, Amherst never enjoyed working with American colonists, and constantly requested a new post. In 1763 this wish was granted, primarily because Amherst had failed to prevent or quell the Pontiac War. He returned home to Kent where he lived out his life as a high-ranking domestic military official. He is significant here because his endorsement of Occom gave Occom a connection to Sir William Johnson and enabled Occom to go among the Six Nations.

Johnson, William

Sir William Johnson was a powerful British colonial official who amassed wealth and influence by integrating into the Mohawk tribe. For a brief window of time (1761-1768), he provided support for Wheelock’s missionary efforts among the Six Nations. He also helped the Brothertown Nation of Indians procure land from the Oneidas. Johnson was born in Ireland in 1715. His family had been part of the Catholic elite, but after William of Orange’s 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne, they at least nominally converted to the Episcopalian Church. In 1738, Johnson emigrated to America to manage his uncle Peter Warren’s estate in Mohawk territory. Over the next decade, Johnson became wealthy in his own right through trade and land sales, acquiring a vast estate crowned by his manor house, Johnson Hall, which became the central location for British and Indian treaty making. In 1745, Johnson began collecting official British titles and positions. He played an important military role in the French and Indian War and was named Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1756 and first baronet of New York in 1757. Much of Johnson’s success was due to his influence among the Mohawks, which he obtained by learning their language and customs and integrating himself into their society. He participated in Mohawk rituals and entered into a common-law marriage with a powerful Mohawk woman, Molly Brant (also called Mary Brant). Because Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) society is matrilineal, this marriage was an essential element of his participation in Indian affairs. Wheelock desperately wanted to wield missionary influence among the Six Nations, and sought to obtain Johnson as an ally in his endeavors. At first, the two found grounds for cooperation. Wheelock sent Occom as a missionary to the Oneidas in 1761 and again in 1762, and sent a substantially larger group of missionaries and schoolmasters in 1765, 1766, and 1767. Johnson, meanwhile, encouraged Haudenosaunee children, including his brother-in-law Joseph Brant, to attend Moor’s. Johnson’s support proved indispensible to missionaries in the field; he helped with supplies, language skills, and relations with the Mohawks and Oneidas. Wheelock also valued Johnson for his influence in Britain, and drew on him for recommendations and public statements of support numerous times. From 1763 on, however, Johnson found himself decidedly uncomfortable with Wheelock’s missionary efforts, and by 1769, their relationship had dissolved completely. In 1766, Johnson was invited to join the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), the largest and most influential Anglican missionary society in the 18th-century British-Atlantic world. He began working to place Anglican missionaries, rather than Congregationalist and Presbyterian ones, among the Six Nations, which alarmed Wheelock. Johnson was generally supportive of Native American tribes’ efforts to maintain their land and sovereignty. As the historian Linford Fisher has noted, “virtually every major Native group in southeastern New England successfully petitioned Johnson to act on their behalf during the late 1760s and early 1770s.” Among these groups was the Brothertown Nation, a Christian composite tribe formed by Southern New England Algonquian Moor’s alumni. Johnson helped them negotiate with the Oneidas, which proved essential to their successful land purchase and relocation to central New York.

Ashpo, Samuel

Ashpo was born into a very powerful Mohegan family, considered equal to the Uncas line, and became an influential Mohegan preacher. He was converted at Mohegan during the Great Awakening, and became a schoolteacher among the Indians at Mushantuxet from 1753 until 1757 and from 1759 until 1762, when he left to attend Moor's. Between 1757 and 1759, he worked as an interpreter, and supposedly struggled with alcohol. He attended Moor's for only six months, and then continued his teaching and missionary career on successive trips to Chenango (the first was cut short because of violence in the region). On July 1, 1767, the Connecticut Board dismissed him from their service because of further charges of drinking. He continued to preach successfully to various New England Indian tribes until his death in 1795. The variations of his name exist in part because Ashpo is an abbreviated form of Ashobapow.

Smith, William Sr.

William Smith (Sr.) was a famous New York lawyer and philanthropist who played an important role in establishing the College of New Jersey (which he served as a trustee) and King’s College (a project he abandoned once it became clear that the institution would be dominated by Episcopalians). He provided Eleazar Wheelock with some legal advice in the late 1750s and early 1760s, and his son, William Smith (Jr.), was a major proponent of Wheelock’s relocating the school to Albany, NY. William Smith immigrated from England to America in 1715 and earned his AM from Yale in 1722 (AB 1719). Despite potential as a minister and academic—he served as a tutor at Yale and was even offered the presidency of the college in 1724—Smith instead turned to the law and became one of the most eminent legal minds in New York and the mid-Atlantic. He was also very involved in New York City politics: he was an active participant in the Presbyterian faction and held several formal offices. He was Attorney General of New York in 1751 and a member of the Governor’s Council from 1753 until 1767. In 1763 he was made a judge. Several of William Smith’s political and legal activities affected Samson Occom’s life and career. First, he assisted Wheelock in legal problems surrounding the Joshua Moor estate (left to Wheelock by Moor, the school’s original benefactor) in the late 1750s. Second, he wrote a letter of recommendation for Occom prior to his aborted 1761 mission to the Oneidas. On less positive notes, William Smith was the counsel for Connecticut in the Mason Land Case, the 70-year legal battle that dispossessed the Mohegan tribe of much of its territory and which Occom vigorously opposed. More generally, he seems to have had a low opinion of Occom.

Dyar, Eliphalet
Penn, Thomas
Kerr, William
Kirkland, Samuel

Samuel Kirkland (b. Kirtland) was Eleazar Wheelock’s most famous Anglo American student. He conducted a 40-year mission to the Oneidas and founded Hamilton College (established in 1793 as Hamilton Oneida Academy). Kirkland won acclaim as a missionary at a young age by conducting an adventurous and risky mission to the Senecas, the westernmost of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Six Nations. After his year and a half among them, which was well publicized by Wheelock, he was ordained and sent as a missionary to the Oneidas under the auspices of the Connecticut Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. He spent most of the rest of his life serving the Oneidas as a minister. Kirkland’s sincere devotion to serving as a missionary was excellent publicity for Wheelock’s program, but it also brought the two men into conflict. Wheelock became jealous of Kirkland when the school’s British benefactors began urging Wheelock to make Kirkland his heir, and Kirkland, meanwhile, was upset that Wheelock had failed to provide him with sufficient supplies on his mission — a complaint that he was unafraid to publicize (and that almost all of Wheelock’s other students shared). The breaking point came in 1770, when Kirkland split from Wheelock’s Connecticut Board and affiliated with the New England Company, a missionary society that had abruptly turned against Wheelock in 1765. Wheelock and Kirkland briefly made up in 1771, but their relationship quickly dissolved into further acrimony. Although Kirkland spent most of his life as a missionary to the Six Nations, he generally held disparaging views of Native Americans. He did not approve of Wheelock’s plan to educate Indians as missionaries, and was haughty towards the Moor’s alumni that worked with him (notably David Fowler, Joseph Johnson, and Joseph Woolley). Prior to the Revolution, Kirkland had been stringent in his refusals to take Oneida land, even when offered to him. The Revolution seems to have shifted his loyalties from the Oneidas to local Anglo Americans. Kirkland served as a chaplain in the American army and was instrumental in convincing the Oneidas to remain neutral (or, more accurately, to side with the Americans). At one point he was the chaplain with General Sullivan’s army, the force sent to ransack Seneca and Cayuga territory in 1779. It is unclear what emotions this aroused in Kirkland, who had served the Senecas less than 15 years earlier, yet after the war, Kirkland freely engaged in Oneida dispossession. Along with James Dean, another Wheelock alumnus with close ties to the Oneidas, Kirkland played a pivotal role in urging the Oneidas to sell land illegally to the state of New York. The land deals that resulted gave Kirkland the property, financial capital, and connections to establish Hamilton Oneida Academy. The last decades of Kirkland’s life were difficult. He found himself in a three-way battle with Samson Occom and John Sergeant Jr., who were also ministers in Oneida territory, for the hearts and minds of their congregations; he was fired as a missionary in 1797, although he continued to serve sans salary; one of his son’s business enterprises failed, leaving Kirkland nearly destitute; and two of his three sons died unexpectedly. Hamilton Oneida Academy, like Moor’s Indian Charity School, largely failed at its goal of educating Indians, and in 1812, four years after Kirkland’s death, it was re-purposed as Hamilton College, a largely Anglo-American institution. At some point in the mid-to-late 18th century, Kirkland changed his name from Kirtland, although the reasons for this are uncertain.

Occom's First Mission to the Oneida
HomeEleazar Wheelock, letter, to Dennys DeBerdt, 1761 September 22
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