Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
John Smith, letter, to his friend, 1764 May 18

ms-number: 764318.2

abstract: Smith gives an account of his visit to Wheelock’s school, and to the Mohegan country, where he saw Occom.

handwriting: Handwriting is formal and clear.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to form four pages is followed by two single sheets. Paper is in good condition, although there appears to be some preservation work on heavier creases.

noteworthy: There are many variant spellings and abbreviations; colons are used for superscripts, not periods. The trailer appears to be in Wheelock's hand.


Sir,
In rideing last week to new Lon=
don
I turned some miles out of my way to
see M:r Wheelocks Indian School; nor do I
repent my Trouble I had heard in general
that it consisted of Twenty or more Indian
Boys & Girls of the Mohawks & other Tribes
of Indians And that a number of the Mini=
=sters of that Province had spoken well of
M:r Wheelock & of this undertaking of his,
But this I thought was seeing with the
Eyes of others & therefore Chose to use my
own.
My first observation in travelling
through the Towns was the Diffrent accep=
=tation of both M:r Wheelock & his Enter=
=prize there, from what some in Boston had entertained.
Here because of his live=
=ly adhering to the Doctrines of Grace he was not
accepted by some; & when this is the Case
you are sensible both Enterprize & Execution
of it are too apt to be viewed by an Eye of
Surmize & sometimes of Carping: But in
Connecticut I found Charity & Candor &
every where in paſsing M:r Wheelock had
the Reverence of a Man of God, & his School
was had in high Esteem.
I reached his House a little
before the Evening Sacrafice & was move=
=ingly Touched on giveing out the Psalm
to hear an Indian Youth set the Time
& the others following him, & singing the
Tenor, & Base, with remarkable Gravity
& Seirousneſs, & tho' M:r Wheelock, The Sc=
=hoolmaster & a minister from our Provin
=ce (called as I was by Curiosity) joined in
Praise; yet they unmoved seemed to
have nothing to do but to sing to the
Glory of God.
I omit M:r Wheelocks Pra=
=yer & paſs to the Indians in the morning
when on Ringing the School house Bell
they Aſsemble at M:r Wheelocks House about
5 oClock with their Master; who named
the Chapter in Course for the Day & called
upon the near Indian who read 3 or 4
Verſes till the Master said Proximus, &
then the next Indian read some Verses
& ſo on till all the Indians had read the
whole Chapter. After this M:r Wheelock
Prayes And then they each Indian perse
a Verse or two of the Chapter they had
read. After this they entered Succeſsively
on Prosodia & then on Disputations on
some Questions propounded by themselves
in some of the Arts & Sciences. And it is
really charming to see Indian Youths of
Different Tribes & Languages in pure English
reading the Word of God & speaking with
Exactneſs & accuracy on points (either chosen
by themselves or given out to them) in the
Severall arts & Sciences, And especially to
see this done with at Least a seeming
Mixture of Obedience to God; a fillial
Love & Reverence to M:r Wheelock, & yet
with great Ambittion to Excell each other
And indeed in this Morning Exercies I saw
a Youth Degraded one lower in the Claſs who
before the Exercises were finished not only
recovered his own place but was advanced
two Higher.
I learnt hear that my ſurprize
was common to ministers & other persons
of Littterature who before me had been
to visit this School or rather Colledge
for I doubt whither in Collegddges in Gene=
=rall a better Education is to be expected
& in mentioning this to a Gentleman
in this Town who had visited this Semina=
=ry
. He acquainted me that he intended
at his own Charge to send his Son to obtain
his Education in Mixture with these Indians
There were 4 or 5 of these Indians from
21 to 24 years of age who did not mix with
the youth in these Exercies — These I learnt
were Perfected in their Literature &
stand ready to be sent among the Indians
to keep Scools & occasionaly to preach as
doors open.
On my return M:r Wheelock
accompanied me a few miles & on paſsing
by one Houſe he said here lives one of my
Indian Girls who was I hope Converted
last week; & calling to the Farmer he un=
=perceiv'd to her brought the Young Girl
into our Sight & the pleasure was exqui­
=site to see the Savageneſs of an Indian
moulded into the Sweetneſs of a follower
of the Lamb.
In paſsing some Days after
this through the Mohegan Country I
saw an Indian Man on Horseback whom
I challenged as M:r Occum & found it
so. There was something in his mein
& Deportment both amiable & venerable
& though I had never before seen him
I must have been sure it was he. — He
certainly does Honour to M:r Wheelocks inde=
=fatigable, judicious, pious Intentions to
send the Gospel among the Indians. I
heard M:r Ashpo was then among them
but at a Distance & I being hurried &
tired Lost the opportunity of seing Mr
Wheelock
in him & more especially of
seeing Christs Image in this Tawney
Man but I wont tire you
& am y:r most
Hum:e Serv:t
John Smith.
Blank page.
Mr John Smiths Letter
to his Friend
May 18. 1764
Smith, John

John Smith was an affluent Boston merchant who supported Wheelock’s school throughout the 1760s. It is likely that Smith and Wheelock were introduced by George Whitefield or someone similarly involved in evangelical and missionary efforts in the British Atlantic world: John Smith made somewhat regular trips to London for business, and had been in contact with Whitefield since the 1740s. Like the other Boston merchants who supported Moor’s Indian Charity School (including Moses Peck, William Hyslop, and Nathaniel Eells), Smith traded with Wheelock and kept him up to date on political developments in Boston, especially as they concerned attitudes towards Moor’s Indian Charity School. However, Smith was better educated (and likely more affluent) than the other merchants that Wheelock worked with, and, correspondingly, played a more important role than his brethren in Wheelock’s efforts. Smith publicized the school independently (his letter to an unnamed friend, catalogued as 764318.2, is one of the most cited letters on the organization of Moor’s) and assisted Wheelock in publishing the Narratives. John Smith’s greatest contribution to Wheelock’s design was his support during Samson Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker’s fundraising tour of Great Britain (1765-1768). Smith set out for Britain in July 1765 to improve his health, and while there, acted as a vanguard for Occom and Whitaker. He managed their correspondence, suggested destinations, and served on an ad hoc advisory council that included George Whitefield, Samuel Savage, Robert Keen, and several other influential men. The pace of the journey caught up with John Smith, however, and he died in 1768 while in Britain.

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.

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.

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.

HomeJohn Smith, letter, to his friend, 1764 May 18
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only