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Samson Occom, narrative, 1765 November 28

ms-number: 765628.1

abstract: Occom writes a brief account of his life and education.

handwriting: Occom's hand is clear and legible.

paper: Single small sheet is in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Black-brown.


Since there is great miſs Repreſentations by Some Con­
cerning my Life and Education; I take this opportunity to
Inform give the World in few words, the true acount of my Edu
cation — I was Born a Heathen in Mmoyanhee[illegible]unnuck
alias Mohegan in N: London. North America, my Parents
were altogether Heathens, and I was Educated by them in their
Heatheniſh Notions, tho' there was a Sermon Preach'd to
our Mohegan Tribe Some times, but our Indians regarded not
the Chriſtian Religion, they woud perſiſt in their Heatheniſh
ways, and my Parents in perticular were very Strong in
the Cuſtoms of their fore Fathers, and they had a wandering
Life up and down in the wilderneſs, for my Father was
a great Hunter, thus I liv'd with them, till I was Sixteen
years old, and then there was a great St[illegible]ir of Religion
in theſe Parts of the World both amoungſt the Indians
as well as the Engliſh, and about this Time I began
to think about the Chriſtian Religion, and was under
great trouble of Mind for Some Time, I thought the Religion
which I heard at this Time was a new thing among man=
kind, Such as they never heard the like before, So Ignorant
was I — and when I was Seventeen years of Age I receiv'd
a Hope, and as I begant to think about Religion So I
began to learn to read, tho' I went to no School, till I
was in my nineteenth year, and then I went to the
Revd Mr Wheelocks to learning, and Spent four years
there, and was very weakly moſt of the Time; this is
the true acount of my Education,

Samſon Occom
Boſton Novr 28. 1765
M.r Occcom's Acco.t
of his own Life
Boſton Dec.r 1765.

Mohegan Tribe
The Mohegans are an Algonquian tribe located in New London County, Connecticut. The Mohegan Tribe spent most of the 18th century struggling to regain control over its territory from the colony of Connecticut in a protracted affair known as the Mason Land Case. The groundwork for the dispute was laid in 1659, when Uncas, the first Mohegan sachem after the tribe separated from the Pequot, entrusted the Tribe’s lands to John Mason, an Anglo-American who had been Uncas’ ally in the war against the Pequot. The following year, the colony of Connecticut persuaded Mason to transfer his stewardship of the Mohegan land to the colony. However, since Mason continued to act as trustee, it was unclear to what degree the colony was the tribe’s legal steward. Nonetheless, in the 1690s, Connecticut began selling off the land specifically set aside for Mohegan use. The Tribe brought its first legal challenges in 1704, and the case was tried multiple times in the colonies and England before it was decided in favor of the colony in 1773. The case split the Mohegan Tribe into two camps and led to serious interference in tribal self-government. When the sachem Caeser died in 1723 (when his son Mahomet was too young to lead), the Tribe split over whether the new sachem should be Caesar’s younger brother Ben Uncas, or John Uncas Jr., a more direct descendent of Uncas I. When Ben took the post, John gathered his supporters and moved half a mile down the road in protest. The Mohegans thus split into “Ben’s Town” and “John’s Town” (these designations correlated with the “sachem party” and the “Mason party,” respectively). When Ben Uncas II, Ben Uncas I’s son, became sachem in 1726, he maintained his family’s shaky hold on power by allying himself with the colony of Connecticut. In an unstated quid pro quo, Ben Uncas II and his son, Ben Uncas III, did not pursue the Mason Case, and in return, they received favors and political support from the colony, which proved critical on multiple occasions when the Mohegans elected alternate sachems. The colony, meanwhile, got to parade a supposedly legitimate sachem in front of Anglo-American and British authorities as proof that the Mason party was composed of rabble rousers. Ben Uncas II and Ben Uncas III, as part of their project of tying themselves to the colony, worshiped at the Anglo-American parish in New London under the ministry of David Jewett, a minister sponsored by the New England Company, a powerful missionary organization. As a form of resistance to Jewett and, by extension, the sachem party, many Mohegans elected to worship with indigenous leaders such as Samson Occom and Samuel Ashpo. Jewett was none too pleased, and the affair drew the New England Company in on the side of the sachem party and inspired its backlash against Samson Occom and his mentor, Eleazar Wheelock, throughout the 1760s. Something of a resolution came in 1769, when Ben Uncas III died. At his funeral, the pallbearers (Occom included) dropped his coffin in front of the representatives from the Connecticut Assembly — a clear indication of what they thought of the company the sachem kept. The Tribe dissolved the office of sachem rather than instituting Ben Uncas III’s son Isaiah (who died shortly afterwards, in 1770), but the damage had been done. The case was decided in favor of the colony in 1773. Samson Occom and Joseph Johnson, both Mohegan, were essential architects of the Brothertown movement, a coalition of Southern New England Algonquians that migrated to Oneida territory in 1775 and again in 1783. However, the majority of the Tribe did not emigrate, and today the Mohegan Tribe is federally recognized and still holds land in Connecticut.
Mohegan

Mohegan is a village in southeastern Connecticut at the site of the present-day town of Montville, and is the location of the Mohegan Indian Reservation. The village gets its name from the Mohegan Tribe, or wolf people, who split from the Pequots in the early 17th century under the leadership of the sachem Uncas. In the 1720s, the Mohegans requested the colony of Connecticut provide them with an English educator. An English minister and schoolteacher named John Mason (no relation to Captain John Mason) moved to Mohegan in order to provide English-styled education to the Mohegans, convinced his sponsors, the New England Company, to build a schoolhouse at Mohegan, which eventually served as a boarding school for other Native American children from the surrounding area. During the 17th century, the Mohegan Tribe became embroiled in a complicated controversy over control of Mohegan land — known as the Mason Land Case or, more specifically, Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut — that included the village of Mohegan. The Tribe claimed that it never authorized a transfer of their lands, held in trust by the Mason family, to the colonial government. In 1662, the colony of Connecticut was incorporated by a royal charter, which included the disputed tribal land. The land controversy was revived in 1704 when descendants of John Mason, the original trustee, petitioned the Crown on behalf of the Mohegans, but the suit was finally decided against the Tribe in 1773. Born in Mohegan, Occom became involved in the Mason Land Case and vehemently argued for the rights of the Mohegan Indians to maintain their land, opposing Eleazar Wheelock and other ministers in the area. Although Occom left Mohegan for a 12-year mission with the Montauk Indians of Long Island, he returned at the end of 1763 with his large family to build a house in Mohegan, establishing it as his base of operations. Even after the creation of the Brothertown settlement in Oneida country, for which he served as minister, Occom continued to commute back and forth from Mohegan; he didn't sell his house in Mohegan and move his family to Brothertown until 1789. Many members of his family remained in Mohegan, including his sister Lucy Tantaquidgeon, who lived there until her death at 99 in 1830.

New London

New London is a city located in southeastern Connecticut along an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean called Long Island Sound. The area that would become New London was inhabited by the Pequots who called it Nameaug when the Europeans arrived in North America. Pequot villages bordered Long Island Sound and the Tribe had authority over the neighboring Tribes of the Mohegans and Niantics (all Algonquian-speaking tribes). The Dutch first explored this land in 1614 and established trade with the Native peoples, but the English soon gained possession of the land east of the Hudson in the 1630s. English animosity toward their Indian neighbors led to the Pequot War (1634-38), part of which took place in the present city of New London. The Pequots lost the war and their population deteriorated due to the violence and disease. The General Court of Massachusetts granted John Winthrop possession of Pequot territory in 1644 after which it was to be opened for settlement. By 1646, which is considered the official year of its founding, New London had permanent colonial inhabitants and municipal laws, and jurisdiction was granted to the colony of Connecticut in 1647. In 1658, the inhabitants renamed the town New London after London, England. New London was the colony of Connecticut’s first trading port and was a hub of trade with the West Indies and other colonies. Though initially part of the town of New London when it was first settled by the colonists, Groton, Montville, and Waterford were each separated from New London in 1705, 1786, and 1801 respectively. Present-day Salem was also part of New London when it was settled, but in 1819, it became a separate incorporated town composed of parts of Lyme, Colchester, and Montville. Occom kept a school in New London in the winter in 1748. New London was the home of Captain Nathaniel Shaw, one of the wealthiest merchants in the area, who gave money to Occom in the 1750s for the missionary cause and also sold materials to Occom for the building of his home. However, their positive relationship ended when Shaw refused to provide supplies for Mary Occom while Occom was in England. New London served as the port from which Occom and other missionaries traveled to reach Long Island. During the American Revolution, New London’s location and its status as a seaport made it both vulnerable to invasion and integral to colonial naval operations as well as the exchange of prisoners.New London was incorporated as a city in 1784.

North America
Boston

The first English immigrant to settle on a peninsula in a harbor on the northeastern coast of North America the local Algonquin Indians called "Shawmet" was William Blackstone in 1629. A year later, John Winthrop arrived with a group of English Puritans and other settlers and named the area Boston after his hometown in Lincolnshire, England. The colony quickly developed representative political institutions that would help shape a democratic nation. Over the next few centuries, Boston emerged as an intellectual and educational center, and, because of its excellent harbor, became a leading commercial hub and a primary port for North America. It is the capital and largest city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the largest city in New England. Boston was the home for the Boards of Commissioners of several overseas religious societies who sent missionaries throughout the colonies in the 18th century, and was the site of many important events of the American Revolution.

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.

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.

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