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Samson Occom, letter, to Mary Occom, 1766 March 11

ms-number: 766211

abstract: Occom details the items he is sending for his family from England, and tells of his inoculation by Mr. Whitaker just hours before.

handwriting: Occom's hand is clear and legible. Letter case is occasionally difficult to decipher.

paper: Single medium-sized sheet is in good condition, with mostly light staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Brown ink is lightly faded.

noteworthy: An editor, likely 19th-century, has added a note to one verso that reads: "Occom to wife London march 11, 1766?" This note has not been included in the transcription.

events: Fundraising Tour of Great Britain, Occom’s inoculation



My Dear Wife
I send you with this letter
Some Cloathing, for our Family, there is 9 Yards of
Broad Cloth and Some Shalloon, to make a Sute of
Cloaths for Aaron, and what is left you may do as
you Pleaſe with, you may make Blankets or
Cloaks of it, — and a pice of Stuff about 30 Yards
and Strip’d Flannel between 30 and 40 Yards,
and 38 Yards of Checker’d Linen, and about as
much white Linen — they go by way of Boſton.
and Mr Peck will send them to Norwich Landing
to Mrs Whitaker, for her things and our things
a[illegible]re all in one Box — By the Mercy of god I am
in Good Health, and I hope and pray theſe may
find you so — Truſt in the Lord Jehovah, for
in him is Everlaſting Strength — about a qua
ter after 3: this after-Noon, I was Inoculated
by Mr Whitaker, — and you will soon hear
whether I am well of it or Dead with it —
the Cloathing is by the Revd Mr Whitefield
and the Pins and Books by [illegible] Madam Whitefield.
and the Coffee Pot and 3 Braſs Screws by one Mr
Withy
, — you muſt never put the Pot on the fire,
the Braſs are to hang Cloaths on — from

your Huſband

Samſon Occom
I have alſo sent 3 pair of girls Stockings
and one Dozen of knives and Forks
and a Picture of King & Queen
To
Mrs Mary Occom
at
Mohegan, N. London
in Connecticut
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.

Occom, Mary (née Fowler)

Mary Occom (née Fowler) was a Montaukett woman who married Samson Occom. Although information about her is limited and often comes from male, Anglo-American sources, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of her strength, as well as an alternative to the Eleazar Wheelock-centered narrative of Occom’s life that often dominates the latter’s biography. Mary was born into the influential Fowler family at Montauk, Long Island. She met Samson during his missionary service there (1749-1761). Mary studied at Samson’s school along with her brothers David and Jacob, and was almost certainly literate. She and Samson married in 1751. Wheelock and several other Anglo-American powers opposed their union because they worried it might distract Occom from being a missionary (as, indeed, family life did), and thus many scholars have read in Samson and Mary’s marriage an act of resistance against Samson’s domineering former teacher. Little information about the minutiae of Mary’s life survives, but existing sources speak volumes about her character and priorities. In front of Anglo-American missionaries visiting the Occoms' English-style house at Mohegan, Mary would insist on wearing Montaukett garb and, when Samson spoke to her in English, she would only reply in Montaukett, despite the fact that she was fluent in English. Mary Occom was, in many ways, Wheelock’s worst fear: that his carefully groomed male students would marry un-Anglicized Indian women. It is not a stretch to imagine that Mary provided much of the incentive for Wheelock to begin taking Indian girls into his school, lest his other protégés replicate Samson’s choice. Much of our information about Mary comes from between 1765 and 1768, when Samson was fundraising in Great Britain. Despite promising to care for Samson’s wife and family (at the time they had seven children), Wheelock, by every objective measure, failed to do so, and Mary’s complaints are well documented. Hilary Wyss reads in Wheelock’s neglect (and in letters from the time) a more sinister story, and concludes that on some level Wheelock was holding Samson’s family hostage, in return for Occom curtailing his political beliefs on the Mason Case. Wyss also notes Mary’s remarkable survivance in this situation. Mary drew on various modes of contact, from letters to verbal communication with influential women (including Sarah Whitaker, the wife of Samson’s traveling companion, and Wheelock’s own daughters), to shame Wheelock into action and demand what she needed. One of the major struggles in Mary’s life, and in Samson’s, was with their sons. Both Aaron and Benoni failed to live up to their parents’ expectations. Aaron attended, and left, Moor’s Indian Charity School three times, and both Aaron and Benoni struggled with alcohol and refused to settle down. The Occom daughters did not cause similar problems. Given the nature of existing sources, little is known about Mary after Samson and Wheelock lessened their communication in 1771. Joanna Brooks has conjectured that Mary was likely influential in Samson’s Mohegan community involvement later in life, for instance, in his continued ministry to Mohegan and, perhaps, his increasingly vehement rejection of Anglo-American colonial practices.

Whitefield, Elizabeth (née James)
Whitefield, George

George Whitefield, the English itinerant preacher who helped spark the Great Awakening, was an essential supporter of Eleazar Wheelock’s project. Whitefield studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met the pioneers of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. He was ordained in 1736, and he made the first of his seven trips to America two years later. While abroad in 1740, Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia, and went on a preaching tour during which he met Wheelock and spread ideals that prompted the Great Awakening. Although Whitefield was ordained in the Church of England, his enthusiastic preaching style and charismatic personality made him a controversial figure, and traditional clergyman on both sides of the Atlantic censured him. Nonetheless, he continued to be an important contact and friend of Wheelock’s, and his dedication to Wheelock’s vision was evident. He contributed money to the cause, secured various other funders, and donated an eighty-pound prayer bell to the school. More importantly, Whitefield not only suggested to Wheelock the idea of a fundraising tour in Great Britain, he hosted Occom and Whitaker shortly after they arrived in England, provided a house for them to reside in for the remainder of their tour, and introduced the pair to influential figures such as William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth. Whitefield tabernacle’s was the setting of Occom’s first sermon in England on February 16, 1766, and many believe that Whitefield wrote the introduction to a pamphlet printed in London during the campaign (although he was not credited). Whitefield continued to be involved in Wheelock’s work until he died in Newburyport, MA in September of 1770.

Whitaker, Nathaniel

Nathaniel Whitaker was an outspoken Presbyterian minister with a long and wide-ranging career. Between his ordination in 1755 and his death in 1795, Whitaker ministered to five different congregations. His longest tenure was at Chelsea, CT (near Norwich), from 1761-1769, during which he joined Occom on his two-and-a-half-year fundraising tour of Britain. While in Chelsea, Whitaker was very involved in Wheelock's project. The two engaged in frequent correspondence, and Whitaker served on Eleazar Wheelock's Board of Correspondents in Connecticut, as well as on the Board of Trustees of Moor's Indian Charity School. At one time, he was Wheelock's presumed successor, but Dartmouth's Trustees demanded that Wheelock appoint another. Wheelock, in part due to his strongly-held belief that Native Americans were childlike and rash, was convinced that Occom needed an Anglo-American supervisor on his fundraising tour. After several candidates turned down the job, Wheelock selected Whitaker. He proved to be a poor choice; he was, by many accounts, a difficult man to get along with, and many of Wheelock’s British allies, including George Whitefield and the English Trust (the organization that took control of the money Occom raised in England) preferred to deal with Occom, although Whitaker insisted on handling the tour’s logistics. Furthermore, in Britain, Occom was the obvious star of the tour, and it was unclear to many why Whitaker asserted himself so prominently. Whitaker’s poor decisions seriously alienated the English Trust and increased their suspicion of Wheelock’s later dealings and treatment of Occom. He gave the English Trust the impression that they would have control over money raised in Scotland (which was in fact lodged with the parent organization of the SSPCK), and he was the executor of the “Eells Affair,” a plan initiated by the CT Board of the SSPCK to bring the money that Occom and Whitaker raised back to the colonies by investing it in trade goods and selling them at a profit (Eells was one of the merchants who was to help with the resale of goods). The English Trust learned about the plan by reading letters that Whitaker had given them permission to open in his absence, and were immediately shocked. The wording of certain letters made it appear that only a percentage of the profit from the resale of the goods would go towards Moor’s Indian Charity School, but beyond that detail, the English Trust was scandalized at the thought of money raised for charity being invested in trade. The English Trust blamed Whitaker entirely for these affairs, and issued specific instructions for Occom to notarize all documents requiring Whitaker’s signature. In short, they wanted Occom to supervise Whitaker, when Wheelock had envisioned the opposite relationship (both Occom and Whitaker seem to have ignored their instructions, preferring to have as little contact with one another as possible). In 1769, a year after his return to Connecticut in 1768, Whitaker found himself dismissed by his Chelsea congregation (likely because he had spent two and a half years away from them). He went on to serve several more congregations before his death in 1795. Whitaker was an outspoken Whig, and during the Revolution he published several pamphlets on his political opinions.

Occom, Aaron

Aaron Occom was Samson and Mary Occom’s prodigal second child and oldest son. He was born in 1753, during Samson’s mission to the Montauketts of Long Island. The Occoms entered Aaron in Moor’s Indian Charity School when he was seven, in the hope that he would “be Brought up.” However, Aaron proved ill-suited to school, and returned home in October 1761. He had two more brief stints at Moor’s Indian Charity School: the first in December 1765, after Samson departed for his two-and-a-half-year fundraising tour of Great Britain, and the second in November 1766, when Mary found herself unable to control Aaron’s wild behavior (which included attempting to run away with “a very bad girl” and forging store orders in Mary’s name). After his last enrollment at Moor’s, Aaron ran away to sea. He had returned to Mohegan by November 1768, and at age 18, he married Ann Robin. Aaron died in 1771, leaving a son also named Aaron. Samson periodically entertained the idea of apprenticing Aaron to a master, but never seems to have done so. One letter written by Aaron survives: an epistle to Joseph Johnson, another young Mohegan who studied at Moor’s.

Whitaker, Sarah (née Smith)

Sarah Whitaker (maiden name Smith) was the wife of the prominent Presbyterian minister Nathaniel Whitaker. They had seven or eight children, the first being born in 1756. She wrote to him and raised their children while Nathaniel was away on his fundraising tour with Samson Occom (1765-1768). She must have lived at least until the birth of their last child, Jonathan Whitaker (born December 10, 1771), but she does not appear in the historical record after that time.

Peck, Moses

Watchmaker Moses Peck took collections for Occom, and Wheelock had an account with him that involved shipping items to Lebanon and debits/credits for funding Occom. It is possible that Peck was Occom’s credit source in Boston. He was enthusiastic about and involved in the Indian education mission, and offered Wheelock advice about how to deal with Anglicans. Wheelock had Peck print his brief defense of Occom to counter the London Society’s rumors. Peck paid to send his son Elijah to school with Wheelock, although Elijah eventually failed his graduation examinations.

Frederick, George William

George William Frederick (King George III) became heir to the throne of England in 1751 upon the death of his father Frederick, Prince of Wales. He became King George III of England in the fall of 1760 at age 22, following the death of his grandfather King George II. George III passed many important edicts during his reign including that of the Royal Marriage Act of 1772; the Treaty of Paris in 1762, which ended the Seven Years War; the Stamp Act of 1765; and the Townshend Duties of 1767. However, he is most well-known for being the reigning monarch during the Revolutionary War. After the surrender of British forces to the Americans in 1782, George III considered abdicating the throne, but chose not to do so because he felt it would be too detrimental to Britain. The last 30 years of George's life were plagued with illness. In 1788 he had the first of many attacks of insanity, now believed to have been caused by an inherited disease known as porphyria. With George III unfit to rule, it was decided that his son George would become regent, an arrangement which was made permanent in 1810. King George III died on January 29, 1820 at the age of 81 after a reign of nearly 60 years (the third longest in British history). He was succeeded by his son George IV.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Fundraising Tour of Great Britain
Occom’s inoculation
HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Mary Occom, 1766 March 11
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