Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
Joseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1768, May 2

ms-number: 768302

abstract: Johnson writes of his progress among the Oneidas, and that the more distant tribes visited by Ralph Wheelock do not seem anxious for missionaries. He also mentions various Moor's students.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, though mostly clear and legible.

paper: One large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in fair condition, with moderate creasing, staining and wear. A large tear on two recto/verso appears to result in no loss of text.

ink: Black-brown.

noteworthy: The identity of Hannah's brother, mentioned on one recto, is uncertain, and so he has been left untagged. However, he is possibly William. On two verso, an editor, likely 19th-century, has written "IndMis, +" below the trailer. This note has not been included in the transcription.

signature: The signature is abbreviated after the body of the letter, yet complete after postscript.

 Revd and Hond Doct.r
I take this Opportunity to Enform you
that by the kind and Indulgent providence of God I am well and would
hope that by the ſame goodneſs you ſtill Enjoy your Valuble
Health. — I have, not as yet heard any News from Onondage
about what they have determined in Embracing the Goſpel
but the Other day Couple of young Women came from there and
Enformed us that no man-kind was at home, not So much as the
great man; but were all gone a hunting. it looks very diſcourage‐
‐ing at preſent amongſt the Back‐nations I fear that they are
too much overcome by french principles:([illegible][guess: or] reather fast in the divils
cluches) yet I wonder not, that they dont Embrace the Goſpel — they
have ſuch good Examples from the Germans or Dutch and Chuſe
to go to heaven in that way in which they can gratify their vicious
and deviliſh Inclinations. They hear that they muſt not get drunk
if they Embrace the Goſple which your ſon offered to them; which gos
goes hard againſt their deep Rooted Appetites but if they continue
as they are, they can get drunk and practiſe all manner of Evil
and at laſt Expect to Enter the long houſe which the call heaven
Some where towards the ſouth, where the will be free f[illegible]rom all pain
and have nothing to Exerciſe their minds — this is the Heaven
which the french friers have promiſed them. the Indians in
general ſay that it is vain and talk very discourageing and ſay
that you need not look for them no more; their be haviour Shews Enough
that they have Refuſed.
I have Begun my ſchool the laſt week, and the Onidasſ [illegible: [guess: ſeem]]
Seem very much to have their minds ſhuttered and in a Ruffel.
the great men who are hounoured with the care over the Indians
I fear have greatly Erred in ſome things and let too much of their
Cloven foot appear.
I had propoſed coming down next week (but nNathan comes in
my Room) and bring down Hannah & Catarine to your ſchool
and are Obliged to come before [illegible]the time your ſon appointd
and for theſe Reaſons. 1.t that they are quite Uneaſy to come
down to your ſchool aſ ſoon as poſsible and could by no
means wait till Thomas and the reſt of the Indians came down
2.d is that they have ſuſpected ſome Danger that they cant wait
and that is, they are affraid of being Bewitched if the ſtay —
and they ſay if they dont come down to your ſchool they
muſt go ſome where Elſe. hannah, brother and ſeveral others are
thretned, like w[illegible]iſe the queen, and I was adviſed to go of with them
S[illegible]oon as could be, but the state of things at preſent I thought I
Would not Suffer for which Reaſon Nathan comes down. and other reaſons
his defect & Uncapableneſs of carriing on the buſsineſs which he
is intruſted with. and many other which he can better acquaint than
I can.

We Expect one of the French Miniſters here this ſeaſon —
for which Reaſon I dont love to leave the Indians — —
I have nothing ſtrange to Acquaint you at preſent I ſhall
go with the Indians next week to their [illegible][guess: hunt] (as all My ſcholars
will go) I have only five Scholars at priſent and the Oldeſt is 10
years of age hardly worth ſtaying for. but according to your Sons
orders I Stay with them; I dont know when I ſhall come down
to make a ſhort vizit; I Seem to be Intirely Content to be —
diſpoſed of as Seems beſt in your ſight. & to be wholly at your —
diſpoſal. I fare very well at preſent plenty of pideons in our woods.
I want to hear from you My Kind Benefactor (I havehave been
much troubled in dreams concerning you of late. I fear you are
not well. but this is too much of my Indian principles.) I feel
Sorry about ſomethings that I did neglect when I was down
and have laid with great wait upon my mind Ever ſince;
I fear I did not do my duty in not hearing your kind advice
of binding my ſelf to be the LLords however by Gods Grace
Aſsisting me I Endeavour to keep my ſelf Uproted from the
world and make his word my Rule of Life. ——
no more at preſent, but I would deſire humbly to recommend
my ſelf to your day ly prayers that he would never ſuffer me to
Act or do any thing that will at all diſgrace the Cauſe or the
Religion of Chriſt. & to keep me humble, keep me from pride
and all high thoughts of my ſelf.

is the day ly prayer of your
poor pupil and Humble ſervant.

 Joſph Johnſon.
 Kanoarohare May 2.d
 AD 1768. —
PS. pleaſe ſir to over look my haſt,
and the many Blunders which I Soppoſe
are in this paper. I have no time to write
it over or correct it. dont Expoſe it. ſo
I remain your Humble ſervant
 Joſeph Johnſon.
[below]To —
 [below]Mr Eleazar Wheelock D.D.

Blank page.
From Jos: Johnson
 May 2.d 1768

To. —
 The Revd Doctr Wheelock.
[left]Pr favour of}
Nathan Clap}
Johnson, Joseph

Joseph Johnson was a Mohegan who studied at Moor’s Indian Charity School and became one of the most important organizers of the Brothertown Movement (a composite tribe composed of Christian members of seven Southern New England Algonquian settlements). He was a prolific writer and his papers are relatively well-preserved. Johnson’s writing is especially noteworthy for his skillful use of Biblical allusion and his awareness of the contradiction that he, as an educated Native American, presented to white colonists. Johnson arrived at Moor’s in 1758, when he was seven years old, and studied there until 1766, when he became David Fowler’s usher at Kanawalohale. He continued teaching in Oneida territory until the end of 1768, when Samuel Kirkland sent him home in disgrace for drunkeness and bad behavior. After a stint teaching at Providence, Rhode Island, and working on a whaling ship, Johnson returned to Mohegan in 1771 and became a zealous Christian. He opened a school at Farmington, CT, in 1772, for which he seems to have received some minimal support from the New England Company. From his base at Farmington, he began organizing Southern New England Algonquians for the Brothertown project. The goal was to purchase land from the Oneidas, the most Christianized of the Six Nations, and form a Christian Indian town incorporating Algonquian and Anglo-American elements. Johnson spent the rest of his short life garnering necessary support and legal clearance for the Brothertown project. Johnson died sometime between June 10, 1776 and May 1777, at 25 or 26 years old, six or seven years before Brothertown was definitively established in 1783. He was married to Tabitha Occom, one of Samson Occom’s daughters. She lived at Mohegan with their children even after Brothertown’s founding, and none of their children settled at Brothertown permanently. Like most of Wheelock’s successful Native American students, Johnson found that he could not satisfy his teacher's contradictory standards for Native Americans. Although Johnson's 1768 dismissal created a hiatus in their relationship, Johnson reopened contact with Wheelock after his re-conversion to a degree that other former students, such as Samson Occom, David Fowler, and Hezekiah Calvin, never did.


William Oneida was the son of the Oneida preacher Deacon Thomas. He attended Moor’s briefly between November 1767 (when he left Kanawalohale) and November 1768, when he accompanied his sister Hannah Hail back to Kanawalohale. William Oneida does not seem to have returned after his visit home. In Wheelock’s estimation, he learned no English while at Moor’s, and the following January his father withdrew the remaining Oneida children from the school.

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.

Clap, Nathan
Hail, Hannah

Hannah was an Oneida girl who studied at Moor’s between 1767 and 1769. She was the daughter of Thomas, the Oneida deacon who pulled all six Oneida children, including Hannah, out of Moor’s on January 20, 1769 (likely a decisive event in Eleazar Wheelock’s decision to move away from Native American education). The ostensible reason for the children’s departure was that Hannah’s mother had died and they were all going home for a visit, but they never returned — likely because of Oneida (and Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, in general) opposition to Wheelock’s violent pedagogy. Hannah’s brother William also studied at Moor’s (1766-1768). As in the cases of many other Haudenosaunees who studied at Moor’s briefly, we have no information about Hannah’s later life.


Thomas was an essential figure in Oneida Christianity and an important ally for Samuel Kirkland. While it is unclear when he converted to Christianity, by the 1750s he was preaching and leading services at Kanawalohale. By all accounts, he was a compelling speaker and talented at rendering Christian theology in terms compatible with Oneida cosmology. Thomas was instrumental in supporting Kirkland's mission: he often protected the Anglo-American missionary and helped him translate his ideas more effectively. Thomas also played an important role in the history of Moor's. His daughter, Hannah, was a student there, and in July 1768 he visited her. He returned the following January to pull her out of school following her mother's death, and he took the remaining five Oneida children with him. Later statements by Oneida chiefs (reported to Kirkland and David Avery) made clear that a large part of the Oneidas' reason for withdrawing their children was Wheelock's harsh discipline. Thomas was also present for Ralph Wheelock's 1768 outburst at Onaquaga, and was Avery's 1772 source for what had taken place there. Despite his disagreements with Wheelock, Thomas continued to support Kirkland's mission. Thomas was killed by British troops in 1779 while on a diplomatic visit to the Mohawks at Kahnawake (a site across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal). His murder gave the Oneidas yet another reason to side with the colonists during the Revolution.

Wheelock, Rodulphus

Ralph Rodulphus Wheelock was Wheelock's oldest son and heir apparent. While Wheelock believed that Ralph showed great aptitude for the "Indian business," others saw Ralph as arrogant and abrasive. He also suffered from epilepsy, which seriously impeded his ability to work. He died in Hanover as an invalid under almost constant care and guardianship. Wheelock's struggle to accept his son's illness and his son's struggle to overcome it provide an undercurrent for some of the stranger events in the history of Moor's Indian Charity School and Dartmouth College. Ralph grew up surrounded by and dedicated to Indian education, but also with an inflated sense of Wheelock's, and his own, importance, which stayed with him for much of his life. Joseph Brant recounts a telling anecdote: Ralph once ordered William Major, Sir William Johnson's son, to saddle his horse on the grounds that he was the son of a gentleman and William Major was not. Ralph was unable to finish coursework at the College of New Jersey, which he attended from 1761-1763, although he graduated from Yale in 1765. He made three tours of the Six Nations (in 1766, 1767, and 1768), assisting ministers in bringing back children and negotiating with tribes. He taught at Moor's for two years, and was briefly considered as a companion for Occom on the Fundraising Tour. Wheelock formally named him as his heir in the 1768 draft of his will. However, Wheelock's reliance on Ralph brought disastrous consequences for the school. In the spring of 1768, Wheelock sent Ralph to the Onondagas and Oneidas to negotiate about schoolmasters and missionaries. Once there, Ralph managed to offend the assembled chiefs beyond repair. Ralph blamed his failure on Kirkland, and it was not until 1772 that Wheelock learned the truth of the matter. It is likely that Ralph's conduct influenced the Oneidas' decision to pull their children out of Moor's later in 1768: Wheelock himself implied as much in his 1771 Journal. By the early 1770s, Wheelock had realized that Ralph was never going to take over Dartmouth College. In a later will, Wheelock provided Ralph with £50 per annum for his care, to be paid out by the College, and stipulated that his other heirs should look after his oldest son. Because Ralph was unable to serve as Wheelock's heir, the presidency of the College passed to John Wheelock, a soldier who had no theological training or desire to run a college.

Queen, the
HomeJoseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1768, May 2
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only