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 December 28

ms-number: 768678.2

abstract: Johnson writes a long and melancholy letter confessing his sins and failures, and asking forgiveness.

handwriting: Handwriting is small and somewhat uneven, but mostly clear and legible. The trailer is in an unknown hand.

paper: There are two separate sheets of paper: a large sheet folded in half to make four pages, and a large single sheet. The former is in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear. The latter is also in good condition, but with more wear along the creases and some preservation work.

ink: Black-brown ink is slightly faded in spots.

Revd and Ever honoured Doct.r
forgive me for my Repeated preſumti
‐on in Writing to you; But this once more give me leave to
acquaint you my Once kind Benefactor, the Caſe I at pre‐
‐ſent am in; But as I have So often been found deceitfull,
I know not as you will have patiance to Read over this
my pretended Confeſsion, as I ſaid, Seeing I have ſhewed
So much Deciitfullneſs in my pretentions, & Undertak
ings, Since I have been Capable of being Improved
in ſome good way; But for Grant,— Which way, to Betake
myſelf — I know not, I am at a ſtand. hond Sir; to retu‐
‐rn to you whom I have ſo greatly grieved, I dare not;
I am aſhamed, & Concience ſtings me to the very heart;
I am Sorry; my ſperits cast down, Methinks, I feel in
Some meaſure the down Cast ſpirits of Cain when
he received his curse; but no Equal to his; tho my —
Crimes are more than Equal, the thoughts of your
haunts my mind day-ly, and to turn my face
that way I dare not, I ſee nothing but my Actions
in the deepest dye of Ingratitude ſtare me in the face
which Cauſes my heart to faint Under the thoughts
of Returning; but what Courſe to take, I know that
god is Every whire, and is Acquainted with Actions
past. and will punish without Mercy thoſe that
Be Dis Obedient to his Laws, and Commandment
Er long. — — —
But how, it ſeems as if there was ſome probability, ſome
glimpse of hope yet, Some way of Being Recovered from this
Unhappy State. Tho at other times all hopes Vanish
and lave me Under the Unfortunate Circumſtances of a
Disſolate mind, which Roams at large with an Unſteady
temper. Once this Courſe of Life, at another that, but all
ſeem to yield no Comfort nor Satisfaction to My distitute
Condition. But this Encourges me at this time to make
this feeble Attempt, that you are ready to forgive when you
ſee a true Real and hearty ſorrow for there Misconduct.
But how can I make my ſorrow Credible — which
none can Believe, but thoſe that take Notice of me &
ſee it in my Countinence which is Sad day ly — upon
the thoughts of my past Behaviour. with how little
Consideration have I ſpent my past time little car‐
‐ing whether I did any good or no Either to myſelf or
any One Elſe. this I am ſensable that your kind dispositi
‐on towards the Indians is very Great. neither am
I leſs Sinsable that my Ungratfull, & Vitious Actions
deſerve Gods, and your highest Displeaſure: —
it ſeems that I am forced to try [illegible]the best Endeavours
in order to get my ſelf once more under your kind directi‐
‐on tho I Undergo Ever ſo much that I Might at last at‐
‐tain my End; tho you ſentance me to Ever ſo ſevere pu
‐nishment, or Even Banish me to the Unknown corner of ye
world. yet I Believe I will wholly Leave my ſelf to your
Intire dispoſal. had you punished me Ever ſo ſevere and after
‐wards, ſent or Bound me to an auſtere man. I ſhould not
have been ſo Uncomfortable — for then I ſhould have been
in my duty but now ſeeme to be lost no one to Order or di‐
‐rect me, but wholly trust to giddy chance of fate.
It is neither for want of Improvement, nor for want of good‐
living (for booth of theſe I have) or of Induring hard ſhips (for I do
live well and Eaſy as Ever I did during my whole Life) that I
want to Return to you, but Intirely Becauſe I am not in
my duty or in the way that God Requires.
Good God ſeems to be yet lenghtening out his mercy to
me, tho I have ſo openly Rebeled against Him, and has
gracious ly guided my Doubtfull ſteps and has kept me
In good health, and not only that but has this once more
put me under an advantage of gaining Inſtruction.
Here I am Under the Roof of the ſarvant of God, by whoſe
kind advice, admonition, and precaution, Reſtrained me
from ſeafaring way which if I perſued would Beyound
all doubt been the Ruin of me booth for time & Eternity.
here he has perſuaded me to ſtay and given me the Previledg
of his Library out of which this winter I hope to gain
Inſtruction. here I am Under great Advantage of geting
knowledge, tho far Short of what I could get at your
houſe. where I was as it were day ly Under the droopings
of the Sanctuary. what would I give Even all that I have
or all that my care or Industry woud would gain dCould I Recall
theſe fatal hours which which I conſumed in ſenſleſs
vanities for now they Increaſe and Urge my pain and
trouble my Rest, Rest I have none in my Mind. I
am day ly Vext with my ſelf for my wickedneſs I am
Sensable that I have been guilty of the most heinous
Sins which has hurt and wounded the Redeemers Cauſe
and been of great disadvantage to your ſchool and dis‐
grace to the Religion of Christ. altho great part has
been by thoſe who wished me well and had tender
Regards for me, Upon my promising a thurrow
Reformation, has been Concealed. to my ſorrow and
ſhame do I now Confeſs them, once, twice, yea three times
have I indulged my ſelf in Brutish Eaſe whilst in the —
wilderneſ, first Accidently and can well anſwer for it.
ſecond on purpoſe perhaps can as well anſwer for that,
the Third and the Only one (Beſides that of the last fall
which you have already had an Account of.) was taken [illegible]
Notice of By the Indians which was Occaſioned by the
temptation of the Devil and together with the Diſtreſses of my
mind and Uneaſsineſs which perhaps you are altogether Ign
‐norant of or any one Elſe beſides the Indians. which by ye
advice of Thomas I publickly made Confeſsion as is their
Custom. where they promised as it were to Bury in Oblivion
and let things be as if it never happened ſo. That of the last
fall I can ſay no more than has already been ſaid of it.
Theſe taken in Rank has been my misconduct & Ruin.
as well as in many other which are well known to you.
I am ſensable but too late tis no advantage to Cover things, under
deceit, as to any more of my Crimes they have perhaps already
shewn themſelves or will E'er long. — Thus have I in
few faint words tryed to Communicate my Thoughts to
you, with hopes and raiſed Expectations of being favourd
with an Anſwer. Tho I dont deſirve the least Notice or
Regards taken of what I write or ſay. yet this Once
grant that my mind may be at Eaſe in ſome meaſure
Either ſo much Condeſend as to give me a word of Incourage
‐ment. which will afreſh Revive my Drooping ſpirits
and kindle a new flame of Gratitude in me, in which way
might kind heaven grant I might End my days.
But if on the other hand which I most justly deſerve, that
you would turn a deaf Ear to my humble petition as I did
to your most kind Advices warnings, and Labours of love
for my own good and none Elſe the Returns of the ſame
is what I fear and justly Expect
 if this—
if this would Be the Event, I must in ſilence depart, and weep with
a Bitter cry as Eſau when he lost his Bleſsing. Then ſhould I
in ſadneſs ſpend the Remainder of my days, and would kind
Heaven grant, that I might be prepared to die; and then kind
‐ly put an End to my Miſerys. Hond Sir; Should I ſay that
this was from the Boottom of my Heart, perhaps like the Reſt
would be full of Deceit, but I ſhall no longer trouble you with this
Unhappy Subject. I would just Enform you that through the Bound
‐leſs goodneſs of god I have Enjoyed my Unprofitable health, and
I hope that God has Indulged you with your health as Uſual.
I am so guilty that I have no heart to write any more only
this whether I ſhall be ſo happy as to be Indulged with a word
of Incouragement, or ſo Unhappy as to Intirely be Excluded I humbly
Beg that you would Beſo kind as to ſend me a word of Anſwer
Between this and the ſpring if you pleaſe So as I might be aſsured
one way or the other. pardon me if I have wrote any thing that ſeem to
have an air of pride for I feel much otherwiſe diſpoſed. Theſe few
Lines with my best wiſhes for the proſperity of all your Vast Un
[gap: stain][guess: der]takings I humbly Recommend to your wiſe Conſideration
and now ſuffer me the honour of ſubſcribing myſelf

once humble ſervant tho more the devils.

Joſeph Johnſon.
now living at providence
at Dr ſamuel Carrews an
Inholder westſide of the
Great Bridge. —
To —
the Revd Doctr
Eleazar Wheelock.
Jos: Johnson's
Dec.r 28. 1768

To —
The Reverend,
Eleazer Wheelock
D. D.


[left]pr favour of
Mr [illegible][guess: ] ſalster]
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.

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.

Carrews, Samuel

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.

HomeJoseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1768 December 28
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only