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Joseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1773 August 30

ms-number: 773480

abstract: Joseph Johnson writes to ask for help funding a trip into the wilderness for the purpose of Brothertown business. There is also a brief narrative of Johnson’s life.

handwriting: Handwriting is small and cramped. Letters case is difficult to decipher, as is the difference between commas and periods.

paper: Small half sheet is in fair condition, with moderate-to-heavy wear, especially along central vertical crease; that, and some repair work results in a minor loss of text.

ink: Dark brown.

layout: The narrative of Joseph Johnson's life is upside-down at the bottom of one verso.

noteworthy: On the top of one verso, another hand, likely 19th-century, has written "Joseph Johnson" in a different ink. This has not been transcribed.

Revd. & much Reſpected Sir.
With much humility, I undertake to Write to your
worthy Person. and I would Enform you that I ever have a gratefull Sense of your favours in time
past. for which I deſire at this time renewedly to expreſs my thanks. if I was an Englishman, &
was thus Reſpected by you. I should be very thankfull. but much more doth it now, become me
being an Indian, to be humble. & very thankfull in very [illegible][guess: deed] Me thinks the more I am Reſp
ected the more humble it makes me. but to conclude this my Indian introduction let me
aſsure you. that a law of gratitude is wrote as it were upon the table of my Once savage
heart. for all your Remarkable favours in times Past. & I [illegible][guess: ever] think of your worthy
perſon with love, & Reverence in my heart. But whot I would more perticularly enform you of this time
is what may follow. Revd Sir. by leave of kind Providence. I purpoſe to [illegible]leave
this Place next monday being the time appointed that I .& the reſt of the Choſen
men. should go into the Wilderneſs. to vizit our savage Brethren. and to Con­
­verſe with them Concerning our Propoſals. &c: and as the time is drawing nigh.
I find I am Obliged to solicit your favour this once more. for which I am very sorry.
I am Sorry to try your good Nature so soon. But still I would humbly. & Earneſtly solicit
your favour at this time. I was Conſiderably disoppointed down Country, not seing Mr.
whose note I have with me still. [illegible][guess: alſo] 2 English friends added Diſoppo­
intments to me. not leting me have my Reaſonable due their Plea was this
that they Did not expect I ſhould return till next Winter or in spring. so
they thought it best to lay out the money. intending to allow for uſe.
but not to be further tedious. my Earneſt deſir is that you would help
me to some Money. I know not who elſe Can. I am a stranger. but as for
my Indian friends. if I lean upon them at preſent they are like a broken [illegible]staff.
but I have nothing again my Brethren. they have a will. had they but ability
and if you pleaſe to pity. & to help me at this time you have no reaſon to fear but that
you shall have your own. again in due time. if I return well. perhaps. I shall
[illegible][guess: rcieve], money from down Country by last of October. then I will pay you your
reaſonable due. but if any Accident happen. to me so as that I ſhall never return. still
you need not fear. as doubt leſs you know. that my reward from Boſton will
Come into your hands. so you then can take your Money again. Pleaſe
[gap: tear] to help me if Poſsible. I know not [gap: tear][guess: ex]actly how much I stand in need of.
but I should be glad to have little to [illegible][guess: spar[gap: tear][guess: e]] not knowing what may befall me by the
way. I [illegible][illegible][guess: ſhall] in d some meaſure be expoſ[gap: tear][guess: ed] to smallpox. by the way, & how many
more accident. I know not. I view my [gap: tear][guess: ſelf] to be feble Creature. if I should have the sm
all-Pox. I should at least want 8 or 5 Pounds of money. but hoping I shall Eſcape that danger
ous Diſtemper. I Should be glad to have Six Pounds if Poſsible. doubtleſs we shall be obliged
to lay out some money. beſides our bare expences, by the way.
[bottom] To [illegible] Enquiring friends, or to Strangers.
would you know kind Sir, who the compoſer of this Discourse is.
Be pleaſed to read the following. I am an Indian of the mohegan Tribe,
known by the Name of Joſeph Johnſon. Educated by the Revd Eleazer Wheel
­ock D. D. whose School I left when I was 14 years of age. and in the
3d. month of my 15th. year, I was sent amongſt the Six nations, and I ſpent
about 2 years in thoſe Parts. keeping school. afterwards I left the school in-
Revd Eleazer Wheelock D. D. intirely. and from that time, I have been
wandering up, and down, in this Deluſive World. some of my time I
spent at Providence Town. keeping a school. some of my time, I have
spent upon the Ocean wide. I have been down Eaſtward, as far as to the
Weſtern Iſlands twice. [illegible][guess: Curvo], & [illegible][guess: florus], I have seen. and to the southward I
have been as far, as to granades to the weſt Indies. Seen aſlo the Iſlands between An[illegible]tigua
and granades. and again from antigua [illegible]I have [illegible]sailed down leward sailed by
the virgin Iſlands, alſo by sandy cruize, Portireco. down as far ias to mo[illegible][guess: ria].
and after so long time Even in my 21st. year I safely arrived to my Native
place. their I spent one year in working upon my farm.
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.

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.

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