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Joseph Johnson, letter, to Andrew Oliver, 1773 October 10

ms-number: 773560

abstract: Johnson writes to Oliver about his service among the Farmington Indians, and requests funds to pay off his debts.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, but mostly formal and clear.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in fair-to-poor condition, with moderate-to-heavy staining, creasing and wear that results in a minor loss of text.

ink: Dark-brown ink is faded, heavily in spots.

noteworthy: An editor, likely 19th-century, has added the note "Jos. Johnſon's letter to Commiſsrs Oct. 10. 1773. ." to two verso. This note has not been included in the transcription.


To the Honorable Andrew Oliver Eſqr.
With a due sense of my great unworthineſs, I att
‐empt to write to your Worthy Perſon at this time;
Hond Sir, this afternoon I came down here to this
Town to get my watch which I left here ſome
time paſt to be repaired being conſiderable da‐
‐maged. and finding an Opportunity to Send to
your Honour, I with much thankfullneſs do
Embrace it. I would enform your Honor that
the School which is under my Care at preſent is
in good Circumſtances. the Children are well;
and learnAre very tractable; or they learn very faſt,
Conſidering chief of them are young, 5, 7, 10, 13 [illegible]
years of Age. &c: alſo I would enform your Honor,
that the School has been kept very Steady, and I
have endeavoured to be faithfull to all with whom
I have to do. both Parent, & Child. alſo the Parents
have Sent very Steady, and highly Eſteem the great
Previledge which Kind Providence is at preſent
favouring them with. and we all humbly hope
that our Previledge will be graciously Continued to
us poor Unworthy, Ignorant, and Deſpiſed Indians.
we hope that Your Honour, has Remembered us, a‐
‐midſt your Croud of important Buſineſs. alſo we
hope that the Honourable Board of Commiſsionaries
has Conſidered our humble Petition, and we hope still
that an Anſwer of Joy will be ſent us in due time.
Hond Sir. We are the Same as ever we was. Objects
of Pity. the Indians are very deſireous to learn.
[gap: worn_edge][guess: b]ut not to be too tedious, Suffer me to Conclude this
my Indian Epiſtle with ahumble Petition to your
Honour. Worthy Sir. be pleaſed to Conſider of me;
I have kept this School 6 Months already, and I have
made out to live hitherto, but I have been obliged to
borrow a little; altho it is not Cuſtomary to lend to
an Indian in theſe Parts, but I have behaved my
‐ſelf as well as I could and People think, that I am
no [illegible][guess: r]eſt, and have ventured to help me little. but
H[illegible]ond Sir, I dare not aſk there favours any more;
but I am obliged to Seek your Honors favour.
Hond Sir, I confeſs I am Poor Indian, a fatherleſs,
and Motherleſs, and almoſt friendleſs Lad. Yet
I want to live and I want to live honeſtly. if it
is not my Calling to teach my Poor Ignorant
Brethren the Indians whom I love, & Pity. I [illegible][guess: will]
not Croud myſelf into the buſsineſs. but if it be
my Calling, and Duty, I muſt beg to live by
it, or have Suitable help and Encouragement —
from Some where. all I want is things Conveni‐
‐ent. that I may give myſelf to the Service Chea
‐rfully. and Hond Sir, as I Said Juſt now that I
have made out to live hitherto, So now I say that
unleſs your Honor is pleaſed to Pity me, and help
me I can not live any longer in this Buſsineſs
but I must break off, and go into Some other Call‐
‐ing in order to clear my Self of little Debt, which
I have neceſsarily contracted the Seaſon paſt.
I have no pleaſure in being trusted, neither is it
honourable. So Hond Sir. my humble and Earneſt
Deſire is that your Honour would be pleaſed to Send
me half years Pay if poſsible, or if it has pleaſed the
Gentlemen to allow me any thing for Encourage‐
ment, to keep this School. Hond Sir, without doubt
that the Revd Mr Pitkin my Kind, & faithfull Overſeer
would write in my favour if he had Opportunity. I
was at his Houſe last Thursday Evening, and Enquired
of him whether he had recieved any News from your
Honour Concerning our Petition, or Concerning this
School he told me that he had not heardrecieved one word
from your honour Concerning us Indians. I acquainted him of my
Circumſtances at preſent, and he Said he would Join
and write in my favour again if there was any going
from hence to Boſton. I enquired little but heard of
no one, that was going to Boſton. So kind Sir I
hope that you will no[gap: hole][guess: t] be angry with me in Under
‐takeing to write to you of myſelf. without I know
that I am an Indian. but having an Opportunity, I
thought it my Duty, to aſk for the thing that I
do really Stand in great need of. be pleaſed to Send
the Money for which I Earneſtly Request, by the
Boſton Poſt. with whom I ſend these few lines. but
if there is nothing allowd for my Encouragement be
so kind, an[illegible]d Condeſcending as to let me know it by
Poſt next Saturday as I purpoſe to meet him here —
again on that Day if I am well. I am Sorry that I
have troubled you So often with my Requests, but I
hope that hereafter I Shall know what to depend upon
forgive me for what ever I have at any time wrote
un becoming to your Honour, and charge it to my
Ignorance. So I muſt End wiſhing you, and yours
Proſperity in this Life, and perfect felicity in the Man‐
‐sions of Bliſs hereafter.
I am your humble Petitioner
Joſeph Johnſon the Mohegan In[illegible][guess: dn]
To [illegible][gap: stain] [guess: Esqr]
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.

Oliver, Andrew

Andrew Oliver was an influential Boston merchant and politician, who was a member of several societies that funded Eleazar Wheelock, including the Boston Board of the New England Company (treasurer) and Massachusetts General Assembly (secretary). Oliver played an important political role in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts and, as a firm advocate of Indian missions, attended multiple conferences with Indian tribes. He believed that Anglican and Dissenter missionaries and societies could cooperate, and after Oliver and Wheelock were introduced in 1756, Oliver helped Wheelock access funding from the New England Company, the Massachusetts Assembly, and the Boston Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Their relationship deteriorated, however, when the London Board of the New England Company turned against Wheelock late in 1765. Wheelock became aware of the London Board’s change of heart through the “Oliver letter,” a letter purportedly written by Oliver (actually written by Ebenezer Pemberton) that was “injurious” to the characters of Wheelock, Whitaker, and Occom. In 1765, Wheelock also lost his funding from the Massachusetts Assembly. It is unclear what role Oliver played in these events. On the one hand, the breach between Wheelock and the New England Company coincided with the collapse of Oliver’s political career over his attempts to enforce the Stamp Act. Oliver may have been too preoccupied to be involved in the London Board’s change of heart; after all, Boston mobs were burning him in effigy. On the other hand, if Oliver was not involved, it is more difficult to explain why his correspondence with Wheelock ended abruptly in 1767 or why Wheelock lost funding from the Assembly and the London Board at the same time. Oliver would be the obvious link; but of course, Wheelock had many detractors in Boston and another explanation is certainly possible.

Pitkin, Timothy
HomeJoseph Johnson, letter, to Andrew Oliver, 1773 October 10
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