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Samson Occom, letter, to John Thornton, 1776

ms-number: 776900.2

abstract: Occom writes that he is preaching constantly, yet still needs to draw money in Thornton's name. He voices shock and disbelief on the part of himself and the Indians over news of recent quarrels (the Revolution), and states that each side needs to refrain from recruiting Indians into the war.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, yet clear and legible.

paper: Single sheet is in good-to-fair condition, with light-to-moderate creasing, staining and wear. A small tear near the bottom of one recto leads to a very minor loss of text.

noteworthy: An editor, likely 19th-century, has added the note “Occom’s [illegible deletion] letter/no date/to Thornton?” to one verso. This note has not been included in the transcription.


Most kind Sir
Accord to your kind Direction, and permiſſion,
I continue to Draw Bills of Exchange upon your Honor, and Shall
Continue so to do Draw, till I hear other wiſe from you; I hope theſe un‐
natural wars amongſt You, will not intirely Stagnate the Str[illegible]eems, which
have run So long, to refreſh the Souls of the poor periſhing Indians, with
Divine Knowledge, — I continue preaching as I uſe to do, Conſtantly,
thro great Neceſsity I am obligd to Draw again half Year before
Hand, — and I hope & Pray You will Still Continue Your Benevo
lence to me, — the Indians in general every where are Peacable
and Chuſe, not to medle with your own Contentions and Quarrils;
but I am Extreamly Sorry to see the white People on both Sides, to [illegible]
uſe their Influence with the poor Indians to get them on thier
Side, I wiſh they woud let the poor Indians alone, what have they to do with your
Quarrels? and if they Join on either Side, they ought not to be Blam’d
but thro Favour, there is but few, that Join on either Side, — this Con‐
tention amongſt your Amazes and Astoniſhes the poor Heathen in the wild
they Say, there never was the like, or Such inſtance amongſt all
the Indians Tribes, they are ready to Say, what? Brethren and
Christians kill one another; this Quarrel is great, Yea very
great Stumbling Block before the Heathen, — Thro mercy
I am, and been favourd with good meaſure of Health this
Winter past, and the reſt in my Family are in Health th[gap: tear][guess: o’]
we have had some Sickneſs this Spring, — I long to hear from
you, — this with greateful Reſpects to yourſelf, and the reſt
of the Honole Truſtees is from

your most unworth, and most
obliged and very huml Servt

Samson Occom


Non-contemporary text, not included in transcription.
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.

Thornton, John

John Thornton was born in Yorkshire on April 1, 1720. As a young man, Thornton inherited money from his father Robert Thornton, who was the Director of the Bank of England, which he used to begin his career as a merchant. In 1753, Thornton married Lucy Watson, with whom he had four children. Watson had a Christianizing influence on Thornton, which ultimately led to his 1754 conversion to evangelical Anglicanism under Henry Venn, the curate of Clapham. Thornton's and Venn’s sons would continue their fathers’ religious traditions, going on to form the “Clapham sect,” an influential group of evangelical Christians who championed social reforms. As a result of his conversion, Thornton pursued charity just as much as trade, a major part of which involved managing the English Trust that oversaw the funds Occom and Whitaker collected for Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Thornton met and hosted Occom several times during his stay in England, and eventually became the Treasurer of the Trust. After Wheelock moved the School to Hanover, however, he focused on the establishment of Dartmouth College to educate Anglo-American men as missionaries, and was accused of using the Trust's funds to this end. This shift in focus contributed to the rift that developed between Occom and Wheelock upon Occom’s return to America –- a rift Thornton tried to repair. Thornton thought of Occom as an equal and, in his role as Treasurer of the Trust, often reminded Wheelock of Occom's vital role in securing the funds that made the School possible. Thornton financed Occom's further missionary activities and insured that Wheelock did not forget Occom's hard work and Christian morals. In addition, Wheelock –- who knew that Occom respected Thornton –- often called upon the merchant when he himself could not convince Occom to undertake further missionary activity. The exchanges between Wheelock and Thornton ended once Wheelock had used up the funds that Occom had raised in England, yet Occom and Thornton kept in touch up through the Revolutionary War, with Thornton remaining one of Occom's most prominent supporters. He died on November 7th, 1790 as one of the wealthiest men in England, despite giving away nearly half his salary each year. In 1828, Thornton's role in the establishment of Dartmouth was memorialized in the College's naming of Thornton Hall.

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