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Samson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1756 November 12

ms-number: 756612.3

abstract: Occom writes to Wheelock about the concerns for his safety voiced by the Haudenosaunees he visited the previous Fall. He also notes troubles with the Delaware (Lenape) Indians.

handwriting: This does not appear to be in Occom’s handwriting. The document begins neatly and gets progressively messier and larger.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is heavily damaged, with a large tear or cut that results in a significant loss of text.

ink: Black

noteworthy: This document is likely a contemporary copy.


Modernized Version -- deletions removed; additions added in; modern spelling and capitalization added; unfamiliar abbreviations expanded.


Rev and Honoured Sir/
I have only a moments leisure to hint
that when I returned to my Indians last Fall in
October I was received by them with unfeigned testimonies
of their affectionate Regard and was not only useful
but comfortable among them 'til December after
when to our surprise and great unhappiness we were
much discomforted by the unexpected disaffection of
the neighbouring Delawares below — My Indians faith
fully laboured to reduce them to a good Temper [gap: tear]
cause them to desist their hostilities upon the Sou[gap: tear][guess: thern]
Provinces, where in Conjunction with the Fren[gap: tear][guess: ch]
affairs of the Delawares was not like to be com
fortably settled and that they could not advise me
to continue with them in the present state of
Things. For if I should be captivated or killed there
it might be unhappy for them, as it for-
ever deprived them of a Father and a Friend
— If I should be barbarously murdered among
them or fall into the Hands of my enemies
in any respect, they said that they should
never forget it — It being only for their Sakes that
I first came into their Country and now
[gap: tear][guess: co]uld have no other motive to continue among them
[gap: tear] — Besides they
Providence however crossing which appears
against my returning to my People, they
having sent to me just before I left
Lake George desiring my return and ad­
vising me that it was their Opinion
that I might do it safely, I [illegible]ed
upon and expected before now to be
in their Country at least had hopes

Blank page.
Delaware Tribe
The Delaware Tribe, or Lenape Tribe, is a conglomeration of linguistically and culturally similar Native American groups that initially inhabited the mid-Atlantic region, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, eastern Connecticut, and southeastern New York. The three main groups comprising the Delawares are the Munsees, Unamis, and Unalaqtgos. Several Delawares attended Moor’s Indian Charity School, including some of Wheelock’s earliest students. Because the Delawares were not a politically unified entity, contact with Europeans and subsequent conflict over land and trade proved especially devastating for them. During 17th-century battles over trade access, the Delawares found themselves in conflict with the Dutch and the English as well as with other Native American groups that wanted to trade with Europeans. By the time the Dutch left in the mid-17th century, the Delawares were tributaries of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Scholars estimate that by 1750, through a combination of war and disease, the Delaware population had fallen by as much as 90 percent. Many Delawares responded to the situation by leaving. Some migrated west with Moravian missionaries; others joined different tribes, including the Cayugas in New York and the Stockbridge Mahicans in Massachusetts (who later migrated to Oneida territory, near Brothertown, NY, and from thence to Wisconsin). Still others migrated to Ohio and ended up in Kansas or Oklahoma as a result of American expansion. Those who stayed oversaw a century of complex treaty negotiation, including two of the more egregious instances of Native American dispossession: the infamous "walking treaty" between the Delawares and the colony of Philadelphia in 1686, and the American government's (unfulfilled) promise to give the Delawares their own fully-enfranchised state in the union for their support during the Revolution. The Delawares played an important role in the history of Moor’s Indian Charity School. John Brainerd, a Presbyterian missionary to the Delaware and a friend of Wheelock’s, sent Wheelock his first “planned” Native American students from among the Delawares in 1754. J. Brainerd also oversaw the establishment of a Christian Delaware settlement at Brotherton, New Jersey in 1758 (not to be confused with Brothertown in Oneida, New York).
Bethlehem

Bethlehem is a town located in Litchfield County, in western Connecticut. Colonists from the town of Stratford in the colony of Connecticut arrived on the land that would become Bethlehem in 1673 and purchased a 15-mile tract of land from the Native Americans who occupied western Connecticut, calling it Woodbury. In 1703, the Connecticut General Assembly allowed Woodbury to increase its land holdings. Woodbury inhabitants negotiated with Native Americans, and in 1710 signed a deed of sale with Nunawague and five other chiefs to purchase nearly 18,000 acres. This deed became known as the North Purchase. The area that would become Bethlehem was split into lots, and in 1734, British colonists began to settle these lots. The town was incorporated in 1787. By the mid-18th century, there was vibrant Congregationalist activity in Bethlehem, led by Pastor Joseph Bellamy. Occom stopped to preached in Bethlehem on one of his many tours of this region, as he recorded in his journal for 1785.

Lake George

Lake George is located in upstate New York, north of Albany. The Mohawks called the lake Andiatarocté, and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) used the lake for hunting, fishing, and traveling to the lands of their northern enemies. In 1646, Jesuit missionary Father Isaac Jogues saw the lake and named it Lac du Saint Sacrement. European powers fought over this area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and the lake served as the location of a battle during the French and Indian War, pitting Sir William Johnson of England against Baron Dieskau of France. Ultimately, Johnson won, and in 1755 he renamed the body of water Lake George in honor of the king of England. In 1780, Tories and their Indian allies defeated revolutionary forces in a battle near Lake George. In a 1756 letter to Wheelock, Occom writes that the Haudenosaunee Indians around Lake George urged him to leave the area, fearing that Native Americans allied with the French during the French and Indian War might be upset by his continued presence. In a 1758 letter to Wheelock, Samuel Buell refers to the generosity of his people in having sent oxen and steers to “our Army at Lake-George.”

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.

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.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1756 November 12
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