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Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to Samson Occom, 1757 January 7

ms-number: 757107

abstract: Wheelock notifies Occom of a communication with the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent in America, in which the Commission recommends Occom for ordination. Wheelock feels it is more proper for the local presbytery to examine Occom for ordination, and requests that they provide testimonials of his character as soon as possible.

handwriting: Handwriting is not Wheelock's; it is tidy, with a heavy upward slant.

paper: Heavy creasing, with wear along middle crease resulting in minor loss of text.

ink: Ink is dark, and darker on the verso.

noteworthy: Letter is marked as a copy.

signature: Signed "Eleazar Wheelock," but not by Wheelock.

events: Occom's Ordination


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



Son Samson
A few Days ago I received from the Honourable Andrew
Oliver Esq.
the following votes of The Honourable Commissioners [illegible] At a Meeting of The
Commissioners
 Boston 12 November 1756
Whereas Samson Occom Who Some years Since was employed
at Long Island in The Government of New york by some of The
Inhabitants there to Keep an Indian School and afterward, to Preach the
Gospel to Them and who upon application Made to The commissioners after he had
Engaged in said Service was allowed by Them Twenty Pound, per annum is
notwithstanding his Several allowances fallen in Debt and Thereby brought
Into Difficulties —
Voted as a further Encouragement To Said Samson To Continue in The
Indian Service There be allowed him Twenty Pounds in order To Enable him
To discharge his [worn_edge: [guess: Debts]]; The Commissioners Expecting That Those who originally
Employed him afford him their assistance likewise for This Purpose —
and in as much as Said Samson is represented To be a person of a Virtuous
Life and useful as a Preacher To the Indians; The Commissioners Would recommend
it to The Rev. Mr. Wheelock and Mr. Pomeroy and other ministers
of The Same association to consider of the Expediency of his being ordained
To The pastoral office and to Proceed to Do it if They Shall Think Best.
and That there be allowed To said Samson a common Pace Book to the Bible
and Cruden’s Concordence
 Copy attest
 Andrew Oliver
you observe That They Direct Mr. Pomeroy and myself To Call in other
ministers to Examine you and consult of The [illegible: [guess: Expeeding]] of your being
Ordained We are in Doubt of The Propriety of our Doing it, Thinking it Rather
The Right of The Rev. Presbytery on The Island unless you Should take the
Pastrol Charge of the Indians on The main but at this distance we are not
able to judge of That Matter not knowing either the Number or disposition
of Those Indians among whom you are, and have been Labouring, We have
understood that there is a considerable Number on This Side The water
who Desire To have you for their minister and we have considered The
Distance and Difficulty of crossing the Sound etc.,
and have Therefore agreed [illegible] To advise, That you desire some Neighbouring
minister To visit, and Try The Minds of your People and Send us a [illegible: [guess: True]] representation
of their number and disposition Towards you and then that you visit The
Rev. ministers of That presbytery show This To Them and also Represent to
Them The State of The indians at Montauk and desire Said ministers to
manifest to us whether They approve of our proceeding according to The foregoing
Vote of commissioners etc., and if So That They Give us Proper Testimonials of your
Moral and Christian Character, And That you accomplish This as Soon as may
be. and you Must Consider That it will be Some Time after your are Examined
before The Matter Can be accomplished if we Shall have To visit The several
Tribes of Indians upon the Main in order To your ordination. The Lord be with
your spirit direct your ways and keep you from falling into the Condemnation
of The Devil upon Such an occasion. Give Mine and Mr. Pomeroys Love to
your Spouse. and accept The Same your Self From him, as well as, I
Your Affectionate Friend
 and servant

Eleazar Wheelock

PS Mr. Oliver in his To me has This passage which because
it Concerns you I Transcribe here viz “Capt. Shaw of New London has
usually supplied Samson and taken his orders upon me for it, and were you
to send him Copy of what Relates To him would I Doubt
Not be Glad to Do it Still.”
 Copy.
Letter to Samson
occom
. January. 1757.
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.

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.

Pomeroy, Benjamin

Benjamin Pomeroy was a school friend of Eleazar Wheelock and a lifelong supporter of his cause. Like Wheelock, he was a New Light evangelical and a staunch ally of James Davenport, a radical New Light preacher whose beliefs got him in trouble with the law. After graduating from Yale in 1733, Pomeroy received the ministry at Hebron, CT, in 1734, and assisted Wheelock in myriad ways until his own death in 1784. He kept Wheelock's school during 1746, when Wheelock's first wife, Sarah, was dying, and he tutored Occom (primarily in Hebrew) after Occom had completed his studies with Wheelock. Pomeroy also supported Wheelock as a trustee of Moor's, and, later, Dartmouth, and as a member of the Board of the Correspondents in Connecticut for the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Pomeroy and Wheelock also had close family connections: Pomeroy was married to Wheelock’s sister, Abigail, and one of Pomeroy’s daughters, Hannah, married David McClure, one of Wheelock's most illustrious graduates. Outside of his liturgical career, Pomeroy served as an army chaplain in the French and Indian War and the Revolution.

Shaw, Nathaniel

Captain Nathaniel Shaw was one of the wealthiest merchants in New London during the mid-18th century. In the early 1730s, after building a fortune through sea trade with Ireland, he settled in New London to oversee his business. Captain Shaw was sympathetic to the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America (often called the New England Company), and assisted them by transmitting money to Samson Occom in the 1750s, when the New England Company was providing him with financial support. Captain Shaw also had a private trade relationship with Occom, and sold him many household supplies and much of the equipment for his house at Mohegan. However, while Occom was in England (late 1765-mid 1768), Shaw refused to supply Mary Occom with goods, which put her in severe straits. Eleazar Wheelock hypothesized that Shaw was lashing out at Mary over Samson’s stance in the Mason Case, which, along with other circumstances, had turned the New England Company vehemently against Wheelock and Occom. However, it is perhaps more likely that Shaw refused to supply Mary because Wheelock had shown no indication that he planned to pay Occom’s debts (see 768114). During the Revolution, Captain Shaw and his son Nathaniel Shaw Jr., who took over much of the business around 1763, were noted patriots. They opened their mansion to wounded sailors, as well as to George Washington himself, helped to organize New London’s participation in the war, and turned their merchant ships into a privateering fleet.

Occom, Mary (née Fowler)

Mary Occom (née Fowler) was a Montaukett woman who married Samson Occom. Although information about her is limited and often comes from male, Anglo-American sources, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of her strength, as well as an alternative to the Eleazar Wheelock-centered narrative of Occom’s life that often dominates the latter’s biography. Mary was born into the influential Fowler family at Montauk, Long Island. She met Samson during his missionary service there (1749-1761). Mary studied at Samson’s school along with her brothers David and Jacob, and was almost certainly literate. She and Samson married in 1751. Wheelock and several other Anglo-American powers opposed their union because they worried it might distract Occom from being a missionary (as, indeed, family life did), and thus many scholars have read in Samson and Mary’s marriage an act of resistance against Samson’s domineering former teacher. Little information about the minutiae of Mary’s life survives, but existing sources speak volumes about her character and priorities. In front of Anglo-American missionaries visiting the Occoms' English-style house at Mohegan, Mary would insist on wearing Montaukett garb and, when Samson spoke to her in English, she would only reply in Montaukett, despite the fact that she was fluent in English. Mary Occom was, in many ways, Wheelock’s worst fear: that his carefully groomed male students would marry un-Anglicized Indian women. It is not a stretch to imagine that Mary provided much of the incentive for Wheelock to begin taking Indian girls into his school, lest his other protégés replicate Samson’s choice. Much of our information about Mary comes from between 1765 and 1768, when Samson was fundraising in Great Britain. Despite promising to care for Samson’s wife and family (at the time they had seven children), Wheelock, by every objective measure, failed to do so, and Mary’s complaints are well documented. Hilary Wyss reads in Wheelock’s neglect (and in letters from the time) a more sinister story, and concludes that on some level Wheelock was holding Samson’s family hostage, in return for Occom curtailing his political beliefs on the Mason Case. Wyss also notes Mary’s remarkable survivance in this situation. Mary drew on various modes of contact, from letters to verbal communication with influential women (including Sarah Whitaker, the wife of Samson’s traveling companion, and Wheelock’s own daughters), to shame Wheelock into action and demand what she needed. One of the major struggles in Mary’s life, and in Samson’s, was with their sons. Both Aaron and Benoni failed to live up to their parents’ expectations. Aaron attended, and left, Moor’s Indian Charity School three times, and both Aaron and Benoni struggled with alcohol and refused to settle down. The Occom daughters did not cause similar problems. Given the nature of existing sources, little is known about Mary after Samson and Wheelock lessened their communication in 1771. Joanna Brooks has conjectured that Mary was likely influential in Samson’s Mohegan community involvement later in life, for instance, in his continued ministry to Mohegan and, perhaps, his increasingly vehement rejection of Anglo-American colonial practices.

Occom's Ordination
HomeEleazar Wheelock, letter, to Samson Occom, 1757 January 7
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