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The New York/New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, report on proposed ordination of Occom, 1758 October 4

ms-number: 758554

abstract: A report from The New York/New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge notes that the Board voted on September 27, 1758, not to ordain Occom. It defers to the Long Island Presbytery, and suggests that Occom should remain in Montauk or take up the role of schoolmaster at the mission in New Jersey formerly served by John Brainerd.

handwriting: Handwriting is formal and clear.

paper: Long sheet folded in half is in good condition, with minimal creasing, staining and wear.

ink: Dark brown.

noteworthy: This document is on the same paper as manuscript 758614. As noted next to the signature, this document is a (contemporary) copy. The meaning of the abbreviation "C." after the signature is unclear.

events: Occom’s Ordination


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


At a Meeting of the Correspondent Commissioners
of the Society
etc. at Nassau-Hall (New Jersey) 27 September 1758.
"The Correspondents taking into consideration
"the Vote of the Commissioners at Boston respecting
"Samson Occom, Conclude, That it would be act­
­ing precipitantly for any of their Members to
proceed to invest the said Samson Occom with the
Ministerial Character, upon the little Acquain­
tance they have with him; but think that a matter
more properly belonging to the Presbytery of Long Island
who must have a better knowledge of his Qualifi­
­cations for the sacred Office; than they can be sup­
posed to have; And as to taking him into their
Service; they cannot think it advisable, if the
commissioners
mean; that he should be employed
at Montauk, where he has spent several Years
past, as the Correspondents sometime ago, disconti­
nued the mission on Long Island, and wrote to
the Society in Scotland, that they conceived it
would not answer a sufficient purpose any
 Longer
Longer to support a missionary there; especially
as the Indians understood the English Tongue,
and might have frequent Opportunities; within
a few miles of their places of Abode, of attending
upon the Stated Ministers among the English,
But if the commissioners would Consent
to Samson Occom's removal to those Indians
in this Province, whom Mr. Brainerd formerly
served; The Correspondents would be glad to
employ him for a time as a Schoolmaster; and
it is highly probable might, 'ere long, introduce
him into the Ministry,— and procure an
Establishment for him suitable for an Ordained
Pastor and Indian missionary.
Ordered, That the Secretary transmit
a Copy of this Minute to Andrew Oliver Esq Treasu­
rer to the Commissioners of the Society for pro­
pagating the Gospel in New England
; to be commu­
nicated.
Examined Copy
William P Smith SecretaryC.
Elizabeth Town October 4. 1758
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.

Brainerd, John

John Brainerd was an ardent missionary with an important role in Wheelock's design. He was the younger brother of the famous missionary David Brainerd, who died as a young man after being expelled from Yale and serving as a missionary to New Jersey tribes. John completed his Yale degree and was immediately commissioned to replace David. Even in his own time, he was seen as a man as pious as, but less talented than, his brother, though Brainerd missioned to Indians during a more volatile period, and saw his congregation forcibly removed from their lands in 1755 and relocated at Brothertown in 1758 (this Brothertown should not be confused with the one founded in New York after the Revolution by many Moor's alumni). Brainerd was extremely devoted to the Indian cause. He often had the opportunity to serve wealthy English congregations, but preferred to remain an Indian missionary. He invested signficant sums of his own money into his missions, for which he was never reimbursed. Brainerd was a very prominent Presbyterian figure, active in the Presbytery and Synod of New York, holding several elected positions, and in the Presbtery and Synod of New York and Philadelphia once the two reunified in 1758. He was a Trustee of the College of New Jersey from 1754 until his death, and a member of the New York Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Occom had planned to work with Brainerd in 1750, but political upheaval prevented it. Brainerd was one of several men nominated to accompany Occom to England, but the New York Board refused to let him go. While Brainerd and Wheelock were not close personal friends, the two had a similar interests and a long-lasting correspondence. John Brainerd sent Wheelock his first Indian boys, and also recruited female students in the 1760s. Throughout their lives, Brainerd and Wheelock updated one another on Indian missions, and Brainerd seems to have been one of Wheelock's "point people" in the Presbyterian Church.

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.

Smith, William Peartree

William Peartree Smith was a wealthy New York Presbyterian who became one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). He was related to William Smith (Senior), who was his father's first cousin, another College of New Jersey Trustee and Eleazar Wheelock’s occasional legal consultant. Smith studied law at Yale and graduated in 1742, but he never practiced as a lawyer: between a large inheritance from his father and marriage to an even wealthier woman, Smith was able to spend his life managing his estate and promoting causes he found worthy. Among these was the College of New Jersey. He was named as a trustee in the 1748 charter, and remained one until he retired at age 70. He was also the secretary of the Presbyterian New York/New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, which formally fused with the Trustees of the College of New Jersey in 1769 (although the two were functionally unified much earlier). Like other Presbyterian organizations, the College of New Jersey and the New Jersey SSPCK tended to express a polite tolerance for Wheelock, but did not seriously help or hinder him. Smith moved to Elizabethtown (the location of the College of New Jersey) in 1757, and became politically active as a mayor and, later, a judge. He sided with the patriots during the Revolution.

Occom’s Ordination
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