abstract: Wheelock informs Oliver that the Onaquaga chiefs are planning a visit to Boston, and encloses a letter for Gideon Hawley that encourages Hawley to make a visit to Onaquaga, and to oversee Samuel Ashpo as a missionary. He mentions that Occom and David Fowler have set out on their mission to the Six Nations.
handwriting: Informal handwriting is small, crowded and occasionally difficult to decipher.
paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear.
noteworthy: This document is very likely a draft.
layout: The letter to Oliver is written on the top half of one recto. The letter to Hawley takes up the rest of the paper.
events: Occom’s first mission to the Oneidas
Modernized Version -- deletions removed; additions added in; modern spelling and capitalization added; unfamiliar abbreviations expanded.
my Hand this week under cover of one from
Mr. Jesse Dean who informs me that Mr. Gunn
with Several of said chiefs design a visit to Boston
this Summer. perhaps the News of what the
honourable Commissioners have Lately done for them may prevent
them if it reaches them soon enough.
honour and the rest of the Commissioners may see the Contents if
You please after that please to cover and direct it to him.
to the Six Nations. by the way of New York.
Gen. Lyman has recommended the design which
the Commissioners send David upon to Gen. Johnson
and bespoke his friendship and assistance therein. —
— please to accept dutiful Salutations etc.
Times since I saw you if I had known where to Direct
my letters to you. When I was last in Boston I took
the Name of the place in writing but have lost it again.
I have longed to spend an Evening with you to plead the
case of your old people at Onaquaga, in whose affections
you live above any Englishman on Earth, and where
there is the most agreeable opening and most encouraging
prospect of the success of the Gospel of any place
whatsoever that I have knowledge of. and in addition to
those very weighty arguments which the Honourable Commissioners argue. I would
give you some account of their present state which perhaps the
Commissioners have not yet known and in which I think there is such
an Argument at least for your making them a long visit,
as you will find much Difficulty to withstand the force of
a real Christian some Years ago, I admitted him
into this Church he behaved very well Several Years 'til he
got the Company of sailors at New London, and got
Drunk, he soon after came and with Tears informed
me of his Fall and seemed very much afflicted and I thought
gave satisfying Evidence of Repentance. desired to
make a public confession etc. and I suppose has never tasted
of any spiritous Liquor of any Sort since. Some Years
ago under the Influence lay exhorters he was seduced
and received Ordination in their way
Yet he has not appeared to be one of
the most Bitter censorious, furious and uncharitable sort.
Nor could I never find but that his religious Principles except what
relate to his Ordination are Good. but he has very thorough
ly imbibed such independent and Brownistic Principles as
I find many good sort of people in your Province are zealous to defend
and he has gone on to exercise the Power thus received from the
church. Last year he went to Onaquaga. On his return
lodged at my House. and informed me of a great special concern among
the Indians in those parts especially at Chenango which I was
the more inclined to give credit to because I had heard of it otherways.
This year he has made them another visit. and lodged again at
my House on his Return this week and. informs me that there are about 20
at Chenango which he thinks to be really converted. and a
general Concern among Others. that they are very unwilling
that the English should get footing among them lest by and by
they root them out as they have done in New England. that
they have had a meeting and voted to have him, for their minister
and desired him to make Application to the Commissioners
for his Support and for the Support of Some Indian
as a schoolmaster. as to this account I
Suppose it is credible that there has been a great and
uncommon religious Concern among them, and something like
conversion, and perhaps some real instances of it. —
Ashpo is determined to see the Commissioners and earnestly desired me to
write you in his favour
I told him I could write no more than a plain
honest Narrative of the Truth. [gap: blotted_out] and that the Commissioners were
heartily engaged to do anything in their Power to further
the Great design of spreading the Gospel among the Indians
but they knew what mischiefs such Principles as he held have
done in the church, and I was persuaded would take
utmost care that [illegible][guess: [a sack] should not be laid in the very
Bottom among the Pagans. I have taken
Much pains to convince him of his mistake. and have told him
there is a probability that he might do
good among them if he were delivered from those
Errors, and would take pains to furnish himself with useful
This short Narrative, dear sir, gives you an
affecting View of their Case. Ashpo's interest in their affairs
is Such as that there is danger of the saddest consequences unless
the Affair be conducted with utmost Prudence,
and discretion. and by reason of your acquaintance with and interest in them. I suppose no man so likely as you to
prevent the mischiefs which are threatened, and to nourish, cherish,
and further any good beginnings there,
by all accounts they have a hearing Ear. and it looks as though the
Gospel might have free course among them, and who reckons
what a Glorious harvest you may have, and what blessings
of perishing Souls come upon you.
as I suppose Ashpo will visit them again whether
he be encouraged by the Commissioners or not so perhaps it will
not be prudent or best he should be at once thrown into despair of
favour and Countenance from them or you but rather
tenderly be put in your arms and held upon trial if he will act be encouraged to act under
your Direction and Conduct. and if he should be ductile
and Teachable, I dont conclude that he will not serve the
cause. as I can but entertain in Charitable hope concerning his [illegible] and the honesty of his Intentions. however the case appears to me very Dangerous
and Difficult. and when we consider what infinite
mischiefs Satan has done when transformed into an angel
of Light and especially at the first planting the Gospel
in places and by the instrumentality of good men too it may Justly awaken our Fear
# and I hope the consideration will effectively persuade you to
comply with the desire of the Honourable Commissioners, at least so far as to
accompany and introduce dear Mr. Thompson, if he shall accept the
Mr. Occom seems to have a good understanding of [illegible][guess: Satans]
Devices of that sort and has some thoughts he shall make a visit to
Chenango before he returns from his mission. If you
should chance to meet him there and [illegible] there [illegible] it will
look like a very favourable Providence.
I wish you
Divine directive, in and Blessing upon all your pious endeavours to
build up the Kingdom of the Great Redeemer I am Rev. and dear Sir
and with Kindest Salutations to you and your
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.
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.
Gideon Hawley was born in Stratford (Bridgeport) CT, the son of Gideon, a descendant of Joseph Hawley, who immigrated to America in 1629, and Hannah Bennett, daughter of Lieutenant James Bennett of Stratford. Hawley's mother died at his birth, and his father died when he was three; he was raised mostly by his older brother. A very good student, Hawley graduated from Yale College in 1749 and was liscensed to preach by the Fairfield East Association. Sponsored by the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America (the New England Company), Hawley accepted a position as schoolteacer in Stockbridge in 1752, under the supervision of the noted theologian Jonathan Edwards, who was a preacher to whites and Housatonic Indians in the region. But because of the contentious politics in Stockbridge, Hawley accepted the NEC's offer to take over the mission among the Six Nations on the Susquehanna, in the multi-tribal town of Onaquaga, where Elihu Spencer has served five years before as missionary. Hawley was ordained in 1754 and acted successfully as missionary and interpreter, but was forced to leave in May 1756 during the hostilities of the French and Indian War. He returned to Boston and accepted a commission as chaplain to Colonel Richard Gridley's regiment, but resigned because of illness. The NEC then sent him to the large plantation of Mashpee Wompanoags at Plymouth, MA, who approved of him and requested his permanent appointment in 1758. Hawley was a staunch supporter of traditional tribal land ownership and Indian rights; the Mashpees enlisted his help in petitioning the Massachusetts General Court for their rights to self-government. During the Revolution, Hawley did not enlist in order to protect the tribe, and in 1789, he succeeded in abolishing Masphee as a "district" subject to state rule and served as the only resident overseer and treasurer until 1795. He opposed the mixing of whites and Indians, as in Stockbridge, which ultimately disenfranchised and drove out the Indians, but insisted the Mashpee Wampanoags learn English, the only language in which he preached, and practice agriculture. He married Lucy Fessenden in 1759; they had five children, four of whom lived to maturity. Their youngest son graduated from Harvard in 1792. Lucy died in 1777 and at age 50, Hawley remarried Mrs. Elizabeth Burchard in 1778, a widow twice over with a large estate. He died beloved and respected by the Mashpee Wampanoags, whose village he helped to sustain.
Elisha Gunn was a gunsmith who resided in Onaquaga for a number of years and served as an interpreter for several different missionary societies. Although he was a well-known interpreter in missionary circles, there is little information about him. He is identified as a resident of Montague, MA, where his three children were born, but he and his family seem to have spent much of the 1760s living in Onaquaga. It is unclear where Gunn learned Haunenosaunee (Iroquois) languages, but his services were certainly in high demand: he was the interpreter over whom the Connecticut Board of the SSPCK and the Boston Board of the New England Company clashed in 1765. One of Wheelock's main goals was to train missionaries who could serve as their own interpreters, because he believed that existing interpreters were too scarce, too expensive, and too untrained in theology. What little we know of Gunn certainly supports Wheelock's arguments. He seems to have been one of the few available interpreters (if not the only one), his services cost the New England Company £50 sterling a year (more than three times Occom's salary at the same time), and his surviving letters show a reliance on extremely phonetic spelling and suggest a lack of formal education. NB: One genealogical website puts Gunn's birth year at 1723, a decade earlier. It would be easy for a researcher to mix 1723 and 1733, especially if the record is poorly written, and neither year is unreasonable.
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.
David Fowler was Jacob Fowler's older brother, Samson Occom's brother-in-law, and an important leader of the Brothertown Tribe. He came to Moor's in 1759, at age 24, and studied there until 1765. While at school, he accompanied Occom on a mission to the Six Nations in 1761. He was licensed as a school master in the 1765 mass graduation, and immediately went to the Six Nations to keep school, first at Oneida and then at Kanawalohale. Fowler saw himself as very close to Wheelock, but their relationship fragmented over the course of Fowler's mission, primarily because Wheelock wrote back to Kirkland, with whom Fowler clashed, but not to Fowler, and because Wheelock refused to reimburse Fowler for some expenses on his mission (767667.4 provides the details most clearly). Fowler went on to teach school at Montauk, and played a major role in negotiations with the Oneidas for the lands that became Brothertown. He was among the first wave of immigrants to that town, and held several important posts there until his death in 1807.
General Phineas Lyman was a longtime friend of Eleazar Wheelock’s and a supporter of his school. He was born in Durham, CT in 1715 and studied law at Yale. After graduating in 1738, Lyman became a tutor then successful lawyer, and he managed a law school in Suffield, MA. When Suffield was incorporated into Connecticut, Lyman became involved with the Connecticut General Assembly. He served in the French and Indian War, commanding 5,000 Connecticut troops, and was integral in the battle of Lake George in 1755 although General Johnson was credited with the victory. After the war, General Lyman went to England in search of acknowledgment for his war endeavors, and to secure land on the Mississippi or Ohio River for himself and fellow officers. Lyman assured Wheelock he would endeavor to incorporate his school into the territory. However, in April of 1769, Lord Dartmouth wrote to Wheelock indicating that General Lyman had excluded the school from his plea; Sir William Johnson had denounced Wheelock for supposedly deterring Indians from ceding their property. In 1774, after 11 years of negotiations, General Lyman finally obtained the grant for the Mississippi and Yazoo lands; nonetheless, Wheelock had already established his school in New Hampshire. In 1775, General Lyman died en route to the newly acquired territory in West Florida.
Sir William Johnson was a powerful British colonial official who amassed wealth and influence by integrating into the Mohawk tribe. For a brief window of time (1761-1768), he provided support for Wheelock’s missionary efforts among the Six Nations. He also helped the Brothertown Nation of Indians procure land from the Oneidas. Johnson was born in Ireland in 1715. His family had been part of the Catholic elite, but after William of Orange’s 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne, they at least nominally converted to the Episcopalian Church. In 1738, Johnson emigrated to America to manage his uncle Peter Warren’s estate in Mohawk territory. Over the next decade, Johnson became wealthy in his own right through trade and land sales, acquiring a vast estate crowned by his manor house, Johnson Hall, which became the central location for British and Indian treaty making. In 1745, Johnson began collecting official British titles and positions. He played an important military role in the French and Indian War and was named Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1756 and first baronet of New York in 1757. Much of Johnson’s success was due to his influence among the Mohawks, which he obtained by learning their language and customs and integrating himself into their society. He participated in Mohawk rituals and entered into a common-law marriage with a powerful Mohawk woman, Molly Brant (also called Mary Brant). Because Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) society is matrilineal, this marriage was an essential element of his participation in Indian affairs. Wheelock desperately wanted to wield missionary influence among the Six Nations, and sought to obtain Johnson as an ally in his endeavors. At first, the two found grounds for cooperation. Wheelock sent Occom as a missionary to the Oneidas in 1761 and again in 1762, and sent a substantially larger group of missionaries and schoolmasters in 1765, 1766, and 1767. Johnson, meanwhile, encouraged Haudenosaunee children, including his brother-in-law Joseph Brant, to attend Moor’s. Johnson’s support proved indispensible to missionaries in the field; he helped with supplies, language skills, and relations with the Mohawks and Oneidas. Wheelock also valued Johnson for his influence in Britain, and drew on him for recommendations and public statements of support numerous times. From 1763 on, however, Johnson found himself decidedly uncomfortable with Wheelock’s missionary efforts, and by 1769, their relationship had dissolved completely. In 1766, Johnson was invited to join the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), the largest and most influential Anglican missionary society in the 18th-century British-Atlantic world. He began working to place Anglican missionaries, rather than Congregationalist and Presbyterian ones, among the Six Nations, which alarmed Wheelock. Johnson was generally supportive of Native American tribes’ efforts to maintain their land and sovereignty. As the historian Linford Fisher has noted, “virtually every major Native group in southeastern New England successfully petitioned Johnson to act on their behalf during the late 1760s and early 1770s.” Among these groups was the Brothertown Nation, a Christian composite tribe formed by Southern New England Algonquian Moor’s alumni. Johnson helped them negotiate with the Oneidas, which proved essential to their successful land purchase and relocation to central New York.
Ashpo was born into a very powerful Mohegan family, considered equal to the Uncas line, and became an influential Mohegan preacher. He was converted at Mohegan during the Great Awakening, and became a schoolteacher among the Indians at Mushantuxet from 1753 until 1757 and from 1759 until 1762, when he left to attend Moor's. Between 1757 and 1759, he worked as an interpreter, and supposedly struggled with alcohol. He attended Moor's for only six months, and then continued his teaching and missionary career on successive trips to Chenango (the first was cut short because of violence in the region). On July 1, 1767, the Connecticut Board dismissed him from their service because of further charges of drinking. He continued to preach successfully to various New England Indian tribes until his death in 1795. The variations of his name exist in part because Ashpo is an abbreviated form of Ashobapow.