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Samson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1762 May 12

ms-number: 762312

abstract: Occom expresses gratitude toward the Boston Commissioners for past and present help, and reports that the controversies between Samuel Ashpo and the Indians he is teaching prevents Occom from receiving Ashpo.

handwriting: Handwriting is largely clear and legible.

paper: Large sheet folded in half is in good condition, with light-to-moderate creasing, staining and wear. A tear around the remnants of the seal results in no loss of text.

ink: Black-brown ink fades in and out.

layout: First page of letter is on one verso, not one recto.

events: 


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


The Commissioners of >Boston are So good as
to send to Capt. Shaw the other Day, that I might
Draw upon them for £ 20 Lawful Money, and Accordingly I have
I told Capt. Shaw, the gentlemen insisted upon Seeing
my account with Mr. Hedges before they would do any
thing to help me etc. — — He Said there was no need
of that Now, — the gentlemen are so Kind also as
to Allow me to draw upon them for the Time that I have
been at Home the last winter, — for which I return
unfeign thanks and shall always look upon my self
under particular obligations to them as long as I live
not only for the present help, but for all past favours —
and if they See fit to Pity me in time Come, it
will be very Acceptable, if not I have nothing to
Say, but to remember past kindnesses with
grateful Heart — I have heard Sam Ashpo and
his People together, about their controversies, and I
am afraid Sam Ashpo has took irregular Steps,
I Can not receive him Yet, and I will not do Contrary to
my Mind, — I hope I Shall find him better Next time
I See him, — Sir. I hope you are all well, I am Now
at Mohegan, I Came here before noon, and am going down
again to New London this after Noon, to go over again
to Long Island, — I Shall set out on my Journey next Week
if I Can, I beg your Continual remembrance of me —

this Sir, with Sincere obedience is from your true
though unworthy Servant

Samson Occom

Mohegan May 12 1762

To the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock
Blank page.
Samson Occom
May 12 1762

To
Rev. Eleazar Wheelock
at
Lebanon
Blank page.
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.

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.

Hedges, William

William Hedges was a resident of Easthampton, Long Island, and a supporter of Occom during his mission at Montauk. He was the second son of William Hedges (b. 1679, d. November 4, 1768) and and Abiah Mulford (b. August 20, 1685, d. October 27, 1763). Both were descendants of the original settlers of Easthampton; Hedges' father was the grandson of the original William Hedges, a devout Puritan who fled with his wife from Kent in England to Lynn, Massachusetts in 1644, and finally moved to the new settlement of Easthampton on Long Island in 1650. There is little in the records about Hedges and his activities. He was close enough with Occom and his family on Long Island to be entrusted with the funds collected from local Long Island congregations to support the Occom family during Occom's first and second missions to the Oneidas, when the New York Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge grew lukewarm about the missions. Hedges was also a close friend of Samuel Buell, the Presbyterian minister who sponsored Occom's ordination. Buell entrusted Jacob, one of the young Indian boys from Wheelock's school visting on Long Island, to Hedges' care.

Ashpo, Samuel

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.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1762 May 12
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