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Susanna Wheatley, letter, to Samson Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker, 1765 December 31

ms-number: 765681.2

abstract: Wheatley writes to Occom and Whitaker, sending her good wishes for their mission in England, and promising to assist their families left behind.

handwriting: Handwriting is formal, elegant and clear.

paper: Large single sheet is in poor condition, with heavy yellowing, staining, creasing and wear. The condition of the paper leads to some mitigation of text. Some repair work has been done on heavy creases.

ink: Brown.

events: , Occom’s inoculation


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


Reverend Sirs
I hope this will find you (after a pleasant
voyage) safe arrived at your desired Haven — You have
my most ardent wishes that almighty God will prosper and bless all
your undertakings, and lift up the light of his countenance upon you;
that you may have constant communion with him; that he may
guide and direct your every [gap: hole][guess: a]ction, and make you instruments in his
hands of advancing his kingd[gap: hole][guess: o]m and Glory in the world, and that you
may hereafter have entrance ministered abundantly into his Everlasting King
­dom — Mr. Wheatley joins me in requesting an Interest
in your prayers, and my dear Sister and Children begs you will not
be unmindful of them also when at the throne of Grace — I hope
that God will open the hearts of his people in England that they may
liberally bestow of their abundance upon you — I am much
concerned for your families in your absence, and shall endeavour to raise
up friends to assist them, and I hope God in his good Providence will
not be unmindful of them, but will inspire the affluent with
generosity towards them. — Please to give my love to the
Reverend Mr. Whitefield and beg his Prayers for myself and family.
 I am rejoiced at Mr. Hancocks generosity towards you, and hope
you will find the other Owners of the Ship in the same disposition
 I hope you will improve the first Opportunity of
informing of your passage and reception in England — I conclud[gap: hole][guess: e]
with wishing you a safe return in Gods due time and am

Your sincere friend and well-wisher
Susanna Wheatley
P.S. you'd be kind enough to excuse my,
not writing a separate Letter to each of you,
as time will not at present permit of it
the vessel being just ready to sail, but I
hope each of you will write me — first opportunity
 I hope Almighty God will see
fit in his divine Providence, to carry Mr.
Occom
through that afflictive Distemper which he
purposes to receive, in safety [gap: tear]
[illegible] please to Direct your
Letter. to Mr. John Wheatley
Merchant Taylor — In King street
Boston

From Mrs.
Susanna Wheatley
Boston. December 31. 1765
Received March 7. 1766

To
The Reverend[gap: hole] Messrs.
Whitaker and Occom
 In
 London
Wheatley, Susanna

Susanna Wheatley was the mistress of Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became famous as the as poet and the first African-American woman to be published. In 1741, Wheatley married John Wheatley, a prosperous tailor, merchant, moneylender and constable of Boston. In 1761 John purchased a young African girl who had been kidnapped from West Africa to be Susanna's servant. They named her Phillis, after the ship that transported her. As active Congregationalists, they felt it their duty to teach the girl to read the Bible. Phillis showed uncommon aptitude and was soon reading Greek and Latin as well as English. Susanna Wheatley was engaged in missionary work through correspondence (her correspondence with Occom dates from 1765), financial donations, and entertaining guests, including Presbyterian and Anglican Methodist missionaries who stayed in the Wheatley house in Boston. Phillis was allowed to mix freely with political, religious, and socially prominent guests. When she began writing poetry, often dedicated to Susanna's extended family and influential acquaintances, Susanna encouraged and promoted her through a series of drawing room performances. Not able to find a publisher in Boston, Susanna sent Phillis to England with the Wheatley son Nathaniel, where, through her connections to the evangelical George Whitefield, Phillis met Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who became her patron, and helped publish her collection of verse in 1773. When Susanna Wheatley died in 1774 after a long illness, Phillis wrote to John Thornton, the English philanthropist and treasurer of the Trust for Wheelock's Indian School, "By the great loss I have sustain'd of my best friend, I feel like One forsaken by her parent in a desolate Wilderness." Although critics debate Phillis' status in the Wheatley home, in a letter to her friend Obour Tanner, Phillis thanked Susanna Wheatley for adopting her and treating her "more like her child than her servant."

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.

Whitaker, Nathaniel

Nathaniel Whitaker was an outspoken Presbyterian minister with a long and wide-ranging career. Between his ordination in 1755 and his death in 1795, Whitaker ministered to five different congregations. His longest tenure was at Chelsea, CT (near Norwich), from 1761-1769, during which he joined Occom on his two-and-a-half-year fundraising tour of Britain. While in Chelsea, Whitaker was very involved in Wheelock's project. The two engaged in frequent correspondence, and Whitaker served on Eleazar Wheelock's Board of Correspondents in Connecticut, as well as on the Board of Trustees of Moor's Indian Charity School. At one time, he was Wheelock's presumed successor, but Dartmouth's Trustees demanded that Wheelock appoint another. Wheelock, in part due to his strongly-held belief that Native Americans were childlike and rash, was convinced that Occom needed an Anglo-American supervisor on his fundraising tour. After several candidates turned down the job, Wheelock selected Whitaker. He proved to be a poor choice; he was, by many accounts, a difficult man to get along with, and many of Wheelock’s British allies, including George Whitefield and the English Trust (the organization that took control of the money Occom raised in England) preferred to deal with Occom, although Whitaker insisted on handling the tour’s logistics. Furthermore, in Britain, Occom was the obvious star of the tour, and it was unclear to many why Whitaker asserted himself so prominently. Whitaker’s poor decisions seriously alienated the English Trust and increased their suspicion of Wheelock’s later dealings and treatment of Occom. He gave the English Trust the impression that they would have control over money raised in Scotland (which was in fact lodged with the parent organization of the SSPCK), and he was the executor of the “Eells Affair,” a plan initiated by the CT Board of the SSPCK to bring the money that Occom and Whitaker raised back to the colonies by investing it in trade goods and selling them at a profit (Eells was one of the merchants who was to help with the resale of goods). The English Trust learned about the plan by reading letters that Whitaker had given them permission to open in his absence, and were immediately shocked. The wording of certain letters made it appear that only a percentage of the profit from the resale of the goods would go towards Moor’s Indian Charity School, but beyond that detail, the English Trust was scandalized at the thought of money raised for charity being invested in trade. The English Trust blamed Whitaker entirely for these affairs, and issued specific instructions for Occom to notarize all documents requiring Whitaker’s signature. In short, they wanted Occom to supervise Whitaker, when Wheelock had envisioned the opposite relationship (both Occom and Whitaker seem to have ignored their instructions, preferring to have as little contact with one another as possible). In 1769, a year after his return to Connecticut in 1768, Whitaker found himself dismissed by his Chelsea congregation (likely because he had spent two and a half years away from them). He went on to serve several more congregations before his death in 1795. Whitaker was an outspoken Whig, and during the Revolution he published several pamphlets on his political opinions.

Wheatley, John

John Wheatley was a prominent Bostonian and owner of the slave, Phillis Wheatley, who became the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry. Wheatley was a tailor with a wealthy clientele that included men like John Hancock. He was also a merchant and money-lender, and he became one of two constables of Boston in 1739. In 1761, Wheatley purchased a young girl from West Africa to serve as a servant for his wife Susanna. The Wheatleys supported the Revolutionary cause and had a large and influential circle of friends and acquaintances; many visiting Presbyterian and Anglican Methodist ministers stayed at their house. John Thornton, the English philanthropist and treasurer of the English Trust for Wheelock's Indian School, sent Wheatley donations for Indian missions in the colonies. Although Susanna was more actively involved in furthering Phillis's carreer as a prodigy and poet, John Wheatley put his name to the letter circulated in Boston and published in the newspapers attesting to the authenticity of Phillis's authorship of the poems (although some critics argue it was dictated by his son Nathaniel); this document is one of several that preface the edition of Phillis's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" published in London in 1773. Wheatley freed Phillis after she returned from England and she continued to live in his house while she nursed Susanna through her final illness.

Whitefield, George

George Whitefield, the English itinerant preacher who helped spark the Great Awakening, was an essential supporter of Eleazar Wheelock’s project. Whitefield studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met the pioneers of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. He was ordained in 1736, and he made the first of his seven trips to America two years later. While abroad in 1740, Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia, and went on a preaching tour during which he met Wheelock and spread ideals that prompted the Great Awakening. Although Whitefield was ordained in the Church of England, his enthusiastic preaching style and charismatic personality made him a controversial figure, and traditional clergyman on both sides of the Atlantic censured him. Nonetheless, he continued to be an important contact and friend of Wheelock’s, and his dedication to Wheelock’s vision was evident. He contributed money to the cause, secured various other funders, and donated an eighty-pound prayer bell to the school. More importantly, Whitefield not only suggested to Wheelock the idea of a fundraising tour in Great Britain, he hosted Occom and Whitaker shortly after they arrived in England, provided a house for them to reside in for the remainder of their tour, and introduced the pair to influential figures such as William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth. Whitefield tabernacle’s was the setting of Occom’s first sermon in England on February 16, 1766, and many believe that Whitefield wrote the introduction to a pamphlet printed in London during the campaign (although he was not credited). Whitefield continued to be involved in Wheelock’s work until he died in Newburyport, MA in September of 1770.

Hancock, John
Occom’s inoculation
HomeSusanna Wheatley, letter, to Samson Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker, 1765 December 31
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