Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
Theophilus Chamberlain, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1766 November 12

ms-number: 766612.1

abstract: Chamberlain writes of improvements in the mission among the Mohawks.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, yet formal and clear. Letter case and punctuation, especially comma vs. period, is frequently difficult to discern. The trailer is in an unknown hand.

paper: Large sheet folded into four pages is in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Brown-black.

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

Rev. and worthy
I received your favour of the 21st of October some
days ago. Hope my Letter of the Same Month will relieve you from
some of that Pain which I know you must have felt from the
Thoughts that all your Endeavours to instruct and reform the
mohawks would certainly Prove unsuccessful. In Addition
to what you will learn from that Letter I add with great pleasure
that the two Schools under the instruction of Mr. Johnson and
Jacob Fowler have increased to four or five and forty and since
Moses' arrival we set up a third which though small at present
will I hope when we have Time to collect the Children have
fifteen or Sixteen Children without any diminution of the other
school here which will still increase. Last Sabbath the house
where we now meet though the largest in the Castle, was so
crowded that some of the People were obliged to return outdoors,
and the Number of those who will attend is Daily increasing, except
that the Indians are now many of them on the Hunt and others
every day joining them. I know Sir that you are now
expecting me home. I know upon what Information you
came to a conclusion that it was best to leave the Mohawks, and
hope and expect that when you hear of the present State of
Affairs here you will say it is best by all Means to improve
the favorable Minute. And in confidence of this only, I have
some Weeks ago concluded not to return 'til Spring unless I
receive absolute Orders for it. I Long for success and however
I may have been thought to be cold, careless, and negligent
in prosecuting your mission I have the pleasure of knowing
that I have spared no Pains and neglected no Step to make
the Affair succeed unless it is when I have thought that
making proposals or altering dispositions Made would be es‐
teemed affirming. I have Rev. sir ventured to give my
Judgment upon Mr. Johnsons desire with regard to his stay
‐ing at fort Hunter this Winter. He told me it was expect‐
ed that, if he came home this fall he should return next
Spring. It appeared to me that it would be more to his ad‐
vantage both in respect to his learning the Indian Language
and making proficiency in his other studies, to spend the whole
year here and the succeeding year there, than to divide the
two years into four Parts, and so leave the Indians just as he has
got a Little smattering of their Language which he says himself
he can retain only by staying longer amongst them. Then
I was fully persuaded that his continuing at fort Hunter this
Winter was the only way to maintain and establish a school
there. To put either of the Indian Lads (who by the way are
both wanted at this Castle) there where I cant be with them
more than once in three or four Weeks, and where the Indians
declare they will throw the whole up if the schoolmaster is
now changed, would be the means of ruining and that perhaps
beyond repair, a School upon which as much depends in
the Opinion of Gentlemen who are best acquainted with
the Indians in these Parts, as any school in the six Nation
Country. and the Indians are in all these Castles offended with
the proposal of keeping Schools only in the summer. —
I hope to obtain an Interpreter this Winter without much
expense. the Indians are allowed a blacksmith for the
next six Months. Mr. Spencer is appointed to serve in
that Place. Sir William was up this Week to settle that
and some other Affairs with the Indians. He was at my
Lodgings on Monday Evening and invited me to dine with him the next day.
I went and knowing his business (which I found out by the
little Indian I understand) took a favorable opportunity
and put in a Petition that in Spencers Service for the
Indians his Honour would please to include interpreting
which might be done without increase of cost to him,
or disadvantage to Mr. Spencer. The request was too
reasonable to be denied, and met with so favourable a
Reception that his honour promised to mention it in his
instructions to Spencer which he would give out the
next day.
 Your Supply Reverend by Moses came very seasonably
as I had then less than two dollars and was in debt for myself
the schoolmasters and Interpreter near £30 lawful money, hav
‐ing made some provision for my own and Jacobs stay here over
the Winter. My Credit here will I fear be ruined by neglecting
the Christian Rule to owe no man anything but to Love.
If you judge Rev. Sir that my Conduct is such as merits appro
‐bation, cannot Doubt but you will support me here to
my satisfaction; and if you judge otherwise, I beg it
as the highest favour of a Patron to tell me plainly wherein
I misconduct, that I may have opportunity to clear
myself, to reform or to resign my commission.
In the meantime Sir, give my Duty to
Madam, my kindest Compliments to all
your family and Love to the School, and
be assured that unconscious of Neglect
I cheerfully subscribe myself
Rev. and Worthy Sir

your faithful servant in the Lord
Theophilus Chamberlain

Rev. Theophilus Chamberlain’s
Letter November 12th 1766

To Rev. Eleazar Wheelock
Chamberlain, Theophilus

Theophilus Chamberlain was a Yale graduate and missionary employed by Wheelock. His interest in Indian ministry may have started during the French and Indian War, when he was taken captive by a tribe allied with the French (it is unclear which tribe) at Fort William Henry and spent a year in Nova Scotia. After his return to New England, Chamberlain attended Yale. Wheelock recruited Chamberlain, along with fellow Yale graduate Titus Smith, to spearhead Moor's 1765 mission to the Six Nations. Chamberlain was examined as a missionary on March 12, 1765, and ordained on April 24, 1765. During the mission, he was stationed at Canajoharie (the Mohawk "Upper Castle") and oversaw the mission to the Mohawks. While on his mission, he converted to Sandemanianism, a decision that profoundly shaped the rest of his life. It is difficult to evaluate his efficacy as a missionary: he had high praise for himself, and David Fowler said the Mohawks were affectionate towards him, but Occom described him as overzealous. Chamberlain served the duration of his contract, but clashed with Wheelock afterwards over who was responsible for debts he had incurred on his mission (e.g. transportation costs, support for schoolmasters and interpreters). After departing from Wheelock's service, Chamberlain was ordained as a Sandemanian bishop. He fled to New York and later Nova Scotia during the American Revolution because of his religious and political beliefs. In Nova Scotia, Chamberlain oversaw the establishment of the settlement of Preston.

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.

Johnson, Samuel

Samuel Johnson was a Yale student who, after first traveling to Canajoharie, taught the school at Fort Hunter (the smaller Mohawk town) from October 1766 until at least February 1767, possibly as late as June. Johnson returned to Yale by July 1767. Wheelock may have provided him with some financial support at college up until the end of 1767, when Johnson and Wheelock parted ways. It is possible that Johnson simply decided he did not want to be an Indian missionary, and, thus, withdrew from Wheelock’s support. It is more likely that the pair split over Wheelock’s treatment of his students. Johnson’s last letter to Wheelock expressed his opposition to Wheelock’s plan to pull Avery and McClure out of college for missions (767667.5); Johnson may have feared he would meet the same fate. Four years later, he wrote to Samuel Kirkland about Wheelock’s mistreatment of Crosby, whom Wheelock expelled from Dartmouth, and David Avery, whom Wheelock required to repay large portions of his tuition because his health prevented him from serving as a missionary. Johnson graduated from Yale in 1769, was ordained the same year, and served as a minister at New Lebanon, New York and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1780, he converted to the Shaker faith, along with his wife, their children, and much of his former New Lebanon Congregation.

Fowler, Jacob

Jacob Fowler was a Montauk Indian whose life was dramatically shaped by Samson Occom, his brother-in-law. Occom taught Jacob when he was a child, and in 1762, Jacob followed his older brother David Fowler to Moor's. After three years he was approved as an usher in the 1765 examination, and in 1766 he went to assist Samuel Johnson at Canajoharie. He taught among the Six Nations until at least mid-1767. In early 1770, Occom procured him a job teaching at Mushantuxet through the Boston Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Jacob taught and preached among the Pequots at Mushantuxet and Stonington until 1774, when Wheelock hired him to teach at Moor's, which had relocated to Hanover, NH as a complement to Dartmouth College. During this time, Jacob also assisted Joseph Johnson with efforts to rally the New England Christian tribes for a move to Oneida territory (the Brothertown Movement). By 1776, there were no Indians enrolled in Moor's and Jacob moved on to serve Governor John Trumbull of CT as a messenger to the Six Nations during the Revolution. After the Revolution, he continued organizing the Brothertown Movement and was among those who initially emigrated in 1784. He was elected clerk at Brothertown, and died sometime in the spring of 1787.


Moses was a Mohawk Indian and Wheelock student who was part of the mission to the Canajoharie, Onaquaga, and Cherry Valley areas from 1765-1766. He taught the displaced Oneidas under Good Peter and Isaac Dakayenensere at Lake Otsego (next to Cherry Valley), along with Smith and Gunn. He taught reading and writing to between eight and 12 students. Although Joseph Woolley was initially supposed to teach this school, he fell ill and Moses replaced him. Moses also subbed for Woolley when Woolley visited the Tuscaroras. Like the other schoolteachers, Moses left over the winter of 1765 and returned to Wheelock, but he was back at Canajoharie by the next fall to teach with Samuel Johnson and Jacob Fowler. Theophilus Chamberlain speculated they could set up a third school for Moses, but this did not come to pass because by December 1st, less than a month after Chamberlain’s letter, Moses had traveled to Wheelock and back to Fort Hunter delivering letters. The Indians at Fort Hunter would not take him as a teacher because they preferred Johnson and distrusted unknown teachers after their experience with Hezekiah Calvin (according to Johnson). Moses appears to have continued working in the area, because in 1768 he refused Aaron Kinne’s request that he act as interpreter.

Johnson, William

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.

Wheelock, Mary (née Brinsmead)

Mary Wheelock was born Mary Brinsmead on July 26, 1714 in Milford, Connecticut. In the year following the death of his first wife, Eleazar began to court Mary Brinsmead, and the two married on November 21, 1747. Mary and Eleazar had five children together, including John, who would succeed his father as President of Dartmouth College. Little appears in the historical record about Mary, but many of the people who wrote to Wheelock, especially his Native correspondents who often lived with the family, referred to her warmly. In September 1770, Mary dismantled her longtime home in Connecticut, and travelled with her children to the Wheelocks' new home in the wilderness of New Hampshire. They rode in a coach sent over from England by John Thornton, accompanied by 30 Charity School students on foot. Eleazar, who had gone ahead to build housing for everyone, wrote a letter to Mary with many instructions about the move; the disposition of domestic animals, people, supplies; and the acquisition of money that suggests she was an able and trustworthy manager (manuscript 770510.1; this manuscript is not included in Occom Circle documents). She died in 1784 in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she is buried in the Dartmouth College Cemetery.

HomeTheophilus Chamberlain, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1766 November 12
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only