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Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to Robert Keen, 1767 July 27

ms-number: 767427.2

abstract: Wheelock writes of the desperate situation faced by Samuel Kirkland and the Indians at Oneida. He quotes liberally from Kirkland's letters, and mentions that David Fowler has undertaken a 400-mile journey on foot to secure aid.

handwriting: The body of the letter is in an unknown hand that is clear and formal; this handwriting is not Wheelock's. The trailer, and a postscript added to the center of the paper between one recto and two verso, is in Wheelock's hand, which is small, cramped and difficult to decipher.

paper: Large single sheet folded in half to make four pages is in good-to-fair condition, with light-to-moderate staining, creasing and wear.

ink: The letter bears two different inks: a brown ink in which the body of the letter is written, and a brown-black ink that Wheelock uses in his postscript.

noteworthy: The letter references the birth of David Fowler’s son. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “skipple” as three pecks; it is a Dutch word that appears from 1685 until 1901 in New England. OED: Stroud is a type of cloth, and stroud blankets often appear as items to trade to Native Americans.


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



Dear Sir
When Mr. Kirtland left me last Spring, he
supposed that I had supplied him sufficiently to
make him and the schoolmasters comfortable 'til
the Fall. A few Weeks after his Arrival Joseph
Johnson
and Jacob Fowler set out for New England,
and arrived as you may see by some late Letters
I wrote you, the Copies of which I have not here
with me. They informed me, that Mr. Kirtland was
like to be shorter of it for Money than he expected.
I was then sick— and determined, as soon as I was
able, to take this Tour, to try to supply him, without
sending home, as I was loth to draw any more Bills
'til I could have Advice from you. But last
Evening David Fowler came to me, fatigued with
a Journey of above 400 Miles on foot,
which he performed in 10 Days, and brings Let­
ters, containing an affecting Account, from Mr.
Kirtland
— (which are too tedious to transcribe) in­
forming me of his distressing circumstances on
Account of the great Scarcity of provisions, or
Famine, in that Country—
In a Letter of the 5th instant he writes—
—"I want the Bosom of a Father beyond
"expression— I am distressed to know what I shall
"do— The present extreme Poverty of these poor
"People cries aloud for the Charity of God's Children—
"Two years ago their Corn was cut off by the frost—
"Last year destroyed by the Vermin— and Worms

"threaten the destruction of one half of the present
"Crop— Many of them for a Month past have
"eat but once a Day, and yet continue to work
"Corn and Wheat at the German Flatts from six
"Shillings to a Dollar a Skipple, (i.e. 3 Pecks)
"and little to be purchased for Love or Money.
"Eight of the poor distressed Creatures set out this
"Morning for the Tuscaroras to buy Corn for their
"hungry Families. They carry each a new stroud
"Blanket, worth twenty Shillings, and tell me they
"expect to get no more than a Skipple of Corn apiece
"What a fine Opportunity is here for the People of
"God to distinguish themselves from the World by expres­
"sions of their Charity at this Juncture towards these
"perishing Creatures. A little of it would ring through
"the Nations, and raise their Esteem of Christianity—
—"From Week to Week I am obliged to go
"eeling with the Indians at Oneida Lake for my
"subsistence. I have lain and slept with them 'til
"I am as lousy as a Dog— feasted and starved with
"them as their Luck depends upon Wind and Weather.—
"If it should be asked, why they don't support me, the
"answer is ready, they can't support themselves.
"They are now half starved. Some of them have no
"more than two Quarts of Corn—
—"David Fowler set out about 12 Days ago for
Fort Stanwix by Way of the Lake for the Sake of
"eeling. His Wife's Hour being somewhat sooner
"than was expected, called for Women's Help— and
"is now hearty, with a stately young Boy in her
"Lap— will probably move from the Lake tomor­

"row to Fort Stanwix, where I expect to support
"her a Month or longer.—
— "I fear my appearing in such a servile
"beggarly Manner, will very much disserve the
"design in View— But I must desist— must
"go down to the Lake for Eels this Day, and return
"tomorrow to hill my Corn and Potatoes. But
"one Thing I may not omit. I shall be distressed for
"£20— the 1st of August, or sell my Cows, and make
"over my horse and Watch—
— "The Indians generally abide by the Agree­
"ment they made last Winter to leave off their Drun­
"kenness in this Town."—
The 13th instant he writes—
—"Through the tender Mercies of God I enjoy
"some degree of Health amidst all my Trou­
"bles and distress, though my Strength begins
"to fail— can't subsist long without Relief—
"I have eat no flesh in my own house for nigh
"8 Weeks. Flour and Milk with a few Eels has
"been my living— Such Diet with my hard
"Labour abroad, don't satisfy Nature— My poor
"People are almost starved to Death. I am grieved
"at the Heart for them. There is one Family con­
sisting of four I must support (after my Fashion)
"till Squashes come on, or they must perish. They
"have had nothing these 10 Days but what I have
"given them, They have only each an old Blanket
"not worth sixpence wherewith to buy anything,

"and begging here at this season would be very poor
business. I would myself be glad of the Opportunity
"to fall upon my Knees for such a Bone as I have
"often seen cast to the Dogs—
—"My leaving the People, and rambling
"so often, very much hurts the design of my mission,
"and gives me so much distress, that I enjoy very
"little Peace— Glad should I be, if it were con­
sistent, to resign my commission— But I had rather
"die than leave these poor Creatures alone in their
"miserable perishing Condition— I beg for God's
"Sake the Gospel may be supported amongst them
"as it ought to be, for a Trial, and the Lord send
"by whom he will— I believe there are two Chris­
"tians, here and hope I have found a third today. Blessed
"be God for this Encouragement. My Heart revives—
"I had a Meeting with the Indians last Evening—
"might tell you some Things very agreeable and encou­
"raging, had I Time. But I am quite beat out—
"have had little or no Sleep these 3 Nights for
"the Gnats and mosquitos— I cannot keep my
"Eye open to write—
"P.S. the 14th— I was never more fatigued in my
"Life than last Evening— David is going down for
"Relief, without which I shall perish soon. My
"Nature is almost broke— My Spirits low— My
"Heart bleeds for these poor miserable Wretches—


David Fowler informs me, that the Oneidas
have laboured more this Year on their Lands
than they ever did before— that just before he
came away they unanimously agreed to help
Mr. Kirtland in hoeing his Corn, Potatoes and
Beans— and performed it well—

July 29th this Day Sent David Fowler away the shortest course to Oneida with £45.4..8. Sterling,, for
Mr. Kirtlands present relief. but apprehend it best that no schoolmasters be Sent back till
their present pressing necessities for Support be Supplied. Who knows what Good God may mercifully
design for them by their present distress.— } I have Sent duplicates of my accounts with many Letters and copies But have had nothing from you
Since march 22— hope to hear before I leave these parts pray dear sir let me hear from
you as soon as may be. pray without ceasing for, dear Sir, yours most heartily [illegible][guess: Brother] Salute in my name most respectfully those worthy
Gentlemen of the Trust with Dr. [illegible][guess: Messrs.] w[illegible] d. Smith William I hope to see this fall—

Letter to Mr. Keen
July. 28. 1767.
from Boston
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.

Keen, Robert

Robert Keen was a London wool merchant and an ardent supporter of George Whitefield, the eminent evangelical. Although it is unclear when Keen and Whitefield first came into contact, by the 1760s Whitefield was writing to Keen frequently. In 1763, Keen, along with Daniel West, was given the task of managing Whitefield’s religious enterprises in London (specifically, his Tottenham Court Chapel and the Tabernacle, another London church), which they continued to do after Whitefield’s death. Keen was also one of the four executors of Whitefield’s affairs in England (along with West and Charles Hardy). As a result of his relationship with Whitefield, Keen was introduced to Occom and Whitaker upon their arrival in February 1766. He was a member of the informal committee that collected donations before October 1766 and provided Occom and Whitaker with advice on their route and strategies. Keen also became a member of the English Trust, the formal organization formed in October 1766 to safeguard donations. As secretary and deputy treasurer of the Trust, Keen played an important role in transmitting accounts and correspondence between the Trust and Wheelock during the tour and the long process of Wheelock’s relocation to New Hampshire. Along with fellow Trust members Samuel Savage and John Thornton, Keen continued to provide financial support to Wheelock after the Trust had been exhausted.

Johnson, Joseph

Joseph Johnson was a Mohegan who studied at Moor’s Indian Charity School and became one of the most important organizers of the Brothertown Movement (a composite tribe composed of Christian members of seven Southern New England Algonquian settlements). He was a prolific writer and his papers are relatively well-preserved. Johnson’s writing is especially noteworthy for his skillful use of Biblical allusion and his awareness of the contradiction that he, as an educated Native American, presented to white colonists. Johnson arrived at Moor’s in 1758, when he was seven years old, and studied there until 1766, when he became David Fowler’s usher at Kanawalohale. He continued teaching in Oneida territory until the end of 1768, when Samuel Kirkland sent him home in disgrace for drunkeness and bad behavior. After a stint teaching at Providence, Rhode Island, and working on a whaling ship, Johnson returned to Mohegan in 1771 and became a zealous Christian. He opened a school at Farmington, CT, in 1772, for which he seems to have received some minimal support from the New England Company. From his base at Farmington, he began organizing Southern New England Algonquians for the Brothertown project. The goal was to purchase land from the Oneidas, the most Christianized of the Six Nations, and form a Christian Indian town incorporating Algonquian and Anglo-American elements. Johnson spent the rest of his short life garnering necessary support and legal clearance for the Brothertown project. Johnson died sometime between June 10, 1776 and May 1777, at 25 or 26 years old, six or seven years before Brothertown was definitively established in 1783. He was married to Tabitha Occom, one of Samson Occom’s daughters. She lived at Mohegan with their children even after Brothertown’s founding, and none of their children settled at Brothertown permanently. Like most of Wheelock’s successful Native American students, Johnson found that he could not satisfy his teacher's contradictory standards for Native Americans. Although Johnson's 1768 dismissal created a hiatus in their relationship, Johnson reopened contact with Wheelock after his re-conversion to a degree that other former students, such as Samson Occom, David Fowler, and Hezekiah Calvin, never did.

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.

Kirkland, Samuel

Samuel Kirkland (b. Kirtland) was Eleazar Wheelock’s most famous Anglo American student. He conducted a 40-year mission to the Oneidas and founded Hamilton College (established in 1793 as Hamilton Oneida Academy). Kirkland won acclaim as a missionary at a young age by conducting an adventurous and risky mission to the Senecas, the westernmost of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Six Nations. After his year and a half among them, which was well publicized by Wheelock, he was ordained and sent as a missionary to the Oneidas under the auspices of the Connecticut Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. He spent most of the rest of his life serving the Oneidas as a minister. Kirkland’s sincere devotion to serving as a missionary was excellent publicity for Wheelock’s program, but it also brought the two men into conflict. Wheelock became jealous of Kirkland when the school’s British benefactors began urging Wheelock to make Kirkland his heir, and Kirkland, meanwhile, was upset that Wheelock had failed to provide him with sufficient supplies on his mission — a complaint that he was unafraid to publicize (and that almost all of Wheelock’s other students shared). The breaking point came in 1770, when Kirkland split from Wheelock’s Connecticut Board and affiliated with the New England Company, a missionary society that had abruptly turned against Wheelock in 1765. Wheelock and Kirkland briefly made up in 1771, but their relationship quickly dissolved into further acrimony. Although Kirkland spent most of his life as a missionary to the Six Nations, he generally held disparaging views of Native Americans. He did not approve of Wheelock’s plan to educate Indians as missionaries, and was haughty towards the Moor’s alumni that worked with him (notably David Fowler, Joseph Johnson, and Joseph Woolley). Prior to the Revolution, Kirkland had been stringent in his refusals to take Oneida land, even when offered to him. The Revolution seems to have shifted his loyalties from the Oneidas to local Anglo Americans. Kirkland served as a chaplain in the American army and was instrumental in convincing the Oneidas to remain neutral (or, more accurately, to side with the Americans). At one point he was the chaplain with General Sullivan’s army, the force sent to ransack Seneca and Cayuga territory in 1779. It is unclear what emotions this aroused in Kirkland, who had served the Senecas less than 15 years earlier, yet after the war, Kirkland freely engaged in Oneida dispossession. Along with James Dean, another Wheelock alumnus with close ties to the Oneidas, Kirkland played a pivotal role in urging the Oneidas to sell land illegally to the state of New York. The land deals that resulted gave Kirkland the property, financial capital, and connections to establish Hamilton Oneida Academy. The last decades of Kirkland’s life were difficult. He found himself in a three-way battle with Samson Occom and John Sergeant Jr., who were also ministers in Oneida territory, for the hearts and minds of their congregations; he was fired as a missionary in 1797, although he continued to serve sans salary; one of his son’s business enterprises failed, leaving Kirkland nearly destitute; and two of his three sons died unexpectedly. Hamilton Oneida Academy, like Moor’s Indian Charity School, largely failed at its goal of educating Indians, and in 1812, four years after Kirkland’s death, it was re-purposed as Hamilton College, a largely Anglo-American institution. At some point in the mid-to-late 18th century, Kirkland changed his name from Kirtland, although the reasons for this are uncertain.

Fowler, David

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.

Fowler, Hannah (née Garrett)

Hannah Fowler (née Garrett) was a Pequot woman who married David Fowler. The Garrett family boasted sachems and interpreters and was influential among the Stonington Pequots. Hannah grew up among the Charlestown Narragansetts, as her parents had affiliated with that tribe (a not-uncommon occurrence, given the close ties between the groups, especially in the realm of Christian spirituality). At Charlestown, Hannah received her basic education and was recruited for Moor’s Indian Charity School. She studied at the school from 1763 until she married David Fowler in 1766. Hannah and David’s marriage is especially noteworthy because it is the only instance where a female Moor’s student married a Native American missionary from Moor’s and joined him on missions — which had been Wheelock’s intent in admitting Native American women in the first place. Hannah assisted David on his mission to Kanawalohale from the time of their marriage in 1766 until his departure for Montauk in 1767. In 1783, the pair moved to Brothertown, where their house was the town center. Both Fowlers proved influential in town affairs, and their children and grandchildren also played a central role in the town’s administration.

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