abstract: The commissioners of the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent in America refuse to send Wheelock a copy of the letter he requested because they do not credit his account of Occom’s education. They also admonish Wheelock for luring away one of the Company's interpreters.
handwriting: Formal handwriting is bold, clear and legible.
paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in fair condition, with moderate staining, creasing and wear that results in a minor loss of text.
signature: The signature is abbreviated.
noteworthy: The letter is signed by Andrew Oliver on behalf of the Company.
events: Occom’s Ordination, Occom leaves his studies
Modernized Version -- deletions removed; additions added in; modern spelling and capitalization added; unfamiliar abbreviations expanded.
of Commissioners your letter of the 10 August desiring a
Copy of ours to Mr. Mauduit, Governor of the Company
in England of 2nd October 1765. We have no Objection to your
having a Copy, but as the Letter was wrote to our consti‐
tuents and is now in their hands, we think there is an
impropriety in our delivering out a Copy of it. Mr. Oliver
informs us that he read it to you, and both he and
Mr. Pemberton (with whom you conversed on the Subject)
inform Us, that your exceptions to it all relate to mere
circumstances; For we apprehend it to be quite immaterial
whether Mr. Occom was put under your Care at first,
by some well disposed persons, or by his Mother only.
Whether he was ordained on Long Island, or on this side
the Sound in Connecticut: Or Whether the weakness of
his Eyes came upon him while actually under your
education, or after he came out from it? The main thing,
and the only thing of any importance in the Letter is —
Whether "he was a Mohawk Indian lately converted from
Heathenism, and in a short space of time fitted for the
Ministry by Mr. Wheelock"? We did undertake to inform
our Constituents that he was not a Mohawk, but "that
he was born at Mohegan an Indian Settlement lying be=
=tween New London and Norwich, two of the principal Towns
in the Colony of Connecticut"; and in this We think we
youth was spent there (though we said nothing of this in
the Letter) and if so, We think it highly improbable that
he should have lived in a state of heathenism, while
Lecturers and Schoolmasters were then supported among
them. And as you say his Mother brought him to you for
Education, this renders it highly probable that she knew
something of Christianity herself, and was so far "well dis=
=posed" as in some poor manner to have informed her son
of the Saviours name at least; and that he must therefore
be mistaken in giving out, as you say he did, that he
had never so much as heard it till he was 17 years of Age.
But we shall add no more on this head— We cannot
however help taking notice to you of a Fact which has
but this day come to our knowledge — which is this — that
after we have been at the expense of fitting James
Dean for an Interpreter to the Western Indians,
and have now actually employed him as Such in our
Service, You should attempt to take him away from us,
by promising to take him into your School, and to give
him a liberal Education. We thought We had before
given him an ample allowance; but we cannot now
retain him in our Service without greatly augment=
ing it: So that instead of drawing together with Us in our
Schemes for propagating the Gospel, you seem to be
rendering it more difficult, at least more expensive
in hand with you in this great and important Cause, had
you ever shown the least inclination to have allowed Us
a share in the conduct of it: We shall however rejoice
in your success, without envying you the honour or
the Satisfaction of advancing the interests of Christianity
more effectually, than they ever have been advanced
under our Management.
of Commissioners and am
Your most humble Servant
in the Name of the Board.
September 3. 1767—
Mr. Eleazar Wheelock
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.
Jasper Mauduit was born in London, England, and served as Agent in London for the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1762 to 1765. Englishmen appointed as agents in the 18th century were often merchants with trading interests in America. In this capacity, Mauduit represented the interests of the colony to the British government and was the complement of the colony's royal governor. Agents also solicited royal approval of enactments passed by colonial legislatures, were a source of information, and represented colonial interests in British courts. Mauduit then served as Governor of the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent in America (New England Company), a powerful missionary society active in the colonies from 1649-1786 that supported a range of efforts, including the missionary work of Wheelock's alumnus Samuel Kirkland, as well as Occom's education at Moor's and his salary during his time with the Montauks on Long Island. In his capacity as governor, Mauduit received a controversial letter on October 2, 1765 from the Boston Commissioners of the Company, signed by Andrew Oliver, that downplayed Wheelock’s role in Occom’s conversion and education. Wheelock pushed back against these claims, writing to many correspondents about the situation, though we do not have a record of Mauduit's position. In response to this controversy, Occom wrote his short Narrative to verify the facts of his life and conversion.
Ebenezer Pemberton was a New Light minister who wrote the infamous "Oliver letter" to try to discredit Samson Occom during the latter's 1765 fundraising tour. He also opposed Wheelock's efforts to obtain funding from the Massachusetts Assembly. After graduating from Harvard in 1721, Pemberton served a five-year stint as chaplain at Boston's Castle William (Fort Independence). In 1726, First Presbyterian Church in New York hired him, although they allowed him to be ordained Congregationalist in Boston. Pemberton served First Presbyterian until 1753, when battles within the Presbyterian Church drove him out. He is noteworthy as the only minister in New York who welcomed George Whitefield, transatlantic superstar of the First Great Awakening, into his pulpit. While in New York, Pemberton was a member of the New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. This board hired several missionaries, including David Brainerd, John Brainerd, and Azariah Horton, and established the College of New Jersey (which awarded Pemberton an honorary D.D. in 1770). Pemberton also preached at the ordination of John Brainerd, a Presbyterian minister with whom Wheelock worked closely. After the fissure in his congregation, Pemberton returned to the comforts of Congregationalism in Boston at the Old North Church (also known as the New Brick Church, and not the same Old North Church connected to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere). Pemberton joined the New England Company once he reached Boston. Along with other New England Company board members, he discouraged Occom's fundraising tour. He was also the author of the 1765 letter attempting to discredit Occom and Wheelock. Pemberton opposed Wheelock's efforts to secure money from the Massachusetts Assembly on at least two occasions, once in 1762 and once in 1766. After Andrew Oliver retired from the New England Company around 1770, Pemberton took over as de facto secretary. The Revolution forced Pemberton to give up his pulpit. He was a Tory, and Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts was a loyal member of his Boston congregation. The rest of the congregation was not pleased by Pemberton's politics. From February 1774 on, Pemberton was more or less in early retirement, and he died a few years later. Pemberton should not be confused with 1) his father, Ebenezer Pemberton Sr., who was minister at the Boston Old South Church, or 2) Israel Pemberton, a wealthy Philadelphia businessman who gave money to Moor's.
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.
Sarah Occom was Samson Occom's mother. There is some evidence that she was a member of the Groton Pequots, a remnant of the once powerful Pequot Tribe that was decimated by the war with the Puritans in 1636-37. (The Pequots and Mohegans were once a unified people until the Mohegan chief Uncas and a band of followers split off after a dispute with Sassacus, who became sachem of the Pequots.) One genealogy gives Sarah's birthdate as 1694, her maiden name as Wauby Sampson, her father as Sabientouset II (known as General Samson) and her mother as Hannah Wequot Uncas, of the line of the Mohegan's first sachem. Sarah married Joshua Occom (or Tomockham), a Mohegan, and they may have had up to five children: Joshua Jr., Samson, Jonathan, Lucy, and Sarah. In Samson's "Short Narrative" of his life, he notes that his parents "led a wandering Life up and down in the Wilderness" around Uncas Hill. Sarah was an early convert to Christianity during the revivals that swept the area, and Occom recounts that when he told her he wanted education in order to serve his Tribe, she went to Wheelock in nearby Lebanon, CT, because she heard "he had a Number of English youth under his Tuition," to request he take in her son. By 1743, Sarah was a widow, and Samson continued to visit and stay at his mother's house in Mohegan through the 1760s, though one source gives her death as 1782.
James Dean, an adopted member of the Oneida tribe, was an interpreter and American government agent. When he was nine years old, his parents sent him to live with the Oneidas at Onaquaga; they may have thought that interpreting would be a secure career, or they may have acted out of a missionary impulse. Dean lived at Onaquaga for four or five years and was formally adopted by the Oneidas. He may have lived at Good Peter's house. Dean learned an array of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Indian languages. In 1762, Rev. Forbes retrieved Dean on a mission to Onaquaga under the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. After that Society folded, the New England Company educated Dean and employed him as a missionary. Naturally, Wheelock coveted the services of this Anglo-American boy who was fluent in multiple Indian languages. Dean was also interested in working for Wheelock because he wanted a college education, which the New England Company was not going to provide. Thus, Dean became yet another point of contention between Wheelock and the New England Company: the New England Company's Boston Board accused Wheelock of trying to poach their best interpreter, while Wheelock maintained that it was Dean who was pursuing him. Dean finally joined Dartmouth College in November of 1769; as Chase points out, by this time Wheelock's relations with the Boston Board were irreparable and he had nothing to lose by accepting Dean as a student. Dean graduated from Dartmouth in 1773 and served Wheelock for the next two years. He worked primarily with Abenakis in Canada and the Oneidas, and was often paired with Kirkland. In August of 1775, Wheelock gave Dean his blessing to leave the missionary service and work as an interpreter and Indian agent for the Continental Army. Dean interpreted at several important conferences and, along with Kirkland, was instrumental in convincing the Oneidas to side with the colonies during the Revolution. After the war, Dean continued to work as a liaison between Indian tribes and American governments, especially between the Oneidas and the New York Government. Although one might expect Dean to have protected his adoptive tribe's interests, he did not. Dean was heavily involved in land speculation, and did not see a cooperative future between Indians and Anglo-Americans. He helped New York State acquire massive amounts of Oneida land, and amassed substantial territory for himself in the process. While Dean did not help the Oneidas hold on to their land, he did make some efforts to defend Oneida sovereignty from New York intervention. Dean farmed his land and turned it into the settlement of Westmoreland. He was a prominent citizen in Central New York: he served as a judge and assemblyman and played an important role in establishing the region's trade lines. Occom refers to visiting Dean several times in his later diaries.