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Joseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1767 November 10

ms-number: 767610

abstract: Johnson writes to Wheelock about his safe arrival in Oneida, the state of his life and school there, and about two young boys who could, in time, be likely pupils for the charity school.

handwriting: Handwriting is small and tightly spaced, but formal and legible.

paper: Large sheet folded vertically to form four pages is in good condition, with light-to-moderate creasing, yellowing and wear. Significant portions of the seal remain, and tearing around the seal results in no loss of text.

ink: Brown ink has sustained some fading.

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

Rev. and Honoured Doctor

Suffer me as an Indian and a good
for nothing one, to Subscribe myself your dutiful Pupil, or one
that will Endeavour to be dutiful, for time to come;
Rev. Sir, by the mere goodness of God we arrived Safe up here
the Eleventh day from your house; and Experienced much of the good
ness of God, in many instances; Praised be his Name that he has all things
at his Command, and distempers at his beck, they go and come at his
pleasure. Blessed be the Lord God that has carried us safe
when the Arrows of Death were flying thick about us, he worked
a wonderful deliverance for our Bodies, and may it please him in
Infinite Mercy and condescension to work much more wonderful
deliverance to my precious Soul. and may the Lord Enable me to give
due thanks for his kind preservation, and may his goodness lead
me to a hearty Repentance. and may he please to fill my heart brim
ful of Gratitude to him and my kind Benefactors, I feel a disposition
and a heart to Spend all for God and to Enlarge the dear Redeemers
Kingdom in the world, as far as lies in my power. I think I have no
reason to take it hard to Endure hardships. Since our Blessed Lord
Jesus has been before me he has led the way; He was acquainted
with all these hardships before me; he was no Stranger to Hunger,
Thirst, cold, nor yet Temptations, as he was man. yea may I not think
it hard if he call for my Life in his cause, to let it go freely; for it is no
more than he did, and may I go through all these Trials with ease for
his Sake: Seeing he has led the way Set a pattern for all those that
will follow him, he has been pleased to tell us beforehand of these things
he was reviled, here he Sought a glorious Example of humiliation that
when he was reviled he reviled not again, he was persecuted for my Sins
thereby to learn me that I must in like manner go through persecu­
­tions, and that I must not think it hard to be persecuted called to naught
for his Names Sake, for he was persecuted for my Sins Sake.
He Spilled his Sacred Blood for me he groaned out his Life for
my wickedness, he had no Self-Glory in his Sufferings; all he had
in view was the Salvation of Man — that Guilty man might be
Reconciled to its maker: now through his death and Sufferings
the apostate Man may converse with its Creator. through a —
Mediator. He has dearly purchased a Heaven of happiness
for every one that will believe in him. only believing heaven is mine
Eternal happiness is mine, Christ is mine, nay all the happiness in
in this Life and the Life to come is all mine only for receiving.
Rev. Doctor I would inform you that that by the goodness of God
I Enjoy my health as usual.
as Sir, I would fain hope that by the Same goodness you Enjoy yours,
I would inform you likewise that I have entered the School
which your Son Opened for me when he was up here.
I Entered on the second Tuesday of November. had only 5 Scholars
they are all absent yet and perhaps will not return long before
New Year. But they promise me three more this week, who are gone
only to fetch Some flesh from the Hunters. they behave very kind
to me Since I came here, all that they have is free to me as one Born
and brought up in the house.
I have plenty of Victuals Such as they can afford, and they are good
Enough, better than I deserve, Nothing wanting but a thankful
heart, they have plenty of Corn, fish, squashes at present.
I have nothing that is Strange to inform you in this Letter, you
Said Something to me about choosing a Lad out of my School
and Send him down to you, I think at present there is no choice
I am not able to discern their genius, here is two very likely boys
look as if they would make men (in time) are about 12 or 13 years of Age
I cant tell which of them is best, (they are both branches of the royal family
In their Nation and town) perhaps in the Spring I Shall be more
able to distinguish them, when I have Seen what Proficiency they
make. no more at present only Honoured Sir, I desire Still to be under thy
Direction, please Sir, to Remember me in thy prayers, Pray that God
would fill my heart with Gratitude both to him and my Kind Bene
­factors. — that he would keep me from pride and Ingratitude; which
has ruined many a youth. pray that he would grant me Prudence;
and that I may put my whole trust in him both Soul and body.
for time and Eternity, that he may Enable me to live above the World, as,
not having my treasure on Earth, but in the heavens, where neither
moth nor rust corrupteth; nor thieves break through and Steal.
Pray that he would grant me wisdom from on high, Such as none
but a God can give; that he would grant me wisdom So to behave
myself as not to dishonour or bring disgrace to Religion. that he would
make one a blessing to the Children which he has committed to my charge.
This is the true and Sincere, hearty desire, of me, thy dutiful though
Unworthy Pupil.
Joseph Johnson.
Blank page.
From Joseph Johnson Oneida
November 10th 1767

To —
The Rev. Mr. Eleazar Wheelock. Doctor Divinity
Minister of the Gospel of Christ at Lebanon.
New England. —
Connecticut. —

Per favour of }
William }
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.

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.

Wheelock, Rodulphus

Ralph Rodulphus Wheelock was Wheelock's oldest son and heir apparent. While Wheelock believed that Ralph showed great aptitude for the "Indian business," others saw Ralph as arrogant and abrasive. He also suffered from epilepsy, which seriously impeded his ability to work. He died in Hanover as an invalid under almost constant care and guardianship. Wheelock's struggle to accept his son's illness and his son's struggle to overcome it provide an undercurrent for some of the stranger events in the history of Moor's Indian Charity School and Dartmouth College. Ralph grew up surrounded by and dedicated to Indian education, but also with an inflated sense of Wheelock's, and his own, importance, which stayed with him for much of his life. Joseph Brant recounts a telling anecdote: Ralph once ordered William Major, Sir William Johnson's son, to saddle his horse on the grounds that he was the son of a gentleman and William Major was not. Ralph was unable to finish coursework at the College of New Jersey, which he attended from 1761-1763, although he graduated from Yale in 1765. He made three tours of the Six Nations (in 1766, 1767, and 1768), assisting ministers in bringing back children and negotiating with tribes. He taught at Moor's for two years, and was briefly considered as a companion for Occom on the Fundraising Tour. Wheelock formally named him as his heir in the 1768 draft of his will. However, Wheelock's reliance on Ralph brought disastrous consequences for the school. In the spring of 1768, Wheelock sent Ralph to the Onondagas and Oneidas to negotiate about schoolmasters and missionaries. Once there, Ralph managed to offend the assembled chiefs beyond repair. Ralph blamed his failure on Kirkland, and it was not until 1772 that Wheelock learned the truth of the matter. It is likely that Ralph's conduct influenced the Oneidas' decision to pull their children out of Moor's later in 1768: Wheelock himself implied as much in his 1771 Journal. By the early 1770s, Wheelock had realized that Ralph was never going to take over Dartmouth College. In a later will, Wheelock provided Ralph with £50 per annum for his care, to be paid out by the College, and stipulated that his other heirs should look after his oldest son. Because Ralph was unable to serve as Wheelock's heir, the presidency of the College passed to John Wheelock, a soldier who had no theological training or desire to run a college.


William Oneida was the son of the Oneida preacher Deacon Thomas. He attended Moor’s briefly between November 1767 (when he left Kanawalohale) and November 1768, when he accompanied his sister Hannah Hail back to Kanawalohale. William Oneida does not seem to have returned after his visit home. In Wheelock’s estimation, he learned no English while at Moor’s, and the following January his father withdrew the remaining Oneida children from the school.

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