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Joseph Johnson, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1768 February 10

ms-number: 768160

abstract: Johnson writes to Wheelock about his life among the Oneidas and the progress of his school. He notes that Kirkland is very ill.

handwriting: Johnson's hand is small yet clear and legible.

paper: Large single sheet is in fair condition, with moderate-to-heavy staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Brown-black.

noteworthy: An unknown, likely 19th-century, hand has added the note “Ind. mis.” to the bottom of one recto; this note has not been transcribed.


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


Rev. and much Honoured Dr.
I would once more attempt to write a few lines to you my kind
and honoured Benefactor as it is not only your Order, but my indispensable
Duty to write you at every opportunity this being the third attempt, that
I have made Since I left your house (first by David, next William,
David passed by, William came back) but have had the misfortune
of Seeing them both, yet this once more will I try peradventure it
may reach you; in which I Shall Endeavour to acquaint you of the State
of my School, and of the Indians; and Little of the manner in which
I live at present. Sir I have had By the goodness of God my health
as usual; and would hope that you have had your much Valuble
health allowed you. Sir, I have lived very well the fore part of the
Winter, but the Latter begins to come on hard. Sometimes Glutted
to the full at other times half starved never Steady, at present
they now begin to cook Some good dried Guts of deer and what is
in it. (Dung if I may So call it.) to season the corn; likewise Some
rotten fish which they have kept Since last fall to season their
Samps, rottener the better they Say as it will season more broth.
corn they have plenty yet, but nothing to season it. Little calf
Died for hunger was Soon quartered and boiled and Eat the other day
in this house, also Some hens dying of Some distemper was
Served pretty much the Same trick but not quite So quick.
I have Lived entirely upon the affair of the Indians this Winter
Such times Excepted as when I was at Mr. Kirtlands—
The Indians are very much Engaged at present and have given
me 14 children, this is Since I wrote you last and have shown
their respects to the design as I suppose Mr. Kirtland will
Acquaint you to the full. Mr. Kirtland had proposed I Should
come down the Next week but the headmen requested that
I Should Stay with them longer to which I agreed with the cheerful
heart to See them So much Engaged.
Kind Sir, I would inform you that Mr. Kirtland is
very Sick I fear unto Death this being the 10th Day Since
he has been Sick he has been most of the time confined to his bed
and is entirely indisposed for any manner of business whatever.
I would also inform you that I keep Singing School every
Evening very full meetings. two of my Scholars are married
­men, one is Old Enough for my father. they all Learn very
fast both Singing and Reading. I dont know Sir, when
I Shall come home the great men give me leave to go in the
Spring. the Small-pox is very Brief in Albany and
Schenectady, vast numbers have died out of both places.
also; beasts, they have a distemper and die daily both horses
and cows, the distemper is almost got up here. —
The Indian horses fare very hard this Winter, I have Seen where they
have gnawed little Elm trees to Eat the bark thereof, the Indians have
given Mr Kirtland Some corn for his creatures from both places.
Mr. Kirtland preached twice here before his sickness came on, and
proposed to come down again but the Self Same week he was —
taken Sick. Thomas carries on amongst us now Sabbath Days.
Mr. Dodge informs me that he opened a school about one week he Says
he kept it before Mr. Kirtland was Sick and was obliged to break up —
William kept it Some time afterwards last Monday I went in to
See the School and Saw vast number of children in it almost [illegible][guess: 30]
lacking very few, it Seemed as if with pleasure I could wait on Such
Number. then I turned my mind and thoughts of my little number
I had at Oneida. yet I think I cant think to have them few as
they be. So long as they Seem to be Engaged.
I have nothing more to acquaint you of at present only I want to
hear from you my ever honoured Benefactor as I have not heard any
thing from you Since I came from your house.
So Rev. Sir, I desire Still to be under your direction and advice at all
times, as I am not yet capable of managing myself So I would
not undertake any thing without your kind advice and approbation.
Please to Remember me Still in your prayers; that God would
keep me humble and fill my heart with Gratitude both to Him
and to Man. that I may put my whole trust in him both fo[gap: tear][guess: r]
Time and Eternity, for in him alone can I be safe amidst ten thousa
nd Malicious darts of the Devil. So I would remain your
faithful and Obedient pupil, and good for nothing not quite
Old Indian.
Joseph Johnson.
Oneida. february 10th 1768.
PS. this Letter if I may So call it was
wrote in haste I dont know as if you
can make out to read it if you can I
Should be Exceeding glad, not only in
haste but under many disadvantages.

From Joseph Johnson
February 10. 1768
To— the Rev. Dr. Wheelock.
in
New England.

a Grand mistake or rather great mistake, a Letter
turned upside down. as I was reading it over I took notice
of it not before.—
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.

William

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.

Thomas

Thomas was an essential figure in Oneida Christianity and an important ally for Samuel Kirkland. While it is unclear when he converted to Christianity, by the 1750s he was preaching and leading services at Kanawalohale. By all accounts, he was a compelling speaker and talented at rendering Christian theology in terms compatible with Oneida cosmology. Thomas was instrumental in supporting Kirkland's mission: he often protected the Anglo-American missionary and helped him translate his ideas more effectively. Thomas also played an important role in the history of Moor's. His daughter, Hannah, was a student there, and in July 1768 he visited her. He returned the following January to pull her out of school following her mother's death, and he took the remaining five Oneida children with him. Later statements by Oneida chiefs (reported to Kirkland and David Avery) made clear that a large part of the Oneidas' reason for withdrawing their children was Wheelock's harsh discipline. Thomas was also present for Ralph Wheelock's 1768 outburst at Onaquaga, and was Avery's 1772 source for what had taken place there. Despite his disagreements with Wheelock, Thomas continued to support Kirkland's mission. Thomas was killed by British troops in 1779 while on a diplomatic visit to the Mohawks at Kahnawake (a site across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal). His murder gave the Oneidas yet another reason to side with the colonists during the Revolution.

Dodge, Phineas

Phineas Dodge was an Anglo-American charity scholar at Moor’s Indian Charity School who served Samuel Kirkland as a schoolmaster at Kanawalohale twice, in 1767/8 and again in 1771. Phineas was the youngest son of Amos Dodge, a carpenter in Windham, CT. As was the case for other charity scholars, Moor’s afforded Dodge with an education he likely could not have accessed otherwise. While many of Dodge’s classmates attended Yale, Dodge himself did not, though it is unclear why. Dodge was sent to Oneida in 1767 to replace David Fowler as schoolmaster at Kanawalohale, but returned that spring as both he and Samuel Kirkland, the missionary in charge, were ill. He did not work for Wheelock again. However, he stayed in close contact with Kirkland, and served as his schoolmaster in 1771. Again, his health cut his mission short, and he retired from missionary service to keep school in Windham, CT, until his death in 1773. Dodge seems to have been exceptionally religious: his letters to Kirkland are predominantly abstract and religious in nature, with local news thrown in and little personal information.

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.

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