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Samson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1771 July 24

ms-number: 771424

abstract: Occom notes his disinclination to go into the wilderness, and complains bitterly of having been used as an agent and a curiosity in England to collect money for the college. He points out that there are no Indians at the school at present (except "two or three Mollatoes") and that this confirms his suspicion that Wheelock was scheming all along to use the charity for whites.

paper: Large sheet is folded into four pages. There is repair tape along all the outside edges of paper; otherwise the paper is in good condition.

ink: Ink is very light, yet bleeds heavily through the paper.

noteworthy: The trailer and text added to the left margin of one verso are in Wheelock’s hand.

signature: Letter is signed twice, once in full, once with initials.


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

Rev. Sir
Yours of January 22: I received but
a few Days ago, wherein You Speak of much
Sorrow on my account, I am obliged to you
So far as it is agreeable to god, You Seem to think
that it is a sort of Reproof from God, that I was
Left to Stray, for my Staying at Home so much,
But I don’t think with You, — God would Certain
ly gave me strength Sufficient to go Such Long
journeys, but I haven't been able to Ride far
Now two whole Years, and I have been con‐
fined to my house good Deal this Spring, I am
greatly exercised with my old Pains — As to my pre‐
sent Standing with the Indians, I need not Say
more than this, I am as well, if not better received
by them than ever, if I would only Comply with
their desire, the Indians at Mohegan, groton,
Niantic, Stonington, and even at Charles
in general would put themselves un‐
der my instructions — as to my being
under a mistake about my and Davids going
into the wilderness I am not, I would have gone
up and David too, the Spring after I got Home
from England, but you Said, you had no
money to assist me with, and You yourself dis‐
couraged David from going, — Indeed I have
always declined to remove my Family into
the wilderness, but David would have gone up
to Settle there — had he a proper Encourage‐
ment he would go now — but he will not go
for what you offer — he has Some thoughts of
offering his Service to the Commissioners of Boston to go
into the wilderness, if they would give him £30 lawful
per annum he would go into the wilderness with his Family
to Settle — I am very Jealous that instead of Your semi‐
nary Becoming alma Mater, She will be too alba
mater to Suckle the Tawnies, for She is already a
dorned up too much like the popish Virgin Mary
She’ll be Naturally ashamed to Suckle the Tawnies
for She is already equal in Power Honor and Autho
rity to any College in Europe, I think your
College has too much worldly grandeur for the Poor
Indians they’ll never have much benefit of it, — In
So Saying I Speak the general Sentiment of Indians
and English too in these parts; a. also many of your missi
onaries and schoolmasters and Indian Scholars
Leaving You and Your Service Confirms me in this
opinion, — b Your having So many white Scholars
and So few or no Indian Scholars, gives me great
discouragement — I verily thought once that your
institution was Intended Purely for the poor Indians
with this thought I cheerfully ventured my Body and
Soul, left my Country my poor Young Family
all my Friends and Relations, to Sail over the
boisterous Seas to England, to help forward your
School, Hoping, that it may be a lasting bene‐
fit to my poor tawny Brethren, with this View
I went a Volunteer — I was quite willing to
become a Gazing stock, Yea Even a Laughing
Stock, in Strange Countries to Promote your
cause — we Loudly proclaimed before Multitudes
of People from Place to Place, that there was a
most glorious prospect of Spreading the Gospel
of the Lord Jesus to the furtherest Savage Nations
in the wilderness, through your institution, we told
them that there were So many missionaries and
So many schoolmasters already Sent out, and
a greater Number would Soon follow
a: N.B. none have left me since I got a Charter. b. I have no white Charity Scholars but such as are fitting for a mission
But when we got Home behold all the glory had decayed
and now I am afraid, we Shall be deemed as Liars and
Deceivers in Europe, unless you gather Indians
quickly to your College, in great Numbers and
not to have So many Whites in the Charity, — I under
stand you have no Indians at present except two or
three mulattoes — — this I think is quite Contrary to
the Minds of the Donors, we told them, that we were
begging for poor miserable Indians, — as for my part
I went, purely for the poor Indians, and I Should be as
ready as ever to promote your School according to my
poor Abilities if I could be convinced by ocular demon‐
stration, that your pure Intention is to help, the poor
helpless Indians, but as long as you have no Indians,
I am full of Doubts, — Your writing to Esq. Thornton
to my disadvantage and not one word in my favour,
gave me to think, that your Indian Scholars had
reason to withdraw from You, and Your missio
naries and schoolmasters too, the opinion of many
white People about here is that You have been
scheming altogether, and that it was a policy to
Send me over to England, for (Say they) now
they don’t Care anything about you, You have answered
their Ends, now you may Sink or Swim it is all
one to them, this makes me think of what that
great man of god Said to me, Mr. Whitefield, just
before I left England in the hearing of Some gentlemen —
ah, Says he, You have been a fine Tool to get
Money for them, but when you get home, they
won’t Regard you they will S[illegible][guess: e]t you adrift, —
I am ready to believe it Now — I am going to Say
Some thing further, which is very disagreeable
modesty would forbid me, but I am constrained
So to write, — Many Gentlemen in England
and in this Country too, Say, if you had not this
Indian Bait, you would not Collected a quarter
of the Money you did, one gentleman in Parti
cular in England Said to me, if he hadn’t Seen
my face he wouldn’t have given [illegible][guess: the] ha'pence
but now I have £50 freely — This one consideration
gives me great quietness, I think I went to En‐
with honest Heart, I think I have done
that which I think was my Duty to Do — I might
write more but I have no time, — I wish I
could give you one visit, to have a full talk
but you got so far up, I Shall never be able —
if I am under any mistake, please to enlight
en me, — I am better in Health than I’ve been
and my Family is well through Divine Favour
Please to give my compliments to all under your Care
and Accept Duty from
Your most unworthy

Samson Occom
PS I have not wrote this Sort to any one
in England, I choose to let you know my
mind first
From Mr. Occom
July 23. 1771
Occom, Samson

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.

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.

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.

Thornton, John

John Thornton was born in Yorkshire on April 1, 1720. As a young man, Thornton inherited money from his father Robert Thornton, who was the Director of the Bank of England, which he used to begin his career as a merchant. In 1753, Thornton married Lucy Watson, with whom he had four children. Watson had a Christianizing influence on Thornton, which ultimately led to his 1754 conversion to evangelical Anglicanism under Henry Venn, the curate of Clapham. Thornton's and Venn’s sons would continue their fathers’ religious traditions, going on to form the “Clapham sect,” an influential group of evangelical Christians who championed social reforms. As a result of his conversion, Thornton pursued charity just as much as trade, a major part of which involved managing the English Trust that oversaw the funds Occom and Whitaker collected for Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Thornton met and hosted Occom several times during his stay in England, and eventually became the Treasurer of the Trust. After Wheelock moved the School to Hanover, however, he focused on the establishment of Dartmouth College to educate Anglo-American men as missionaries, and was accused of using the Trust's funds to this end. This shift in focus contributed to the rift that developed between Occom and Wheelock upon Occom’s return to America –- a rift Thornton tried to repair. Thornton thought of Occom as an equal and, in his role as Treasurer of the Trust, often reminded Wheelock of Occom's vital role in securing the funds that made the School possible. Thornton financed Occom's further missionary activities and insured that Wheelock did not forget Occom's hard work and Christian morals. In addition, Wheelock –- who knew that Occom respected Thornton –- often called upon the merchant when he himself could not convince Occom to undertake further missionary activity. The exchanges between Wheelock and Thornton ended once Wheelock had used up the funds that Occom had raised in England, yet Occom and Thornton kept in touch up through the Revolutionary War, with Thornton remaining one of Occom's most prominent supporters. He died on November 7th, 1790 as one of the wealthiest men in England, despite giving away nearly half his salary each year. In 1828, Thornton's role in the establishment of Dartmouth was memorialized in the College's naming of Thornton Hall.

Whitefield, George

George Whitefield, the English itinerant preacher who helped spark the Great Awakening, was an essential supporter of Eleazar Wheelock’s project. Whitefield studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met the pioneers of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. He was ordained in 1736, and he made the first of his seven trips to America two years later. While abroad in 1740, Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia, and went on a preaching tour during which he met Wheelock and spread ideals that prompted the Great Awakening. Although Whitefield was ordained in the Church of England, his enthusiastic preaching style and charismatic personality made him a controversial figure, and traditional clergyman on both sides of the Atlantic censured him. Nonetheless, he continued to be an important contact and friend of Wheelock’s, and his dedication to Wheelock’s vision was evident. He contributed money to the cause, secured various other funders, and donated an eighty-pound prayer bell to the school. More importantly, Whitefield not only suggested to Wheelock the idea of a fundraising tour in Great Britain, he hosted Occom and Whitaker shortly after they arrived in England, provided a house for them to reside in for the remainder of their tour, and introduced the pair to influential figures such as William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth. Whitefield tabernacle’s was the setting of Occom’s first sermon in England on February 16, 1766, and many believe that Whitefield wrote the introduction to a pamphlet printed in London during the campaign (although he was not credited). Whitefield continued to be involved in Wheelock’s work until he died in Newburyport, MA in September of 1770.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1771 July 24
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