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Nathaniel Backus, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1772 October 9

ms-number: 772559.1

abstract: Backus writes regarding business matters, and notes that he has heard that Occom wishes to go on a mission for Wheelock in the Spring.

handwriting: Handwriting is formal and clear. The trailer is in an unknown hand.

paper: Large single sheet has been heavily reinforced, which makes condition difficult to gauge; the paper appears to be in good condition, with light staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Brown-black ink is dimmed slightly by the reinforcement.

noteworthy: An unknown hand, likely 19th-century, has added the note “Occom 2c--” beneath the trailer on one verso; this note has not been included in the transcription.


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



To the Rev. Dr. Eleazar Wheelock,
Sir I received your
favour by Mr. Foster, dated 20th July last, am
much Obliged to you for all favours past; and now
desire this favour that you send me a Bill of exchange
for three Hundred Sterling by the 15th or 20th November
next
, as I am Obliged to make some Remittance
about that time, I shall want Six Months Cre‐
‐dit for the Cashpart, as I have made good pay
for the last Bill, hope you will send me this,
but in case you should not think best to send
the Bill, please to advise me as soon as possible,
that I may look out some Other way. —
I am well Convinced that your affairs stand
much in your favour at Home at this time, any
Services that lies in my power to render to you,
or the School, you may Command, —Mr. Occom
has a mind to go in your service in the Spring
by what I can Learn; and thinks that he can
be of service to help you to Indian Boys for the
School, he has behaved well this Summer past,
but you know him better than I do, — Mr.
Solomon Safford
seems to have a desire to
Engage in your Farming business, there has
been some talk by Capt. Knight, and Mr. Woodward,
with him a few days past, Col. Hezekiah Hunting‐
‐ton
told me that he was sorry to Lose so good a
Member of Society, but that you could not get a
better Man than he was, to be with you, as he
Understands Farming well, and a Sober well
minded Man, and a Man of good sense, — but you
will conduct that Matter as you think best; I
trust that Mr. Woodward has delivered the Bills
sent Mr. Occom, before this time, and given
you an account Why he did not Receive them —
and of a passage in one of my Letters, from one
of the best houses in London

Conclude with Esteem
very Respectfully Sir
Your Most Humble Servant

Nathaniel Backus Jr.
From Capt. Backus
 October 9th 1772.
Backus, Nathaniel

Captain Nathaniel Backus Junior (II) provided Occom with supplies. Like Elijah Backus, he was a member of the prominent Backus family. Although he also had a son named Nathaniel Backus (III), it is more likely that Nathaniel Backus Jr. refers to Nathaniel Backus II, as Nathaniel Backus II regularly went by N. Backus Jr, since he co-existed in Norwich politics with his father, Nathaniel Backus Sr. (I).

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.

Huntington, Hezekiah

Hezekiah Huntington, Eleazar Wheelock’s uncle, was a wealthy merchant and public figure in Norwich, CT. He was very involved in civic and religious affairs: in addition to serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut militia, he was the deacon of the First Congregational Church of Norwich (1737-1773), a member of Connecticut’s Council (1740-1743 and 1748-1773), and a judge on various local and regional courts. He was also a devoted New Light; in fact, the most significant break in his public service (he was not a member of the CT Council between 1743 and 1748) has been attributed Connecticut’s crackdown on evangelical activity in 1742 and 1743. Col. Huntington had a long-lasting relationship with Wheelock. During the Great Awakening, he helped Wheelock find preaching opportunities. He later provided his nephew with mercantile services and personal advice. Col. Huntington died unexpectedly in 1773, while sitting in court in New London.

Safford, Solomon
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.

Woodward, Bezaleel

Bezaleel Woodward was an integral figure at Dartmouth College and the greater Hanover community; and like that of Eleazar Wheelock, Woodward’s career consisted of a blend of education, religion, and local affairs. After attending Moor’s and graduating from Yale in 1764, he became a preacher. Upon his return to Lebanon in late 1766, he began to hold various positions at Moor’s and became the first tutor of college department in 1768. Woodward later was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Dartmouth College, as well as a member and clerk of the Board of Trustees. In 1772, he solidified his connection to Wheelock even further by marrying Wheelock’s daughter, Mary. Woodward also held numerous titles outside of the school. He was an elder of the Presbytery and attained multiple appointments in the local court system. A natural leader, Woodward was an influential member and clerk of several committees, representing both Hanover and the Dresden college district. He was thus a leading figure in the Western Rebellion, promoting several towns’ secession from New Hampshire and union with Vermont. Although Woodward resigned from his professorship in 1778, supposedly disassociating himself from Dartmouth while he engaged in politics, it was merely a formality. Upon Wheelock’s death, Woodward acted as president of the college from April to October 1779. Woodward continued to perform many of the executive tasks even after Wheelock’s son and successor, John Wheelock, took over the position, and also held the late Wheelock’s post of treasurer. Claiming to be finished with politics, he officially returned to Dartmouth as tutor in 1782, and performed the president’s duties while Wheelock was abroad in 1782 and 1783. Nonetheless, Woodward continued to participate in local affairs — in 1783 he unsuccessfully attempted to have the New Hampshire General Assembly approve Dresden’s status as a separate town; and in 1786, he became the county treasurer and register of deeds. Woodward remained a prominent figure at Dartmouth and the surrounding area throughout his life. He was, for instance, involved in the construction of Dartmouth Hall in 1784, and was part of the committee formed in 1788 to regulate the contested use of the fund raised by Occom and Whitaker in Great Britain for Moor’s. Woodward died August 25, 1804, at the age of 59.

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