Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
Samson Occom, letter, to Susanna Wheatley, 1773 September 21

ms-number: 773521

abstract: Occom writes that he preached at Natick after leaving Boston, and thereafter turned down a number of requests to stop along his way home and deliver more sermons. He also met with Sir William Johnson at Fishers Island.

handwriting: Hand is clear and legible, with some deletions and additions.

paper: Paper is heavily reinforced, which makes it difficult to determine exact condition, yet there appears to be only light creasing, staining and wear. A small tear results in minor loss of text

ink: Dark brown-black

noteworthy: Occom mentions Phillis Wheatley, the slave poet. At the bottom of one verso an illegible word or words is written upside-down, and is cut off. The identities of "your other sister," "Little Miss," and "child" -- all mentioned in the closing salutation -- are uncertain and so they have been left untagged.


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


Most kind Madam
I have been constantly upon a
go Since I got home from Boston, I have missed
two opportunities Since a gentleman from Boston
called on me one Morning, I forgot to ask his name
he stayed but 3 or 4 minutes, I Sent a verbal
message by him, to let you know we were well
and I heard this week, you was very low last
week, — Tuesday after I left Boston — I preached at
Natick in the fore noon to a large auditory, for
a Short-Notice, the Indians there, are almost
extinct, — as Soon as meeting was over I went
on my way, and was desired to Stop
to Preach in many Places by the way and I
might have stayed by the way Preaching to
this Day, but I complied with none, — and a
Thursday about noon I reached
Home, and through the goodness of god I found
my Family in Good State of Health, and
the Same goodness we are well to this Hour, and
it is a Time of Health in our Place, — my visi[gap: tear][guess: t]
ors Continue as thick as ever, I expect[illegible] a great
Company of Indians this week from Several
Tribes, — I waited on Sir William Johnson the week
before last, at Fishers Island, and he appears
very Friendly , — I have Some Thoughts
of Taking a Tour to visit the Indians in the
wilderness this fall, if my Health will permit
the Lord Support you under your great afflictions and
bless these Troubles for your Eternal good, — and the
Lord remember your great kindness to me and mine

and reward you a thousand fold in Eternal
rewards — I want much to hear from your Dear
Son
and Phillis, — I hope in god, we Shall meet
in a better World than this, where all Sin and Sor-
row Shall forever cease — I return you once more
most Hearty and Sincere thanks for all the Favours
you have Shown and conferred upon me and mine,
please to remember me to Dear Mr. Wheatley and your
Dear sister Mitchel, to your other sister, to Miss Amey, and
to the Little Miss, and Servants, — My Wife and child Join
me in Grateful respect to you — I am most kind
Madam,

Your most obliged and very
 humble servant

Samson Occom
September 21: 1773

[illegible]

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.

Wheatley, Susanna

Susanna Wheatley was the mistress of Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became famous as the as poet and the first African-American woman to be published. In 1741, Wheatley married John Wheatley, a prosperous tailor, merchant, moneylender and constable of Boston. In 1761 John purchased a young African girl who had been kidnapped from West Africa to be Susanna's servant. They named her Phillis, after the ship that transported her. As active Congregationalists, they felt it their duty to teach the girl to read the Bible. Phillis showed uncommon aptitude and was soon reading Greek and Latin as well as English. Susanna Wheatley was engaged in missionary work through correspondence (her correspondence with Occom dates from 1765), financial donations, and entertaining guests, including Presbyterian and Anglican Methodist missionaries who stayed in the Wheatley house in Boston. Phillis was allowed to mix freely with political, religious, and socially prominent guests. When she began writing poetry, often dedicated to Susanna's extended family and influential acquaintances, Susanna encouraged and promoted her through a series of drawing room performances. Not able to find a publisher in Boston, Susanna sent Phillis to England with the Wheatley son Nathaniel, where, through her connections to the evangelical George Whitefield, Phillis met Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who became her patron, and helped publish her collection of verse in 1773. When Susanna Wheatley died in 1774 after a long illness, Phillis wrote to John Thornton, the English philanthropist and treasurer of the Trust for Wheelock's Indian School, "By the great loss I have sustain'd of my best friend, I feel like One forsaken by her parent in a desolate Wilderness." Although critics debate Phillis' status in the Wheatley home, in a letter to her friend Obour Tanner, Phillis thanked Susanna Wheatley for adopting her and treating her "more like her child than her servant."

Johnson, William

Sir William Johnson was a powerful British colonial official who amassed wealth and influence by integrating into the Mohawk tribe. For a brief window of time (1761-1768), he provided support for Wheelock’s missionary efforts among the Six Nations. He also helped the Brothertown Nation of Indians procure land from the Oneidas. Johnson was born in Ireland in 1715. His family had been part of the Catholic elite, but after William of Orange’s 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne, they at least nominally converted to the Episcopalian Church. In 1738, Johnson emigrated to America to manage his uncle Peter Warren’s estate in Mohawk territory. Over the next decade, Johnson became wealthy in his own right through trade and land sales, acquiring a vast estate crowned by his manor house, Johnson Hall, which became the central location for British and Indian treaty making. In 1745, Johnson began collecting official British titles and positions. He played an important military role in the French and Indian War and was named Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1756 and first baronet of New York in 1757. Much of Johnson’s success was due to his influence among the Mohawks, which he obtained by learning their language and customs and integrating himself into their society. He participated in Mohawk rituals and entered into a common-law marriage with a powerful Mohawk woman, Molly Brant (also called Mary Brant). Because Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) society is matrilineal, this marriage was an essential element of his participation in Indian affairs. Wheelock desperately wanted to wield missionary influence among the Six Nations, and sought to obtain Johnson as an ally in his endeavors. At first, the two found grounds for cooperation. Wheelock sent Occom as a missionary to the Oneidas in 1761 and again in 1762, and sent a substantially larger group of missionaries and schoolmasters in 1765, 1766, and 1767. Johnson, meanwhile, encouraged Haudenosaunee children, including his brother-in-law Joseph Brant, to attend Moor’s. Johnson’s support proved indispensible to missionaries in the field; he helped with supplies, language skills, and relations with the Mohawks and Oneidas. Wheelock also valued Johnson for his influence in Britain, and drew on him for recommendations and public statements of support numerous times. From 1763 on, however, Johnson found himself decidedly uncomfortable with Wheelock’s missionary efforts, and by 1769, their relationship had dissolved completely. In 1766, Johnson was invited to join the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), the largest and most influential Anglican missionary society in the 18th-century British-Atlantic world. He began working to place Anglican missionaries, rather than Congregationalist and Presbyterian ones, among the Six Nations, which alarmed Wheelock. Johnson was generally supportive of Native American tribes’ efforts to maintain their land and sovereignty. As the historian Linford Fisher has noted, “virtually every major Native group in southeastern New England successfully petitioned Johnson to act on their behalf during the late 1760s and early 1770s.” Among these groups was the Brothertown Nation, a Christian composite tribe formed by Southern New England Algonquian Moor’s alumni. Johnson helped them negotiate with the Oneidas, which proved essential to their successful land purchase and relocation to central New York.

Wheatley, Nathaniel

Nathaniel, with his twin Mary (1743-1778), were the only surviving children of John and Susanna Wheatley, wealthy Bostonians and prominent figures in New Light evangelical circles. In 1761, John Wheatley purchased a slave girl as servant for his wife, whom they named Phillis and made part of their family. Nathaniel and Mary helped tutor Phillis, who became a noted prodigy and poet of the time and is the first African-American woman to be published. By 1764, Nathaniel was managing his father's business interests. In 1770, he became one of 12 Clerks of the Market, which regulated Boston's commerce. Critics suspect that he is the author of the Letter of authenticity, signed by John Wheatley and circulated in Boston that prefaces Phillis's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" published in London in 1773. That year, Nathaniel accompanied Phillis on her voyage to London to seek support for her poetry; he stayed behind to marry Mary Enderby, the daughter of one of his English business associates. The couple was among many Bostonians who fled the town to avoid the British occupation in 1775, settling in Providence, RI. Travelling back and forth to England, Wheatley was captured by a British warship in December 1777. He died in Boston in 1783.

Wheatley, Phillis

Phillis Wheatley is the first African-American woman to publish her writing. Born in West Africa around 1753, she was brought to America as a slave when she was eight. She was purchased by John Wheatley, a Boston merchant, as a servant for his wife, Susanna; they named her Phillis after the ship that transported her. The Wheatley children tutored Phillis, who was an avid student and quickly learned to read Greek and Latin classics as well as the Bible. Recognizing her abilities, the Wheatley family curtailed Wheatley's household duties and encouraged her reading. The Wheatleys supported the Revolutionary cause, as well as the same evangelical and missionary movements as Wheelock. Wheatley began writing elegies, occasional poems, and poems with religious and political themes in the Augustan style, several addressed to famous men of the time, which brought her acclaim. In 1770, she wrote a tribute to the English evangelical preacher George Whitefield, and in 1775 she wrote "To his Excellency George Washington," then general of the Continental Army, which solicited an invitation to visit him in Cambridge. Occom corresponded with Susanna Wheatley, who supported his activities, and from those letters we know that Wheatley and Occom also corresponded, as early as 1765. The only surviving letter of that correspondence, which was reprinted in several New England newspapers, is by Wheatley and dated February 11, 1774, in which she deplores the practice of slavery and points out the hypocrisy of Americans’ demands for freedom. Despite her renown, Bostonians doubted that a young slave girl could write poetry, and in 1772, the Wheatleys invited a group of illustrious men to "examine" Phillis, including Reverend Charles Chauncy, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, the Royal governor of Massachusetts, and his lieutenant governor, Andrew Oliver, who was also treasurer of the Boston Board of the New England Company, which funded some of Wheelock's endeavors. Not finding a publisher, she traveled to England where she was supported by the Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth, a member of the English Trust that handled the funds raised for Wheelock's School by Occom. "Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral" appeared in 1773. Freed in 1778, Wheatley married a free black man named John Peters. They struggled with poverty, and lost two children in infancy. Shortly after Peters was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley and her third infant child died; there is evidence that she had written another volume of poetry, but it has never been found.

Wheatley, John

John Wheatley was a prominent Bostonian and owner of the slave, Phillis Wheatley, who became the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry. Wheatley was a tailor with a wealthy clientele that included men like John Hancock. He was also a merchant and money-lender, and he became one of two constables of Boston in 1739. In 1761, Wheatley purchased a young girl from West Africa to serve as a servant for his wife Susanna. The Wheatleys supported the Revolutionary cause and had a large and influential circle of friends and acquaintances; many visiting Presbyterian and Anglican Methodist ministers stayed at their house. John Thornton, the English philanthropist and treasurer of the English Trust for Wheelock's Indian School, sent Wheatley donations for Indian missions in the colonies. Although Susanna was more actively involved in furthering Phillis's carreer as a prodigy and poet, John Wheatley put his name to the letter circulated in Boston and published in the newspapers attesting to the authenticity of Phillis's authorship of the poems (although some critics argue it was dictated by his son Nathaniel); this document is one of several that preface the edition of Phillis's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" published in London in 1773. Wheatley freed Phillis after she returned from England and she continued to live in his house while she nursed Susanna through her final illness.

Mitchel, Sister
Occom, Mary (née Fowler)

Mary Occom (née Fowler) was a Montaukett woman who married Samson Occom. Although information about her is limited and often comes from male, Anglo-American sources, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of her strength, as well as an alternative to the Eleazar Wheelock-centered narrative of Occom’s life that often dominates the latter’s biography. Mary was born into the influential Fowler family at Montauk, Long Island. She met Samson during his missionary service there (1749-1761). Mary studied at Samson’s school along with her brothers David and Jacob, and was almost certainly literate. She and Samson married in 1751. Wheelock and several other Anglo-American powers opposed their union because they worried it might distract Occom from being a missionary (as, indeed, family life did), and thus many scholars have read in Samson and Mary’s marriage an act of resistance against Samson’s domineering former teacher. Little information about the minutiae of Mary’s life survives, but existing sources speak volumes about her character and priorities. In front of Anglo-American missionaries visiting the Occoms' English-style house at Mohegan, Mary would insist on wearing Montaukett garb and, when Samson spoke to her in English, she would only reply in Montaukett, despite the fact that she was fluent in English. Mary Occom was, in many ways, Wheelock’s worst fear: that his carefully groomed male students would marry un-Anglicized Indian women. It is not a stretch to imagine that Mary provided much of the incentive for Wheelock to begin taking Indian girls into his school, lest his other protégés replicate Samson’s choice. Much of our information about Mary comes from between 1765 and 1768, when Samson was fundraising in Great Britain. Despite promising to care for Samson’s wife and family (at the time they had seven children), Wheelock, by every objective measure, failed to do so, and Mary’s complaints are well documented. Hilary Wyss reads in Wheelock’s neglect (and in letters from the time) a more sinister story, and concludes that on some level Wheelock was holding Samson’s family hostage, in return for Occom curtailing his political beliefs on the Mason Case. Wyss also notes Mary’s remarkable survivance in this situation. Mary drew on various modes of contact, from letters to verbal communication with influential women (including Sarah Whitaker, the wife of Samson’s traveling companion, and Wheelock’s own daughters), to shame Wheelock into action and demand what she needed. One of the major struggles in Mary’s life, and in Samson’s, was with their sons. Both Aaron and Benoni failed to live up to their parents’ expectations. Aaron attended, and left, Moor’s Indian Charity School three times, and both Aaron and Benoni struggled with alcohol and refused to settle down. The Occom daughters did not cause similar problems. Given the nature of existing sources, little is known about Mary after Samson and Wheelock lessened their communication in 1771. Joanna Brooks has conjectured that Mary was likely influential in Samson’s Mohegan community involvement later in life, for instance, in his continued ministry to Mohegan and, perhaps, his increasingly vehement rejection of Anglo-American colonial practices.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Susanna Wheatley, 1773 September 21
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only