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Joseph Johnson, letter, to Andrew Oliver, 1773 October 10

ms-number: 773560

abstract: Johnson writes to Oliver about his service among the Farmington Indians, and requests funds to pay off his debts.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, but mostly formal and clear.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in fair-to-poor condition, with moderate-to-heavy staining, creasing and wear that results in a minor loss of text.

ink: Dark-brown ink is faded, heavily in spots.

noteworthy: An editor, likely 19th-century, has added the note "Jos. Johnſon's letter to Commiſsrs Oct. 10. 1773. ." to two 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 Honorable Andrew Oliver Esq.
With a due sense of my great unworthiness, I att
‐empt to write to your Worthy person at this time;
Honoured Sir, this afternoon I came down here to this
Town to get my watch which I left here some
time past to be repaired being considerable da‐
‐maged. and finding an Opportunity to Send to
your Honour, I with much thankfulness do
Embrace it. I would inform your Honor that
the School which is under my Care at present is
in good circumstances. the Children are well;
and Are very tractable; or they learn very fast,
considering chief of them are young, 5, 7, 10, 13
years of Age. etc.: also I would inform your Honor,
that the School has been kept very Steady, and I
have endeavoured to be faithful to all with whom
I have to do. both Parent, and Child. also the Parents
have Sent very Steady, and highly esteem the great
privilege which Kind Providence is at present
favouring them with. and we all humbly hope
that our privilege will be graciously Continued to
us poor Unworthy, Ignorant, and despised Indians.
we hope that Your Honour, has Remembered us, a‐
midst your crowd of important business. also we
hope that the Honourable Board of Commissioners
has considered our humble Petition, and we hope still
that an answer of Joy will be sent us in due time.
Honoured Sir. We are the Same as ever we was. Objects
of Pity. the Indians are very desirous to learn.
[gap: worn_edge][guess: b]ut not to be too tedious, Suffer me to Conclude this
my Indian epistle with a humble Petition to your
Honour. Worthy Sir. be pleased to consider of me;
I have kept this School 6 Months already, and I have
made out to live hitherto, but I have been obliged to
borrow a little; although it is not customary to lend to
an Indian in these Parts, but I have behaved my‐
self as well as I could and People think, that I am
no [illegible][guess: r]est, and have ventured to help me little. but
Honoured Sir, I dare not ask there favours any more;
but I am obliged to Seek your Honors favour.
Honoured Sir, I confess I am Poor Indian, a fatherless,
and motherless, and almost friendless Lad. Yet
I want to live and I want to live honestly. if it
is not my Calling to teach my Poor Ignorant
Brethren the Indians whom I love, and Pity. I [illegible][guess: will]
not crowd myself into the business. but if it be
my Calling, and Duty, I must beg to live by
it, or have Suitable help and Encouragement —
from somewhere. all I want is things Conveni‐
‐ent. that I may give myself to the Service chee‐
rfully. and Honoured Sir, as I Said just now that I
have made out to live hitherto, So now I say that
unless your Honor is pleased to Pity me, and help
me I cannot live any longer in this business
but I must break off, and go into Some other Call‐
‐ing in order to clear myself of little Debt, which
I have necessarily contracted the season past.
I have no pleasure in being trusted, neither is it
honourable. So Honoured Sir. my humble and earnest
desire is that your Honour would be pleased to Send
me half years Pay if possible, or if it has pleased the
Gentlemen to allow me anything for Encourage‐
ment, to keep this School. Honoured Sir, without doubt
that the Rev. Mr. Pitkin my Kind, and faithful overseer
would write in my favour if he had Opportunity. I
was at his house last Thursday Evening, and inquired
of him whether he had recieved any News from your
Honour Concerning our Petition, or Concerning this
School he told me that he had not recieved one word
from your honour Concerning us Indians. I acquainted him of my
circumstances at present, and he Said he would Join
and write in my favour again if there was any going
from hence to Boston. I inquired little but heard of
no one, that was going to Boston. So kind Sir I
hope that you will no[gap: hole][guess: t] be angry with me in under‐
taking to write to you of myself. I know
that I am an Indian. but having an Opportunity, I
thought it my Duty, to ask for the thing that I
do really Stand in great need of. be pleased to Send
the Money for which I earnestly Request, by the
Boston post. with whom I send these few lines. but
if there is nothing allowed for my Encouragement be
so kind, and condescending as to let me know it by
post next Saturday as I purpose to meet him here —
again on that Day if I am well. I am Sorry that I
have troubled you So often with my Requests, but I
hope that hereafter I Shall know what to depend upon
forgive me for whatever I have at any time wrote
unbecoming to your Honour, and charge it to my
Ignorance. So I must End wishing you, and yours
prosperity in this Life, and perfect felicity in the Man‐
‐sions of bliss hereafter.
I am your humble Petitioner
Joseph Johnson the Mohegan Indian
To [illegible][gap: stain] [guess: Esq.]
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.

Oliver, Andrew

Andrew Oliver was an influential Boston merchant and politician, who was a member of several societies that funded Eleazar Wheelock, including the Boston Board of the New England Company (treasurer) and Massachusetts General Assembly (secretary). Oliver played an important political role in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts and, as a firm advocate of Indian missions, attended multiple conferences with Indian tribes. He believed that Anglican and Dissenter missionaries and societies could cooperate, and after Oliver and Wheelock were introduced in 1756, Oliver helped Wheelock access funding from the New England Company, the Massachusetts Assembly, and the Boston Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Their relationship deteriorated, however, when the London Board of the New England Company turned against Wheelock late in 1765. Wheelock became aware of the London Board’s change of heart through the “Oliver letter,” a letter purportedly written by Oliver (actually written by Ebenezer Pemberton) that was “injurious” to the characters of Wheelock, Whitaker, and Occom. In 1765, Wheelock also lost his funding from the Massachusetts Assembly. It is unclear what role Oliver played in these events. On the one hand, the breach between Wheelock and the New England Company coincided with the collapse of Oliver’s political career over his attempts to enforce the Stamp Act. Oliver may have been too preoccupied to be involved in the London Board’s change of heart; after all, Boston mobs were burning him in effigy. On the other hand, if Oliver was not involved, it is more difficult to explain why his correspondence with Wheelock ended abruptly in 1767 or why Wheelock lost funding from the Assembly and the London Board at the same time. Oliver would be the obvious link; but of course, Wheelock had many detractors in Boston and another explanation is certainly possible.

Pitkin, Timothy
HomeJoseph Johnson, letter, to Andrew Oliver, 1773 October 10
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