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Samson Occom, letter, to John Thornton, 1777 January 1

ms-number: 777101

abstract: Occom writes to thank Thornton for his generosity. He also bemoans the hardships brought on by the war, discusses the importance of keeping the Indians neutral, and asks for Thornton's assistance in getting money from the Society in Scotland for Progating Christian Knowledge.

handwriting: Occom's hand is small and somewhat crowded, yet formal, clear and legible. There are some crossed l's and uncrossed t's that have been corrected by the transcriber.

paper: Large sheet folded in half to make four pages is in fair condition, with moderate-to-heavy staining, creasing and wear.

ink: Brown ink is somewhat faded.

noteworthy: On two verso, an editor, likely 19th-century, has added notes that read: “(By Occom Jan. 1. 1777.),” and “S. Occom to Thornton Jan. 1. 1777.”


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



Most Kind Sir /
Your most unexpected and most accept
able, refreshing Animating, and most Encouraging Favour
of 8 may last, Came Safely to Hand a few Days ago, Surely
the great Lord of Heaven and Earth, has deeply Engraven
in Your Tender and Benevolent Heart, pity and compassionate
to poor me, and to my necessitous Family; How distressed have
I been lately, not knowing how to get out of my Involvements, and
to Supply the Pinching necessities of my large Family, besides my
numerous visitors; But blessed be god, I find now, he has heard my
groanings and Saw my distress, and he has moved your Kind Heart
once more, to Stretch out your most Bountiful Hand over the great
Atlantic in Time of great distress to help me out of Troubles. — The
Lord be praised, and I return you unutterable and most humble
Thanks. The Lord Your god Reward you Bountifully —
I have Drawn a Bill of Exchange upon you for the whole
of your most kind and generous Donation. Necessity urges me,
and I am very Confident, it will not be disagreeable to your Mind;
I have also drawn on you as a Trustee two Bills, for two half years
past, according to your kind Direction and permission heretofore
for I have heard nothing Contrary from You 'til now, and Dr.
Wheelock
has never told me, that the money was exhausted, though
I did hear Such a thing somehow; but I Saw a gentleman
about a Year ago, who came directly from London, and he
told me, he had interview with Some of the Honourable Trust and he
understood them, the money was not Expended, but they would
not let Dr. Wheelock have anymore, You may have Seen the gentleman
that informed me, it was The Rev. Dr. Ewing of Philadelphia
he had been traveling through great Britain Soliciting the Charities
of the People for a certain College. — The Times are extremely
distressing in this part of the World, these unnatural Wars have
effected and distressed everyone, especially the Poor, I never
have had Such a Burden; I have had much sickness in my
family lately, and everything extremely Dear, especially
clothing, O that I had old clothes from London, if London was
not more than half So far as it is, I would Come over to beg old
clothes — Three pounds will not purchase So much of the ne
cessaries of Life now, as twenty Shillings would before these
ungodly Wars took place. — And the worst of all is, these Wars
have Eat out the vitals of Religion, especially among the white
People, Some white People Say themselves, that the poor Indians
have more Religion than they have, the poor Indians indeed
that make a profession of Religion, maintain their religion in
Some measure, I preach amongst them as often I as I used to do
and they are much engaged in attending upon the word of god, —
And there is one Good circumstance among the Indians in general
everywhere, they dont choose to Join in either Side in this Con
tention, but choose Strict Neutrality, and the white Americans dont
want to have them Join in either, The Congress have Sent out Com
missioners among the Indians, Several Times and different ways
to advise them to be easy and Quiet, not to intermeddle in the English
Family quarrel — / My Wife’s Brother went about 600 miles westward
from this Place last September with a number upon this business and
is just returned, he tells me, he Saw Six Sachems altogether of different
Tribes, and that was the advice to them from the Commissioners and
the Sachems promised Strictly to observe the advice, and Indians them
selves are agreeing among themselves in their different Tribes not
to intermeddle with the English Contentions, — When the white People
began to enlist Soldiers about here, Some of our Lazy Indians were
very ready to enlist, but the white People would not accept of them(;
Be it Spoken to the praise of the white People,) but Some few would
and did list after all their rejection, — last Summer there were
Some white people wanted to hire others to go in their Room, and
two Indians offered themselves; but when the Col., who had care
of them, Saw them, he turned them back again. — But the Kings
officers, Some of them, I hear, have been using their Influence
to engage the poor Indians on their Side; — I wish the King of
great Britain, would Command all his officers in North A­
merica
to let the poor miserable Indians alone; What have we
to do with your Contentions? — As for Mr. Kirkland; I heard he was
among the Indians Some part of last Summer, but where he is
now, I can not Say. — These Sad Contentions have brock up all mis
sionaries and schoolmasters among the poor Indians, — I heard
there was Money Enough in the Hands of the Honourable Scotch Society
and they did not know how to lay it out, I wish they would consider my
case; Pray most Compassionate Sir, intercede with them for me —
I wrote them last winter, but I have had no answer, if I should write
again perhaps my Letters will never reach them in these Times.
I beg the continuance of your fervent Prayers for me and mine
and for all the poor Indians; — This, with most grateful respects, to
you and to your Dear Family is from
your most unworthy and most
obliged and very humble servant

Samson Occom
Blank page.
To
John Thornton Esq.
at Clapham near
London
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.

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.

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, Jacob

Jacob Fowler was a Montauk Indian whose life was dramatically shaped by Samson Occom, his brother-in-law. Occom taught Jacob when he was a child, and in 1762, Jacob followed his older brother David Fowler to Moor's. After three years he was approved as an usher in the 1765 examination, and in 1766 he went to assist Samuel Johnson at Canajoharie. He taught among the Six Nations until at least mid-1767. In early 1770, Occom procured him a job teaching at Mushantuxet through the Boston Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Jacob taught and preached among the Pequots at Mushantuxet and Stonington until 1774, when Wheelock hired him to teach at Moor's, which had relocated to Hanover, NH as a complement to Dartmouth College. During this time, Jacob also assisted Joseph Johnson with efforts to rally the New England Christian tribes for a move to Oneida territory (the Brothertown Movement). By 1776, there were no Indians enrolled in Moor's and Jacob moved on to serve Governor John Trumbull of CT as a messenger to the Six Nations during the Revolution. After the Revolution, he continued organizing the Brothertown Movement and was among those who initially emigrated in 1784. He was elected clerk at Brothertown, and died sometime in the spring of 1787.

Ewing, John

John Ewing was an influential Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia, a professor, and a noted mathematician. He and a twin brother, James, were born on June 22, 1732 in Nottingham, Maryland to Nathaniel and Rachel (Porter), who had emigrated from Ireland. He received his early education with Francis Alison, a noted Presbyterian clergyman, and remained at Alison's academy for three years as a tutor in Latin, Greek and mathematics, in which he excelled; he graduated the year he matriculated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1754. He served as tutor at the College for two years and was licensed to preach. In 1759, he was called to pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he served as a popular and eloquent preacher until his death in 1802. He also joined the faculty of the College of Philadelphia as Professor of Ethics from 1758 to 1762 and Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1762 to 1778. Joining the American Philosophical Society in 1768, he contributed to several noted scientific experiments (charting the transit of Venus) and public works (surveying the boundary with Delaware). In 1773, he was commissioned to travel to Great Britain to solicit funds for the Academy of Newark, in Delaware, where he received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from University of Edinburgh and met with promiment figures (including Lord North, the prime minister, and Samuel Johnson) to advance the cause of American independence. When the College of Philadelphia was reorganized as the University of Pennsylvania, Ewing became its first provost in 1780. Occom preached and collected funds in Ewing's Church on his tour of Philadelphia in 1771. While in London, Ewing likely met members of the Trust for Wheelock's Indian School, because Occom reports to John Thornton in 1777 that he learned about the exhaustion of the Trust from Ewing (manuscript 761290), one of the influential ministers who collected money for Occom and Brothertown in 1771.

Frederick, George William

George William Frederick (King George III) became heir to the throne of England in 1751 upon the death of his father Frederick, Prince of Wales. He became King George III of England in the fall of 1760 at age 22, following the death of his grandfather King George II. George III passed many important edicts during his reign including that of the Royal Marriage Act of 1772; the Treaty of Paris in 1762, which ended the Seven Years War; the Stamp Act of 1765; and the Townshend Duties of 1767. However, he is most well-known for being the reigning monarch during the Revolutionary War. After the surrender of British forces to the Americans in 1782, George III considered abdicating the throne, but chose not to do so because he felt it would be too detrimental to Britain. The last 30 years of George's life were plagued with illness. In 1788 he had the first of many attacks of insanity, now believed to have been caused by an inherited disease known as porphyria. With George III unfit to rule, it was decided that his son George would become regent, an arrangement which was made permanent in 1810. King George III died on January 29, 1820 at the age of 81 after a reign of nearly 60 years (the third longest in British history). He was succeeded by his son George IV.

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.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to John Thornton, 1777 January 1
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