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Samson Occom, letter, to a Minister of Albany, 1791 December 26

ms-number: 791676

abstract: Occom writes that he cannot attend an ordination due to ill health, that he has moved to Munhegunnack (or New Stockbridge), and that many Indians are coming to New Stockbridge to hear preaching.

handwriting: Handwriting is small, but mostly clear and legible. The letter “a” is frequently unclosed at the top, which causes it to look like the letter “u.”

paper: Single large sheet is in poor condition, with heavy creasing, staining and wear that results in some loss of text. Repairs have been made on particularly heavy creases.

ink: Brown ink is faded.

noteworthy: The identity of the minister to whom Occom writes is unknown.


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



Rev. and much esteemed Sir,
I dont think I Can be at the ordination, in Balls
ton
, it is a long way, and I am old, and Lame, and I must be
at the Presbytery next March at Albany if live, and Shall be
well; I want to be at the ord[illegible][guess: e]rnation; and one or two of our men
with me but it Cant be so now — I am now moving my Family to
Munhegunnack or New-Stockbridge, I told you it was called Tus­
c[illegible][guess: a]rora, but that is not the Proper name of it, — Capt. Hendrick who
will deliver this to You, is one of our Church; he is just Come
from the westward, amongst the Indians, and he has a large Tract
of [gap: tear][guess: land] offered him if he and his people would move there — I think
it would be [gap: tear][guess: a fine open]ing for the Gospel, — Our Church have
willingly and Cheerfully adopted the confession of Faith of the
Presbyterian Church of the United States in America. They Joy­
fully put themselves under the Care and inspection of Albany
Presbytery
— And thankfully receive the Gospel fellowship
opened for them — And from This Time, we Shall look upon our­
Selves one of the least Branches of the Religious Family of the
Presbyterians in America — — We are trying to instruct our Children
in Letters, but we are very weak, we want a little help — one Joseph
Quinney
keeps the School, without any prospect of Reward,
and he [gap: hole][guess: is] our Singing master too, and he is instructing the People
in Sin[gap: hole][guess: ging] consta[gap: hole][guess: ntl]y, two or three Evenings every week and
he demands no pay — and he and his Family, are very destitute
of clothing, — Our professors keep on Steady in Religion, and
our Church and Society rather increases, — our Singers are
in want of Psalm Books — what harm would it be, if You would
try to beg a few, amongst Your Friends and Neighbours in
Albany, we use Dr. Watts's Psalms altogether — I have no
more to Say at this Time, — Pray for us — This with much
Esteem is from
your most unworthy fellow Labourer
in the Gospel of Jesus —
Samson Occom
PS.
 Capt. Hendrick is our Elder, and Joseph Quinney
is our Deacon; We have but very little business
[gap: worn_edge]Elder and Deacon, and think, one of each is enough for the
[gap: worn_edge]

January 8
Sir
 The foregoing was Sent by Capt. Hendrick, but was
obliged, to return back, and forgot to give it, to Samuel
Littleman
, who, I Conclude called upon You, in his way to
New-Jersey — There Seems to be a Strange inclination among
the Indians, to hear the word of God preached, they Come to our
meets from Tuscarora, most all of them, which they nev[gap: worn_edge][guess: er]
did before, and Mr. Kirklands People come very thick too
and they desire, that I might Spend Some Sabbaths, — great
many Come to our meeting today, though Mr. Kirkland went there
this morning, and they know of his Coming, — Mr. Kirkland is
going away again, and I Shall go to his People next Sab
bath — Several of them, have [gap: hole][guess: a] great desire to Join us in
full — and Some of Mr. Sergeant's people are Coming to us also, and
they will Join us in full, — I have an Evening School for the
young People, and a Number comes, I am instructing to read and
to Speak English proper, and Come on well —

I am etc. —
Samson Occom
Presbytery of Albany
Presbyterianism is a form of Protestantism distinguished from other dissenting sects, which took hold in New England during the 17th and 18th centuries, by its hierarchical form of church governance. At the congregational level, ministers and elders are ratified by a regionally organized district court made up of representatives from individual churches called a presbytery (from the Greek for “elder”), which is governed at the top by a synod. In 1790, most of the churches in the Presbytery of New York were transferred to the newly created Presbytery of Albany. This included churches of Albany, Cherry Valley, Johnstown, New Scotland, Harpersfield, Ballston, East Ballston, Cambridge, Kingsbury, Schenectady, Currie’s Bush, and Remsen’s Bush. As an itinerant preacher, Occom visited several of the congregations in central New York and, after the division of the Suffolk Presbytery of Long Island, which had ordained him, Occom became a member of the Presbytery of Albany. In 1791, with the consent of the New Stockbridge and Brothertown members, he brought their church under the new Presbytery’s jurisdiction.
Presbyterian Church
The Presbyterian Church is a branch of Protestantism that traces its origins to Martin Luther, a German priest and scholar who posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. Twenty years later, a French theologian living in Switzerland named John Calvin further refined this criticism into what became known as Reformed theology, which was brought to Scotland by John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, and then spread to England. This new theology, eventually codified in the Westminster Confession of Faith, emphasized literacy, education, and lifelong study and interpretation of the scriptures. It also advocated an ascending order of church governance beginning on the local level with the congregation, led by ministers and elders; they were ratified by the next level of governance called a presbytery (from the Greek for “elder”), which was a district court made up of representatives from individual churches. Presbyteries were governed by a synod. This system distinguished Presbyterianism from congregationalism, in which power lies with the local churches, and episcopacy, in which power lies with bishops. In 1640, a congregation in Southampton, Long Island, organized what is considered the oldest Presbyterian church in America. The eastern portion of Long Island, where Occom lived and was ordained, was largely Presbyterian and was culturally more a part of southern New England than New York, an important religious and kinship connection for both Indians and English. The Saybrook Platform, adopted by Connecticut Congregationalists in 1708, acknowledged Presbyterian polity in its creation of “consociations” of regional supervision, an influence that spread through central and western Massachusetts, and later New Hampshire, due to the trade and travel along the Connecticut River. The College of New Jersey (now Princeton), though non-denominational, was founded by a Presbyterian and disseminated those beliefs. In 1741, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge sent the Presbyterian missionary Azariah Horton to eastern Long Island where he met with some success until Occom arrived, and Samuel Buell, the Presbyterian minister who presided over Occom’s ordination in 1759, led the church at East Hampton, the closest English church to the Montauketts. For teaching and missionary purposes, Occom used the standard Calvinist Presbyterian and Congregational catechism, dating back to 1647. He preached at many Presbyterian churches across New England throughout his career, and in 1791 reported that the new church in New Stockbridge, near Brothertown, which he helped found, “willingly and Cheerfully adopted The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of the United States in America” (manuscript 791676).
Stockbridge

Stockbridge is a town in Madison County in central New York state, named for the Stockbridge Indians of Western Massachusetts. During the Revolutionary war, the Stockbridge Indians had befriended the Oneidas, whose villages were burned down by Indians allied to the British. When the Stockbridge tribe lost ownership of their Christian Indian town, the Oneidas invited them to settle on a six-mile square township, known as "The New Stockbridge Indian Territory." Although the details are unclear, a letter from the Stockbridge chief, Hendrick Aupaumut, to Governor George Clinton of New York suggests that the Oneidas gave the Stockbridge Indians a written deed in 1784, possibly at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix that year. The state of New York confirmed the Tribe's ownership of the town on several later occasions, but would ultimately rescind its promise, forcing the Stockbridge Indians to remove further west to Indiana and Wisconsin, where they ultimately settled in the early 19th century. By 1785, the majority of the Stockbridge tribe from Massachusetts had moved to the town of New Stockbridge, originally called "Tuscarora" or "Old Oneida" by the white settlers. In 1787, the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge hired John Sergeant, son of the original missionary in Massachusetts, as minister for the tribe; Sergeant travelled between his home in Stockbrige, MA, to New Stockbridge every year for nearly forty years in that capacity. In 1788, Occom, who had been invited as minister for the Brothertown settlement nearby, opposed Sergeant's mission but Occom's death in 1792 settled the conflict. In 1795, three New York Quakers visited New Stockbridge and began an exchange that helped the village to flourish. The first Europeans settlers arrived in 1791, and the present day town was created in 1836 from parts of four adjoining towns.

Albany

Albany is a city located in eastern New York. When Netherlander Henry Hudson arrived in what would become Albany in 1609, the Mohican Indians lived in several villages in the area. The Mohicans gave Hudson’s crew furs, and the Dutch East India Company sent representatives to trade with the Native peoples. The Dutch established the village of Beverwyck within the territory of the New Netherlands. Beverwyck hosted a diverse population of Germans, French, Swedes, English, Irish, Scots, Dutch, and Africans. After the fall of New Netherlands to Britain in 1664, Beverwyck was renamed Albany in honor of the colony’s proprietor James, Duke of York and Albany. In 1686, Albany was granted a charter that incorporated the city and provided it the sole right to negotiate trade with Native Americans. During the French and Indian War, Albany was designated as the British military headquarters in the Americas. During the Revolutionary War, most Albany residents supported the revolution because of their opposition to British trade restrictions.

United States of America

The United States is a country that occupies the middle part of the North American continent. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and includes the states of Hawaii in the south pacific and Alaska in northwest North America. The United States also includes a number of territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Starting as early as the 16th century, European powers began colonizing the land that would become the United States of America, often subjugating the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the continent. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, European powers including the Dutch, Spanish, French, and British settled in the land and fought amongst themselves and with Native Americans for control of it. Successful in these wars and battles, the British claimed lands from the east coast through western Pennsylvania. Following many grievances concerning the British management of the colonists in North America, a large group of colonists (though not the majority) known as the Patriots took action to assert their own political agency, voicing objections to British rule and forming colonial militias. After the British attempted to quell colonial violence, the colonists revolted and the American Revolution began. Representatives of the Patriot cause penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776, enumerating their reasons for secession and declaring the United States of America a separate political entity from Great Britain. Some Native Americans strategically allied themselves with the British as a means of maintaining Indian land, while others sided with the colonists, hoping that their ideals of freedom would extend to Native Americans as well as former colonists after the War. Colonists managed to defeat the British with the help of the French, who entered the War in part because of the long-standing rivalry with its European neighbor. The War ended in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, in which the British signed over the land east of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes (which comprised the United States of America at that time). The Treaty did not consider the role of the Native Americans who occupied the land, especially those who allied with the British. The former colonists quickly forgot their Native American allies and would go on to dispossess Native peoples of their land.

New Jersey

New Jersey is a state located on the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. For at least 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans, the area of New Jersey was occupied by the Delaware Indians whose territory extended from what is now the state of Delaware to eastern Pennsylvania. Established as a colony in 1664 and named in honor of the English Channel’s Isle of Jersey, New Jersey shared a royal governor with the nearby colony of New York until 1738. During the Revolutionary War, New Jersey fought for independence from Britain and was the site of over a hundred different battles. In the later 1730s, the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the New England Company showed particular interest in missionizing in the Native communities along the Delaware River in New Jersey. At the same time, the First Great Awakening erupted along the eastern seaboard, and one of its most influential figures was Gilbert Tennent from New Brunswick, New Jersey, who, like other New Light ministers, courted and attracted Native converts. In the first years of Wheelock's Indian Charity School, he was less interested in recruiting Native students from local tribes and looked towards the powerful Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribes of New York and the Delawares of New Jersey. In 1754, at Wheelock’s behest, John Brainerd, a SSPCK missionary in New Jersey, sent two Delaware boys, John Pumshire and Jacob Woolley, who were the first official Native students at the School. In 1788, Occom, David Fowler and Peter Pohquonnappeet attempted fundraising in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Brothertown and New Stockbridge.

Ballston

Ballston is a town in central New York state, north of Albany. The area was occupied by Mohawk Indians, who resented the appropriation of their sacred grounds by European settlers. The first settlers, the MacDonald brothers, built a homestead on the west bank of Ballston Lake in 1763. Reverend Eliphalet Ball arrived in 1770 with his three sons and members of his congregation from Bedford, NY, bought the land from the MacDonalds, named it Ball's Town, and established a Presbyterian church there in 1771. Soon, settlers arrived from other parts of New England, New Jersey, Scotland and north of Ireland. In 1774, a stockaded fort was built in Ballston, which was attacked by the British and their Indian allies from Canada in 1780 and 1781. It became a town of Albany county in 1785 and was part of the religious circuit in upstate New York in which Occom travelled.

Tuscarora
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.

Aupaumut, Hendrick

Hendrick Aupaumut, most likely a descendant of the Mohawk chief Hendrick, was a Mahican Indian who was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1757. He was educated by the Moravians and became very involved in tribal affairs and relations with the United States. Along with other Stockbridge Indians, Aupaumut fought as part of Captain William Goodrich’s company in the Revolutionary War, rising to captain in 1778. In 1777, when Joseph Quanaukaunt became sachem, Aupaumut became a member of his council along with Peter Pohqunnoppeet and John Konkapot. He also became close friends with Samson Occom and would often host the preacher or translate his sermons when the latter visited New Stockbridge, to where the Stockbridges moved in the mid 1780s. In 1787 he was one of nine Indians to write to Occom declaring their faith and asking Occom to become their minster. He was also one of the Indians to sign the proclamation that Occom, Pohqunnooppeet, and David Fowler carried during their tour to raise funds to support Occom as their pastor. By the 1790s, Aupaumut was acting as an agent for the United States. He helped the government combat Tecumseh and his brother Elskwatawa, and he fought under General Harrison in the War of 1812. Both conflicts interrupted the various land deals between tribes, as well as treaties and other negotiations, in which he was involved. Although he encouraged Indians to convert to Christianity and learn English, Aupaumut opposed leasing land to whites. Occom and Aupaumut agreed that the Stockbridges must move west to escape the influence of outside cultures, and to preserve their Christianity. In the 1820s, Aupaumut led land deals with Wisconsin tribes, and he finally moved west in 1829 along with the remainder of the Stockbridge tribe.

Watts, John
Quinney, Joseph
Littleman, Samuel
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.

Sergeant, Jr., John

John Sergeant Jr., like his father, served as a minister in Stockbridge, MA. In 1773, Stephen West, the minister to the Stockbridge Indians since 1757, decided to leave his post and turned over ministering duties to John Sergeant Jr. Stockbridge, MA, which John Sergeant Sr. helped establish, failed as a Christian Indian town when the Stockbridge Indians lost ownership of their land. When the Oneida Tribe offered the Stockbridgers land in central New York after the American Revolution, many of them moved to the Brothertown and New Stockbridge settlements. The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge funded Sergeant Jr. in 1787 to continue serving as a minister to the Stockbridge Indians who moved to New York. Sergeant travelled from Stockbridge, MA, to New Stockbridge every year to serve as their minister. In 1788, the Stockbridge Indians at New Stockbridge were divided in their support for Occom or John Sergeant as the town’s minister. Mohican sachem Hendrick Aupaumut led the community members who favored Occom. According to Sergeant, 30 members of the Tribe were in favor of Occom while 50 were in favor of him (later, half of Occom’s supporters defected to Sergeant). The relationship between Sergeant and Occom was contentious, with Occom disliking Sergeant’s manner of preaching. Occom moved to Munhegunnack or New Stockbridge in 1791 and suggests in a letter that many of Sergeant’s supporters were shifting support to Occom. In his sermons, Sergeant blamed the Indians’ loss of land on what he described as their drunkenness and idleness. He suggested that the whites’ encroachment on their lands was God’s punishment for their sins. Sergeant remained the New Stockbridge minister until his death in 1824.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to a Minister of Albany, 1791 December 26
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