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Samson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1771 July 24

ms-number: 771424

abstract: Occom notes his disinclination to go into the wilderness, and complains bitterly of having been used as an agent and a curiosity in England to collect money for the college. He points out that there are no Indians at the school at present (except "two or three Mollatoes") and that this confirms his suspicion that Wheelock was scheming all along to use the charity for whites.

paper: Large sheet is folded into four pages. There is repair tape along all the outside edges of paper; otherwise the paper is in good condition.

ink: Ink is very light, yet bleeds heavily through the paper.

noteworthy: The trailer and text added to the left margin of one verso are in Wheelock’s hand.

signature: Letter is signed twice, once in full, once with initials.


Revd Sir
Yours of Janr 22: I receivd but
a few Days ago, wherein You Speak of much
Sorrow on my account, I am obliged to you
So far as it is agreable to god, You Seem to think
that it is a sort of Reproof from God, that I was
Left to Stray, for my Staying at Home so much,
But I don’t think with You, — God woud Certain
ly gave me Strenght Sufficient to go Such Long
Journeis, but I han’t been able to Ride far
Now two whole Years, and I have been Con‐
fin’d to my Houſe good Deal this Spring, I am
greatly Exerciſ’d with my old Pains — As to my Pre‐
ſent Standing with the Indians, I need not Say
more than this, I am as well, if not better receivd
by them than ever, if I woud only Comply with
their Deſire, the Indians at Mohegan, groton,
Nahanteck, Stonington, and even at Charles
in general woud put themſelves un‐
der my Inſtructions — as to my [illegible] being
under a Miſtake about my and Davids going
into the wilderneſs I am not, I woud have gone
up and David too, the Spring after I got Home
from England, but you Said, you had no
money to AſSiſt me with, and You yourſelf Diſ‐
couragd David from going, — Indeed I have
always Declin’d to remove my Family into
the wilderneſs, but David woud have gone up
to Settle there — had he a proper Encourage‐
ment he woud go now — but he will not go
for what you offer — he has Some thoughts of
offering his Service to the Comiſsrs of Boſton to go
into the wilderneſs, if they woud give him £30 Lawf
per Am he woud go into the wilderneſs with his Family
to Settle — I am very Jealous that inſtead of Your Seme‐
nary Becoming alma Mater, She will be too alba
mater to Suckle the Tawnees, for She is already a
Dorn’d up too much like the Popiſh Virgin Mary
She’ll be Naturally aſham’d to Suckle the Tawnees
for She is already equal in Power Honor and Autho
rity to and any College in Europe, I think your
College has too much wordly Grandure for the Poor
Indians they’ll never have much benefet of it, — In
So Saying I Speak the general Sentiment of Indians
and Engliſh too in theſe parts; a. so many of your Miſsi
onaries and School maſters and Indian Scholars
Leaving You and Your Service Confirms me in this
opinion, — b Your having So many white Scholars
and So few or no Indian Scholars, gives me great
Diſcouragement — I verily thought once that your
Inſtitution was Indtended Purely for the poor Indians
with this thought I Chearfully Ventur’d my Body &
Soul, left my Country my poor Young Family
all my Friends and Relations, to Sail over the
Boiſterous Seas to England, to help forward your
School, Hoping, that it may be a laſting Bene‐
fet to my poor Tawnee Brethren, with this View
I went a Volunteer — I was quite willing to
become a Gazing stock, Yea Even a Laughing
Stock, in Strange Countries to Promote your
Cauſe — we Loudly Proclaimd before Multitudes
of People from Place to Place, that there was a
moſt glorious Proſpect of Spreading the goſpel
of the Lord Jeſus to the furthereſt Savage Nations
in the wilderneſs, thro’ your Inſtitution, we told
them that there were So many Miſsionaries &
So many Schoolmaſters already Sent out, and
a greater Number woud Soon follow
[left]a: N.B. none have left me ſince I got a Charter. b. I ha’ no white Charity Scholars but such as are [illegible]fittg for a miſsion
But when we got Home behold all the glory had decayd
and now I am afr’aid, we Shall be Deem’d as Liars and
Deceivers in Europe, unleſs you gather Indians
quickly to your College, in great Numbers and
not to have So many Whites in the Charity, — I under
ſtand you have no Indians at Preſent except two or
three Mollatoes — — this I think is quite Contrary to
the Minds of the Donors, we told them, that we were
Beging for poor Miſerable Indians, — as for my part
I went, purely for the poor Indians, and I Should be as
ready as ever to promote your School according to my
poor Abilities if I coud be Convinc’d by ocular Demon‐
ſtration, that your pure Intention is to help, the poor
helpleſs Indians, but as long as you have no Indians,
I am full of Doubts, — Your writing to Esqr Thornton
to my Diſadvantage and not one word in my favour,
gave me to think, that your Indian Scholars had
reaſon to with Draw from You, and Your Miſsio
naries and Schol, Maſters too, the opinion of many
white People about here is that You have been
Scheeming altogather, and that it was a Po[illegible]llicy to
Send me over to England, for (Say they) now
they don’t Care anything about you, You have anſwerd
their Ends, now you may Sink or Swim it is all
one to them, this makes me think of what that
great man of god Said to me, Mr Whitefield, juſt
before I left England in the hearing of Some gentlemen —
ah, Says he, [illegible]You have been a fine Tool to get
Money for them, but when you get home, they
won’t Regard you the’ll S[illegible][guess: e]t you a Drift, —
I am ready to believe it Now — I am going to Say
Some thing further, which is very Diſagreeable
Modiſty woud forbid me, but I am Conſtraind
So to write, — Many Gentlemen in England
and in this Country too, Say, if you had not this
Indian Bait, you woud not Collected a quarter
of the Money you did, one gentleman in Parti
cular in England Said to me, if he hadn’t Seen
my face he woudn’t have given [illegible][guess: ye] happence
but now I have £50 freely — This one Conſideration
gives me great Quietneſs, I think I went to En‐
with Honeſt Heart, I think I have dont
that which I think was my Duty to Do — I might
write more but I have no time, — I wiſh I
coud give you one viſit, to have a ful talk
but you got so far up, I Shall never be able —
if I am under any Miſtake, Pleaſe to enlight
en me, — I am better in Health than I’ve been
and my Family is well thro’ Divine Favour
Pleaſe to give my Compts to all under your Care
and Accept Duty from
Your moſt unworthy

Samſon Occom
PS I have not wrote this Sort to any one
in England, I Chuſe to let you know my
mind firſt
From M.r Occom
July 23. 1771
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.

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, David

David Fowler was Jacob Fowler's older brother, Samson Occom's brother-in-law, and an important leader of the Brothertown Tribe. He came to Moor's in 1759, at age 24, and studied there until 1765. While at school, he accompanied Occom on a mission to the Six Nations in 1761. He was licensed as a school master in the 1765 mass graduation, and immediately went to the Six Nations to keep school, first at Oneida and then at Kanawalohale. Fowler saw himself as very close to Wheelock, but their relationship fragmented over the course of Fowler's mission, primarily because Wheelock wrote back to Kirkland, with whom Fowler clashed, but not to Fowler, and because Wheelock refused to reimburse Fowler for some expenses on his mission (767667.4 provides the details most clearly). Fowler went on to teach school at Montauk, and played a major role in negotiations with the Oneidas for the lands that became Brothertown. He was among the first wave of immigrants to that town, and held several important posts there until his death in 1807.

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.

Whitefield, George

George Whitefield, the English itinerant preacher who helped spark the Great Awakening, was an essential supporter of Eleazar Wheelock’s project. Whitefield studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met the pioneers of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. He was ordained in 1736, and he made the first of his seven trips to America two years later. While abroad in 1740, Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia, and went on a preaching tour during which he met Wheelock and spread ideals that prompted the Great Awakening. Although Whitefield was ordained in the Church of England, his enthusiastic preaching style and charismatic personality made him a controversial figure, and traditional clergyman on both sides of the Atlantic censured him. Nonetheless, he continued to be an important contact and friend of Wheelock’s, and his dedication to Wheelock’s vision was evident. He contributed money to the cause, secured various other funders, and donated an eighty-pound prayer bell to the school. More importantly, Whitefield not only suggested to Wheelock the idea of a fundraising tour in Great Britain, he hosted Occom and Whitaker shortly after they arrived in England, provided a house for them to reside in for the remainder of their tour, and introduced the pair to influential figures such as William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth. Whitefield tabernacle’s was the setting of Occom’s first sermon in England on February 16, 1766, and many believe that Whitefield wrote the introduction to a pamphlet printed in London during the campaign (although he was not credited). Whitefield continued to be involved in Wheelock’s work until he died in Newburyport, MA in September of 1770.

HomeSamson Occom, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1771 July 24
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