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Theophilus Chamberlain, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1766 April 26

ms-number: 766276

abstract: Chamberlin writes of his religious epiphany.

handwriting: Handwriting is relatively clear, yet letter case (especially with regard to S and D) is often difficult to decipher. There are also many deletions and additions.

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

ink: Brown-black.

signature: Signature is abbreviated.

noteworthy: The book that Chamberlain mentions on one recto is: Theron and Aspasio: or, A Series of Dialogues and Letters upon the Most Important and Interesting Subjects, in three volumes by James Hervey, London, 1755.

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

Rev. and Dear
I take this Method to lay before
you what I was lately mentioning of my Ex
periences since I left you last fall. I shall
use all possible Brevity, and the utmost
openess, in expressing the Real Sentiments
of my mind, in the Time of these Experiences.
about two years ago I had an opportunity
to read , the Letters on Theron and Aspasio which served me no other purpose
than to give me an inveterate Prejudice
against the Author of them. when I was down last fall
I began to read him again with the disadvantage
of the Same Prejudice I had before imbibed. I had
Time to read but a small part of his first Volume
before I began my Journey in prosecution of my mission
among the Natives, to the westward.
however I had read So far as to Set me a thinking
on his definition of Faith. before I reached Albany it
once, and that for the first Time, came into my mind that
the faith there described, might be the faith of Gods Elect.
I See that in case it was so, a Train of consequences would
follow which were extremely disagreeable to me, yet in
some measure apprehending the Importance of my Knowing
the Truth, with regard to the Nature of faith, I determined
as Soon as my businesses would permit to Examine
the Scripture thoroughly on that head. when I got as far
as Canajoharie I was obliged to wait about three Weeks for
a Road and Company to Oneida. Most of the leisure I
had here, I Spent in Reading the Scripture with an
Intent to find out what the faith so much insisted on In Scrip
ture and by Divines, truly contains. When I come to
read the Gospel of John, and other Parts of the New Testament,
and to look Back to the faith of the ancients quoted from
the Old Testament, I became fully convinced that the Word
Believe, so frequently used in Scripture, is there used in its
most plain and common sense; and that the faith
used as a Synonimy with Believe; and So frequently
connected with eternal Life, is a Plain, every-day-Belief,
of Truths Record in the Word of God. Having Got thus
far, I began to be greatly exercised about what, would be
my final Exit, and eternal State in the World of Spirits.
My whole Query was, how shall I find the Truths which give
Life, to every one who believes them. My first thought
was that the necessary Truths must undoubtedly be revealed in
the Word of God in plain and intelligible Terms; but then it
turned in my mind that the Bible itself might be a fiction
I then Examined the Evidences which had often Supported
me in belief of divine Revelation, and found them suf
ficient to Support me Still in believing, that the Bible is
in truth and reality the Word of God. I now read the
Gospel of Luke; I read it with Attention
and eagerness, hoping to light on Some Truth which would
Set me free, from that Concern and Anxiety respecting
my future existence which was Such an exercise to
my mind. I attended to the coming of the son of God into
the World, his conduct in the World, the doctrines he preached
, the opposition of the World to him on account of his con­
duct, and Doctrines, and his finally Suffering even un
to Death. my next concern was to determine certainly
and precisely, what it was he suffered for. I read the Book
of Isaiah; the Law given at Mount Sinai; took par
ticular Notice of the curses pronounced against every
offence, and turned then to every passage I could find
in the New Testament which gave any account of what
Christ died for. at length, I came to this conclusion
that Christ suffered the whole length and Breadth of that
Suffering which the Law threatened, for every offence
that will finally be forgiven. This conclusion im­
mediately presented to my view a Character of God
which was at once amiable and awful. amiable in
this, that he is so infinitely kind and compassionate to his creatures, that he
entertains thoughts of Pardon and happiness for them
when deserving to the last degree the tokens of his
eternal Anger and Indignation; and never punishes
them for want of Benevolence. and awful in that
he never will forgive an Offence against his own
Law 'til the sentence of the Law against that offence
is inflicted to the full; and that though his own
son is accountable for offences, he must for every offence bear
the full punishment
I now saw that the Law of God has in every sense
its own measures and never a Single Creature
more is made miserable, than what the Law absolutely
Required in order that God the giver of it might remain
a God of truth, and
So Support his moral government in the universe.
I got now effectually convinced that nothing could be
more absurd than for me to use the least endeavour[illegible][guess: s]
to procure the favour of god, or to
gain Acceptance to Salvation. I now really believed
or I knew that if God should punish me with eternal
misery for every offence, to his Law, I ever had com
it would proceed
from no disposition contrary to that he commands in the
Law, viz, thou shalt Love they Neighbour as thy
self. In this crisis, I found no other reason to hope
for Salvation, than barely this that God designed to save
some Creatures of my own Character. nor did this
foundation, appear small or inconsiderable, for
I knew, that nothing but gods sovereignty had laid
this foundation, and that neither I nor any of my Character
had the least desert in us of even this foundation
of hope. Here I hoped, and Still hope with trem­
bling, and it is my glory and Joy that a door of hope
is here Let open to me which no man can shut.
sir I have So little claim to your attention
that I have crowded these things, So much together
, that some confusion is created. If you read it and
can understand my meaning my End is answered.
Theophilus Chamberlain

To Rev. Eleazar Wheelock
Mr. Chamberlains Experienc[illegible]
April 26th — 1766.
Rev. Mr. Wheelock


Lebanon is a town located in the state of Connecticut southwest of the town of Hartford. The land that became Lebanon was inhabited at least 10,000 years ago based on the archeological record. By the 1600s, the land was permanently inhabited by the Mohegan Indians, who used the area primarily for hunting. Lebanon was officially formed in 1700 when English settlers consolidated a number of land tracts, including several land grants by the Connecticut General Assembly and lands purchased from the Mohegans. However, these purchases were controversial. In 1659, the Mohegans entrusted their reserve land to Major John Mason, and in the following year, Mason transferred this land to the Connecticut colonial government with the understanding that there would be enough land left for the Mohegans to farm. The Mohegans claimed that they never authorized a transfer to the colonial government and only Mason’s heirs were entrusted with their land. In 1662, Connecticut, which included the Mohegan land that had been entrusted to the Masons, was incorporated by a royal charter. Based on this charter, the colony argued that the land was now the property of the government. In 1687, the colony began granting the Mohegan land to townships, and in 1704 the Masons petitioned the Crown on behalf of the Mohegans, claiming that such transfers of land to townships were illegal. Between the years of 1705 and 1773 legal disputes and controversies persisted, finally ending in a verdict by the Crown against the Mohegans. In 1755, Wheelock received property and housing in Lebanon that he would use as his house and school. While Lebanon was originally incorporated as a part of New London County in 1700, in 1724 it became a part of New Windham, before once again becoming a part of New London County in 1826. Lebanon was central to the American Revolution with half of its adult population fighting for the colonists and hundreds of meetings convened in the town for the revolutionary cause.


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.


Oneida is a city in Madison County located at the geographical center of New York state. Before European settlement of the area, the Oneida Tribe, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, inhabited a large territory adjacent to nearby Oneida Lake. Around 1533, they built their first village on the south shore of the lake, at or near the mouth of Oneida Creek. At the end of the 17th century, this area began suffering raids by parties from the French colony of Quebec, in a battle to control the fur trade. In 1696, Oneida village was burned by the French. As a result, the Oneidas moved their chief village east of the original site, called Old Oneida, to a new site called Kanawalohale, also known as Oneida Castle, which was fortified by tall palisades and a moat. This is the site of the present-day village of Oneida Castle, a small hamlet west of the city of Oneida in the northwest corner of the town of Vernon. When used in Occom Circle documents, the place name "Oneida" usually refers to the territory inhabited by the Tribe east of Oneida Lake, but can also refer specifically to Oneida Castle. Although the Oneidas sided with the patriots during the Revolutionary War, much of their territory was sold or appropriated by the state of New York. In 1790, the first European settlers moved into the area of Old Oneida village, and the district began to expand. In the 1830s, the state built a feeder from Oneida Creek through the present city site to provide water for the new canal system, which enabled canal boats to ship freight into the town. Eventually, the railroad came through the town and helped with its expansion. This led to the incorporation of the Village of Oneida in 1848 and the establishment of the Town of Oneida in 1896. The town was chartered as the City of Oneida in 1901, and with two more railroad lines transecting the area, it became a thriving manufacturing center for the first half of the 20th century.


The historical Mohawk village of Canajoharie was located about 50 miles northwest of Albany, New York, in the central part of the state. Today, both a town and village in the same vicinity of the Mohawk village of Canajoharie have taken the Mohawk name, but the location of the present-day village is slightly east of the historical village. Because the village’s name was similar to the Oneida village of Kanawalohale, where David Fowler established a school in 1765, many sources conflate the two villages. Canajoharie, which in English means a washed kettle, was also known by the names Indian Castle and Upper Castle, which refers to the late 17th-century Mohawk fortifications that were built around the town following a series of French attacks during King William’s War. The term Upper Castle served to differentiate Canajoharie from Lower Mohawk Castle located in the Mohawk village of Tionondoroge near Fort Hunter. Canajoharie contained the Indian Castle church, which still stands today and was built in 1769 by the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Sir William Johnson, with help from the Mohawk siblings Molly and Joseph Brant, who donated land to the cause. Throughout the span of the 18th century, war, disease, and emigration severely reduced the Mohawk population in Canajoharie, and an influx of both white and non-Mohawk Native Americans resulted in a diverse and ethnically mixed culture. Wheelock's missionary work in this village in the 1760s was headed by Theophilus Chamberlain, while Abraham major, Abraham minor, and Peter (Mohawk) maintained missionary schools near Canajoharie.

Chamberlain, Theophilus

Theophilus Chamberlain was a Yale graduate and missionary employed by Wheelock. His interest in Indian ministry may have started during the French and Indian War, when he was taken captive by a tribe allied with the French (it is unclear which tribe) at Fort William Henry and spent a year in Nova Scotia. After his return to New England, Chamberlain attended Yale. Wheelock recruited Chamberlain, along with fellow Yale graduate Titus Smith, to spearhead Moor's 1765 mission to the Six Nations. Chamberlain was examined as a missionary on March 12, 1765, and ordained on April 24, 1765. During the mission, he was stationed at Canajoharie (the Mohawk "Upper Castle") and oversaw the mission to the Mohawks. While on his mission, he converted to Sandemanianism, a decision that profoundly shaped the rest of his life. It is difficult to evaluate his efficacy as a missionary: he had high praise for himself, and David Fowler said the Mohawks were affectionate towards him, but Occom described him as overzealous. Chamberlain served the duration of his contract, but clashed with Wheelock afterwards over who was responsible for debts he had incurred on his mission (e.g. transportation costs, support for schoolmasters and interpreters). After departing from Wheelock's service, Chamberlain was ordained as a Sandemanian bishop. He fled to New York and later Nova Scotia during the American Revolution because of his religious and political beliefs. In Nova Scotia, Chamberlain oversaw the establishment of the settlement of Preston.

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.

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