Dean, James

first name (variants): Kalaghwadirhon
honorific(s): Mr.
Other names: Major; Judge
Birth: August 20, 1748 in Groton, CT
Death: September 10, 1823 in Westmoreland, NY

Oneida; Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge; New England Company; Moor's Indian Charity School; Dartmouth College; Continental Army; State Assembly of New York


Dartmouth College (1773)




Interpreter; Government Agent; Judge; Farmer

  • Groton, CT (from 1748-08-20 to 1757)
  • Onaquaga, NY (from 1757 to 1762)
  • Boston, MA (from 1762 to 1769-11)
  • Lebanon, CT (from 1769-11 to 1770-09)
  • Hanover, NH (from 1770-09 to 1775-08)
  • Westmoreland, NY ( to 1823-09-10)
Marital status

James Dean was married twice. He had six children by his first wife, five of whom survived infancy.


James Dean, an adopted member of the Oneida tribe, was an interpreter and American government agent. When he was nine years old, his parents sent him to live with the Oneidas at Onaquaga; they may have thought that interpreting would be a secure career, or they may have acted out of a missionary impulse. Dean lived at Onaquaga for four or five years and was formally adopted by the Oneidas. He may have lived at Good Peter's house. Dean learned an array of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Indian languages. In 1762, Rev. Forbes retrieved Dean on a mission to Onaquaga under the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. After that Society folded, the New England Company educated Dean and employed him as a missionary. Naturally, Wheelock coveted the services of this Anglo-American boy who was fluent in multiple Indian languages. Dean was also interested in working for Wheelock because he wanted a college education, which the New England Company was not going to provide. Thus, Dean became yet another point of contention between Wheelock and the New England Company: the New England Company's Boston Board accused Wheelock of trying to poach their best interpreter, while Wheelock maintained that it was Dean who was pursuing him. Dean finally joined Dartmouth College in November of 1769; as Chase points out, by this time Wheelock's relations with the Boston Board were irreparable and he had nothing to lose by accepting Dean as a student. Dean graduated from Dartmouth in 1773 and served Wheelock for the next two years. He worked primarily with Abenakis in Canada and the Oneidas, and was often paired with Kirkland. In August of 1775, Wheelock gave Dean his blessing to leave the missionary service and work as an interpreter and Indian agent for the Continental Army. Dean interpreted at several important conferences and, along with Kirkland, was instrumental in convincing the Oneidas to side with the colonies during the Revolution. After the war, Dean continued to work as a liaison between Indian tribes and American governments, especially between the Oneidas and the New York Government. Although one might expect Dean to have protected his adoptive tribe's interests, he did not. Dean was heavily involved in land speculation, and did not see a cooperative future between Indians and Anglo-Americans. He helped New York State acquire massive amounts of Oneida land, and amassed substantial territory for himself in the process. While Dean did not help the Oneidas hold on to their land, he did make some efforts to defend Oneida sovereignty from New York intervention. Dean farmed his land and turned it into the settlement of Westmoreland. He was a prominent citizen in Central New York: he served as a judge and assemblyman and played an important role in establishing the region's trade lines. Occom refers to visiting Dean several times in his later diaries.


Brooks, Joanna. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Native America. Oxford 2006. Calloway, Colin, The Indian History of an American Institution. Dartmouth College Press 2010. Chase, Frederick. A history of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire. 1891. Dartmouth College. General Catalogue of Dartmouth College and the Associated Schools 1769-1900: Including a Historical Sketch of the College. Hanover 1900. Accessed via Google Books. McCallum, James. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians. Dartmouth College Press 1932. Stanley, Kathryn and Kimok, Debra. Guide to the James Dean Letters. April 1999 and November 2007. Accessed 8/31/2013. Tiro, Karim M. “James Dean in Iroquoia.” In New York History Vol 80 No 4 October 1999 pp. 391-422. Accessed via JSTOR.

Further reading

Hamilton College and SUNY Pottsdam both have more extensive collections of Dean's letters. Hamilton College Library Digital Collections. Stanley, Kathryn and Kimok, Debra. Guide to the James Dean Letters. April 1999 and November 2007. Accessed 8/31/2013.