Kirkland, Samuel

last name (variants): Kirtland
honorific(s): Mr.
Birth: December 1, 1741 in Norwich, CT
Death: February 28, 1808 in Clinton, NY

Moor's Indian Charity School; College of New Jersey; Seneca (adopted); Connecticut Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; Oneida (adopted); Trustees of Moor's Indian Charity School; New England Company; Continental Army; Boston Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; Hamilton Oneida Academy


Moor's Indian Charity School (1760-1762), College of New Jersey (1762-1764)




Anglo-American, adopted Seneca and Oneida



  • Norwich, CT (from 1741-12-01 to 1760-10-31)
  • Lebanon, CT (from 1760-10-31 to 1762)
  • College of New Jersey (from 1762 to 1764-11)
  • Kanandasaga (from 1764-11 to 1766-05)
  • Kanawalohale (from 1766-08-01 to 1808-02-28)
Marital status

Kirkland married Jerusha Bingham, Wheelock's niece, in 1769. They had six children who survived infancy: 3 boys and 3 girls. Two of their sons died later in life, but their surviving son went on to become the president of Harvard. Jerusha died in January of 1788, and Kirkland remarried to a wealthy woman in 1796.


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.


Chase, Frederick. A history of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire. 1891. Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press 2012. Hamilton College Archives. "Samuel Kirkland Collection." Accessed 1/15/14-1/17/14, Hauptman, Laurence M. Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999. Lothrop, Samuel K. Life of Samuel Kirkland, Missionary to the Indians. Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848. Accessed via GoogleBooks. Murray, Laura. “‘Pray Sir, Consider a Little’”: Rituals of Subordination and Strategies of Resistance in the Letters of Hezekiah Calvin and David Fowler to Eleazar Wheelock, 1764-1768.” Studies in American Indian Literatures Vol. 4 No. 2/3 (Summer/Fall 1992) pp. 48-74. Accessed via JSTOR. Silverman, David J. Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010. Sprague, William Buell. “Samuel Kirkland.” In Annals of the American Pulpit: Trinitarian Congregational. New York: R. Carter and Brothers, 1859. pp. 623-630. Accessed via GoogleBooks. Wyss, Hilary. Writing Indians: Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press 2000.

Further reading

Kirkland, Samuel. The Journals of Samuel Kirkland, 18th-century Missionary to the Iroquois, Government Agent, Father of Hamilton College. Ed. Walter Pilkington. Hamilton College, 1980.