Primary Source

Letter from Samson Occom to Mary Occom, June 1, 1763. Collection of Dartmouth College

Summary

Samson Occom writes to his wife Mary. He is about to set off from New York on a trip. He tells her to hire some help to harvest hay, and lets her know that a Mr. Wells has five pounds for her to use to pay household expenses. The letter is dated June 1 and he lets her know he does not expect to be home until late fall. He promises to write often and tells her he loves her. 

Transcription
My Dear

I am yet at New York
and I expect to set off tomorrow morning
on my Journey, I have been very well
Since I came from Home, and hope
these few Lines may find you all in
good Health, I have left a five pound
Bill in Mr Wells’s Hands to be convey’d
to You for our Family’s use; — as soon
as Grass is fit to Cut do you hire
Hands to get four or five Load of Hay,
I dont know what time I shall get
Home, but I believe it will be
late in the fall if I shou’d live —
Remember god and trust in him
at all Time — I Shall write to you
as often as I Can,

I am your
true and Loving Husband

Samson Occom

New York
June 1: 1763

 

Reverend Samson Occom

Samson Occom was a Mohegan who lived around the same time as Venture Smith. He was born in 1723 and died in 1792. He wrote about his life. In an autobiographical narrative written in 1765, he described childhood this way (his words are in bold and this is his spelling and punctuation):

My parents Liv’d a wandering life, as did all the Indians at Mohegan; they Chiefly Depended upon Hunting Fishing & Fowling for their Living and had no Connections with the English, excepting to trade with them in their Small Trifles,—and they Strictly maintain’d and follow’d their … Ways, Customs & Religion—tho’ there was Some English ministers preaching Christianity among them. … and when I was about 10 Years of age there was a man who went about among the Indian Wigwams, and where ever he Could find the Indian Childn, he would make them read—but the Children Usd to take Care to keep out of his way;—and he Us’d to Catch me Some times and make me Say over my Letters, and I believe I learnt Some of them. But this was Soon over too—and all this Time there was not one amongst us, that made a Profession of Christianity—Neither did we Cultivate our Land, nor kept any Sort of Creatures except Dogs, Which We Used in Hunting; and Dwelt in Wigwams, These are a Sort of Tents, Coverd with Matts—And to this Time we were unaquainted with the English Toung in General tho there were a few, who understood a little of it.

Secondary Source

Occom described his father as a great hunter. After his father died in 1743 Occom studied for four years with Reverend Eleazar Wheelock in what is now the town of Columbia. (It was called Lebanon Crank then.) Wheelock’s school was called Moor’s Indian Charity School. Occom visited Native communities nearby and taught school in New London in 1747.

Occom wanted to go to Yale College but had to stop his studies because of eye strain. He moved to Montauk, Long Island to fish. He opened a school there. In fall 1751 he married Mary Fowler who was a Montaukett Indian and they lived among the Montaukett people. Samson and Mary started a family. Samson and Mary struggled. It was hard to make a living.

He became a missionary. A missionary is a minister who lives among people of another culture and tries to get them to change to the missionary's religion (in this case Christianity). Occom visited the Oneida in New York and started a school there. Throughout his life he would preach and teach. Samson officially became a minister in 1759. He sent his oldest son to Moor’s Indian Charity School.

In 1764 Samson and Mary and their growing family moved back to Mohegan. He preached there and tried to help his people. He tried to help with their land disputes with the Connecticut Colony.

In 1765 Occom went to England to raise money for Moor’s Indian Charity School. He preached and collected donations. He stayed in England for two and a half years. He met King George II, and other important people. In Scotland, he was given an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh. He was becoming well-known but his health was suffering. Meanwhile back home, another son went to Moor’s Indian Charity School but his family was struggling because they did not have enough money. 

In 1770 Rev. Wheelock moved Moor’s Indian Charity School to Hanover, New Hampshire. It later became Dartmouth College. Occom broke off his relationship with Wheelock in 1771. Occom and Wheelock disagreed about whether Wheelock was truly supporting Native education.

Occom returned to Mohegan and regained his health. Friends helped out the struggling family. In 1773 Occom gathered with a group of people to talk about relocating to Oneida land in western New York. Members of the Mohegan, Pequot, Niantic, Montaukett, Farmington, and Narragansett communities met to talk about their new community. They had all converted to Christianity. The first group left for western New York in spring 1775. They named the new community Brotherton. The Revolutionary War interrupted the arrival of more migrants until the end of the war.

Occom continued preaching all around southern New England and New York. He preached to the Montaukett and the Shinnecock, the Oneida, and the Brotherton community. He helped raise money for the Brotherton community.

In 1789 Samson and Mary moved their family from Mohegan to Brotherton. But the settlement there also found they could not hold onto their land. They would be forced to relocate to Wisconsin in the 1830s.  

In 1792 Samson Occom died. Three hundred Native people attended his funeral.

Source: Joanna Brooks, Editor, The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth Century Native America (Oxford University Press, 2006)

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