||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2010)|
The Reverend Samson Occom (1723 – July 14, 1792) (also misspelled as Occum) was a member of the Mohegan nation near New London, Connecticut and a Presbyterian cleric. He is the first Native American to publish his writings in English, and his documents and pamphlets have been preserved. Together with the missionary John Eliot, he is considered one of the foremost men who cross-fertilised Native American communities with Christianized European culture.
In 1785, together with two other leaders, he organized Christian Indians among various Mohegan and Pequot bands in New England and eastern Long Island into a tribe called the Brothertown Indians. They were located in western Massachusetts.
Early life and education
Born to Joshua Tomacham and his wife Sarah, Occom is believed to be a direct descendant of Uncas, the notable Mohegan chief. In 1743 at the age of 20, Occom heard the teachings of Christian evangelical preachers in the Great Awakening. he began to study theology at the "Lattin School" of Eleazar Wheelock in 1743 and stayed for four years until leaving to begin his own career. In addition to improving his English, he learned to read and speak Hebrew. As a young man, the only book he owned was the Bible. From 1747 until 1749, he was the private pupil of Reverend Solomon Williams at New London, Connecticut.
From 1749-1761, Occom served as a teacher, preacher, and judge to Pequot Native American people in Montauk, eastern Long Island. He married Mary Fowler, a local woman, in the fall of 1751. He contributed to the assimilation of the Pequot to adopt European-style houses, dress and culture. He was officially ordained a minister on August 30, 1759, by the presbytery of Suffolk. Occom was never paid the same salary as white preachers, although promised that he would be, and he lived in deep poverty for much of his life. He was paid by the "Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge". In 1761 and 1763, he made visits to the Six Nations of the Iroquois in upstate New York to preach. Without winning many converts, he returned to teach at Mohegan, Connecticut near New London.
With a benefaction from Joshua Moor, in 1754 Wheelock established an Indian charity school. He persuaded Occom to go to England in 1766 Wheelock established an Indian charity school to raise money for the school. Occom preached his way across the country from February 16, 1766, to July 22, 1767. He delivered in total between three and four hundred sermons, drawing large crowds wherever he went. By the end of his tour, he had raised over ₤12,000 (pounds) for Wheelock's project. King George III donated 200 pounds, and William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth subscribed 50 guineas.
The friendship between Occom and Wheelock dissolved when Occom learned that Wheelock had neglected to care for Occom's wife and children while he was away. Occom also was dismayed that Wheelock put the funds raised toward establishing Dartmouth College for the education of Englishmen, rather than of Native Americans.
In 1768, Occom wrote the 10-page A Short Narrative of My Life, which was held in Dartmouth College's archive collection; it was first published in 1982. He also published Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul and A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1774.
Ministry and later life
Upon his return from England, Occom lived with the Mohegan. He worked to organize Christianized Indians of New England and Long Island into a new tribe who became known as the Brothertown Indians, located in western Connecticut. Under continuing pressure from settlers following the American Revolutionary War, in 1785 they migrated at the invitation of the Oneida to their reservation in central New York state, where the tribe was formalized. Also Christian, the Oneida had offered land to the Brothertown Indians; the group named their new settlement "Brothertown." The Oneida also invited other Christian Indians to live with them, namely the Stockbridge Mohican from western Massachusetts and two Lenape groups from southern New Jersey. The Mohicans founded what they called New Stockbridge in New York, near Oneida Lake.
Occom died on July 14, 1792, in New Stockbridge. He is buried just off of Bogusville Hill Road outside of Deansboro (formerly known as Brothertown).
New York State paid the Brothertown and Stockbridge to remove to Wisconsin in the 1820s, and took over their land. Some of the Oneida also accepted money for their land and removed to Wisconsin, but most stayed in New York.
Samson Occom oversaw the establishment of Native townships and New Stockbridge and Brotherton (originally nearby Waterville, NY) during a period after several tribes agreed with New York lawmakers to reserve land for European settlement. Occom is responsible not only for the civil charter of these villages in 1787 but also for the April 12, 1792 eviction of white settlers from the village of Brotherton.
In the first half of the 1800s, many Brothertown Indians people accepted payment for their land and to removed to what is now known as the Town of Brothertown in Calumet County, Wisconsin. The Brothertown Indians have petitioned the federal government for recognition as a tribe. In the 19th century, they were forced to give up tribal membership when they accepted the land payment and US citizenship in an effort to avoid being displaced again. Since then, United States policy has changed; Native American people are considered both American citizens as well as citizens of their respective Nations.
In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Samson Occom was named in his honor.
Several locations around Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, are named after him. Occom Pond and Occom Ridge are located on the northern edge of the college campus. Bruce Duthu is the Samson Occom Professor and Chair of Native American Studies Program. The Occom Commons community space is part of Goldstein Hall, in the recently opened McLaughlin Residential Cluster. Elsewhere, an upperclassmen residence hall named after Occom is located on the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut.
Works of Samson Occom
- A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, New London, Connecticut: Press of Thomas and Samual Green, 1774.
- A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian Who Was Executed at New Haven on the 2nd of September 1772 for the Murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on the 7th of December 1771, New Haven: Press of Thomas and Samual Green, 1772.
- A Short Narrative of My Life. The Elders Wrote: An Anthology of Early Prose by North American Indians 1768-1931. Ed. Bernd Peyer. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1982 , 12-18. (This work has recently been published in The Norton Anthology of American Literature.)
- Journals, 1754 and 1786(?), Unpublished manuscript in collection of New London County Historical Society.
- Herbs and Roots, Unpublished manuscript in collection of New London County Historical Society.
- The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan. Ed. Joanna Brooks. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- For Occum see, for example: Samson Occum, The Mohegan Tribe and The Dartmouth, Volume 3
- Although the manuscripts show many spellings such Ockam, Alcom, Aukum, Aucum, Occum, and Aucom, he himself wrote it Samson Occom: Love, William DeLoss Samson. Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, Chicago: Pilgrim Press: 1899, pag. 21
- Indian Margaret Connell Szasz Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783.
- Calloway, Colin Gordon (May 11, 2010). The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth. Lebanon, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1584658443. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
- Brooks, Joanna. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, 2006: Oxford University Press
- Love, William DeLoss Samson. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, Chicago: Pilgrim Press: 1899, p. 100
- Origin & Early Mohican History Stockbridge-Munsee Community
- Geographical coordinates of Occom Pond and Occom Ridge:
- N. Bruce Duthu, Dartmouth College
- Indian Country Wisconsin-Brothertown
- Another Short Biography
- Papers at Connecticut Historical Society
- The Betrayal of Samson Occom
- Ordination of Samson Occom
- The Mohegan Tribe: Heritage: Samson Occum.
- Native American Authors: Samson Occum.
- Francis Whiting Halsey, The Old New York Frontier, Part 2, Chapter 5: New Men at Oghwaga.