Occom, Samson 
Search Timelines:

Time Period
1723  - 1792
Description
Samson Occom was born in 1723 as part of the Mohegan Indian tribe. Given the Mohegan proximity to Connecticut, nearby missionaries during the First Great Awakening influenced Occom to convert to Christianity as a teenager. He later became an evangelical Presbyterian minister.

A Native American, Occom was often treated as a second-class citizen. For example, Occom was paid barely a fifth of the salary given to a white fellow missionary, "because," as he put it, "I am an Indian."

Throughout his ministry, Occom served as a leader among the Mohegan, often handling land disputes between the tribe and the Connecticut colony. One of his great accomplishments was helping found "Brothertown," which was a community of Indian Christians in upstate New York. The Brothertown Indian Nation still exists, though they were forced to move to Wisconsin. They continue to fight for legal recognition from the federal government.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Race/Ethnicity and Religion
Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
Browse Related Timeline Entries
Race/Ethnicity and Religion in American History
Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
Samson Occom was born in 1723 as part of the Mohegan Indian tribe. He claimed descent from the line of the great Mohegan sachem Uncas, who fought against the expansion of English settlement in New England during the Pequot and King Philip's Wars in the seventeenth century.

Given the Mohegan proximity to the Connecticut colony, they were an early target for missionary efforts during the First Great Awakening. Occom later described the Awakening as hearing a "Strange Rumor among the English, that there were Extraordinary Ministers Preaching from Place to Place and a Strange Concern among the White People." David Brainerd spent a year living with the tribe before leaving for New Jersey, but it was an evangelist named James Davenport who inspired Occom's conversion as a teenager.

Occom, hungry for education, went to live with Congregationalist minister Eleazar Wheelock for four years and learned to read and write in English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Occom's aptitude for learning encouraged Wheelock to open a charity school for Indians in 1754. In 1766 Occom traveled to England to raise funds with which to expand Wheelock's school. While there he preached on more than 300 occasions and raised the extraordinary amount of a least 11,000 pounds.

When Occom returned to Connecticutt, however, he found that Wheelock had failed to care for his wife Mary and their children. Furthermore, Wheelock decided to use the funds to start a school for the education of white settlers. Adding insult to injury, the school, Dartmouth College, was named after a wealthy, noble donor. Occom subsequently left Wheelock's association and sent him a blistering letter with a Latin play on words: "I am very Jealous that instead of your Semenary Becoming alma Mater, she will be too alba mater to Suckle the Tawnees." (Alba mater means "white mother.")

Occom's mistreatment by Wheelock was standard for Indian converts to Christianity. Although evangelical proponents of the First Great Awakening prized Indian missions, after conversion they often continued to treat them as second-class brethren. For instance, Occom was paid barely a fifth of the salary given to a white fellow missionary, "because," as he put it, "I am an Indian." Occom's concern for the rights of Indian tribes spilled over into opposition to slavery. The young poet and slave Phillis Wheatley, impressed by Occom's publication of a sermon condemning slavery, wrote to him saying, "in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance."

After parting with Wheelock, Occom continued to minister to multiple Indian tribes. He wrote prolifically during this period and, inspired by a several day-long sojourn with English hymn-writer John Newton, published a hymnbook in 1774 designed for distribution among Indian Christians.

Throughout his ministry, Occom served as a leader among the Mohegan, for example handling land disputes between the tribe and the Connecticut colony. After the American Revolution, he lead a coalition of seven Indian tribes to form a new community called "Brothertown" for Indian Christians in upstate New York. In 1792 Occom founded a Presbyterian Church in Brothertown but died shortly afterward. During the War of 1812, white New Yorkers, worried about the Iroquois allies of the British and thus suspicious of Indians in general, forced the Brothertown community to move to Wisconsin in keeping with congressional wishes that all tribes be relocated out of the East. The Brothertown Indian Nation still exists today although it is entangled in a long-running legal battle for recognition from the federal government.
Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Events
The First Great Awakening
Movements
The First Great Awakening
Photographs

Samson Occom portrait- Internet Archive- from Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by W. DeLoss Love

Samson Occom's house at Mohegan- Internet Archive- from Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by W. DeLoss Love

Samson Occom portrait- Hathi Trust- from The Story of the American Hymn by Edward S. Ninde

A Collection of Hymns by Samson Occom, title page- Hathi Trust- from Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by W. DeLoss Love
Book/Journal Source(s)
Szasz, Margaret, 2007. Indian Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783. University of Nebraska Press.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

Bookmark and Share