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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Activities: Author Activities

Samson Occom - Teaching Tips

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  • You might provide students with some historical background on the Mohegan tribe so that they can situate Occom's experience within the broader context of Indian/white relations in the colonial period in New England. A member of the Algonquian language family, the Mohegans constituted the northernmost branch of the Pequot tribe. During the devastating Pequot War (chronicled from the English perspective in Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation), the Mohegans sided with the English. This decision ensured a brief period of peace with European settlers following the war, but by the end of the seventeenth century, the tribe had been decimated by disease and by the colonists' continual encroachment on its lands. At the time of Occom's birth, the Mohegans numbered only about 350 and were confined to villages set aside for them in Connecticut.

  • Students may be unable to comprehend why seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Native Americans would have been interested in giving up their traditional beliefs in order to convert to Christianity. In fact, many Native Americans and African Americans embraced Christianity because it afforded them the same status as whites, as spiritual equals in the eyes of God. Of course, European colonists did not always respect this principle of spiritual equality. You might highlight the pointed contrasts Occom draws in his narrative between the Christian ideals espoused by whites and the actual treatment minority converts experienced at their hands.

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