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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William
- Anne
- Sarah Kemble
- Thomas Morton
- Samson Occom
- William Penn
- Mary
- Edward Taylor
- John Winthrop
- John Woolman
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Samson Occom (1723-1792)

[6747] John Warner Barber, Sketch of Samson Occom's house (1836), courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

Samson Occom Activities
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Samson Occom was born in 1723 in a Mohegan Indian community in Connecticut. At the age of sixteen he was "awakened and converted" to Christianity under the guidance of white itinerant ministers. Shortly thereafter, Occom began learning English and studying scripture under the tutelage of Eleazar Wheelock, a prominent missionary interested in training young Native American men to act as Christian ministers to their own people. In 1749, Occom left Wheelock to embark on such a mission. While teaching and preaching in Long Island, he met and married Mary Fowler, a Montauk Indian, with whom he had ten children. Occom was officially ordained as a minister in 1759.

Maintaining a close relationship with his mentor, Occom dedicated much of his early life to promoting Wheelock's missions and projects. In 1765, at Wheelock's behest, he embarked on an ambitious two-year speaking tour of England to raise money for a charity school for Indians in New England. The mission was a financial and public relations success, in large part because of Occom's popularity among the English. The novelty of a Christianized American Indian attracted a great deal of attention, and Occom's dedication to the project brought in large returns. While in England, he preached three hundred sermons and raised nearly twelve thousand pounds in contributions.

Upon his return to America, Occom was outraged to find his family living in poverty despite Wheelock's promise to provide for them during Occom's absence. His resentment toward Wheelock grew when he learned that the minister had decided to use the funds Occom had raised in England to turn the Indian school into Dartmouth College, an institution that quickly abandoned its focus on Native American students. Occom also complained that he was underpaid, for he had a large family to support and his wages never approached the salaries commanded by many white ministers. Finding himself in dire financial straits and feeling betrayed, Occom bitterly ended his long relationship with Wheelock. He devoted much of the rest of his life to preaching and raising funds for the resettlement of Christian Indians on lands belonging to the Oneida Indians in western New York. Though he eventually moved his family there and held the position of pastor within the settlement, the scheme was never entirely successful because of legal struggles and controversies over land claims. Occom died in New York in 1792.

During his lifetime Occom wrote extensively and published two works, making him one of the few Native Americans of the period to leave a written record of his life and thought. While his best-known piece is probably the "Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul," a transcription of the speech he delivered in 1772 before the execution of a fellow Christian Mohegan for the crime of murder, recent critical attention has also focused on Occom's brief autobiography. Occom wrote "A Short Narrative of My Life" in 1768 as a defense against the criticisms and personal attacks he withstood after his quarrel with Wheelock. In it, he seeks to prove the authenticity of both his spirituality and his Indian identity, as well as to expose the injustices he suffered at the hands of whites. The document remained in the Dartmouth archives, unpublished, until 1982. It is one of the first autobiographical pieces in English by a Native American writer and thus offers a unique and important perspective on eighteenth-century American spiritual and social life.

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