Samson Occom

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The Reverend Samson Occom

Samson Occom (1723 – July 14, 1792; also misspelled as Occum and Alcom[1][2][a]) was a member of the Mohegan nation, from near New London, Connecticut, who became a Presbyterian cleric. Occom was the second Native American to publish his writings in English (after son-in-law Joseph Johnson (Mohegan/Brothertown) whose letter to Moses Paul, published April 1772, preceded Occom's by 6 months), the first Native American to write down his autobiography, and also helped found several settlements, including what ultimately became known as the Brothertown Indians. Together with the missionary John Eliot, Occom became one of the foremost missionaries who cross-fertilised Native American communities with Christianized European culture.

Early life and education[edit]

Born to Joshua Tomacham and his wife Sarah, Occom is believed to be a descendant of Uncas,[4] the notable Mohegan chief. According to his autobiography, at the age of 16 or 17, Occom heard the teachings of Christian evangelical preachers in the Great Awakening. He began to study theology at the "Lattin School" of Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock in 1743[5] and stayed for four years until leaving to begin his own career. In addition to improving his English, Occom learned to read and speak Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. As a young man, the only book he owned was the Bible. From 1747 until 1749, Occom worked under and studied with the Reverend Solomon Williams in New London, Connecticut.


Nathaniel Smibert, Samson Occom (c. 1750).

Occom became a teacher, preacher, and judge among the Montaukett[6] Native Americans in Montauk, eastern Long Island, and married Mary Fowler, a Montaukett woman.[7] Occom helped some of the Pequot peoples he worked with assimilate and adopt European-style houses, dress and culture.

He was officially ordained a minister on August 30, 1759, by the presbytery of Suffolk.[7] Occom was never paid the same salary as white preachers, although promised he would be. The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge also gave Occom a stipend for some time, but he lived in deep poverty for much of his life.

In 1761 and 1763, Occom traveled to the Six Nations of the Iroquois in upstate New York to preach. Winning few converts, he returned to teach at Mohegan, Connecticut, near New London.[8] Occom mediated the conflicts between the colonists and the Native Americans because he was very familiar with colonist culture and through Occom's missionary work he was recognized as a leader that strengthened Native American relations.[9]

Wheelock had meanwhile established an Indian charity school in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1754 with a legacy from Joshua Moor (among others). Upon Occom's return to Mohegan, Wheelock persuaded his former pupil to travel to England to raise money for the school. Occom sailed from Boston December 23, 1765, and did not return until May 20, 1768. He preached his way across Britain from February 16, 1766, to July 22, 1767, delivering between 300 and 400 sermons, drawing large crowds wherever he went, and raising over £12,000 for Wheelock's project. King George III donated 200 pounds, and William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, subscribed 50 guineas. However, Occom on his return learned that Wheelock had failed to care for Occom's wife and children while he was away. Furthermore, Wheelock moved to New Hampshire and used the funds raised to establish Dartmouth College (named after the English earl) for the education of the sons of American colonists, rather than Native Americans as had originally been promised to Occom. Even 200 years later, the college had graduated less than 20 Native American students.[10]

In 1764, Occom opposed the sale of tribal lands and was involved in the “Mason Controversy,” a long lasting dispute over land between the colonists and the Mohegeans. The Mohegans formed an alliance with the Mason family to plead a case for the governor of Connecticut to give back the lands to the Mohegans. When Occom came back to Mohegans, he expressed his support for the Mason family and the Mohegans which caused the missionaries to make threats like taking away his preacher's license and to stop financing his missionary work. The colonists also started to spread bad rumors about Occom, especially about how he was an alcoholic and how he converted to Christianity just for show.[11] In a 1769 letter, Wheelock wrote to Occom about a rumor about Occom being an alcoholic. The rumor hurt Occom's reputation after Occom's success in fundraising money in England. Wheelock suggested that Occom truly does not care for Christianity.  The stereotype of the drunk Indian was put onto Occom and undermined his missionary work. Wheelock benefited from the defamation of Occom as Wheelock got back his authority. Wheelock's letter further put forth the concept of fake conversion onto Occom and that Occom was not to be trusted as a preacher.[12]

Occom's Mohegan home, by John W. Barber

In 1768, Occom wrote A Short Narrative of My Life, a ten-page manuscript now held in Dartmouth College's archive collection; however, it was not published until 1982.[13] The document expands upon a single-page biography that Occom wrote before his preaching tour of England and Scotland.[14] Occom also published Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul and A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1774. All of these documents provide a very different perspective on the relations between colonists and Native Americans from Mary Rowlandson's narrative of her captivity in similar areas a century earlier.[15]

Ministry and later life[edit]

Upon his return from England, Occom lived with his Mohegan people. After Wheelock's betrayal, Occom together with son-in-law Joseph Johnson, brothers-in-law David and Jacob Fowler, and others, worked to organize the Christian (or “praying”) Indians of New England and Long Island into a new tribe in Upstate New York. On October 4, 1774, the Oneida ceded land to the East Coast Indians and by 1775, the initial group had begun to migrate. Burnt out at the outset of the Revolution, many went to Massachusetts to live among the Stockbridge until their return in 1785. Occom, his son-in-law Joseph Johnson (who had been a messenger for General George Washington during the American Revolution), and his Montauk brother-in-law David Fowler led the people back to rebuild their settlement (near what is now Waterville, New York) called Brothertown.

The Oneida also invited other Christian Indians to live with them, namely the Stockbridge Mohican from land claimed by western Massachusetts and two Lenape groups from the southern New Jersey area. The Mohicans founded what they called New Stockbridge in New York, near Oneida Lake.[16] Occom not only assured that these villages received official civil charters in 1787, but also evicted white settlers from Brothertown on April 12, 1792.[7]

Occom died on July 14, 1792, in New Stockbridge. He is said to be buried just off Bogusville Hill Road outside of Deansboro, New York.


Memorial to Samson Occom, Moor's Charity School, Columbia, CT

After Occom's death, during the 1820s, many Brothertown Indians and some Oneida accepted payment from New York State for their land and were removed to what is now known as the town of Brothertown in Calumet County, Wisconsin. In the modern era, the Brothertown Indians petitioned the federal government for recognition as a tribe, but were denied and have appealed.[17][18]

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 Occom, including Occom Pond and Occom Ridge on the college campus's northern edge.[19] The Native American Studies program has a Samson Occom professorship.[20] The Occom Commons community space is part of Goldstein Hall in the recently opened McLaughlin Residential Cluster. Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut, also named a residence hall for upperclassmen after Occom.

The Norwich, Connecticut neighborhood of Occum is named for Samson Occom.

The Brothertown Indians celebrate Samson Occom Day as an official Tribal holiday every July 14.

On April 27, 2019, the Native American Alumni Association of Dartmouth College erected a memorial on the site of Moor's Charity School in Columbia, CT, "commemorating and honoring Samson Occom for his contributions to the education of Native Americans and the founding of Dartmouth College."

Works of Samson Occom[edit]

  • 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 [1762], 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Although the manuscripts show many spellings such Ockam, Alcom, Aukum, Aucum, Occum, and Aucom, he himself wrote it Samson Occom.[3]


  1. ^ Samson Occum, The Mohegan Tribe, retrieved December 24, 2015.
  2. ^ The Dartmouth, vol. 3, 1869.
  3. ^ Love 1899, p. 21.
  4. ^ Indian Margaret Connell Szasz, Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Strong, John A. (2006). The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0815630956. OCLC 166322287.
  7. ^ a b c Brooks, Joanna, The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, 2006: Oxford University Press
  8. ^ Love, William DeLoss Samson, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, Chicago: Pilgrim Press: 1899, p. 100
  9. ^ WIGGINTON, CAROLINE (2008). "Extending Root and Branch: Community Regeneration in the Petitions of Samson Occom". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 20 (4): 24–55. doi:10.1353/ail.0.0046. ISSN 0730-3238. JSTOR 20737442. S2CID 159522131.
  10. ^ Grace Lee (October 11, 2019). "Native American education at Dartmouth develops over time". The Dartmouth. No. Homecoming edition. Retrieved August 27, 2021. During the first 200 years of the College's existence, a total of 19 Native American students graduated from Dartmouth
  11. ^ Peyer, Bernd (1982). "Samson Occom: Mohegan Missionary and Writer of the 18th Century". American Indian Quarterly. 6 (3/4): 208–217. doi:10.2307/1183629. ISSN 0095-182X. JSTOR 1183629.
  12. ^ Elliott, Michael (1994). ""This Indian Bait": Samson Occom and the Voice of Liminality". Early American Literature. 29 (3): 233–253. ISSN 0012-8163. JSTOR 25056982.
  13. ^ The Norton Anthology American Literature, vol. A, p. 446
  14. ^ Siemers, Jeff (November 22, 2008). "Occom's 'Short Narrative of My Life'". Algonkian Church History. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  15. ^ "Mary Rowlandson". Archived from the original on 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  16. ^ Origin & Early Mohican History, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Archived 2009-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Brothertown Indian Nation - Recognition Restoration". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  18. ^ "Petitioner #067: Brothertown Indian Nation | Indian Affairs". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  19. ^ Geographical coordinates of Occom Pond and Occom Ridge: 43°42′40″N 72°17′16″W / 43.71099°N 72.28783°W / 43.71099; -72.28783
  20. ^ "N. Bruce Duthu". Program in Native American Studies. Dartmouth College. 2 April 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2015.


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