A member of the Mohegan tribe of east-central Connecticut, and believed to be a direct descendant of its great chief Uncas, Samson Occom was converted to Christianity at age 18 during the Great Awakening, and at 20 went to study for four years at the Lebanon, Connecticut, home of Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock. Occom was a remarkable student, achieving proficiency in English as well as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but severe eyestrain prevented him from enrolling in university. For the next twelve years, he served as an effective educator and missionary to the Montauk Indians of Long Island, and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1759. After several missionary trips to the Oneida Nation, Occom traveled across England and Scotland from 1766-68, preaching to rapt audiences and raising money for Wheelock’s Indian Charity school, only to return and find the school relocated by Wheelock to a royal grant in New Hampshire, renamed Dartmouth College, and reorganized to educate Anglo-American students. After his long association with Wheelock ended in 1771, Occom became an outspoken advocate for Indian rights. In 1772, he achieved celebrity by delivering a sermon at the execution of Moses Paul, a Wampanoag Indian convicted of murder. A landmark in American sermonic literature and a pointed criticism of Anglo spiritual hypocrisy, it went through 19 editions and was reprinted in several languages. As a result, Occom received many invitations to preach, and on the strength of connections made in his travels up and down the eastern coast, he became convinced that the eastern Indian tribes had to withdraw from the corrupting influence of European settlers. This conviction was reinforced by the decision in 1773 of the Mason Land Case against the Mohegan Tribe, who had been suing the Colony of Connecticut for possession of traditional lands that had been held in trust for them. Along with David Fowler (Montauk Tribe), Occom's brother-in-law, and Joseph Johnson (Mohegan), Occom's son-in-law, Occom helped found Brothertown, an Indian tribe formed from the Christian Mohegans, Pequots, Narragansetts, Montauks, Tunxis, and Niantics. They eventually settled in Oneida country in upstate New York. Occom moved there with his family in 1789, serving as minister. Harried by corrupt land agents, the Brothertown and Stockbridge groups relocated to the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, though Occom died in 1792 before he could remove himself and his family there.
Last Updated: 12/8/15