July 22: Mohegan Minister Samson Occum Tours England


Samson Occom, one of the Mohegan tribe’s most famous members and a direct descendant of the great 17th century tribal leader Uncas, was born in 1723 in southeastern Connecticut.  As a teenager, he converted to Christianity after attending one of the many revivals held throughout Connecticut as part of the first Great Awakening religious movement.  At the age of twenty, Occom moved to Columbia, Connecticut, where he remained for four years in order to study theology under minister Eleazar Wheelock.

A young Samson Occom, painted by Nathaniel Smibert.

After completing his education under Wheelock, Occom traveled to Long Island where he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.  Meanwhile, Wheelock had established a formal Indian School in Columbia with the mission of “Christianizing” Native Americans by providing them with a western education and teaching them how to assimilate to European-colonial culture.  At Wheelock’s request, his formal pupil Samson Occom traveled to England, where he embarked on a grueling preaching tour in order to raise funds to support and expand the Indian School.  Over the course of the seventeen-month tour, Occom preached over 300 sermons and raised over £11,000 for the Indian School — an extraordinary sum at the time.

On July 22, 1767, Occom completed his tour of England and headed home to Connecticut, where he was dismayed to find his wife and children in financial straits, since Wheelock had promised to provide for them while Occom was overseas.  Furthermore, after receiving the funds raised by Occom’s efforts, Wheelock reneged on his promise to used them to expand his Indian School; instead, he used the money to establish what would become Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire — a school built to educate the sons of wealthy English colonists.  Occom, disappointed but determined as ever to fulfill his ministerial calling, continued preaching and publish numerous religious works.  Among his most lasting contributions to American history is the founding of the Brothertown Indian community in upstate New York, a community of Christian Indians that, after having migrated westward to Wisconsin, still exists today.

Further Reading

Samson Occom,” ARDA online

Samson Occom,” Yale University Indian Papers Project

Walter W. Woodward, “A Little Town Begets a Big College,” Connecticut Explored