Samson Occom

img_58b4ac105c17d Samson Occom Jeremy Dennis On This Site
“An Indian Priest,” recently identified as Samsom Occum, painted by Nathaniel Smibert, 1751-56. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Introduction

Mohegan leader Samson Occum, who in 1759, became the first formally trained and ordained Christian Indian minister. He was known as “minister to all the tribes of New England” and “the great Indian man who takes care of Indians.”

East Hampton was the only Long Island area which had a long-term resident Native teacher — Samson Occom of Mohegan, who married Montaukett Mary Fowler. He created a higher level of European “literacy” for the Montaukett, although the Native people had their own form of literacy in individualized marks for signing documents, in their pictographic language carved in stone, wood, etc., and in sign language.

But this more “educated” Native group, plus Occom’s services as a scribe to transmit their concerns to the British Commissioner for Indian Affairs for the Northern Provinces, Sir William Johnson, created a situation which sets the Montaukett apart from other Island Native groups and created a more extensive documentary record as well. 1

Occom was one of about 27 Native men educated in the European manner by Rev. Eleazer Wheelock and fellow clerics; he was one of the few to survive and the only one to have his portrait painted by the noted colonial limner Nathaniel Smibert. He also was pictured by other paintings, mezzotints, and lithographs; thus we know how this man of genius appeared — an inventor of sensory teaching methods a hundred years before Maria Montessori, a composer of hymns still sung in the Presbyterian church, a skilled craftsman and bookbinder (examples in the Long Island Collection), an expert gamesman to feed his family, etc. He was the only Native clergyman to keep a diary, a source of so much unknown information on that time.2

History

1723

Samson Occum is born at Mohegan, Connecticut.3

1749

Rev. Azariah Horton recommends Samson Occum as his successor.3

1749-1761

Rev. Samson Occum is school teacher to Shinnecock and Montauk Indians.3

1761

Samson Occum marries Mary Fowler, sister of David Fowler.3

1773

Samson Occum and his brother-in-law, David Fowler (Montaukett) form the Brothertown Plan to move various Indians of the group first to Oneida country where David Fowler had been a missionary.  This group of various southern New England displaced Christian Algonquins, Montauk and Shinnecock among them, eventually moved to Wisconsin and became the Brothertown Indian Tribe. A group, including the tribal Chairperson, June Ezold, visited the Shinnecock Museum in the 1990’s and gifts were exchanged.  They also have been seeking Federal recognition. A similar group to this tribe is the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe of Wisconsin which also has a similar history of Southern New England Algonquins moving away.  There are more Delaware and Mohegan Indians as a part of this group.4

1774 – 1801 (ca.)

Rev. Elisha Paine, Congregationalist, of Hayground, ordains Shinnecock Indian, Peter John. Rev.

Peter John takes over from Mohegan Rev. Samson Occum and visits Indian congregations in Shinnecock, Poosepatuck, Islip and Wading River.5

1774

Rev. Samson Occum publishes his first book of church hymns.5

1792

Rev. Samson Occum dies on July 14.5

Occum’s Diary

Below are excerpts from Samsom Occum’s diary as it relates to his missionary work on Long Island, NY. The letter are transcribed from their sources with original grammar or written intentionally as being left as it was in the original;

Wednesday April 9th, 1788 My wife and I went to New London in order to go over to Long Island and we got to New London Just before Sun Set and we found a Boat going to Plum Island we went a Board directly and was on the water all Night just about break of Day we got a Shore, and we went to a Hutt and turns in till broad Day Light, and then we went into Mr Bebees House and there we took Breakfast, and the Family was very kind to us, – and we were soon very Soon Call’d to go a board a gain, and Saild on for Napeek and we arrived there before noon, and we went to the Pines and there we Saw Sister Phebe Pharoah, and young David Fowler – and So we all went together east part of Hetherwoods and there we found Mother Fowler, here are three or four Families of Indians and one Family of English,6

Brothertown

Recognizing that the Montaukett could not survive in the climate of genocide fostered by East Hampton government, Samsom Occom, with leaders of the Mohegan, Pequot, and Narragansett, planned an exodus to the Oneida Territory of up-state New York to establish the Christian town of Brothertown. The first settlement was aborted in 1776 by Revolutionary War hostilities, but was begun again after the war in 1784.

Occom was the minister of the settlement and died there in 1792; his grave is unmarked but is thought to be in or near this Brotherton cemetery on Oriskany creek behind the house of his brother-in-law David Fowler.

Mary Fowler Occom’s brothers Jacob and David were also educated by Wheelock and played important roles as translators at the Treaty of Fort Pitt and other colonial parleys. It was David, teaching at Oneida, whose tales of the abuse of the Montaukett moved an Oneida chief to grant them land. This ‘doodle’ on the back of a letter from David to Occom illustrates artistic ability not otherwise known.

Instead of a haven forever, within a generation the Brotherton lands were being trespassed upon by settlers from New England. A N.Y. State Assembly commission awarded one third of their land to the trespassers. The Brotherton were forced to move westward, finally to a spot in Wisconsin they named Brothertown. They were an ‘Americanized’ group who were highly productive in boat-building, lumbering, milling, and farming. They were the first tribe to become U.S. citizens, and did so to avoid President Andrew Jackson’s drive to force all Indians west of the Mississippi. As a consequence of the partition of their reservation, they lost the land which had become their farms. However, the Brotherton continued their gatherings over the years and have recently filed for re-recognition as a tribe under the leadership of June Ezold, an advertising executive and descendant of Samson Occom. Dr. Gaynell Stone compiles the genealogy of eleven generations of Montaukett and Brotherton, including several hundred pictures of them in her volume History and Archaeology of The Montauk.7

  1. Stone, Gaynell, The History & Archaeology of the Montauk, Vol. III, 2d ed., Readings in Long Island Archaeology & Ethnohistory, 1993, Suffolk County Archaeological Association, pp. 69-76, 151-154, 227-284.[]
  2. Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 6[]
  3. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7[][][][]
  4. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7-8[]
  5. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 8[][][]
  6. Gaynell Stone, The History & Archaeology of the Montauk Vol 3. 1993 pp. 278-278[]
  7. Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 7[]

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Jul 24, 2020 @ 3:37 pm