July 14: Samson Occum, Witness to the Faith in New England, 1792

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About this commemoration

Samson Occum

Samson Occum, the first ordained Native American minister, was born
a member of the Mohegan nation near New London, Connecticut
in 1723. By the age of sixteen, Occum has been exposed to the
evangelical preaching of the Great Awakening. In 1743 he began
studying theology at the school of congregational minister Eleazar
Wheelock, later founder of Dartmouth College.

Occum did mission work among the Native Americans in New
England and Montauk, Long Island. In 1759, he was ordained a
Presbyterian minister. In 1766, at the behest of Eleazar Wheelock,
Occum went to England, where he was to raise money for Wheelock’s
Indian charity school. He preached extensively for over a year,
traveling across England, and raising over eleven thousand pounds
from wealthy patrons including King George III. When he returned
from England, however, his family, supposedly under the care of
Wheelock, was found destitute, and the school for which he had
labored moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, where it became
Dartmouth College. The funds he had raised had been put toward the
education of Englishman rather than of Native Americans.

Following a disagreement with the colonial government of Connecticut
over a lack of compensation for lands they had sold, Occum and many
other Mohegans moved to Oneida territory in upstate New York.
There, he and his companions founded the Brothertown Community.
In his day, Occum was renowned for his eloquence and spiritual
wisdom, and his work among the Mohegans of Connecticut, many of
whom became Christians under this guidance, which helped them to
avoid later relocation.

Collects

I God, the Great Spirit, whose breath givest life to the world
and whose voice thundereth in the wind: We give thee
thanks for thy servant Samson Occum, strong preacher
and teacher among the Mohegan people; and we pray that
we, cherishing his example, may love learning and by love
build up the communities into which thou sendest us, and
on all our paths walk in beauty with Jesus Christ; who
with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one
God, now and for ever. Amen.

II God, Great Spirit, whose breath gives life to the world
and whose voice thunders in the wind: We thank you
for your servant Samson Occum, strong preacher and
teacher among the Mohegan people; and we pray that
we, cherishing his example, may love learning and by love
build up the communities into which you send us, and on
all our paths walk in beauty with Jesus Christ; who with
you and the Holy Spirit, is alive and reigns, one God, now
and for ever. Amen.

Lessons
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 14:20–27
Acts 10:30–38
Luke 8:16–21

Psalm 29

Preface of Baptism

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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Samson Occum-Related Links

More information about Occum and links to some of his works

The Mohegan Tribe heritage page

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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17 Responses to July 14: Samson Occum, Witness to the Faith in New England, 1792

  1. Thom Simmons says:

    While this is a factual, rather than ‘spiritual’ response, I’d like to correct an error in the bio. Occum was not the first ordained Native American minister; Hiacoomes, on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, was ordained in 1670.

  2. John LaVoe says:

    2nd paragraph, last sentence: “…education of Englishman rather than of Native Americans.” I’m sure you want the plural, not just one Englishman.

    Also, would consolidating the two explanatory references to Dartmouth College be preferable to having it in the the presesnt, separate locations?

    This collect is appropriate.

    In the bio, I thought it read well, except for the somewhat tangential addendum at the very end, about avoiding relocation. As big an issue as relocation is, it had not been a focus in this material prior to its abrupt and otherwise undeveloped mention at the end. I’d end the bio at the words, “…many of whom became Christians under this guidance.”

    Again, thank you for yet another new example of Christian faith and ministry!

  3. John LaVoe says:

    “…many of whom became Christians under this guidance.”
    (Was that supposed to say “his guidance” instead of “this guidance”?)

  4. The Mohegan nation? If factual accurate it probably should be capitalized: Mohegan Nation.
    Typo first paragraph: “By the age of sixteen, Occum HAD been exposed …”
    Last paragraph: “Mohegans moved to Oneida territory”. Might it say: “the Oneida territory”?
    Typo last paragraph: “many of whom became Christians under this HIS guidance”.

    Having served as a Curate at Saint Thomas’ Hanover, NH, I think that Dartmouth alums might question the facts of their College’s founding. Are we sure this is right?

    Paragraph 2: All references to Native Americans are capitalized. Thank you.

  5. Oops. My own comment has a typo.
    If FACTUALLY accurate …

  6. Patricia Taylor says:

    This entry says as much about the perfidy of euro-americans as it does about the faithfulness of Mr Occom. Perhaps the commemoration should include a penitential prayer to be used by anglo congregations.

    The website of the Mohegan tribe states that Mr Occom was among the first ordained native men and uses the spelling Occom in preference to what it calls a common misspelling using “u”.

  7. Patricia Taylor says:

    Sincere apologies for the incorrect website citation in my second paragraph. While some sites dispute the “u” spelling the Mohegan site does not

  8. Celinda Scott says:

    In answer to Fr. LaVoe’s question above about the accuracy of the information related to Native Americans and the founding of Dartmouth College, the following link (and two excerpted paragraphs) may shed additional light. One would need to find out more about why Sir William Johnson, the Indian agent, “withdrew his favor from the Charity School, and his Native Americans with it” and the relationship of that event to the Ft. Stanwix Treaty. In any event, neither the HMHW bio nor the information from the article I’m citing blame Dartmouth College for the fact that the funds Occum raised did not go towards their original purpose. –I’m glad HMHW includes people whose stories motivate us to find out more about the very complicated relationships Europeans had with Native Americans during this whole period. It is very sad to read about good intentions not bearing the hoped for fruit. Nevertheless, it is inspiring to read about the success (despite its limitations) that some saintly people had.

    http://www.wheelockgenealogy.com/wheelockweb/pages/ew_bio.htm

    “The Rev. Eleazar Wheelock spent considerable time raising funds to support the school, in which efforts he was quite successful. The records of the Massachusetts General Court show that he made at least four successful appeals for money between the years 1761 and 1767. In 1765, he sent Samson Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker (a Presbyterian Minister) to the United Kingdom to raise funds. This two year effort was a success, and they returned with 12,000 pounds, most of which was placed in the charge of an English board of trustees, headed by William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth.

    Things had not progressed so well on the missionary and recruiting front. Many of the Native Americans under Rev. Wheelock’s care became sick and died. Some turned profligate and in other ways failed to successfully pursue the charter of missionary work. Sir William Johnson [8], an agent of Native American affairs, and trusted advocate, perceived that Rev. Wheelock was trying to acquire territory among the Six Nations. After the Fort Stanwix Congress in 1768, he withdrew his favor from the Charity School, and his Native Americans with it. After this, Rev. Wheelock could no longer expect to recruit Native American students from New York.”

  9. S. Sauter says:

    I think that there is a factual error in the Occum biography. I think that the Charter for Darmouth College as written in 1769 provided “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land … and also of English Youth and any others.” I do not know whether the statement in the Charter was matched with reality. At least according to the Connecticut Historical Society, there was a disagreement between Wheelock and Occum over the use of the funds which Occum thought would be applied to the Indian Charity School and not toward Dartmouth College. Obviously this needs some further research with primary sourced since Samson Occum’s letters are with the Connecticut Historical Society. Thank you.

  10. S. Sauter says:

    Opps. Despite trying to be careful, I see I made a typographical and factual error.
    1. Not sourced but sources.
    2. Samson Occum’s letter are at Dartmouth College, not the Connecticut Historical Society.
    Thank you.

  11. Suzanne Sauter says:

    Samson Occom signed his name as “Occom” according to the photocopies of his letters that can be seen on line: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~library/digital/collections/occom-samson/index.html

  12. Maggie Zeller says:

    Could someone from the Commission explain why the readings for Occum were chosen? I found it very hard to make connections between him and the lessons, particularly the Luke lesson. Frankly, I wanted to shorten it to just the first two verses.

  13. Maggie Zeller says:

    I do find Occum to be a good addition to the calendar.

  14. Celinda Scott says:

    According to the site I mentioned above (wheelock genealogy), there were additional factors involved–the problems extended farther than Wheelock’s desire to use funds not only for the Indian Charity School, but for a college and Occom’s not wanting them used for a college also. More resding to be done concerning Sir William Johnson’s role at the signing of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and the perception that Wheelock wanted to “acquire territory among the Six Nations,” which led to his (Johnson’s) withdrawal of support for the Charity School.

  15. Celinda Scott says:

    Another connection of Sir William Johnson (mentioned above) with HMHW: his common-law wife Molly Brant is commemorated April 16 in HMHW. A Mohawk, she was of great help to him in his relationships with Native Americans. (I recently finished a taking course on the American Revolution and the decades preceding it–can’t help making comments on people mentioned in HMHW who active in Native American and colonial relationships at that time.)

  16. Pingback: Attend How You Listen – From the Sanctoral Lectionary – July 14, 2012 | That Which We Have Heard & Known

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