Samson Occom Begins to Study Theology with Eleazar Wheelock

The Reverend Samson Occom, a member of the Mohegan nation, was born in 1723 on Mohegan land near New London, Connecticut.

The following text is excerpted from "Power, Honor and Authority: Samson Occom and the Founding of Dartmouth College", an exhibit displayed in the Class of 1965 Galleries in Rauner Special Collections Library in the fall of 2016. The College's holdings of handwritten documents by and about Samson Occom have been digitized and may be accessed by the public on The Occom Circle website.

Samson Occom was born in Mohegan in the colony of Connecticut around 1723. His adolescence coincided with the Second Great Awakening, a time of renewed religious fervor in the American Colonies and elsewhere. Swept up in this movement and wishing to support his people, Occom sought an education from Eleazar Wheelock, a local minister. Occom excelled at his studies, persuading Wheelock of the potential for education to Christianize the Indians; Occom went on to become a minister himself.

In winter 1766, Occom and Nathaniel Whitaker journeyed to Great Britain to raise funds for Moor’s Indian Charity School. George Whitefield, a founding minister of Methodism who influenced religious revivalism in the American colonies, hosted Occom and Whitaker at his London church. Whitefield later introduced them to William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, who became a major contributor to the project. In total, Occom spent two years traveling throughout Great Britain, preaching to rapt audiences and raising £12,000 -- equivalent to approximately $2.4 million today.  He was notable enough to receive an invitation to George III’s robing ceremony and his preaching was even parodied on the London stage.

Following his trip, Occom fell out with Wheelock over the school’s neglected mission of Indian education, among other issues. He discovered that his family had been neglected, and that Wheelock planned to move his school to the New Hampshire frontier. However, Occom’s faith was undaunted; he continued to preach and was known for his clear and direct style. A sermon he preached at the execution of Moses Paul became so well known that it was reprinted and translated well into the nineteenth century. Following the Revolutionary War, Occom, disillusioned with European-American Christian society, led an exodus of Christian Indians to Oneida country in upstate New York, where they founded the Brothertown tribe. Occom died in Brothertown in 1792.

View this exhibit "Power, Honor and Authority: Samson Occom and the Founding of Dartmouth College"

Photo courtesy of the Dartmouth Library

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