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Item of the Week: The Rev. Samson Occom, 1723-1792

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 12:18

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

This is an image of the Rev. Samson Occom, one of the first Indigenous people to be published, and one of the first Indigenous ministers to be ordained. He grew up as a Mohegan near New London, Conn., and converted to Christianity at 18 during the Great Awakening. 

In 1743, he went to study with the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock of Connecticut for four years. Occom then moved to eastern Long Island, where he worked as an educator and minister to the Montauketts and Shinnecocks. During his time in Montauk, in 1751, he married Mary Fowler, who came from a prominent family there.

The Rev. Samuel Buell of East Hampton ordained him as a Presbyterian minister in August 1759, and he returned to Mohegan territory in Connecticut four years later. 

In the early 1760s, Occom traveled to spend time with the Oneida people in western New York, and in 1765 sailed to England, where he lived with George Whitfield, a leader of the Great Awakening, raising some  12,000 for Reverend Wheelock's school for Indigenous people, which later became Dartmouth College.

Wheelock and Occom broke ties in 1770, before Occom ever set foot at Dartmouth, and he clearly conveyed the betrayal he felt over Wheelock's decision to abandon the idea of a school only for Indigenous students.

Occom became a prominent advocate for Indigenous land rights, and after the Mason Land Case of 1773, he shifted his focus to building a community for Indigenous Christians in the Oneida area upstate. It was known as Brothertown, and he and his family moved there in 1789.

At the East Hampton Library tomorrow at 5 p.m., Ryan Carr, a Columbia University professor, will discuss his new book, "Samson Occom: Radical Hospitality in the Native Northeast," looking at how Indigenous traditions shaped Occom's evangelical Christianity, and how his commitment to Native sovereignty impacted his religious views. 

Sign-up is on Eventbrite, by emailing [email protected], or by calling 631-324-0222, extension 4.

Andrea Meyer, a librarian and archivist, is head of collection for the East Hampton Library's Long Island Collection.


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