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Samson Occum "a Fisher of Men" 1749

    Samson Occom. first came to Montauk, 1749, as a member of a Mohegan fishing party from Connecticut. He was 26 years old, in ill health and suffering with strained eyesight as a result of 4 years of intensive study at the Wheelock Indian Charity School in Lebonan, Conn. Samson was qualified as a teacher and was earnestly working toward his ordination for the ministry.
    On this first visit to Montauk he considered himself to be a missionary and felt qualified to be "a Fisher of Men" among his Indian brethren. He left the boat and his companions to their fishing for food and held religious gatherings in the wigwams of the Montauks. They liked him and asked him to return to keep school among them. Occom received permission from his governing Boston Commission and returned that fall during November, 1749.
    His pitifully small yearly salary of £12 Sterling was always a reminder that his status was that of "the poor Indian". The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England paid twelve times the salary of Indian Missionaries to their white clergy.
    His wifes family, the Fowlers, were heathen when Occom arrived on the Island and were probably christianized by him shortly thereafter. Marys brothers, David and Joseph became closely allied with their brother - in - marriage and helped in Indian missionary work among the Iroquois. They also assisted in establishing Brothertown near Oneida, N.Y. as a christian community of New England and Long Island Indians, (13 young able men of the Montauks promised to go there and help in the construction of the village).
    On August 30, 1759 Occom was ordained at East Hampton by the Presbytery of Long Island. The Rev. Samuel Buell of East Hampton presided; The Rev. James Brown of Bridgehampton, The Rev. Nehemiah Barker of Mattituck and The Rev. Ebenezar Prime of Huntington participated in the ceremony.
    Samson Occom, under the direction of Eleazar Wheelock, was marvelously successful in England raising funds for the education of Indians in America. Wheelock who conducted the Indian Charity School at Lebanon, moved the school to Hanover, New Hampshire. After Occoms return from England he established Dartmouth College and the Indian Charity School was closed. Occom became convinced that his revered teacher was spending Indian money for education of white students. Professor John Hurd, Dartmouth '21, notes in his fine analytical article "Eleazar - The Man Behind the Myth", Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, December 1969:
    "A major test for Wheelock would be his treatment of an Indian, Samson Occom, who accepted the white mans virtues of cleanliness, frugality and industry, and raised in England so much money for Dartmouth College that he may be justly regarded as co-founder. Occom vigorously opposed the foundation of the college, condemned Wheelocks later educational schemes and denounced the establishment of the college as a perversion of the wishes of the donors."
    Occom did not serve in the Revolution. He was unalterably opposed to it and continually urged the New England Indians and those of the Iroquois Nation to take and hold a position of neutrality. "Do not entermeddle with the English Contentions!" He had little success of restraint; even within his own family. His younger brother Jonathan and nephew John served with Putnams regiment and nephew David was killed while serving with Col. Parson.
    Some authorities on Occom contend that his complete acceptance of the teachings of Jesus and his great zeal as a missionary among his Indian brethren may have resulted in a great injustice to his people. "Had the Indian been permitted to become civilized rather than merely converted; had he been given a place of equality in proportion to his attainments, one could Imagine the contribution which the Redman might have made to this country." But Occom became "a Moses to a small band of his people, leading them out of the wilderness only to die and fall into unmarked graves among foreign people."
    In his 69th year death suddenly claimed Occom at New Stockbrldge, six miles from the New York Brothertown he helped establish in the vicinity of Oneida. He undoubtedly was buried among his own people in the graveyard at Brothertown. There is no inscription on what is believed to be his tombstone.
    The source of a great part of the above information is The Dartmouth College Manuscript Series, number three, compiled by Harold Blodget and entitled "Samson Occom, The Biography of an Indian Preacher.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1960 No Copyright Information Data Found