PEACE — Michael Schneider pictured in front of the Samson Occom sign. (Photo courtesy of Sophie Garner)

The Strange and Mysterious saga of Samson Occom

Published Jul 11, 2018 at 4:00pm

The Reverend Samson Occom, of the Mohegan Tribe, was born near Norwich, Conn. in 1723. Publicly professing his faith in Christianity at the age of 20, he went on to become a missionary among his own people.

Occom’s introduction to theology began at a seminary in Lebanon, Conn. where he learned to read English. He stayed at this school for four years under the guidance of the Rev. Dr. Eleazar Wheelock.

Occom became a missionary/teacher in 1748, first in New London and later in Montauk, a village at the east end of Long Island. He spent 11 years there, working with the Shinnecock Tribe.

After years of dedication, Occom was finally ordained a Presbyterian minister of Suffolk County in August of 1759. At the request of his mentor, the Rev. Wheelock, Occom traveled to England in February of 1766 to solicit money for a new seminary in Lebanon. If he was successful, Wheelock promised the school would be used exclusively to educate Native American youths.

Occom spent a year and a half traveling between England and Scotland, giving sermons. He gained the respect of King George the III and the Earl of Dartmouth, both of whom contributed to his campaign.

Returning home in July of 1767, Occom discovered the money he raised would not be used to build a school for Native American youths, but rather Dartmouth College, an all-white school, in Hanover, N.H.

The Rev. Occom spent years recovering from the betrayal of his mentor, most of these in abject poverty. Additionally, after years of encroachment before and after the Revolutionary War, the colony of Connecticut ruled that Mohegans would not be compensated for the land they leased or sold to white settlers.

In 1786, Occom, now in his sixties, accepted an offer from a group of Christianized Oneidas to form a new tribe on a tract of land southeast of Oneida (present day Town of Marshall). This group would become known as the Brothertowns, formed from dislocated members of the Montauk, Mohegan and Shinnecock tribes, among others.

Like Skenandoa before him, Occom “earned” the respect of white settlers, especially Samuel Kirkland. Only six years after establishing Brothertown, the Rev. Occom died at the age of 69.

Occom published many sermons, essays and other prose during the course of his life, much of which has now been preserved. Despite his best efforts, the Brothertown tribe was again relocated to Green Bay, Wis. in the early 19th century with white settlers arriving in 1794 to Hanover, a hamlet west of Marshall and north of Waterville.

Samson Occom is buried near Bogusville Hill Road, just outside of Deansboro.

All the information used to assemble this article came from the Rev. A.D. Gridley’s book, History of the Town of Kirkland, first published in 1874.

Michael Schneider wrote for the Clinton Courier as a student journalist from 2007-09.