Reverend Samson Occum: Forging a Bridge Across Cultures

Authored by Nicole Shaw

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Mr. Buell’s sermon at the ordination of Mr. Occum. Acquired by Stony Brook University Special Collections from the Swann Auction Galleries in 2008.

Samson Occum was a well-respected minister in the late 18th century who worked tirelessly towards peace in his community. Believed to be the descendant of a Mohegan chief,1 he was credited as one of the first ordained Christian Indian ministers.2 Ordained in 1759, Occum spent the majority of his life working as a missionary among Indians. Regardless of receiving a stipend for his work, he spent a great deal of his life in poverty and endured much suffering at the hands of the English, while facing many betrayals and false promises. Despite these hardships, Occum continued his work to spread the Christian faith among his people. Known to preach in Montauk (Eastern Long Island), Occum blended Native American communities with Christianized Europeans and helped Native Americans assimilate to western culture. He also organized the creation of “Brothertown,” a settlement solely for Christian Indians.3 Although as a young man the only book he owned was the Bible, Occum became the first Native American to publish in English.4 To this day, Mr. Occum is honored with a wealth of recognition, particularly at Dartmouth College, which he helped raise funds to initiate.

Mr. Occum spent his life giving to the community. His mission was to unite his faith and his people, while helping them adjust to the changes at hand. He worked tirelessly during his life to ensure his people didn’t suffer, often suffering himself for his troubles. By serving as the bridge between Native Americans and Christian culture in the northeast, Mr. Occum proved that he was the embodiment of Vincentian values. He exhibited compassion, concern for others, and a perseverance for harmony.5

This artifact is a compilation of writings composed by Reverend Samuel Buell, a close friend of Samson Occum’s. Mr. Buell was a popular Presbyterian Minister in the late 18th century in Easthampton, Long Island.6 This artifact is comprised of three parts. The first is a letter to Reverend David Bostwick, another successful minister in New York,7 praising Mr. Occum’s character. The second is a preface to the sermon, followed by the actual sermon given by Mr. Buell at Mr. Occum’s ordination. This artifact was printed in 1761, and remains in excellent condition. It is leather bound with gold lettering on the cover, and it possesses a few distinguishable characteristics among its pages. Included are some interesting marginalia, foxing, signatures of previous owners, and an impressive bookplate on the inside cover. This artifact was very well handled by its previous owners, suggesting respect for its contents and for the man who contributed so much to further society.

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1 Szasz, Margaret Connell. (2007). Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783. University of Nebraska Press.

2 Samson Occum, The Mohegan Tribe, accessed March 08, 2017,

https://mohegan.nsn.us/explore/heritage/our-history/samson-occum

3 Brooks, Joanna. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, 2006: Oxford University Press.

4 Calloway, Colin Gordon. (2010). The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth. Lebanon, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press.

5 “Our Mission,” Our Mission | St. John’s University, accessed March 08, 2017,

http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

6 “Buell, Samuel.” Dartmouth College. Accessed March 11, 2017,

https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/ctx/personography/pers0006.ocp.html.

7 “Bostwick, David.” Dartmouth College. Accessed March 11, 2017,

https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/ctx/personography/pers0089.ocp.html

 

References

“Bostwick, David.” Dartmouth College. Accessed March 11, 2017,

https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/ctx/personography/pers0089.ocp.html

Brooks, Joanna. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, 2006: Oxford University Press.

“Buell, Samuel.” Dartmouth College. Accessed March 11, 2017,

https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/ctx/personography/pers0006.ocp.html.

Calloway, Colin Gordon. (2010). The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth. Lebanon, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press.

“Our Mission,” Our Mission | St. John’s University, accessed March 08, 2017,

http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

Samson Occum, The Mohegan Tribe, retrieved March 08, 2017,

https://mohegan.nsn.us/explore/heritage/our-history/samson-occum

Szasz, Margaret Connell. (2007). Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783. University of Nebraska Press.

 

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