Samson Occom (1723-1792)

Selected Sermons. Edited, introduced, and annotated for EADA by Heather Bouwman, Margret Aldrich, Nicole Ferrara, Keri Henkel, Sara Hoffman, Marilyn Paulson, Matthew DiPietro, Todd Helmer, Ira Qyqja, and Emily Schmidt (University of St. Thomas).

Short Biography of Samson Occom
Samson Occom, a Mohegan, was born in New London, Connecticut in 1723. In his autobiography, Occom explains, "I was born a heathen, and raised in heathenism, till I was between 16 and 17 years of age" (Peyer 12). It was at this age that Occom, moved by evangelical preachers, converted to Christianity and taught himself to read the Bible. He studied at the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock's "charity school" for four years, quickly becoming an exemplary student; after leaving school he began his own missionary teaching among Native Americans of New England. In 1759 he was ordained by the Long Island Presbytery as a minister; he served the Montauk of Long Island as both a preacher and a schoolteacher for many years. In 1765, at the behest of Wheelock, Occom began a fundraising tour of England to procure funds for Wheelock's school. Occom preached between three and four hundred sermons in England and Scotland and raised more than £10,000 for the school, but Wheelock's diversion of these funds into white education (the school eventually became Dartmouth College) led to acrimonious relations between Occom and Wheelock. Around 1785, Occom became a leader in establishing Brothertown, a community of Native American converts in New York, and he eventually migrated to the Brothertown area. He died in New Stockbridge, New York in 1792. During his lifetime he published only a few pieces, including the Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul (1772, known as the first piece written for publication by a Native American) and A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs Intended for the Edification of Sincere Christians of All Denominations. But he left behind many unpublished works, including a history of the Montauk, a booklet on herbal medicine, about twenty sermons, several diaries, speeches, and petitions, and many letters.

About the Two Sermons
The following two sermons come from a collection of Occom's unpublished sermons and letters housed at the Connecticut Historical Society, in Hartford, Connecticut. The originals can be accessed via microfilm (index # 79998 at the CHS). The sermons in this collection are solidly rooted in biblical and religious themes, such as the creation story, the life of Christ, the structure of the Church, the nature and types of sin, the Christian evangelical obligation, and the necessity of repentance. These sermons also incorporate controversial social issues of the day such as temperance and abolition.

After considering all the sermons that comprise the Occom collection, we selected for publication the Sermon on Matthew 22:42 and the Sermon on Temperance and Morality[1] because they represent two distinct aspects of Occom's work. The Sermon on Matthew 22:42, exegetical in nature and written in outline form, addresses the human and divine nature of Christ. It points to both his intimate knowledge of the gospels and his ability to preach extemporaneously before an audience, using only short references as a guide. In addition, this sermon appears twice in the collection (in very similar outlines) and is referred to in several diary entries in 1759, suggesting that it may have been an important text in his early ministry and perhaps a topic on which he preached often.[2]

The Sermon on Temperance and Morality, written out in longhand and not clearly exegetical in nature, is a topical sermon concerned with social ills experienced by Native Americans. Many times in this sermon Occom blames whites for introducing alcohol, venereal disease, and prostitution to Native Americans. Occom does not, however, consider Native Americans blameless in these transgressions. He insists that their intemperance and sin can cease through the application of reason. In this excerpt we can see Occom's witty wordplay and his vivid prose style. This sermon was delivered sometime after 1771 and seems to be directed toward a mixed audience.

Both of these sermons contain rich connections to Occom's famous Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul. All three sermons call upon listeners to "behave as becomes rational creatures" (Moses Paul 642). As in the Moses Paul sermon, The Sermon on Matthew 22:42 is a call to rationality as a means to salvation, stating that "Man is a rational creature"; the Sermon on Temperance and Morality condemns behavior that is "unbecoming rational creatures." In addition, both the Moses Paul sermon and the Temperance and Morality sermon address the issue of intemperance and alcohol use; and in both Occom shows a canny awareness of the racial makeup of his audience. [3]

Editorial Method
As editors of these handwritten texts, we faced several problems including Occom's often difficult-to-read handwriting and inconsistencies in capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. In order to make these texts more accessible to the modern reader while respecting and preserving Occom's voice and meaning, we relied on the following editorial practices.

We corrected misspelled words, unless they appear to have significance. The spelling of proper names has been retained, even if it is inconsistent, except when noted in a footnote. Occom's original grammar and syntax have been preserved, although we made essential corrections noted with bracketed, italicized insertions. Inadvertent repetition of words has been silently corrected. For readability, we have followed modern practices of capitalization, which include capitalization of the first letter of a sentence and the proper names of all people and places.

We made some changes to Occom's use of punctuation to encourage clarity within the texts. We have ended every sentence with a period, and dashes at the end of sentences have been converted to periods. We have deleted dashes that appear after periods, which is a common practice in Occom's writing. We have also inserted question marks at the end of questions, deleted intrusive or superfluous commas, and added minimal punctuation as necessary for intelligibility.

Several words and phrases in Occom's handwritten sermons are illegible. When a word or part of a word is missing, but its meaning is clear, we have added the material in roman type in square brackets. When a word or part of a word is missing or unreadable and its meaning is not clear, we have added the material in roman type in square brackets and included a question mark. When one or two words are unreadable we have replaced them with three ellipses in brackets, or, at the end of a sentence, four ellipses in brackets. If the unreadable material is longer than two words, we have followed the brackets with a footnote that estimated the number of missing words.

We have silently incorporated interlineations into the main text. We have sparingly indented new paragraphs where we felt it was appropriate. Abbreviations have been preserved unless unrecognizable to the modern reader.


[1] The sermons on the microfilm are untitled. We have given them titles for ease of reference.

[2] See the first endnote on the sermon for more information on dates and other places where this sermon appears.

[3] See David Murray for an excellent discussion of race and audience in Occom's Sermon Preached to Moses Paul. Please see the opening endnotes for both sermons for physical descriptions of the manuscripts and for information on possible dating.



Primary texts by Samson Occom:

"A Short Narrative of My Life." [1768]. In The Elders Wrote: An Autobiography of Early Prose by North American Indians, 1768-1931. Ed. Bernd Peyer. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1982. 12-18. This narrative has since appeared in several widely used American literature anthologies.

"Samson Occom's Sermon Preached by Samson Occom at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian." [1772.] Ed. and with introduction by Lavonne Brown Ruoff. Studies in American Indian Literatures 4.2-3 (1992): 75-105. This sermon has since appeared in several widely used American literature anthologies.

"Temperance and Morality sermon" and "Sermon on Matthew 22:42." Reprinted by the kind permission of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT. The manuscript can be found in their collection, Index # 79998, folder 26 (microfilm pages 398-402) and folder 25 (microfilm pages 457-59) respectively. The Connecticut Historical Society's collection contains more than a dozen partial or complete sermons and dozens of letters by and to Occom, as well as some writings by his son-in-law Joseph Johnson.

Diaries, letters, and speeches, and hymns. See Harold Blodgett, Joanna Brooks ("Six Hymns"), William DeLoss Love, and Leon Burr Richardson (all listed below), whose works contain valuable and often lengthy excerpts from Occom's writings.


Works Cited and For Further Reading:

Andreski, Stanislav. Syphilis, Puritanism and Witch Hunts. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Beaglehole, J. C. The Life of Captain James Cook. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974.

Blodgett, Harold. Samson Occom. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Publications, 1935.

Brooks, Joanna. American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

_____. "Six Hymns by Samson Occom." Early American Literature 38.1 (2003): 67-87.

[Cook, James.] A Journal of A Voyage Round the World in H.M.S. Endeavour 1768-1771. New York: De Capo Press, 1967. [Orig. Pub. London 1771.]

_____. Captain Cook's Journal During his First voyage Round the World made in H.M. Bark "Endeavour" 1768-71. A Literal Translation of the Original MSS. Ed. Captain W.J.L Wharton. London: Elliot Stock, 1893. Reprinted in Australiana Facsimile Editions No. 188. Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1968.

Elliott, Michael. "'This Indian Bait': Samson Occom and the Voice of Liminality." Early American Literature 29 (1994): 233-253.

De Forest, John W. History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Hartford: Wm. Jas Hamersley, 1852.

Lender, Mark Edward and James Kirby Martin. Drinking in America: A History. Revised and expanded edition. New York: The Free Press, 1987.

Love, William DeLoss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. [1899]. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Mason, William. Arts Advancement, or, The most exact, lineal, swift, short, and easy method of shorthand-writing hitherto extant.... Third edition. London, 1682.

McCarthy, Keely. "Conversion, Identity, and the Indian Missionary." Early American Literature 36.3 (2001): 353-70.

Murray, David. Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing and Representation in North American Indian Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Nelson, Dana. "'(I Speak Like a fool but I Am Constrained)': Samson Occom's Short Narrative and Economies of the Racial Self." In Early Native American Writing: New Critical Essays. Ed. Helen
Jaskoski. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 42-65.

Peyer, Bernd. The Tutor'd Mind: Indian Missionary-Writers in Antebellum America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

Richardson, Leon Burr. An Indian Preacher in England. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Publications, 1933.

Simmons, William S. Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1986.

Szasz, Margaret Connell. Indian Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.

Withey, Lynne. Voyages of Discovery: Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1987.

Wyss, Hilary. Writing Indians: Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2000.

EADA Entries:

Samson Occom’s Sermon on Temperance and Morality
Samson Occom’s Sermon on Matthew 22:42

Other Sources