Occom, Samson, 1723 - 1792

Samson Occom was a prominent Mohegan clergyman, preacher, missionary, hymnist, and political activist.    Born in Mohegan, Connecticut, of parents Joshua and Sarah Occom, he converted to Christianity after hearing a sermon of New Light preacher James Davenport.  From 1743 to 1747, he became a pupil in Eleazar Wheelock’s household in Lebanon, Connecticut and studied under Benjamin Pomroy of Hebron in 1747 as preparation to enter Yale College the following year.  Poor eyesight prevented him from attending the college, however, and in 1749 he established a school house for the Montauk Indians on Long Island and became their minister.  In 1759 he was ordained by the Suffolk Presbytery on Long Island.  In the years to follow, Occom catechized widely among southern New England and New York Indian communities.  For a number of years, he preached among the Oneida on behalf of the New York Commissioners of the Scotch Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge and among the Niantic and Mohegan for the Boston Board of Commissioners of the London Society for Propagating the Gospel.  In 1764 Occom attracted much attention by touring the region with the Anglican advocate of the American Great Awakening, George Whitefield, and acquired overseas attention by joining Nathaniel Whitaker on a fairly successful fund raising mission to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales the year later.  As a political activist, Occom was a Mohegan tribal councilor starting when he was 19 years old, supporting the pro-government Mohegan faction led by Ben Uncas II and Ben Uncas III.  He was a tribal counselor to both sachems.  As he became more aware of the plight of his fellow Natives and more sensitive to their cries for justice, however, Occom began to support openly those Mohegans and the Masons arguing for land rights at George III’s Privy Council.  For this and for some minor personal slights, he was charged with misconduct by the Connecticut Board of Correspondents.  Apologizing and promising not to involve himself publically with the Mohegan Case, Occom, nevertheless, appeared before imperial authorities on behalf of Mason and the Mohegans when he was in London in 1768.  Some time after his return, he became involved in planning the Brothertown movement, a uniform migration of Christian New England Indians to upstate New York on lands that were eventually given to New England Indians by the Oneida.  From 1784-1789, he commuted between Mohegan and Brothertown communities.  He died at New Stockbridge, New York, on July 14, 1792.  Samson Occom was the author of numerous sermons, hymns, tracts, as well as one of the earliest Indian autobiographies to be written.  He married Mary Fowler in 1751 and raised a family of ten.  William DeLoss Love, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1899); Joanna Brooks, ed., The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).  The image of Occom used in this biography is courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
Alias(es): 
Samson Occum
Born: 
1723
Died: 
July 14, 1792