PUBLIC WRITING I
“To Feel Interest in Our Welfare”
THE PERIOD FROM 1774, when Samson Occom’s Several Hymns appeared in print, to 1871, when Spokane Garry returned to his school house on the Columbia Plateau, was notable for more than the influx of alphabetic literacy and print into Indian Country. For the same material practices that embodied the “new and uncommon means” of print missionization also served as the wellspring of a transformation in the public, performative discursive spaces within which tribal, intertribal, and intratribal communications flourished. In this chapter and the next, I examine the creation of discursive spaces that I call “Indian publics.” I argue that the circulation of books and manuscripts went hand in hand with a revolution in Native polities across Indian Country. These changes created vexing choices between direct political action and more mediated forms of discourse often cloaked in the rhetorics of Christian conversion.
The career of Samson Occom is a perfect illustration of how such Indian publics were forged out of tough decisions concerning political action and print and manuscript mediation. Occom, after all, managed to become the first Native American published in North America in part by publicly abjuring his right to be a political figure. About to depart for England on his 1764 fund- raising mission, Occom put his signature on this apology for his participation in Mohegan tribal business: “Although, as a member of the Mohegan tribe, and for many years, one of their council, I thought I had not only a natural and civil right, but that it was my duty, to acquaint myself with their temporal affairs, Yet I am, upon serious and close reflection, convinced, that as there was no absolute necessity for it, it was very imprudent of me, and offence to the Public, that I should so far engage, as, of late, I have done, in the Mason Controversy: which has injured my Ministerial Character, hurt