The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America

The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America

The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America

The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America

Synopsis

This volume brings together for the first time the known writings of the pioneering Native American religious and political leader, intellectual, and author, Samson Occom (Mohegan; 1723-1792). The largest surviving archive of American Indian writing before Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux; 1858-1939), Occom's writings offer unparalleled views into a Native American intellectual and cultural universe in the era of colonialization and the early United States. His letters, sermons, journals, prose, petitions, and hymns--many of them never before published--document the emergence of pantribal political consciousness among the Native peoples of New England as well as Native efforts to adapt Christianity as a tool of decolonialization. Presenting previously unpublished and newly recovered writings, this collection more than doubles available Native American writing from before 1800.

Excerpt

Robert Warrior

Samson Occom, best known for being the protégé of Dartmouth College founder Eleazar Wheelock and for being the author of a short autobiography that has become standard fare in many Native American and American literature classrooms, is finally getting his full due as a writer, leader, and historical figure, thanks in no small part to the painstaking efforts of Joanna Brooks in bringing this volume to light. Native American studies scholars, Americanists in literary and historical studies, scholars of religion and missions, and many others who encounter Occom’s work in these pages stand to gain new, robust insight into heretofore opaque instances of eighteenthcentury Native American agency, intellectual production, and writerliness. Because of Occom’s significance and the completeness of Brooks’s work, this volume and the history it documents seem destined to be important scholarly landmarks.

Occom’s 1768 autobiography, which has been so crucial to his recovery, is also a deceptive marker of who Occom was and what he believed. Students in my own classes usually appreciate the critical edge Occom brings to the antiracist conclusion of the autobiography, which you can read in the prose section of this volume, but they also are typically put off by his diffidence, disappointed in both his Christian piety and his concomitant lack of a traditional Mohegan spirituality, and befuddled by his eighteenth-century rhetorical conventions. Some undergraduates in my classes—this is especially true of my Native students—never see past Occom’s repeated referral to himself as a heathen and think of him as a dupe of his Christian handlers.

Occom’s best-selling 1772 Sermon on the Execution of Moses Paul has become more widely known in recent years and presents a different angle on Occom, one that highlight’s Occom’s incisiveness as a social critic of the systemic problems Native people in his era faced. Still, the sermon’s strong strains of moralism and triumphant Christianity can buttress, rather than challenge, a view of Occom as a cold-souled Calvinist who seemed never to miss an opportunity to scold sinners, warn of the dangers of unbelief, and at least flirt with capitulation to the structures and ideologies that were spelling ruin for Native American communities in his time.

The sermons, letters, political documents, hymns, and other writings Brooks has collected here under one cover, however, provide ample proof that Samson Occom was a much more complex figure than most readers of only the short narrative and the Moses Paul sermon have perceived. While his piety and commitment to proselytizing other Indians remain a consistent theme through most of these writings . . .

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