Above: Samson Occom
Image in the Public Domain
SAMSON OCCOM (1723-JULY 14, 1792)
U.S. Presbyterian Missionary to Native Americans
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), the guide to the calendar of saints of The Episcopal Church, lists our saint as Samuel Occum and describes him as a “Witness to the Faith in New England.” “Occum” is one spelling of his last name, but the most common spelling I found is “Occom,” which I use in this post.
Samson Occom, born near New London, Connecticut, in 1723, was a member of the Mohegan nation. By the age of sixteen, during the (First) Great Awakening, young Samson had become a Christian. From 1743 to 1747 he studied at the Latin School of Eleazar Wheelock (1711-1779), a Congregationalist minister. For the following two years our saint worked with the Revered Solomon Williams at New London. Next Occom taught and preached to the Pequots on Long Island. He also married Mary Fowler, a local woman, and helped members of the tribe adapt to the presence of Europeans.
Occom became the first Native American minister. He, ordained by the Presbyterians in 1759, received a stipend from the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The promise of remuneration equal to that of White ministers never became reality, so he lived in poverty for much of his life. Our saint traveled among and preached to members of the Iroquois nations in 1761-1763, with little success. Then, in 1763, he settled at Mohecan, near New London, and began to teach.
Wheelock had founded a school for Native Americans at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1754. At his request Occom traveled in Great Britain in 1766-1767 to raise funds from wealthy donors for that institution. Wheelock had promised that he would take care of our saint’s wife and children during Occom’s absence. Our saint returned from a successful fundraising trip to learn that Wheelock had failed to keep that promise. Wheelock also relocated to New Hampshire and founded Dartmouth College, for Englishmen, in 1769.
The double-crossed Occom struggled with the government of Connecticut regarding lack of payment for land Mohegans had sold. Eventually he and many fellow Mohegans moved to upstate New York. There Occom, Joseph Johnson (his son-in-law), and David Fowler (his brother-in-law) founded Brothertown, near Waterville. Later Christian Mohicans founded New Stockbridge, near Oneida Lake, New York. Our saint helped to secure civil charters for these settlements in 1787.
Occom died at Brothertown on July 14, 1792.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 22, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF GENE BRITTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST
THE FEAST OF CESAR CHAVEZ, LABOR UNION LEADER
THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MARTYR
God, Great Spirit, whose breath gives life to the world and whose voice thunders in the wind:
We thank you for your servant Samson Occum, strong preacher and teacher among the Mohegan people;
and we pray that we, cherishing his example, may love learning and by love build up the communities
into which you send us, and on all our paths walk in beauty with Jesus Christ;
who with you and the Holy Spirit, is alive and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 14:20-27
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 463