Excerpts from “I Believe It Is Because I Am a Poor Indian”: Samsom Occom’s Life as an Indian Minister
by Samsom Occom, 1768
Editor's Note: By the beginning of the eighteenth century Mohegan Indians had lost vast amounts of their land to the English colonists. They found it hard to continue with their traditional tribal economy; some turned to alcohol for escape and others found an answer in Christianity. Evangelical ministers converted Mohegan Samsom Occom to Christianity during the Great Awakening in the late 1730s and 1740s. He attended the Reverend Eleazer Wheelock’s school and trained as a missionary and teacher for his people, first in New London, Connecticut, and then moving to Montauk on Long Island as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Occom composed a short autobiography where he described the difficulties of making a living, his experience as an Indian minister, and his poor treatment at the hands of the religious establishment.
From my Birth till I received the Christian Religion
I was Born a Heathen and Brought up In Heathenism, till I was between 16 & 17 years of age, at a Place Calld Mohegan, in New London, Connecticut, in New England. My Parents Livd a wandering life, for did all the Indians at Mohegan, they Chiefly Depended upon Hunting, Fishing, & Fowling for their Living and had no Connection with the English, excepting to Traffic with them in their small Trifles; and they Strictly maintained and followed their Heathenish Ways, Customs & Religion, though there was Some Preaching among them.
I am now to give an Account of my Circumstances and manner of Living. I Dwelt in a Wigwam, a Small Hut with Small Poles and Covered with Matts made of Flags, and I was obligd to remove twice a Year, about 2 miles Distance, by reason of the Scarcity of wood, for in one Neck of Land they Planted their Corn, and in another, they had their wood, and I was obligd to have my Corn carted and my Hay also,—and I got my Ground Plow’d every year, which Cost me about 12 shillings an acre; and I kept a Cow and a Horse, for which I paid 21 shillings every year York currency, and went 18 miles to Mill for every Dust of meal we used in my family. I Hired or Joined with my Neighbours to go to Mill, with a Horse or ox Cart, or on Horse Back, and Some time went myself. My Family Increasing fast, and my Visitors also. I was obligd to contrive every way to Support my Family; I took all opportunities, to get Some thing to feed my Family Daily. I Planted my own Corn, Potatoes, and Beans; I used to be out hoeing my Corn Some times before Sun Rise and after my School is Dismist, and by this means I was able to raise my own Pork, for I was allowed to keep 5 Swine. Some mornings & Evenings I would be out with my Hook and Line to Catch fish and in the Fall of Year and in the Spring, I used my gun, and fed my Family with Fowls. I Could more than pay for my Powder & Shot with Feathers. At other Times I Bound old Books for Easthampton People, made wooden Spoons and Ladles, Stocked Guns, & worked on Cedar to make Pails, (Piggins), and Churns & C.
Source: Samsom Occom, A Short Narrative of My Life, typescript, Dartmouth College Archives, in Bernd Peyer, The Elders Wrote (Berlin, Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1982), 12-18. Copied from: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5788/