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Dartmouth College to return historic Samson Occom papers to the Mohegan Tribe

A page from the back of Samson Occom’s Hebrew primer, written by Occom in the Mohegan language (left) and a portrait of Samson Occom (both photographs courtesy of Dartmouth Library)
Dartmouth Library
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Dartmouth Library
A page from the back of Samson Occom’s Hebrew primer, written by Occom in the Mohegan language (left) and a portrait of Samson Occom (both photographs courtesy of Dartmouth Library)

Samson Occom was the first Native American student of Eleazar Wheelock, a white minister and educator. A gifted scholar born in 1723, Occom became a Presbyterian minister. At Wheelock’s urging, he traveled to Europe in the 1760s to raise funds for what he believed would be a school in Connecticut for Native American students.

But not long after his return, he learned that Wheelock had diverted the funds toward a college in New Hampshire meant for white settlers. It would later become Dartmouth College. Occum made his displeasure known in a letter to Wheelock.

“Your having so many white scholars and so few or no Indian scholars, gives me great discouragement,” Occom wrote to Wheelock in a 1771 letter included in the collection. He continued, “Now I am afraid we shall be deemed as liars and deceivers in Europe.”

That letter is among the papers being returned to the Mohegan Tribe by Dartmouth College.

“There’s a famous letter among the Occom papers that are being returned to the Mohegans in which he lays out his dismay and sense of betrayal at Wheelock’s essentially a bait and switch,” said Bruce Duthu, Dartmouth’s Samson Occom Professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies.

The documents to be repatriated include letters, diaries, sermons and a page of indigenous herbal remedies. Occom wrote in five languages: English, Greek, Latin Hebrew and Mohegan. Dartmouth experts said the papers contain what is believed to be the earliest example of written Mohegan language.

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