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In repatriation ceremony, Dartmouth returns historic Occom papers to the Mohegan Tribe

Occom Papers Repatriation Ceremony
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
The Unity of Nations drum group plays a traditional Mohegan song before a repatriation ceremony at the Mohegan Congregational Church in Uncasville, Conn. After more than 200 years, Dartmouth College has returned the handwritten papers of 18th-century Mohegan scholar Samson Occom to the Mohegan Tribe. Occom traveled to Europe in the 1760s to raise funds for what he believed would be a school in Connecticut for Native American students. But after he returned, he learned that the funds were diverted toward the founding of a school for white settlers that would later become Dartmouth.

After more than 200 years, Dartmouth College has returned the handwritten papers of 18th-century Mohegan scholar Samson Occom to the Mohegan Tribe.

Dartmouth officials gave back the historic papers in a repatriation ceremony Wednesday in Connecticut.

Born in 1723, Occom was a Mohegan scholar and minister. In the 1760s, he was sent to Europe by his teacher, Eleazer Wheelock, to raise funds for what Occom believed would be a school for Native students in Connecticut.

But not long after his return, Occom learned that Wheelock had diverted the funds toward the founding of a school in New Hampshire meant for white settlers, which became Dartmouth College.

The Mohegans have advocated for more recognition of Occom’s role in raising the funds that led to the founding of Dartmouth.

Occom Papers Repatriation Ceremony
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Chief Many Hearts Dr. Lynn Malerba and Medicine Woman Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel of the Mohegan Tribe drape a custom Mohegan Pendleton blanket over Dartmouth College President Philip J. Hanlon during a repatriation ceremony where handwritten papers of 18th-century Mohegan scholar Samson Occom were returned to the Mohegan Tribe. Dartmouth experts say the papers contain what is believed to be the earliest example of written Mohegan language.

As Dartmouth College president Philip Hanlon presented the materials to the Mohegans, he called the day both solemn and celebratory.

“I sincerely hope this gesture will be one more step in our reconciliation for the disappointment Occom experienced,” Hanlon said. “It has taken far too long for these papers to be returned to where they have always belonged. But they are here now, accompanied by the spirit of Samson Occom that lives with them.”

The collection includes letters, diaries, sermons and a page of indigenous herbal remedies. Occom wrote in five languages: English, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Mohegan.

Dartmouth experts say the papers contain what is believed to be the earliest example of written Mohegan language.

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
/
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

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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