November 20, 2012
Sermon on Temperance and Morality
Samson Occom was born in a Mohegan community near New London, Connecticut in 1723. At the age of sixteen Occom was greatly influenced by the fevered sermons delivered by evangelical pastors during the “Great Awakening” and converted to Christianity a year later. This was the driving force that leads Occom to learn how to read and write. At the age of twenty he had the opportunity to study with Reverend Wheelock for four years until the Occom’s poor eyesight prevented anymore tutoring. Wheelock was a well known missionary and had had success converting young Native American men to Christianity and teaching them how to minister to their tribes. In 1749 Occom accepted an invitation to act as school master for the Montauk tribe of Long Island. It was here that he would meet and marry his wife, Mary, two years later. Samson and Mary would have ten children. (Occom Papers)
Occom would go on to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1759 and in 1764 he would move his family to Mohegan and began helping the Reverend Whitefield raise money for his former tutor’s school, Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Occom would tour throughout upstate New York, giving sermons and accepting donations in the name of the school. He was so successful that in 1765 he was sent to Great Brittan for two years to again raise money for Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. During this time he was reassured by Wheelock that his family would be provided for. Occom struggled with poverty and would often take on jobs to supplement his income to provide for his large family and was worried to leave them for so long.
Occom was wildly successful in his endeavor, raising over twelve thousand British pounds as he traveled across England and giving three hundred sermons. When he returned home from abroad in 1767 he was stunned to learn that despite the promises made by his long time mentor and tutor, Wheelock, his family was living is poverty. Not only did Occom discover this, but he also discovered that Wheelock did not intend to use the money Occom raised to fund an Indian school. Instead, Wheelock would use the money Occom raised to start what is now known as Dartmouth College. With this information Occom severed all ties with Wheelock and would instead work on a plan that was devised by his son-in-law Joseph Johnson. (Occom Papers) Johnson, who was also a Christian and a Mohegan, had come up with a plan to move Christian Indians to land offered to them by the Oneida tribe in upstate New York, so they could lead a peaceful Christian life. Occom would give a sermon to his people about the evils of this war but he would advise them to steer clear of it because he feared that the white mans quarrels were that of the devil. (Heath)
Throughout his success as a preacher Occom published two works, a book of hymns entitled Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1774 and A Sermon Preached by Samson Occom,...at the Execution of Moses Paul in 1772. Moses Paul was a fellow Mohegan and Christian Indian who had killed a man outside of a tavern while intoxicated from alcohol. This would be one of the first times Occom would speak publicly outside of a church since his return from England. The execution was attended by a large number of whites and natives alike and Occom was urged to publish the sermon soon after because it dealt with the problem of Indian drunkenness, something that the white man feared. (Moses Paul)
In 1784 Occom would start traveling again, preaching throughout New England for the next six years to raise money in his efforts to resettle Christian Indians. A year later the settlement of “Brotherstown” was established for a short time and in 1789 Occom would move his family there and continue working for and among his people in securing their land from the Oneida nation who was trying to reclaim it, as well as from the whites who were trying to lease the land out from under them. Occom died in July of 1792 at the age of sixty nine. His funeral would draw over three hundred Indians.
The Sermon on Temperance and Morality should be included in the early American canon of literature because it offers a conflicting view of the way of life depicted by the European settlers. In works such as William Bradford’s Plantation Papers, the life of the Pilgrims was portrayed as very strict and God fearing. Bradford equated any sinful acts committed by his Pilgrims to be the result of someone else’s bad influence. He did not believe that the men in his company were capable of such acts without provocation. (Plantation Papers)
In Occom’s sermon he asserts just the opposite. He is stating that the white man is to blame for bringing such abominations with them to their land. As Christian Indians they are not only ostracized from the company of the European settlers, they are looked down upon by their own tribes because of their conversion to Christianity. This troubles Occom and he speaks on this with a passion of belief, but also one of disbelief. How can one group of men who bring such foul ways with them, condemn Occom’s people for actions that were similar if not the same as the settlers? But Occom does not let his flock off that easily; he does not excuse their bad behavior on the account of association with the Europeans. He calls his flock to take responsibility for their own actions and stand strong as a community and as children of their Christian God.
This sermon would be beneficial to be used alongside of Occom’s sermon he delivered at the execution of Moses Paul. They complement each other very well in their subject matter considering that Paul was sentenced to death after being thrown out of a tavern and killing the next man who left the establishment. These two sermons, when read in conjunction with the other would be helpful to demonstrate why Occom felt that his people should take responsibility for their own actions.
This text is also significant to the American culture before 1865 because it deals specifically with the weak morals of men concerning their consumption of alcohol- Occom argues that a man cannot blame his drinking on the devil, for the devil did not carry him to the tavern, nor did the devil pour alcohol down his throat. He walked to the tavern on his own two legs and had no one else to blame for it. (Temperance) Occom also delves into the foul language used by Christians, and how the Native Americans did not use such profane language or use the name of their God in vain. “It is amazing to hear how expert the white people are in swearing, men, women and children, of all ages, ranks and degrees, it seems to be a mother tongue with them.” (Occom) His people did not even have those words in their vocabulary, yet they were considered the heathens. One more thing that concerned Occom about the Europeans language and the use of it was their tendency to speak ill against their neighbors leading to fights and discontent. “It is condemned by the light of nature, and it is utterly condemned by Scripture, and if we don’t like it, why should we give it to our fellow man? Speaking against another must mean, belying one another.”
Occom goes on to point out the diseases that Christians brought with them, specifically those of a sexual nature. “And man’s diseases that Europeans brought into this country, that the natives were entirely ignorant before, such as what they call in genteel language, venereal disease, in common language, French Pox.” (Occom) The natives had no knowledge of diseases of this kind. The Europeans use of whores and whore houses also troubled Occom greatly. “But since we have begun this practice which is called, whoredom, let us take notice of it a little. I suppose it is universal among all nations, and it is universally condemned by rational people. The English have many bawdy or whore houses there in that nation. And I never heard of any such house amongst the Indians in this great continent.” (Occom)
Occom ends his sermon with the notion that all we need to get along is love, in fact, Scripture demands us to love each other and there is plenty to go around. “Love is everywhere commended and commanded in the Holy Scriptures, and it is in our power naturally to love and to be kind to one another. The Scripture commands people to provoke one another to love and to good works. And it is the strength of a kingdom and nation to live in peace and in love.” (Occom) In these final wishes Occom leaves his flock with much to think about, but in a positive note. He asks his people to live a good life despite what may be going on around them. He asks for peace.
Bradford, William. Plantation Papers.
Occom, Samson. “Sermon on Temperance and Morality.” Early Americas Digital Archive. Web. 18 Nov. 2012
Samson Occom, A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian; Who Was Executed at New-Haven, on the Second of September, 1722; for the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, Later of Waterbury, on the 7 th of December, 1771. Preached at the Desire of Said Paul