Born: 1723, New London, CT
Mohegan, northernmost branch of Pequot tribe
Consider Occom’s autobiography in comparison to other autobiographies you know. Next, we will read excerpts from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, so keep Occom’s in mind.
Think about the following:
• What is the subject-position of the autobiographer?
• What is the “authorial I”?
What words does Occom use to describe his Native brethren?
• He says he was brough up in “Heathenism”; his parents lived a “wandering life” and “Chiefly Depended upon Hunting, Fishing, & Fowling for their Living and had no Connection with the English” except to trade with them (294).
Missionaries came among his people in Occom’s youth. He summarizes his conversion to Christianity in but a few words: “after I was awakened & converted, I went to all the meetings, I could come at; & Continued under Trouble of Mind about 6 months” (295).
• Why does Occom elide the particulars of his conversion experience?
The Native people in Montauk were “desirous to have [Occom] keep a school” there.
• Describe Occom’s pedagogical strategies. Were the strategies more or less successful than the strategies of the White missionaries who had sought to teach the children prior to his arrival?
• Occom incorporated the teaching of religon, three or four times a week, into the curriculum of his school. Discuss the significance of the following statement: “I Catechised 3 or 4 Times a Week according to the Assembly’s Shout or Catechism, and many Times Proposed Questions of my own, and in my own Tongue” (297).
Examine the last fifth of page 297. Based on Occom’s description, how are his methods of converting Natives different from the methods of some White missionaries?
Review the last two passages. Occom laments the different treatement he has received during his tenure as a missionary: “Now you See what difference they made between me and other missionaries.” He follows this statement with the account of a “Poor Indian Boy.” He compares his own story to that of this “Poor Indian Boy.” Like the Boy he describes, Occom feels that he was “used.” Why? What does he ultimately conclude is the reason for the unfair treatment he has received, despite his dedication, talents, and commitment?
The following are two compelling articles about Occom:
Elliott, Michael. “‘This Indian bait’: Samson Occom and the Voice of Liminality.” Early
American Literature. 29:3. 233-
McCarthy, Keely. “Conversion, Identity, and The Indian Missionary.” Early
American Literature. 36:3. 353-369.