This Day in Presbyterian History: A Unique Product of the Great Awakening
In these devotionals before, we have written several times on the ministry of David Brainerd to the native Americans in the land. Some of you may be familiar with the work of John Eliott among the same people in pre-Revolutionary days. Others of early Christianity, including many Presbyterian clergy, saw in their existence an opportunity to spread the gospel. But no where was there such a ray of hope than in the person and work of the Rev. Samuel Occom, a native American himself.
Born in 1743, of the Mohegan tribe, he was one of the first converts from among the native American tribes during the First Great Awakening. It was said that his mother had first come to knowledge of Christ herself after contact with the revivalist preachers of the New Side Presbyterians. Then Samuel Occom himself, at age 16, came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the ministry of a Great Awakening preacher named Davenport.
Samuel sought out a Congregational minister by the name of Eleazar Wheelock for the purpose of being discipled by him. The latter had an Indian classical school in his own home. Samuel entered Wheelock’s school and stayed there four years, studying the biblical languages as well as theology. He began to minister to his own people in New England and Long Island. While in Long Island, he married a Christian Indian, and to this couple, ten children were born.
On August 30, 1759, Samuel Occom was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Long Island. His trial sermon was given on Psalm 72:9, “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.” It was received and he was received as a Presbyterian minister.
With the purpose of raising support for Rev. Wheelock’s Indian charity school, Samuel Occom went to England, where he took the nation by storm. Thousands came to hear this converted Indian minister, with the result that 12,000 pounds were raised for the Indian school. Even the king of England gave a large amount of funds. Samuel Occum preached over 300 sermons while in England.
Upon arriving back in the colonies, events began to sour considerably. Promises of support for Samuel’s family while he was absent from them were not fulfilled. Further, plans to establish an Indian school were dropped, with the money raised from the trip going to support an all-white school. That later school is known today as the Ivy League educational institution, Dartmouth College. It is said, given the circumstances, that Samuel could be listed as a co-founder of Dartmouth. Samuel Occom, however, was decidedly against the beginning of this ninth educational facility in the colonies, as it was taking money away from the strengthening of an all-Indian school.
Samuel Occom went up to New York and established the first Christian Indian settlement known as Brothertown, New York. It later was moved to Wisconsin. Samuel Occom went to be with the Lord on July 14, 1792.
Words to live by: The early Presbyterians in our country had a desire to see the first inhabitants of America become Christians and reach their own people with the gospel. The fruition of this desire was seen in Samuel Occom. However, they could have treated their new converts is a better way. Certainly, what the Rev. Wheelock did to Occam was born out of sinful covetousness and theft, both directly forbidden in the tenth and eight commandments of the moral law. The latter should have been disciplined by his church for those sins. That Samuel Occom continued to minister after that in evangelism, is remarkable and a testament to the saving grace which was in his life.
Through the Scriptures: 1 Chronicles 27 – 29
Through the Standards: Conditions of acceptable prayer
WLC 185 — “How are we to pray?
A. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.”