The Mohegan-Brothertown minister Samson Occom (1723–1792) was a prominent political and religious leader of the Indigenous peoples of present-day New York and New England, among whom he is still revered today. An international celebrity in his day, Occom rose to fame as the first Native person to be ordained a minister in the New England colonies.
Occom became a teacher, preacher, and judge among the Montaukett in Montauk, on eastern Long Island, being officially ordained on August 30, 1759, by the presbytery of Suffolk County. In 1761 and 1763, Occom traveled to the Six Nations of the Iroquois to preach.
In the 1770s, he helped found the nation of Brothertown, where Coastal Algonquian families seeking respite from colonialism built a new life on land given to them by the Oneida Nation.
Occom was a highly productive author, probably the most prolific Native American writer prior to the late nineteenth century. Most of Occom’s writings, however, have been overlooked, partly because many of them are about Christian themes that seem unrelated to Native life.
In his groundbreaking book, Samson Occom: Radical Hospitality in the Native Northeast (Columbia University Press, 2023), Ryan Carr argues that Occom’s writings were deeply rooted in Indigenous traditions of hospitality, diplomacy, and openness to strangers. From Occom’s point of view, evangelical Christianity was not a foreign culture; it was a new opportunity to practice his people’s ancestral customs.
Carr demonstrates Occom’s originality as a religious thinker, showing how his commitment to Native sovereignty shaped his reading of the Bible. By emphasizing the Native sources of Occom’s evangelicalism, this book offers new ways to understand the relations of Northeast Native traditions to Christianity, colonialism, and Indigenous self-determination.
Ryan Carr is a lecturer in English and comparative literature, American studies, and the Core Curriculum at Columbia University. The book includes a Foreword by Megan Fulopp and Amy Besaw Medford, members of the Brothertown Indian Nation.
Fulopp is a researcher who manages Brothertown-related projects, including the web-based “Life of the Brothertown Indians,” and Medford is a research affiliate with the Project on Indigenous Governance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy School.
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