Between his ordination by the Long Island Presbytery in 1759 and his death in 1792, Samson Occom developed an original, powerful, and largely overlooked theological perspective on the Indigenous peoples of North America. Almost all ministers in mid-eighteenth-century Anglophone North America believed that Native Americans were in an historical position akin to that of the Canaanites of the Old Testament who occupied the Promised Land on the eve of the Israelites’ return. According to this interpretive paradigm, Indians were an obstacle to God's chosen nation as it progressed toward its grand historical and eschatological destiny; they were historically important “only as the people Yahweh removes from the land in order to bring the chosen people in,” as Robert Warrior puts it.1 The theological consensus likening Indians to Canaanites dated back at least to King Philip's War. Earlier in the seventeenth century, a minority of puritan thinkers including John Eliot had entertained the notion that Native Americans might be nothing other than the “lost tribes” of Israel, a notion that resurfaced in American culture at the end of the eighteenth century. But in Occom's milieu the Canaanite interpretation prevailed.2
Occom diagnosed two interrelated problems with this mainstream, Old Testament-derived view of English-Indian relations. First, it made no allowance for Indigenous self-determination, that is, for the fact that Indian peoples were, are, and should be the agents of their own histories.3 Second, Occom thought New Englanders’ belief in their own national chosenness made it impossible for them to see that, in certain important respects, Native Americans were more virtuous than English people and thus deserved to be emulated, rather than politically and culturally assimilated.
After his break with his teacher Eleazar Wheelock in 1768–1771, Occom aligned himself with an obscure tradition of scripture-informed historiography that interpreted the situation of the North American “heathens” from the vantage of Paul's epistles rather than that of Exodus, the Old Testament prophets, and the Psalms. According to this Pauline view, God reserved a special historical role for the heathens or gentiles in the ancient and modern epochs that the ideologues of chosen nations were predisposed to overlook. Arguing from his own experience of conversion, Occom observed that New World gentiles were perfectly capable of accepting Christ without having to relinquish their non-chosen nationhood. This implied that the elect status of the New English Israel was much less significant than colonists liked to believe and could even be a moral and political liability insofar as it was taken by the English to warrant the mistreatment and exploitation of Indigenous people and African Americans. Since the supposedly elect English were unlikely to desist from such malfeasance, Occom thought, the tribes of southern New England were scripturally justified in establishing the separate and self-determining nation of Brothertown.4 There, Native ministers could further the work of redemption among their fellow gentiles while the community demonstrated to the world the innate virtues of humankind as practiced by a people who had never enjoyed the luxury (or suffered the pitfalls) of believing themselves to be “chosen.”
Although Occom's early readers sometimes mistook him for an assimilationist, no one today doubts that he was an ardent exponent of Indigenous self-determination. Recent scholars including Lisa Brooks, Angela Calcaterra, and Kelly Wisecup have rightly emphasized how deeply Occom's understanding of self-determination was shaped by political and ceremonial practices whose roots antedated Northeast Native peoples' contact with European settlers.5 Less often noted is the fact that his ideas about self-determination also found expression in speech genres and conceptual idioms derived from theological debates in mid-eighteenth-century New England about matters of Christian doctrine, scriptural interpretation, and the historiography of redemption. Rather than exploring how Occom creatively intervened in these debates for Indigenist ends, scholars have often assumed that he was content to make use of—or even conceal his true beliefs behind—the linguistic “conventions” of the “New Light” theological “frameworks” that he “internalized” from Wheelock and other colonial ministers.6 This assumption is mistaken, and results from a longstanding tendency among historians of Native religion to distinguish unnecessarily sharply between theory and practice, or “theology” and “ritual,” in describing political and cultural differences between white and Native peoples. This tendency has prevented religious and cultural historians from seeing that theology was one of the many practices through which Native Americans exercised self-determination during the Revolutionary era.7
Native religious history's in-house version of the notorious theory–practice distinction has sources in the work of New Indian Historians like Neal Salisbury, who argued in 1974 that seventeenth-century transcriptions of Eastern Algonquian confessions provide “no indication that the [Native] converts understood either the Word, except as it applied to themselves, or the most basic tenets of Puritan theology.” Proselytes may have affirmed theological orthodoxy under duress or for ulterior strategic purposes, but their words conveyed a “lack of intellectual content.” James Axtell would later contest Salisbury's approach to Native avowals of Christian doctrine, arguing that Northeast Native proselytes were perfectly capable of grasping “the essential articles of faith” and even converting to Christianity “without deceiving themselves, the missionaries, or us.” The main stream of scholarly opinion, however, is clearly on Salisbury's side, with more recent interpreters adopting an even sharper version of his distinction between the pragmatism of Native religion and the abstract intellectualism of Anglo-European Christianity. Whereas Salisbury had advanced the relatively modest claim that a few Algonquian-speaking Indians in New England had pretended to believe in Reformed orthodoxy for context-specific tactical purposes, scholars like Michael McNally and Rachel Wheeler claim that Native American religion was always characterized by a “practice orientation,” meaning that “Native religious traditions generally placed greater emphasis on practice than belief.” Early Christian Indians embodied this general cultural tendency, Linford Fisher argues, by staying true to “Native modes of religious engagement, which tended to be more practical and provisional” than “totalizing, Euro-Christian” ones.8
If one accepts these generalizations, then Occom's theological writings are bound to seem tangentially related, at best, to the main thrust of Northeast Native religious, cultural, and political history. Those writings are often, after all, both highly theoretical and openly committed to the pastoral inculcation of “totalizing” Reformed doctrines about conversion, predestination, irresistible grace, and the like. Exceptional as he may have been, however, Occom has also proved hard for historians to avoid. His voluminous oeuvre and the many contemporaneous writings about him constitute an indispensible archive for anyone studying Native religion in eighteenth-century New England. Yet because Occom's writings engage in both theory and practice—or, to be more precise, both theoretical and non-theoretical forms of practice—scholars who rely on a sharp theory-practice distinction to describe differences between European and Indigenous religion often find themselves compelled to read him against the grain. Fisher, for instance, interprets Occom's 1768 autobiography as an illustration of how “Natives often became experts at milking the system” of missionary education, observing that Occom “recalled that as a child in the 1720s he and other youth attended sermons in part to receive the blankets that were passed out.”9 This reading supports Fisher's generalization that “Indians in the colonial period were far more focused on the efficaciousness [sic] of religious practices than they were with the abstract ‘truth’ of them” but only at the expense of turning a blind eye toward his autobiography's theological agenda. Occom's recollection about the blankets occurs under a section heading that reads “From my Birth till I receivd the Christian Religion”; the following section is titled “From the Time of our Reformation till I left Mr Wheelock.” Occom explicitly structured the autobiography in this way in order to guarantee that readers would see that, over time, he had come to understand that the merely pragmatic and instrumental attitude Mohegans used to have toward Christianity was inadequate. “[F]or these things [i.e. blankets] they woud attend”—but, Occom's point is, these things were not enough. Only later, when “it pleased the Ld … to Bless and Acompany” Native worshippers “with Divine Influences, to the Conviction and Saving Conversion of a Number of us,” did he and his fellow Mohegans really begin to understand the point of going to church. Occom's autobiography thus expounds a Reformed theology of grace as mediated by the Holy Spirit (“Divine Influences”) as distinct from what saw as the crude, trucking-and-bartering understanding of religious observance that Mohegan churchgoers had prior to “our Reformation.”10
How, in light of beliefs like these, did Occom manage to devise a theoretical justification for Northeast Native political and cultural separatism? It is by answering this question that I hope in what follows to unpack Occom's theology of Indigenous self-determination. This approach has two main advantages over the policy of avoidance toward Occom's theology that other recent interpreters have taken. First, it allows more of Occom's religious writings to emerge as politically relevant and makes it possible to read those writings in a manner that honors Occom's stated intentions. Second, it avoids relying on the unnecessarily and, to my mind, unproductively sharp theory and practice dichotomy that has crept into recent scholarship on Native religion. This distinction has a long and complex history in the study of Native peoples dating back at least as far as the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss; but it is epistemologically tendentious, to put it mildly, and has too often been appropriated for essentialist purposes.11 I leave it to others—preferably, members of the tribes to which Occom belonged—to adjudicate whether or not he was acting like a “representative” Indian when he practiced theology. All I hope to show here is that his theological writings are part of the rich and complex history of Native American self-determination and illustrate how the meaning of self-determination changed over time as Indians like Occom appropriated learned discourses like theology as part of a repertoire of anticolonial practice. If, as Margaret Szasz writes, Occom is “seldom described as a sophisticated theologian,” this ultimately says more about the blind spots of scholarship than it does about Occom's own theological accomplishments.12 These were substantial, and have for far too long remained hidden in plain sight.
“I was Born a Heathen and Brought up in In Heathenism till I was between 16 & 17 Years of age, at a Place Calld Mohegan in New London Connecticut”—this sentence from Occom's 1768 autobiography tells us a great deal that is relevant to the way he would come to do theology. Note first the place: “a Place Calld Mohegan in New London Connecticut.” This is a peculiar turn of phrase since Mohegan was most definitely a separate town, roughly twelve miles from New London up the Pequot (later Thames) River. Occom likely wanted to situate Mohegan within New London's sphere of influence to set his life story against the background of the famous revival of religion that took place there beginning in 1739–1740, when he was “between 16 & 17 Years of age.”13
The New London revival is best known today for the bizarre auto-da-fé orchestrated there in 1743 by the itinerant preacher James Davenport, in which a variety of supposedly heretical books and a smaller number of luxury goods, including a pair of Davenport's own breeches, were ignited in a bonfire on the town wharf.14 It is not inconceivable that Occom was present on this occasion, which might explain why so many modern historians have credited Davenport with his conversion. This last point has been contested, but what matters here is that when Occom wrote his autobiography, he wanted people to know that he was a first-hand participant in New London's famous revival.15 This suggests that Occom was a pro-revival or “New Light” Christian as commentators have long observed. More than that, however, it indicates his willingness to align himself with a particular group of revivalists widely disparaged in mid-eighteenth-century Connecticut as enthusiasts. “Commentators used strong adjectives to describe the New London events,” write Harry Stout and Peter Onuf of the revival in which Occom participated: “they were ‘wild,’ ‘extravagant,’ and ‘indecent.’ The ‘thronging multitudes’ who participated in the carnage were ‘mad men’ consumed by their ‘flaming zeal’ and ‘enthusiastic fury.’”16 Occom was well aware that the New London revivalists had this reputation, but he believed that revivalism and enthusiasm could be sharply distinguished from one another. He makes this clear later in his autobiography when he describes how, soon after taking up the post of minister and teacher to the Montaukett Indians of eastern Long Island in 1751, he had recovered several parishioners there who had been led astray by a group of “Inthusiastical Exhorters'':
And being acquainted with the Enthusiasts in New England… I woud read Such passages of the Scriptures, as I thought woud confound their Notions, and I woud come to them [i.e., the Montauketts] with all Authority, Saying, thus Saith the Lord, and by this means, the Lord was pleased to Bless my poor Endeavours, and they were reclaimd…17
Subsequently, Occom writes, “there was a remarkable revival of religion among these Indians and many were hopefully Converted to the Saving knowledge of God in Jx.”18 Whereas Old Light critics of the New London revivals had decried them as expressions of enthusiasm, Occom here implies that enthusiasm is an obstacle to revivalism, not a cause of it. Those who participate in real revivals do so under the supervision of an “Authority” whose source is “the Scriptures.” Occom's attestation to a theologically disciplined form of revivalism and his expression of evangelical concern for the unconverted through an insistence on obedience to God's revealed word aligned him with a very specific theological position that had recently emerged in New England, a school of thought preoccupied with the “linking of a doctrine of divine sovereignty with the revivalist's demand that the sinner had the responsibility and the ability to repent now,” as E. Brooks Holifield writes.19 This was what was just then coming to be known as the “New Divinity.”
All of the New Divinity ministers who influenced Occom studied with Jonathan Edwards at Yale. Like Edwards, they preached a religion of the heart or “will” and sympathized with the revivals. Most were friends and supporters of James Davenport but thought he had gone too far in New London. One of the primary goals of the movement was to specify how revivals could be theologically distinguished from enthusiasm; Occom himself pursued this goal retrospectively in his autobiography and can rightly be understood as part of the movement's second generation. A further goal of the New Divinity was to adapt and re-interpret Edwards's sometimes abstruse theology for more polemical purposes. The most famous New Divinity theologians, Samuel Hopkins and Joseph Bellamy, engaged in heated pamphlet wars with respected New England divines such as Moses Mather and Jonathan Mayhew. More often than not, New Divinity polemic hewed closely to positions staked out by Edwards although those positions were elaborated in new and sometimes scandalous ways.20
Occom's initial exposure to Edwardsean theology and the first stirrings of the New Divinity occurred between 1743 and 1747. During this period immediately following the New London revival, Occom lived in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he was tutored in reading, religion, and other topics by Eleazar Wheelock. Wheelock was Edwards's student and a friend of Davenport's from his time at Yale. Though not much of a theologian himself, he was an important supporter of the New Divinity and introduced Occom to two of the movement's most eminent thinkers: Samuel Hopkins, who was arguably its intellectual leader; and Samuel Buell of East Hampton, who became Occom's most important ministerial mentor after he moved to Montauk in 1751.21 Ultimately, the connections Occom formed with Buell and Hopkins through Wheelock outlasted his relationship with Wheelock himself, which fell apart in 1770 following the latter's misappropriation of the funds Occom had raised for Moor's Indian Charity School.22
Nowhere is Occom's indebtedness to New Divinity theology, particularly the work of Hopkins, more apparent than in the sermon he composed in 1772 for the occasion of Moses Paul's hanging. Literary historians have long noted this text's conventional deployment of tropes that had been part of the Reformed sermonic tradition for decades: the terrifying “wages of sin,” the all-sufficiency of grace, and the urgency of repentance.23 What has yet to be noticed, however, is the sermon's unmistakable reliance on New Divinity theology: specifically, on Hopkins's distinctive and highly controversial treatment of the “means of grace.” Hopkins's discussion of this topic in his Enquiry Concerning the Promises of the Gospel (1765) concerned the question of what could be achieved by unregenerate sinners who knew what the Gospel offered but had nevertheless refused Christ. Hopkins's claim was that, short of accepting the Gospel promise, such sinners could do nothing to reform themselves in the eyes of God; moreover, as Holifield explains, Hopkins asserted that “the unregenerate became ‘more vicious and guilty in God's sight’ the more knowledge they derived from the means of grace”—that is, in effect, from preaching, the sacraments, and the Word itself.24
Hopkins's Enquiry incited a war of words among New England theologians, which Occom studied closely. Upbraiding Hopkins for assaulting the “common sense of mankind” with his “strange divinity,” New Haven pastor Jedediah Mills published a pamphlet accusing him of denying that “natural conscience'' had any moral or soteriological significance for unregenerate sinners under the means of grace while minimizing the sinfulness of people who knew nothing of the Gospel.25 Mills's criticisms prompted a stern rejoinder from Hopkins, who reasserted in The True State and Character of the Unregenerate (1769) that only those who were acquainted with the means of grace could be held accountable for rejecting Christ, or what he termed “unbelief.” Unbelief respecting the promises of the Gospel was on Hopkins's account a higher-order or “meta” sin whose commission “aggravated” all others: “all the abominations that have been committed by the worst of men, or that men can possibly commit, without being guilty of unbelief and rejecting Christ and the gospel, are incomparably less criminal and vile than this sin of unbelief, or not receiving but rejecting Christ, when he is revealed and offered to men.”26
Occom's familiarity with this controversy between Hopkins and Mills is readily apparent in the published version of his sermon for Moses Paul, where at a climactic moment he offers a crystal-clear recapitulation and pastoral redeployment of Hopkins's “strange” new arguments about unbelief and the means of grace. Pointing out to Paul that he was lucky to have a “good education” and to know about the promises of the Gospel, Occom despairingly explains that his guilt has been “aggravated” by his knowledge of the means of grace, leading to the higher-order sin of unbelief:
Alas! poor Moses, … Should God come out against you in strict justice, alas! what could you say for yourself? for you have been brought up under the bright sun-shine, and plain, and loud sound of the gospel… You have sinned against the light of your own conscience, against your knowledge and understanding …, against the old and new-testament… . O fly, fly, to the blood of the Lamb of God for the pardon of all your aggravated sins.27
Occom's insistence that Moses Paul had committed “aggravated sins” owing to his exposure to the “bright sun-shine … and loud sound of the gospel” is Hopkinsian in both doctrine and diction. He seems to have been particularly impressed by Hopkins's definition of “unbelief” in The True State and Character of the Unregenerate as a higher-order sin resulting from “an impenitent rejecting Jesus Christ now, under the full blaze of gospel light and clear convictions of conscience.”28 It seems highly likely that Occom read this work some time during the three-year interval between its publication—also in New Haven, where Mills had published his Inquiry—and the Moses Paul sermon, which Occom delivered in September 1772 on the New Haven Green. Nor, indeed, would it be at all surprising if Hopkins had shared his views about unbelief and the means of grace with Occom in person. The two ministers had been personally acquainted since at least 1761 and probably much earlier, and we know from Occom's journal that he stayed with Hopkins at least once during his periods of itinerancy in the 1770s.29 These biographical clues, together with the textual evidence from the Moses Paul sermon, support the idea that by the 1770s, Hopkins had become a major influence on Occom's theological outlook. They suggest, too, that Occom had by 1772 come into his own as a New Divinity preacher. It may be, in fact, that his “bestselling” and oft-reprinted sermon on Moses Paul was and remains the most widely read work of sermonic literature that the New Divinity ever produced.30
It took intellectual creativity for Occom to make New Divinity teachings relevant to the pro-Indian activism in which he became increasingly involved in the 1760s. Indigenous self-determination concerns the politics of nationhood, but the New Divinity had limited traction on eighteenth-century discussions about colonialism, political sovereignty, and the fate of nations. When New Divinity ministers discussed sovereignty, they were concerned not primarily with nationhood but rather with God's power of dividing humankind into the regenerate and the unregenerate. This was the most important distinction that existed between groups of human beings, and there was no “middle ground,” as Hopkins's arguments about the futility of unregenerate “strivings” implied.31 Occom himself sometimes spoke in these dichotomous terms. “[H]ere I Shall endeavour to repre[sen]t two Sorts of People yt are in the World, and Distinguish them one from the other—the one is Believer, and [the other] unbeliever,” he wrote in notes for a 1760 sermon; and, in another manuscript from around the same time, “there are but two [sorts] in the world, or only two Families, the Family [of] Christ and the family of the Devil.”32 For Occom as for his New Divinity colleagues, the division of humankind into “Believer[s]” and everyone else was absolutely primary; and, as a minister committed to the post-Edwardsean ideal of “disinterested benevolence,” he saw it as his goal to make as many people believers as possible.33 What made Occom unique among New Divinity ministers was that he pursued this goal in a way that supported a politics of Indigenous separatism and self-determination.
Occom justified his peculiarly Indigenous form of universal benevolence in the idiom of covenant or “federal” theology: that is, in terms of “national election” or promises made by God to certain chosen groups of people. It was in this return to covenant theology that Occom parted ways most dramatically from his ministerial peers and mentors. As Joseph Conforti and Mark Valeri have noted, the New Divinity's commitments to disinterested benevolence, to the preeminence of grace, and to the fundamental sociological distinction between believers and everyone else, led its proponents to cast a jaundiced eye upon the New England tradition of splitting the world up into various covenanted and un-covenanted peoples.34 The title of a pamphlet published by Joseph Bellamy in 1769 effectively summarized the New Divinity's narrow construal of “covenant” as an agreement between God and the saved: “That there is but one covenant, whereof baptism and the Lord's-Supper are seals, viz. the covenant of grace; (proved from the word of God) and, the doctrine of an external graceless covenant … shewn to be an unscriptural doctrine.” In publishing such pamphlets criticizing Moses Mather and other latter-day practitioners of the old federal theology, Bellamy and his New Divinity collaborators continued the attack on the Halfway Covenant that their teacher Jonathan Edwards had reinitiated in Northampton twenty years before.35
Occom was no friend of the Halfway Covenant, and he agreed with his New Divinity colleagues that the doctrine of national election was, basically, a dead letter. Yet he also understood that covenantalism was deeply entrenched in Anglo-American intellectual and political culture and that it was not likely to be dispelled by mere theological fiat. Even for those Anglo-Americans who agreed with Bellamy and other Edwardseans that New England “chosenness” had no basis in scripture, it was still possible to remember the myth of national election as part of a shared cultural legacy. For white New Englanders who valued this legacy, universal benevolence could be seen as the next logical step in a people's glorious history.36 But for Indians, the situation was different. By most eighteenth-century interpretations of federal theology in the American colonies, they were “Canaanites in the Promised Land” or, per the widely cited Ephesians 2:12, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.” Or, to put the point slightly differently and in a way that would have better conformed to post-Edwardsean skepticism about the doctrine of national election in general: Indians were not and had never been a people chosen by God.
Occom took this idea on board, along with the New Divinity's emphasis on universal or disinterested benevolence. But he also recognized that the theology of benevolence was problematic from the point of view of Native peoples. The idea of universal benevolence could not be part of their historical self-understanding in the same way it could for Anglo-Americans: since Native nations had never been chosen by God, they could not participate in white New Englanders' glorious metamorphosis from elect nation to benevolent empire. This, Occom realized, meant that the historical significance of Native nationhood was still an open question. How could the fact of never having been chosen be understood as a feature of Native Americans’ collective past? And how could such a collective identity be pressed into the service of Indigenous self-determination and universal benevolence in a colonial context?
The claim that Occom thought of Indians as an unchosen people may come as a surprise to some, since there has emerged in recent years a tendency among some scholars to speak as if Occom thought Indians were a chosen nation.37 To be fair, the historians who ascribe this view to Occom have tended not to be primarily focused on his theological views or their intellectual-historical context. When David Silverman, for instance, writes of Occom's hope that Indians “would rise from the depths of colonial exploitation to become God's chosen people and God's messengers,” he appears not to be making a claim about the history of covenant theology but rather illustrating, in a more figurative way, the sense of pride and commitment that Occom and his compatriots felt about Brothertown and other projects of Native self-determination. The idea that any group of human beings could do anything to “transform themselves” into God's chosen people would have been anathema to Occom, who, like other New Divinity theologians, took a hard line against covenants of works and in favor of the absoluteness of what he termed God's “free grace & sovereign mercy.”38 In presenting Native Americans as a people that had never been chosen, Occom kept faith with post-Edwardsean skepticism about the very idea of national covenants, even as he heuristically retained an analytical distinction between chosenness and unchosenness in order to gain argumentative purchase on urgent problems of colonial politics.
One way of seeing how Occom deploys this heuristic distinction is by considering the form of address he uses in his sermons. Occom's belief in Native unchosenness implies that his sermons are not jeremiads. The prophet Jeremiah, after all, belonged to a nationally covenanted people. Though distant and aloof from other Jews by virtue of his prophetic calling, he was still a member of God's chosen nation. In Occom's time, the jeremiad tradition still thrived in the “New English Israel,” but Occom did not identify with that tradition because he presumed his people had never been chosen.39 This is evident in the Moses Paul sermon in the way Occom addresses his ministerial colleagues as “reverend Gentlemen and fathers in Israel.” After speaking to the condemned Paul, Occom begs leave “to speak a few words to you, tho’ I am well sensible that I need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God, by the least of you”; nevertheless, he continues, “the providence of God has so ordered it, that I must speak here on this occasion.”40 Readers of Occom sometimes interpret this deferential language as a modesty trope.41 But its more serious purpose is that of performatively disaffiliating its speaker from Israel. Occom does not say, “I am the least among us,” even though he was an ordained Presbyterian minister in good standing. He uses instead a second-personal pronoun which clearly does not refer to himself. Tellingly, the only time Occom uses the pronoun “we” in his remarks to his fellow ministers is embedded in a quotation from the letter to the Ephesians by “the Apostle of the gentiles”: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”42 This Pauline text was widely cited in eighteenth-century sermons when a speaker wished to highlight the role of ministers in fighting against political and social impediments to religion. Given that elsewhere in the sermon Occom refers to his fellow ministers as “you,” what is it about Paul's words that gives him license here to address them as “we”?
Occom observes that Paul uses “we” in Ephesians in the context of his “Apostle[ship] of the gentiles.” “We” here bridges the identities of “I”—that is Paul, a Jewish rabbi turned Christian missionary—and “you,”—the formerly pagan or gentile Christians in Ephesus, “ye being in time past gentiles in the flesh.”43 Occom's citation of Paul can be seen as an endorsement of the transnational scope of Christian fellowship, an idea perfectly continuous with New Divinity teachings about there being “but one covenant,” the covenant of grace. Yet it would be a mistake to suppose that Occom's treatment of gentile nationhood in the Moses Paul sermon differs from the Pauline source-text because Occom believed he had a different national status vis-à-vis God's chosen people. As Laura K. Arnold notes, “Unlike Occom, St. Paul was born an Israelite and was thus an the apostle to the gentiles even though he was not a ‘gentile’ himself.”44 Conversely, Occom, who was not born “in Israel,” could preach to chosen New Englanders but only from the standpoint of a people who had never been identified as chosen. Whereas Paul, as a Jew seeking to bring pagans to Christ, could ecumenically address the latter and his fellow Jews with the pronoun “we,” Occom could not use this rhetoric because he did not share New Englanders’ chosen or “Israel[ite]” identity. They did not see him as sharing it because they still understood themselves, historically at least, as being “in Israel” and Indians as outside it. And Occom did not see himself as sharing it because he did not believe that God had made a national covenant with Native Americans. They, some of them at least, had been offered the covenant of grace, but that was all. So even though, as a New Divinity proponent of universal benevolence, Occom theologically endorsed Paul's ecumenicism and moral universalism, he identifies himself rhetorically and politically as a gentile or member of a never-chosen people.
Occom's riff on Ephesians in the Moses Paul sermon builds on his exhortations to him about the means of grace—about how he had sinned in an “aggravated'' way, against his “knowledge and understanding,” and “against the blood of Christ, which is the blood of the everlasting covenant”—which occurs in the text of the sermon immediately prior to the address to the “fathers in Israel.” This was not an accident, for Occom's Hopkinsian strictures on the means of grace would still have been fresh in most hearers’ (or readers’) minds when he reminded his white ministerial colleagues to “wrestle … against spiritual wickedness in high places.” So too would Occom's rhetorical disaffiliation of himself with the “fathers in Israel,” whom he had previously addressed as “bishops” and “rulers of the temples of God.” The sermon presents this group as being of much higher status than “me,” who is “lower than the least of you,” along with all the rest of “my poor kindred the Indians.” One cannot help but think of the “fathers in Israel,” then, when Occom cites the Apostle Paul's remarks about fighting against “spiritual wickedness in high places.”45 All of these ministers would have understood themselves and every other English person listening to Occom as well acquainted with the means of grace. The same could hardly be said about the Indians, however; hence the reference to Paul's exceptional status among his people as one who had “a good education” and who “can read and write well.” Occom does not connect all the argumentative dots here—to do so in New Haven in 1772 would have been unthinkable—but it hardly seems like a stretch to read him as intimating that “aggravated” sin, of the Hopkinsian kind committed by Paul, was more pervasive among the English than it was among the Indians, especially in “high places” like the ministry.
Reading the Moses Paul sermon in this way becomes much more plausible if we consider it alongside a later sermon by Occom on Isaiah 58:1, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” This sermon survives only in an undated manuscript but was probably written in the early 1780s.46 Here Occom continues his earlier reflections about the meaning of “unbelief,” which he describes, in terms evoking the controversy between Hopkins and Mills, as “the Root of all Sins or a fountain from which Streams all Wickedness.”47 He is particularly interested in further developing the theological connection between unbelief and national election, a link that is much more vividly highlighted here, in a sermon that was presumably addressed primarily to Indians, than had been possible at Moses Paul's execution. Midway through the sermon, Occom identifies the “Covenent People” who, according to Isaiah, are guilty of unbelief and the other “transgressions”:
… the Jews were the first People of God, but they have… Sinned away their Blessings and Inesteemable Priviledges and have been long Since un Peopled and un Churchd… Has God no Covenent People then in the World Since the rejections of the Jews, Yet Blessed be God, where ever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is receivd by any People, they are the People of God,— and the English People are the Covenent People of god, they have enjoyd the Gospel Priviledges for a long Time, and they are now greatly Degenerated from the Purity and Simplicity of the Gospel and therefore they are the Very People that the Eternal Jehovah is Speaking of Speaking to in Text.48
This remarkable passage weaves together two distinct covenant-theological themes that were becoming increasingly central to Occom's understanding of colonial politics. At the heart of the passage is a statement of New Divinity suspicion regarding the idea of a national covenant: “where ever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is receivd by any People, they are the People of God.” When it comes to the ultimate question of salvation, the theological bottom line is there is “but one covenant,” as Bellamy had put it: the covenant of grace between God and those who have “receivd” Christ. Wrapped around this central claim is a discussion of national election as manifest in the “Covenent People” of Israel (the “house of Jacob”) and England. Occom's argument here is typological, “describ[ing] the way an event in the Old Testament foreshadowed one in the New Testament, or the way a biblical happening presaged one in believers’ lives.”49 The text of Isaiah talks about the “house of Jacob,” whom Occom calls “the Jews,” “the first people of God.” Yet on Occom's reading this Old Testament text is actually about the English, who “are the Covenent People of god” in present times.
What made Occom so sure the English were God's modern-day “Covenent People”? Well, for one thing, they said they were. Wheelock himself frequently said so, warning English readers in 1763 about “[t]he great Obligations lying upon us, as God's Covenant-People, who have all we have better than they in a Covenant Way”—“they” referring in this case the “Heathen Natives.”50 A second reason Occom gives for identifying the English as chosen is that they as a nation had been favored with the means of grace, having “enjoyd the Gospel Priviledges for a long Time.” So far, so good; but Occom worried that this was still not quite enough to pin the identity of chosenness on the English: “Some may query and say, Why may not this Text be more Sutable to the Roman Catholics than the English”? After all, Catholics also identified themselves as a chosen people; and they, like the Jews, had long enjoyed the “Priviledges” of scripture. The reason Isaiah's words do not apply to Catholics, Occom argues, is that the “Roman Catholics are left to themselves … already they are unchurchd the Lord don't own them as his People.”51 Occom here presupposes general agreement that the ascendency of the Catholic “people” was a thing of the past, whereas the English were still on the rise and had everything to lose.52 Indeed, what really clinched England's identity as the present-day “house of Joshua” was that they were “now” at a similar stage in the process of losing their chosen status as the Jews had been when Isaiah addressed them. Occom is quite clear on this point: “they are now greatly Degenerated from the Purity and Simplicity of the Gospel and therefore they are the Very People that the Eternal Jehovah is Speaking of.”53
While it might seem at first that Occom is engaging in covenant theology in his sermon on Isaiah, what he says actually leaves no clear place for national election in the historiography of redemption. Chosen nations, it seems, are born only to die, to become “un Peopled and Un Churchd.” Chosen individuals will be saved, since ultimately “they are the people of God”; but all the national covenants entered into by God had been annulled except for one, and the days of this last one appeared to be numbered because England, like the Catholics and, earlier, the “House of Jacob,” was clearly incapable of living up to the terms of the agreement. This “Degenerated” covenant between England and God was an atavism, something grotesque, even vaguely undead.
Where did this leave Native Americans? Occom addresses their status in relation to God's last “Covenent People” in the course of an enumeration of the specific sins flowing out of the “fountain” of English “Unbelief.” Here, Occom clarifies the connection between English chosenness and sinfulness by contrasting these with the relative un-sinfulness of Native American “heathens.” Echoing Paul's condemnation of adultery in Galatians 5:19, Occom finds the sin “abounding” in this “degenerate Age” but observes that Native Americans:
Abominate this Sin, and they punish it [with] most Ignominious Punishment, The man, Whose Wife has Playd the Whore, will bite off her Nose, that She may bear the Shamful mark all the rest of her Days, Wherever She goes,—yet this Sin is Committed by Christians. What abominable this must be in the Sight of God and Christian man What? to have the light of the Bible, and Committ this Beastly Sin What? … What a Cursed Sin this must be in the Sight of God, this Sin upon Baptized Persons, may be Seven times Worse than the Heathen.54
Occom makes similar points about murder and fornication. The last of these, he claims, is seen as so “abominable and Shameful among Some Heathen Indians” that its perpetrators when discovered “woud voluntarily Banish themselves from their own Country,” yet it is “hardly esteem'd as Sin” by “those that are calld Christian People.”55
In drawing these contrasts between “heathen” justice and the chosen people's immorality, Occom is again following Paul, who drew precisely the same distinctions between gentiles and Jews in 1 Corinthians and Romans. In those letters, Paul controversially explains that gentiles act with more “righteousness” than Israelites precisely because the latter had been chosen by God and blessed with his law: the Jews had “not attained to the law of righteousness … because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.” The gentiles, by contrast, acted with “righteousness” despite lacking access to God's revealed word: “For when the gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts.”56
In his sermon on Isaiah, Occom borrows this Pauline argument to expand the scope of his scripture-based interpretation of colonial politics. For what he clearly means to do in this text is not merely point to biblical Jews as types of the English but also to identify the gentiles described by Paul—as opposed to Old Testament Canaanites or, even less plausibly, the chosen nation of Israel—as pre-figurations of Native Americans.57 In making this identification, Occom discovered a way of reading scripture that accorded Indians unprecedented historical and cultural agency. This is not merely because Occom draws on Paul's arguments in Romans and elsewhere about the ability of gentiles to avoid the pitfalls of seeking salvation “by the works of the law”; Occom goes far beyond this Pauline reasoning by engaging in a more definitively comparative and ethnographic mode of analysis than the apostle had undertaken. In the passage from the sermon on Isaiah cited earlier, Occom adduces specific penal practices—corporal punishment, voluntary exile—that were customarily assigned by Native peoples to the crimes of fornication and adultery. By submitting these Native traditions to a comparative analysis alongside the lax or non-existent penal practices of the English, Occom sought to demonstrate that Native culture and history were critically relevant for anyone who wanted to diagnose the ills of colonial political life or, more broadly, to understand the unfolding fates of the world's nations.
Perhaps even more radical than this historiographical innovation, however, was the eschatological lesson that Occom drew from the recent history of Native life in the New England colonies, which broke dramatically from that propounded by the majority of his teachers and colleagues. For example, Eleazar Wheelock understood the conversion of the Indians as fulfilling Isaiah's “prophecy of the enlargement of the church of God in the days of the Messiah.” But Wheelock interpreted this extension of the “Messiah's kingdom” in decidedly imperialist and assimilationist terms.58 In his Plain and faithful narrative, Wheelock argued that civil and religious authorities should work together to educate Indians in order to bring them—and, no less important, their lands—under the jurisdiction of Great Britain: “how much the Interests of His Majesty's Dominions, especially in America, would be promoted hereby, we can hardly conceive.”59 Educating the Indians, according to Wheelock, would cost less than half what it would cost to subdue them militarily, and it was sure to “provoke them to Emulation” of English customs and agriculture, thereby leading to a glorious cultural homogeneity in the domain of the Messiah.60 Occom understood the national fate of Indians in the “days of the Messiah” very differently. Whereas Wheelock saw Indians as being in the early stages of an inexorable slide toward political and cultural assimilation, Occom underscored the epochal significance of the Indian conversions that had already taken place. To be sure, only a few Native people in his day had really “receivd” Christ, and many of these, like Moses Paul, had fallen away. Even if just a few Indians were truly regenerate, though, that was important proof that God's work of redemption had burst the boundaries of the old federal covenants, if those ever really existed. While Wheelock persisted in speaking of Great Britain as a “Covenant People” well into the 1760s, Occom interpreted colonial history in a manner much more consistent with the post-Edwardsean, New Divinity doctrine that there was “but one covenant.” Although Occom never said so explicitly, his theological arguments strongly imply that Wheelock's imperialism and assimilationism were incompatible with both scripture and the anti-“Federalist” consensus that had emerged among Edwards's other followers.61 At the same time, Occom's arguments raised an urgent question that other New Divinity theologians generally avoided: given that national covenants were obsolete, but that nations themselves were not going away, what did it even mean to belong to a nation? What history demanded, Occom thought, was not only an abandonment of covenantalism for the sake of universal benevolence but rather, or additionally, a positive theological account of how the meaning of nationhood had to change for the benefit of his own colonized people and for the world at large.
Occom's attempt to formulate such an account of nationhood finds its clearest expression in a sermon from the 1780s on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Picking up where he had left off in the sermon on Isaiah, Occom draws a Pauline contrast between the virtues of Indian pagans and the vices of the English, focusing in this case on the particular virtue of generosity toward foreigners. Whereas the English treated foreigners badly, especially if they came from African or Indian nations, Native Americans “are very Compassionate one to another, very Liberal among themselves, and also to Strangers.”62 Occom's basic argument is one of moral universalism: the Good Samaritan shows that, when Jesus told his followers to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” he had in mind a feeling of “Commiseration to all Without respect of Persons.” It was this feeling or “love” that “the Samaritan Showd to a Stranger and to a man Who was quite of another Nation, Yea of a Nation Who dispisd him.” The likeness between the Samaritan and the “Indian Heathen in this Great Continent” is clear: all are outsiders to chosen nations, and their kindness to strangers “[w]ho dispisd” them proves that they have a “native” sense of universal benevolence despite (or perhaps because of) not being favored by God with his revealed word.
Here, again, Occom appears to be reading scripture in a loosely typological way with the gentile or un-chosen Samaritan standing as a type or prefiguration of Native Americans and the Jewish “Priest” and “Levite,” who declined to help their own wounded countryman, typologizing the English. Occom may have found inspiration for such a reading in Matthew Henry's Exposition of the New Testament, a book he owned, admired, and cited from in his sermons. In his Exposition, Henry reads the parable along Pauline lines, describing the priest and Levite's negligence toward foreigners as the result of a “wicked inference” that they wrongly drew from “that holy covenant of peculiarity which God had distinguished them by.”63 Occom's sermon follows Henry this far, but also goes beyond him in assigning a specific name, “national love,” to the virtue that the non-chosen Samaritan and, according to the typology, Native Americans display in their dealings with strangers:
if we are true Neighbours, we are so to all; tho it is very natural for every Nation to have a National Love, and I believe it is not forbid in our Text, but then we Should have the Same Love to other Nations as we have to our Nation; and if this took place, there woud be an End of Wicked Wars and Blood Shed among the Nations, O How happy the Nations of the World live if they were all Neighbourly to one another.64
Nations, in this argument, have a moral significance similar to that of families: they are training-grounds for the affections, specifically for the kind of love that the truly righteous will practice toward humankind as a whole. Native Americans grasp this intuitively. They are “Compassionate one to another … and also to Strangers,” and thus practice a righteous “National Love” even in their “Heathen[ish]” state, unlike their English neighbors. If the “Nations of the World” want to comport themselves righteously, in their internal dealings and their dealings with foreigners, then they would do well to follow the example of the Indians.
In holding up Indigenous lifeways as morally exemplary for the world at large, Occom in the Good Samaritan sermon conveys a message that is, surprisingly, both evangelical and ethno-nationalistic. These two priorities are woven around one another as part of the same dialectic. His sermon addresses itself to a sinful world and casts Indians as “heathens” who stand in desperate need of conversion, but it also presents them as an autonomous people with distinctive and exemplary cultural practices. This dual identity is reflected in Occom's honing-in on Indians’ hospitality toward strangers as the example par excellence of how people ought to love their neighbors as themselves. By practicing such hospitality, Native people demonstrated to the world at large what it meant to practice “national love.” But Indigenous hospitality had a soteriological significance as well as a moral one, Occom thought, because Christ himself was a stranger too: “he said the Foxes had holes and the Birds of the air had Nests but he had no where to lay his Head.”65 Native peoples’ receptiveness to foreigners was sure to make them receptive to such an individual, if only their political situation could be improved.
Robert Warrior brings out this soteriological dimension of Native openness toward strangers—though not with reference to Occom specifically—in an important essay, first published in Christianity and Crisis in 1989, where he describes the non-chosen tribes dwelling in Israel's promised land as an “indigenous people” who “trusted in the god of outsiders.”66 Re-examining the Exodus narrative with “Canaanite eyes,” Warrior argues that the Canaanites' remarkable openness to this foreign God was overlooked by the Israelites, just as Native Americans' receptivity to Yaweh was ignored by white colonists since it conflicted with “America's self-image as a ‘chosen people.’” The upshot, for Warrior, is that “Exodus is an inappropriate way for Native Americans to think about liberation.”67
Occom would have heartily agreed with this point. It was the English, not Indians, who fetishized the Exodus narrative because it provided them with a pretense for imagining themselves as a chosen nation. New Englanders' fantasy of chosenness prevented them from seeing that the very concept of national election had been transcended in the covenant of grace: “where ever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is receivd by any People, they are the People of God.” From Occom's point of view, Exodus was an ancient tale demonstrating the kind of promises God used to make to nations not a model for how Indians ought to live now. He would therefore have bristled at being called an “Indian Moses,” as William DeLoss Love wrote, who “brought his people into their promised land.”68 Like Benjamin Keach, another of his favorite Bible commentators, Occom would probably have seen Moses as “a Type of Christ” who loved foreigners just as much as people from his own nation and so “married an Ethiopian, a stranger, a black,” just as “Christ espoused the gentiles, who were strangers to God.”69
It is not often that Christians describe the nations to which they belong as never-chosen. To do so, in Occom's time as in Warrior's, is to put oneself at odds with mainstream American culture, where even today the Exodus narrative continues to capture the imaginations of people ranging from right-wing Christian Zionists to college-age reggae fans. The relative obscurity of unchosenness as a theological concept may explain why so many historians continue to mistakenly think that Occom wanted Indians to “become a chosen people.” This misconception is remarkably widespread given that Occom seems never to have mentioned the possibility, let alone endorsed it. The best evidence scholars have found to support the thesis comes from Occom's diaries, which indicate an uptick in sermons on Old Testament texts during the years of the Brothertown migration.70 Yet the fact that Occom preached about texts dealing with God's chosen people hardly proves that he thought Indians themselves were chosen, as the sermon on Isaiah demonstrates. In any case almost all of Occom's sermon notes from these years are unfortunately lost. To speculate that in these lost texts Occom characterized Native Americans as an elect nation distracts from the richness of his actual theology while presupposing the universal appeal of the Exodus narrative as what Warrior calls a “fundamental model for liberation.”71 What Occom, like Warrior after him, really argued was that it was incumbent upon Indians, for both theological and political reasons, to remain unlike God's “Covenent People.” If Indians had never been chosen, then they were not susceptible to the peculiar sinfulness of elect nations identified by Paul, whereby Israel had failed to attain the “law of righteousness … because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.” It was Indians' unchosenness, then, that made it possible for them to live more righteously than the English—provided, as Occom came to believe in the 1770s, that they could establish a new sovereign nation in which they would be separated from the colonists' corrupting influence.
Even more than this, it was the attribute of unchosenness, which Occom applied to Native Americans just as Paul had applied it to New Testament gentiles, that provided him with a theological warrant for what is today called cultural revitalization. To be a chosen nation, according to scripture, was to be favored by God with his revealed Word—that is, his law. The fact that Indians had never been chosen implied, conversely, that God had never provided them with a set of rules about how to live until he gave them the Gospels. The Gospels commanded people of all nations to worship the God of Israel; but Jesus warned his followers that this did not necessarily mean that everyone should emulate Israelites in their outward behavior. Paul picked up on this feature of Jesus's ministry in his letter to the Romans in a passage from which Occom preached more often than any other text during the final decade of his life: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.72” In this part of Romans, Paul is explaining to the Jews in his audience why they should not expect gentile converts to circumcise their children just because the law of Israel requires it. The object of true faith is “in the spirit, and not in the letter” of the moral law. True, Paul likens the gentile who has such faith to “a Jew, which is one inwardly,” in a passage that—despite being cited in none of Occom's surviving writings—has been much discussed by scholars who assume that he thought of Indians as a chosen nation.73 Yet even in this passage Paul did not necessarily mean that gentiles should try to trade in their non-chosen peoplehood for the superior nationality of Israel. The more nationalistic way to read the spirit-letter distinction is as implying that gentiles should retain their pre-existing peoplehood and keep to their own cultural ways. There is no need, in other words, for them to “Judaize”; for, as contemporary Paul scholar Paula Fredriksen writes, “the gentile who tries to Judaize without Christ … will only and inevitably sin.”74 The New Divinity revivalist Samuel Buell planted the seeds for this sort of reading in his ordination sermon for Occom in 1757, observing how “[w]hen God gave his Word to Jacob, and his Statutes to Israel … other Nations were left to walk after their own Ways.”75 And Occom reiterated it throughout his career, for instance in his 1774 hymn “The All-Sufficient Savior,” one verse of which reads, “If we like the jews, / His kindness refuse, / 'Tis plain that destruction / We wilfully chuse.”76 Occom's mode of address here invokes a non-chosen, collective “we” that is categorically unlike the “jews” both outwardly and inwardly (“wilfully”). This particular text thus supports the widespread view that Occom's hymnal was one of his most culturally Indigenist literary productions.77
Reading Occom as a gentile opponent of judaization is perhaps the easiest way of understanding the theological rationale behind his commitments to territorial sovereignty and his opposition to Native peoples’ assimilation into Anglo-European society.78 These commitments are widely attested in the secondary literature, but scholars have had a hard time connecting them to his sermons and other religious writings. It is true, as Brad Jarvis writes, that for many eighteenth-century Indians “Christianity reinforced a common identity for communities atomized by colonialism,” and that “themes of industriousness, humility, redemption, and equality” were a key part of the “ideological framework” that Native ministers like Occom strove to inculcate.79 But Occom was up to something more politically and intellectually ambitious than advocating bare survival or even moral reform. He wanted to proclaim to the whole world, with the backing of scripture and theology, that humankind in general would be better off if Native Americans were a self-determining people with their own land and culture. Celebrating the virtues of industriousness, humility, redemption, and equality was fair enough, but the English did that too and it did not stop their degeneracy. Casting Native people as chosen was never going to suffice for Occom, who understood that doing so would merely model Indian nationhood on “another people's identity.”80 Occom realized that a more robust justification of Indian nationalism was needed, and he found it in the New Divinity, in Paul's teachings on the gentiles, and in his own remarkable mind.
Robert Allen Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians: Deliverance, Conquest, and Liberation Theology Today,” Christianity and Crisis 49 (1989): 263.
Alfred A. Cave, “Canaanites in a Promised Land: The American Indian and the Providential Theory of Empire,” American Indian Quarterly 12 (1988): 277–97; Steven T. Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008); Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019). On the implausibility of the Lost Tribes theory in the eighteenth century, see Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 75n; Richard W. Cogley, “John Eliot and the Origins of the American Indians,” Early American Literature 21 (1986): 223–24n12. Eleazar Wheelock complained to John Erskine in 1764 that even such an enlightened individual as George Whitefield “labors under the discouraging Apprehension that the Pagans of America, are Canaanites, to be cut off before Gods people, and Never to be gathered into his Family.” Eleazar Wheelock to John Erskine, September 9, 1764, The Occom Circle, https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/work/html/normalized/764529-normalized.html (accessed October 26, 2020).
On Indigenous self-determination see Taiake Alfred, “Sovereignty,” in Joanne Barker, ed., Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 33–50; and Jeff Corntassel, “Toward Sustainable Self-Determination: Rethinking the Contemporary Indigenous-Rights Discourse,” Alternatives 33 (2008): 105–32. The idea of self-determination discussed here should not be confused with the notion of self-determination as formulated by eighteenth-century theologians; Christopher Grasso, A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 253.
See for example, Brad D. E. Jarvis, The Brothertown Nation of Indians: Land Ownership and Nationalism in Early America, 1740–1840 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010); Craig N. Cipolla, Becoming Brothertown: Native American Ethnogenesis and Endurance in the Modern World (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2013).
Lisa Brooks, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); Angela Calcaterra, Literary Indians: Aesthetics and Encounter in American Literature to 1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018): 47-82; Kelly Wisecup, “Medicine, Communication, and Authority in Samson Occom's Herbal,” Early American Studies 10 (2012): 554.
Joanna Brooks, “Hard Feelings: Samson Occom Contemplates his Christian Mentors,” in Martin and Nichols, Native Americans, 29; Drew Lopenzina, Red Ink: Native Americans Picking up the Pen in the Colonial Period (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012): 210–11.
In diagnosing this methodological blockage, I build on work by other practitioners of Indigenous Studies who have shown how theoretical discourse, a category I understand here as including theology, has often been taken up by Native people as a form of anticolonial practice. The acknowledgment of Native theorizing as a form of anticolonial practice (or “praxis”) is commonplace among Indigenous Studies scholars focused on the contemporary period but has yet to make its way into scholarship on Native religion in early New England. Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014); Jodi Byrd, Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Manu Vimalassery et al., “Introduction: On Colonial Unknowing,” Theory & Event 19 (2016).
Neal Salisbury, “Red Puritans: The ”Praying Indians'' of Massachusetts Bay and John Eliot,'' William and Mary Quarterly 31 (1974): 49--50. Axtell, After Columbus: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988): 113, 100. Michael McNally, Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), 7; Rachel Wheeler, To Live Upon Hope: Mohicans and Missionaries in the Eighteenth-Century Northeast (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 48, emphasis added. Linford Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 55, 89.
Fisher, Indian Great Awakening, 56.
Occom, Collected Writings: 52-3.
Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); Robert Borofsky, “Forum on Theory in Anthropology: Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins,” Current Anthropology 38 (1997): 255–82.
Margaret Connell Szasz, “Samson Occom: Mohegan as Spiritual Intermediary,” in Between Indian and White Worlds: The Cultural Broker, ed. Szasz (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 76.
Occom, Collected Writings, 52.
Harry S. Stout and Peter Onuf, “James Davenport and the Great Awakening in New London,” Journal of American History 70 (1983): 556.
See Joanna Brooks, “Sermons,” in Occom, Collected Writings, 159. More likely, Occom's conversion was inspired by the preaching of George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent; Margaret Connell Szasz, Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans: Indigenous Education in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 256.
Stout and Onuf, “James Davenport and the Great Awakening,” 557.
Occom, Collected Writings, 56.
Occom, Collected Writings, 56.
E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 136.
On the Edwardsean sources of New Divinity theology, see Holifield, Theology in America, 102–56. For treatments of Hopkins and Bellamy, see Joseph A. Conforti, Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism, the Congregational Ministry, and Reform in New England Between the Great Awakenings (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1981); and Mark Valeri, Law and Providence in Joseph Bellamy's New England: The Origins of the New Divinity in Revolutionary America (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1994). On the afterlives of Edwardsean theology, see Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012). On the relationship between the New Divinity and “Old” Calvinism, see Mark A. Noll, “Moses Mather (Old Calvinist) and the Evolution of Edwardseanism,” Church History 49 (1980): 273–85.
On Wheelock's connection to Davenport, Hopkins, and the New Divinity, see John Fea, “Wheelock's World: Letters and the Communication of Revival in Great Awakening New England,” American Antiquarian Society Proceedings 109 (1999): 120–21; Conforti, Samuel Hopkins, 14, 52–3, 228–32; and Stout and Onuf, “James Davenport and the Great Awakening, 573n41. Wheelock also stayed in touch with Edwards himself, who wrote to Lebanon about Occom on at least one occasion; Jonathan Edwards et al., The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 16:145.
Occom, Collected Writings, 98; Bobby Wright, “‘For the Children of the Infidels’?: American Indian Education in the Colonial Colleges,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 12 (1988): 1–14; Colin G. Calloway, The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2010), chap. 2.
Ava Chamberlain, “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut,” New England Quarterly 77 (2004): 447; Peyer, The Tutor'd Mind, 91–95.
Holified, Theology in America, 141; Hopkins, Works of Samuel Hopkins (Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society), 3:263.
Jedediah Mills, An Inquiry Concerning the State of the Unregenerate Under the Gospel (New Haven, CT: B. Mecom, 1767), 18–19, 10–11.
Hopkins, Works, 3:307.
Occom, Collected Writings, 188–89.
Hopkins, Works, 308.
According to Occom's journal, he stayed with Hopkins at least once in the 1770s. Samson Occom, “Samson Occom, Receipts and Expenses, 1761, MS 761290, The Occom Circle, Dartmouth College, https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/normalized/761290-normalized.html (accessed October 26, 2020); Occom, Collected Writings, 280.
A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, American Indian Literatures: An Introduction, Bibliographic Review, and Selected Bibliography (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1990), 62.
Holifield, Theology in America, 140.
Occom, Collected Writings, 167; Samson Occom, “Samson Occom Sermons, Undated,” Samson Occom Papers, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT, https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/40002%3A389#page/5/mode/1up (accessed October 26, 2020).
Stephen Post, “Disinterested Benevolence: An American Debate over the Nature of Christian Love,” Journal of Religious Ethics 14 (1986): 356–68; Holifield, Theology in America, 140.
Valeri, Joseph Bellamy's New England, 148–49; Conforti, Samuel Hopkins, 59–61.
Mark A. Noll, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 46.
Such a national self-understanding was implicit in the slightly later idea of a “benevolent empire.” On continuities between the New Divinity and the benevolent empire ideal, see Conforti, Samuel Hopkins, chap. 11; Holifield, Theology in America, 149; and George Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 35.
David J. Silverman, “To Become a Chosen People: The Missionary Work and Missionary Spirit of the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians, 1775–1835,” in Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape, ed. Joel W. Martin and Mark A. Nicholas (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 250–75; Silverman, Red Brethren, 89, 92, 105–6; and Julius H. Rubin, Tears of Repentance: Christian Indian Identity and Community in Colonial Southern New England (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 240, 281. Some of the confusion on this matter may derive from the assumption that Occom was an antecedent to the Pequot writer William Apess in espousing the “Lost Tribes” theory of Native origins; Rochelle Raineri Zuck, “William Apess, the ‘Lost Tribes,’ and Indigenous Survivance,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25 (2013): 4. However, evidence points to the conclusion that Apess's source for the Lost Tribes theory was Elias Boudinot's Star in the West (1816), a work that borrowed heavily from James Adair's History of the American Indians (1775). There is no evidence that Occom came into contact with Adair. Popkin, “The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Indian Theory,” 71–74.
Silverman, “To Become a Chosen People,” 91–92, 97; Occom, Collected Writings, 187.
Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, chap. 4.
Occom, Collected Writings, 191.
Ruoff, “Introduction,” 28.
Occom, Collected Writings, 191–92.
Laura K. Arnold, “Crossing Cultures: Algonquian Indians and the Invention of New England” (PhD diss., University of California Los Angeles, 1995), 138.
Occom, Collected Writings, 191, 177.
The end of the sermon includes a discussion of the American trade in African slaves, a topic that elsewhere appears in texts composed by Occom only after 1783; Occom, Collected Writings, 58, 124.
Occom, Collected Writings, 215. The “fountain of wickedness” metaphor had figured prominently in the pamphlet war inspired by Hopkins's Enquiry; Mills, Inquiry, 10-11.
Occom, Collected Writings, 215.
Jason Byassee, “Typology,” in Ian A. McFarland, ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 523.
Eleazar Wheelock, A Plain and Faithful Narrative of the Original Design, Rise, Progress and Present State of the Indian Charity-School at Lebanon, in Connecticut (Boston: Printed by Richard and Samuel Draper, 1763), 10.
Occom, Collected Writings, 215.
In his anti-Catholicism (but not his anti-Anglicism), Occom was an avid partisan of what Thomas Kidd describes as a post-puritan “Protestant interest”; The Protestant Interest: New England After Puritanism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).
Occom, Collected Writings, 215.
Occom, Collected Writings, 217.
Occom, Collected Writings, 217.
1 Cor. 5:1. “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife”; Romans 2:14–15.
Whether or not this reading amounts to a typology in a strict sense might be debated since the source of the type here is the New Testament rather than the Old. Moreover, whereas types were often thought to be abolished or transcended by the antitype they foretold, Occom thought that the non-chosen identity of the New Testament gentiles was something that latter-day Indian “heathens” shared rather than abolished. Having said that, by Occom's time there existed a long tradition of literary and theological experimentation that adapted typological methods to new argumentative purposes; Sacvan Bercovitch, Typology and Early American Literature (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 1972). When Occom talked about types, he did so as part of this broader tradition; Occom, Collected Writings, 224.
Eleazar Wheelock, A Sermon Preached Before the Second Society in Lebanon, June 30. 1763: At the Ordination of the Rev. Mr Charles-Jeffry Smith, with a View to His Going as a Missionary to the Remote Tribes … (London: Printed for E. and C. Dilly in the Poultry, 1767), 3–4.
Wheelock, Plain and Faithful Narrative, 12.
Eleazar Wheelock, A Continuation of the Narrative of the State, &c. Of the Indian Charity-School, at Lebanon, in Connecticut: From Nov. 27th 1762, to Sept. 3d, 1765 (Boston: Richard and Samuel Draper, in Newbury-Street, 1765), 20.
Edwards's own views on federal theology were less univocal and possibly more subtle than those of his students; Harry S. Stout, “The Puritans and Edwards,” in Nathan O. Hatch and Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988), 142–59.
Occom, Collected Writings, 203.
Occom, Collected Writings, 183. Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (New York: R. Carter & Brothers, 1856), 4:456.
Occom, Collected Writings, 201.
Occom, Collected Writings, 119; citing Matt. 8:20.
Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” 264, 263. For a discussion of Warrior's essay in the broader context of Exodus-derived liberation theology, see Joel S. Baden, The Book of Exodus: A Biography, Lives of Great Religious Books (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 213ff.
Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” 261.
Love, Samson Occom, 277.
Benjamin Keach, Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors (London: J. W. Pasham, 1779), 960.
Rubin, Tears of Repentance, 282; Zuck, “William Apess, the ‘Lost Tribes,’ and Indigenous Survivance,” 7; Arnold, “Crossing Cultures,” 141.
Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” 261.
Arnold, “Crossing Cultures,” 146–47; cited in Rubin, Tears of Repentance, 282.
Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagan's Apostle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 126.
Buell, The excellence and importance of the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel-preacher (New York: James Parker, 1761), 15.
Occom, A Choice collection of hymns and spiritual songs; intended for the edification of sincere Christians, of all denominations (New London: Timothy Green, 1774), 92.
Brooks, “Hymns,” in Occom, Collected Writings, 232; Silverman, Red Brethren, 89.
Amy E. Den Ouden, Beyond Conquest: Native Peoples and the Struggle for History in New England (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005); and Paul Joseph Grant-Costa, “The Last Indian War in New England” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2008).
Jarvis, The Brothertown Nation of Indians, 86; see also Rubin, Tears of Repentance, 147.
Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” 264.