The idea to train Indians as missionaries and educators to Native communities in and around New England was not necessarily a new concept in the mid-eighteenth century, but in the hands of Eleazar Wheelock, a graduate of Yale College (1733) and the Congregational minister of Lebanon Crank, Connecticut, the experiment gained a modicum of attention and success. As Wheelock wrote,
Indian missionaries may be supposed better to understand the tempers and customs of Indians, and more readily to conform to them in a thousand things than the English can; and in things wherein the nonconformity of the English may cause disgust, and be construed as the fruit of pride, and an evidence and expression of their scorn and disrespect. The influence of their [Native people’s] own sons among them will likely be much greater than of any Englishman whatsoever. They will look upon such an one as one of them, his interest the same with theirs; and will naturally esteem him as an honour to their nation . . .
Encouraged by the success of his former student, Samson Occom, Wheelock founded Moor’s Indian Charity School to provide a Christian education to New England Native youth who would become teachers and missionaries to Indian communities in New England, New Jersey, New York, and at the frontier. Named after its principal benefactor, Joshua Moor, a farmer from Mansfield, Connecticut, who donated two acres of land and a house in Lebanon, the school opened in 1754 and began receiving students.
Among the documents relating to Moor’s Indian Charity School in the Yale Indian Papers Project collection is an account of expenses (1763) for six Mohawk students, Moses, Johannes, Abraham (Primus), Abraham (Secundus), Peter, and Joseph Brant, who were encouraged to attend the school by Sir William Johnson, the Crown’s Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs. While the account does not speak to the particulars of the Mohawk’s education, it does provide a closer look into their clothing and possessions. Items include shirts made from oznabrig and dowlas (types of coarse linen cloth), felt hats, buttons, buckles, and knives, some of which may be represented in the sketch, shown above, from one of Wheelock’s imprints.
Two years after the accounting, the six students were examined by the Connecticut correspondents of the Scotch Society and approved as schoolmasters. Moses went on to teach at Lake Otsego on the Susquehanna, supported by Presbyterians. Johannes became an interpreter for colonial missionaries Theophilus Chamberlain and Aaron Kinne. Abraham (Primus), reputed to be a natural son of Sir William Johnson, was appointed a Congregational schoolmaster among the Mohawk and died fighting as a British loyalist during the American Revolution. Both Peter and Abraham (Secundus) taught among the Mohawk, but the latter subsequently served as a Congregational teacher at Willheske, an Indian settlement near Fort Stanwix in New York.
Of the six students, the more well known was Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), a member of a prominent Mohawk family from Canajoharie. Upon his graduation, Brant became an interpreter to the Mohawk and a military leader within his Native community. He served as a secretary to Johnson, who had become his brother-in-law. At the same time, he continued his missionary work and, with the Rev. John Stuart, translated St. Mark’s Gospel into the Mohawk language. In 1775, to solicit support from the home government, Brant accompanied Johnson’s nephew Guy to London, where he met George III. Upon his return, he led the Mohawk to an alliance with the British and remained a loyalist military officer.
The story of Wheelock’s school is the subject of a current exhibit at the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College, which runs until the end of February, 2014. The Mohawk account is an item in the Massachusetts Archives Collection at the Massachusetts Archives. Click here to see a digital image and scholars’ transcription. For more on Moor’s Indian Charity School, consider reading Linford Fisher’s The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (2012).