Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The State of Christianity at New Stockbridge: Fall, 1787

It is well known that a split in the Stockbridge tribal church occurred as a result of a falling out between Samson Occom and John Sergeant Jr. But it is seldom said that the two men were allies, if not friends, for a long time before their falling out. They both had a legitimate claim to being the minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans and although we can't know for sure what their disagreement was about, I think Harold Blodgett was correct in saying it had something to do with "doctrinal differences." I'll explain why I think so in another post. On the other hand, Sergeant did have some advantages on account of being a white man. As I said, both men had legitimate claim to ministering to the Stockbridges, but I don't think the brand new Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America (SPGAIONA?) even considered appointing Samson Occom. In an October 25th, 1787 letter, John Sergeant was appointed to live and work among the Indians at New Stockbridge and to receive 50 Pounds Sterling as salary.

In another letter, written by a Mr. Wigglesworth to a Mr. McFarlan on November 13, 1787, the following account of the state of Christianity at New Stockbridge, New York is given:

More than twelve families regularly maintain the worship of God morning and evening; and catechize their Children with as much Propriety as is done by more civilized People among them. On Lord's days, when they have no Preacher among them they assemble together for Religious Worship. Besides Singing, praying and [illegible] together on religious subjects, some portion of the scriptures and other books of piety are read by those who can understand the English language and translated into Indian. Some of them are so fully appraised of the importance of religious Instruction that they [illegible] and their Future prosperity will greatly depend on the Continuance of a Missionary among them.

Maybe Wigglesworth didn't know that some of the tribal leaders had recently invited Rev. Occom to be their minister. Over the next nine months, Rev. Sergeant and Rev. Occom carried on a cooperative ministry. Their falling out is something that I'll save for a later post.

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