Monday, April 18, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Education at Wheelock's School

The University of North Carolina Press recently (2010) published a collection of scholarly writings by various authors under the title Native Americans, Christianity, and the Shaping of the American Religious Landscape. The book includes a chapter by Rachel Wheeler, "Hendrick Aupaumut: Christian Mahican Prophet," and another by David J. Silverman, "To Become a Chosen People: The Missionary Work and Missionary Spirit of the [Brothertown] and Stockbridge Indians, 1775-1835." (Silverman, or, more likely, the editor of the book, likes to spell it "Brotherton," which adds to the confusion over which tribe of Christian Algonkians he is referring to.)

My attention, however, was drawn to a piece called "Print Culture and the Power of Native Literacy in California and New England Missions" by Steven W. Hackel and Hilary E. Wyss (pages 201-224). It was partly about Moor's Charity School which essentially came about after Samson Occom proved to be a particularly successful pupil of Eleazar Wheelock. Rev. Wheelock (pictured here) saw his success with Occom as an opportunity to start a school.

Unfortunately, Wheelock was not one of the truly good missionaries who always had the Indians' own best interests in mind in all of his work. According to Hackel and Wyss, Wheelock believed teaching young Indians to read and write would turn them "into docile figures eager and willing to work under the watchful supervision of white missionaries." However, "none of his students in fact turned out that way"(page 216). Wheelock's attitude could well explain why he took the money Samson Occom raised in Britain to start the historically white institution known as Dartmouth College.

Instead of striving to please Wheelock, their white master, here are some of the things Hackel and Wyss tell us that the student's of Moor's Charity School accomplished with their education:

  • Hezekiah Calvin forged a pass for a slave (and was imprisoned for it).

  • Samson Occom wrote "petitions for a variety of Native communities."

  • Joseph Johnson, after leaving the school, gave up drinking and became a schoolmaster.

And, (also according to Hackel and Wyss, page 218), the Brothertown community itself would not have coalesced without Wheelock's school.

The graphic above is a painting by Joseph Steward (1753-1822). It is kept in the Hood Museum of Art.