Hymn singing was a part of the education that the future Brothertown founders received at Eleazar Wheelock’s Moor’s Indian Charity School.  Samson Occom, brothers David Fowler and Jacob Fowler, and Joseph Johnson all attended this school prior to their missionary work and the forming of Brothertown.   Not only did our ancestors practice three part singing at Wheelock’s school but they also relied on it to engage and teach their own Native students.

In 1764, a Boston merchant by the name of John Smith visited Moor’s Indian Charity School and described his visit:  “I reached his house a little before the Evening Sacrafice & was movingly touched on giving out the Psalm to hear an Indian Youth set the time & the others following him, & singing the tenor, and base, with remarkable gravity (5).”

In Thomas Hastings: An Introduction to His Life and Music, Hermine Weigel Williams asserts that the Indian Charity School, “…curriculum emphasized singing in three parts and this type of singing was transferred to other communities when graduates of the school left Lebanon (p 2).”

Samson Occom (Mohegan) was the first Indian graduate of the school.   Soon after, he went to Montauk and spent  12 years teaching and preaching there.  In his short autobiography Occom wrote, “Sabbath morning we…begin with singing; we generally sung Dr. Watt’s Psalms or hymns.  I distinctly read the Psalm or hymn first, and then gave the meaning of it to them, after that sing, then pray, and sing again after prayer. ..So continued with prayer and singing in the afternoon and evening.  We proceed in the same manner and to in Wednesday evening(6).”

Another Brothertown founder and missionary, David Fowler (Montauk), wrote a letter to Wheelock from Oneida dated June 15, 1765 saying, “I am also teaching a singing School: they take great Pleasure in learning to sing: We can already carry three Parts of several Tunes.”(7)

David Fowler’s brother, Jacob, mentioned his own singing school in a letter to Eleazar Wheelock dated November 28, 1766.  “My scholars are all well, and learn well, and some of them learns very fast.   We have got the Indians so we can sing good many tunes with all three parts (8).”

Joseph Johnson (Mohegan), a fourth founding father, mentioned his singing classes numerous times.  In a letter to Wheelock dated February 10, 1768, from Oneida territory, he said, “I would also Enform you that I keep Singing School every Evening very full meetings. two of my Scholars are married men, one is Old Enough for my father. they all Learn very fast both Singing & Reading.”(9)

In the early 1770’s, when he lived and taught amongst the Tunxis Indians of Farmington, CT, Johnson noted in his diary, the “Singing Meetings” which he held there (10).  On November 27, 1772 he wrote to Wheelock that they’d, “…decided to have singing meetings twice a wekk…tues and Friday(11).”  In December, he mentioned that he had made 3 “gamuts” of singing books(12).  On January 30, 1773 he wrote, “My challenge is this that they excel this tribe in singing, the Musical Art.”(13)

Occom, the Fowlers, Johnson, and all of the missionaries who had attended the Charity School in Connecticut had practiced singing and learned new hymns while they were students there.   After graduating, they used hymn singing themselves to engage and teach their own Native “scholars”.  Singing, for the Brothertown founders however, was not simply a tool of conversion or an enjoyable way to engage their students, it was something that held a much deeper meaning for them and out-endured the missionaries themselves as well as their “scholars”.

…..to be continued

(5)DeLoss Love, William.  Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, p 80

(6) Brooks, Joanna.  The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan, p 56

(7)McCallum, James.  The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians, p 94

(8)Ibid p. 117

(9) Murray, Linda.  To Do Good To My Indian Brethren, p 67

(10) Ibid

(11) Ibid p153

(12) Ibid p155

(13) Ibid p165