Occum’s Ambit Is Large : SOJOURN

“Here I present you, O Christians of what Denomination soever, with cordial Hymns, to comfort you in your weary Pilgrimage. . .” –Samson Occom (Mohegan/Brothertown), 1774.

or should this be the title: “uncommon Measures, for new Tunes and new Singers” ??
Then I’m quoting Occom, and reflecting in his innovative character on the changing form of this post, for this post itself has a path . . . . it was already growing before it broke the soil . . . . Sojourn.  Ravens are in their strength in winter. This time, my artistic take on things, so I’ll keep my photo caption turned title. Yet, still, we share Brothertown Indian singing heritage and achievements. Edits addition evolution all likely to continue. Enjoy!

I begin with an extract from lecture notes I produced in 2012 for a twenty-minute presentation.  Ever-so-slightly touched-up. 🙂 I hope I pasted it right to keep all appropriate credits.

Then have a look around the photo gallery, read the vignettes-essays and photo captions amongst the pictures, and learn more.  Thanks for reading!  –A. Gabriel Kastelle

“___from Samson Occum’s own hymnal, published 1774 (New London, CT: Timothy Green, Jr., printer): A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs; Intended for the Edification of Sincere Christians, of all Denominations, an innovative title with matching and more-than-usually public content! (Occom had made press appeals earlier in his compiling process asking for favorite hymn poems and recommendations from any readers among the public.) It’s interesting to me that he doesn’t give Sojourn or Travel or Pilgrimage as a topical category of hymns along with the others, but that his Preface does nonetheless devote a paragraph to an elaborate description of his audience’s ‘weary Pilgrimage’ to their heavenly homeland, and that examination of the texts shows a great emphasis on the themes of travel, path, sojourn, and separation from heavenly homeland:
‘. . . . I have taken no small Pains to collect a Number of choice Hymns, Psalms, and spiritual Songs, from a Number of Authors of different Denominations of Christians, that every Christian may be suited. I have, in the first place, chose out some awakening and most alarming Hymns, next to them penitential, then inviting, and then consolating Hymns, and the last Part contains Hymns of the Birth, Death, Ressurection, and Ascension of Christ, and his Appearance in the last Great Day. These Hymns are in various Metres, and especially the last Part are of uncommon Measures, for new Tunes and new Singers.
‘Here I present you, O Christians of what Denomination soever, with cordial Hymns, to comfort you in your weary Pilgrimage; I hope they will assist and strengthen you through the various Changes of this Life, till you shall safely arrive to the general Assembly Above . . . . where you shall sit down in perfect Harmony with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and with all the Saints and Angels in the New Jerusalem . . . .’ ”

Thank you, Samson Occom.

Occum's ambit is large.jpg

Occom was Moody and Sankey a century before Moody and Sankey.

Holding down the pulpit and a voice in written part music, he toured England and Scotland with companion preacher, fundraising for Indian education in the North American colonies.  Trans-atlantic new birth Christian preacher, singer, hymnodist, Samson Occom–his ambit was large.

Also the musical pitch ambit of Thomas Commuck’s (Narragansett/Brothertown) tune named for OCCUM–consider the “tenor” or “Lead” line in the the third staff down in picture above–it is large! And the alto leaps through an octave in the same time. Are these intentional puns on Commuck’s part? I find so many similarly-nuanced details in Commuck that I wonder more and more these days…

Occum's Raven Hair.png

above is the February picture in my calendar from Calumet and Cross Heritage Society, Inc. 501(c)(3).

This portrait above is of the Reverend Samson Occom (Mohegan/Brothertown), examined and ordained 1759, Long Island Presbytery, Presbyterian Church, Rev. Samuel Buell presiding and preaching.

This credentialed professional knows his stuff. Look at the impeccable wardrobe–all the white frills in all the right places–yet no white powdered wig!–instead, his raven hair.
That’s a statement.  Occum owns his hair.  It’s a micro-rebellion.  I admire that.

‘Raven’ is a fraught term–a tough reality–in colonial New England.

Analyzing hymn texts “likely . . .  designed by and for Christian Indians” (p. 82), Joanna Brooks dwells for a bit on appearances of Ravens in her chapter on Occom in her 2003 book American Lazarus (Oxford: Oxford U P). Referring to this couplet:
‘Confide in that God who hears young ravens cry–
Be stedfast in duty, till death shall draw nigh.’
Brooks (2003, p. 83) continues:  “This striking description of God as the one ‘who hears young ravens cry’ recalls several biblical texts, including Psalms 147:9, Job 38:41, and Christ’s teaching that his disciples ‘Consider the ravens: for they never sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them’ (Luke 12:24). It also signifies on an old and unfriendly custom of racial address: New Englanders called Indians ‘ravens’ because, like the ravens of the Bible, they were poor, they appeared not to work, and they were dark.” Much can be said about European observations of other cultures–meanwhile, the point I want to grasp here is the pure racism behind making ‘raven’ a racial epithet.

The deeper I get into the story, the more I wonder how much raw racism breathing violence was a key impetus pushing Brothertown emigration. To explore the idea, I borrow a telling anecdote from 1767. This year saw one of Occom’s peaks of fame and presence in the English language press on both sides of the Atlantic. He was nearing the end of his two-and-a-half year preaching fund-raising tour of Great Britain, preaching to multitudes, singing on the way, and effectively raising big money which would later be malappropriated for the founding of Dartmouth College.

Here’s a quote from John Wood Sweet’s 2003 book Bodies Politic (Philadelphia: U Penn P, pp. 108-9), with internal quotes from a 1767 letter by David Crosby to Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, for whose Indian school mission Rev. Occom’s raised funds were intended.
Wood writes:
“In 1767, an aspiring young missionary on his way back to college in New Haven stopped at a tavern and entered an argument so disturbing that he sent a detailed account of it to his mentor, Eleazar Wheelock . . . gentlemen were joking [sic] about the conversion of Indians to Christianity. The best means of Christianizing or civilizing Indians, they jeered, was ‘powder and balls.’ . . . [[When challenged [good!], the so-called gentlemen quipped back]] ‘Would you permit your daughter to marry an Indian?’ . . . [[Another continued that he ]] ‘could never respect an Indian, Christian or no Christian so as to put him on a level with white people on any account especially to eat at the same Table.’ No, they declared, citing Wheelock’s most celebrated protege . . . ‘not with Mr Ocham himself be he ever so much a Christian or ever so Learned.’ ”

Powder and balls.
Powder and balls for any but ‘white’, already a dividing identity concept in use before the United States were even formed.

Gentlemen, “Keep your powder dry”—I think that might still be the town motto of Lebanon, Connecticut—it remains anyway a famed colonial-era slogan of the area. Hey, even if there’s no war, you never know when you might happen to see one of those “others”, right? Even be he Ocham himself. So
Keep your powder dry.
Powder and balls.

Good to know which side you’re on, when powder and balls are about. They’re always about.
Pointed at you, such will toward violence, such belief in righteousness of violence, could easily spur an emigration. I get it.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to out-run European racism—or is it finally a uniquely American persisting sort of ignorant and self-contradictory, really un-patriotic, violence?—and within only another couple generations, the Brothertown emigration to Oneida land could be seen to be the first of two migrations, a double Exodus but with homeland left behind, the second into now-Wisconsin, since and still impacted and targeted by ubiquitous modern dispersion forces. Remember the Walleye wars? Racism travels so well. And persists. And makes the travel weary. Still. Definitely matches the sojourn and pilgrimage theme here.

How prophetic of Occom, how compassionate, already in 1774 to introduce his collection of hymns with these words:
“Here I present you, O Christians of what Denomination soever, with cordial Hymns, to comfort you in your weary Pilgrimage; I hope they will assist and strengthen you through the various Changes of this Life.” Also, when the same preface states “These Hymns are in various Metres, and especially the last Part are of uncommon Measures, for new Tunes and new Singers,” I think we can guess whose and who some of these tunes and singers are, and to whom they may seem uncommon . . . .

In Occom’s sojourning lifetime here on earth, his raven hair–his first Mohegan Indian identity–defined him completely in the eyes of too many English, filtered their vision more than anything and everything else about him.


In the face of all that, Rev. Occom continued to travel and work amongst many colonial and Native communities before the first Brothertown emigration. Here’s a place where Occom worked on his hymnal. Above, picture from recent walk in New London, CT – once known as Pequot Plantation – before that as Nameaug (sp? – or did I trans-locate a bit? happy to receive corrections – thanks!). Central building featured is one of only two buildings in New London which survived the fires set by Benedict Arnold after his turning.
It happens to be the print shop of Timothy Green, Jr., who printed Samson Occom’s 1774 hymnal.

It has happened quite often that I’ve thought:
my little feet may be stepping exactly into the footsteps of Samson Occum!
[sidewalk detail: ]

158 State St.jpg

Many more developments followed. Finally a separation, an emigration, seemed the best hope. . .

the circle grows.JPG

. . . . and the circle grows . . . .

[[I have a memory of a quote but fail to find citation. I’ll provide better reference when possible, Lord willing–meanwhile, approximato:
Samson Occom presented to the Montaukett and Shinnecock of the East End of Long Island the Brothertown idea: the idea of emigration together to Oneida land.
A strong feeling among the Montaukett in response was:
“But how will we know how to live where there are no clams?”
It’s a great question. Especially for all those members of the seven communities contemplating the Brothertown idea, all of whose homelands included the quahog clams and their noble-purple shells. I wish digital cameras could better catch the real colors!
Here is a collection of some of those half shells, after using graphite pencil and fixative to craft unique commemoratives for the Febr. 3, 2018 singing of Commuck in Connecticut:

commemorative quahogs.jpg

I helped make that singing happen. February is Brothertown singing month to me.

. . . . the circle grows . . . .

but let’s look back at Occom’s 1774 hymnal:

Occom Biblio Info.jpg

Here are a couple pages which match the current SOJOURN theme, and also match Occom’s long and large path . . . . his ambit is large.  Notice the beautiful near-literary first (?) antiphonal instructions in verse for alternation of WOMEN’s and MEN’s voices, and of course the WOMEN are smarter.
Extra-interestingly: both Hymn XXXIX and XL on pp. 42 and 43 below are still, to the best of my knowledge and I believe that of modern hymnody, of unknown authorship, and first published in Occom, 1774. “for new Tunes and new Singers.” Lots of fuel for speculation here. . .
“A Dialogue between Pilgrims”, a page from Occom 1774.
And “LO! we are journeying home to God”.
That’s a large ambit. Yet so immediate, and shared.

PilgrimDialogue 1of2.jpg

PilgrimDialogue 2of2.jpg

Here’s another text which I learned from Occom (1774). “I SOUJOURN in a Vale of tears” by John Mason, by whom Occom’s circle of singers was well-pleased. I share in the pleasure, thanks to Samson Occum, so much so that I made the musical setting in 2014 which follows these four of the published ten verses I selected:

1 I SOJOURN in a Vale of tears,
Alas how can I sing?
My Harp doth on the Willows hang,
Distun’d in ev’ry String.

2 My Musick is a Captive’s Chains;
Harsh Sounds my Ears do fill;
How shall I sing sweet Zion’s song,
On this side Zion’s Hill?

9 I have a God that changeth not,
Why should I be perplext?
My God that owns me in this world
Will own me in the next.

10 My dearest Friends they dwell above;
Them will I go to see:
And all my Friends in Christ below
Will soon come after me.

SOJOURNER (2nd) .jpg


. . .some Pacific Northwest traditional Ravens, surrounding raven-haired Occom. . .

. . .the circle grows. . .

dancing ravens.jpeg

Thanks for reading!!    🙂  🙂  🙂  🙂     [Raven’s magic number is Four]

Occom raven crop sor.png

Author: whiteravenarchivesproject

musician, independent scholar, shape note singer, Brothertown Indian Nation cultural researcher and ally

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: