Today marks the end of my three month research leave from my daily duties in Frost Library. I have spent some of my time away digging through the holdings of other repositories, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, The American Antiquarian Society, the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, and New York Public Library. There are still many other collections on my list — my goal is to personally inspect as many copies of Samson Occom’s Sermon as I possibly can, a project that will take much longer than three months to complete.
Another chunk of time was spent presenting my work in progress at conferences, most recently at the annual conference of The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing in Montreal. Earlier this summer I spoke about Samson Occom at the Digital Antiquarian conference at AAS and at the annual conference of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. One of the great benefits of these conferences is the opportunity to hear presentations by other scholars followed by long conversations about a wide range of subjects.
Each of these conferences involved different, but overlapping, networks of scholars; each also involved a mix of public performances, casual conversations, old and new friendships, and the sharing of print resources. Samson Occom lived and worked in a similar universe of overlapping and interconnected networks, both professional and personal.
For example, the Archives & Special Collections holds a copy of the first New London, CT edition of Occom’s Sermon:
Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)
The first edition was published in New Haven in the first week of November, 1772; the New London edition appeared around November 13. Newspaper advertisements are a key resource for bibliography; they help pinpoint publication dates, but they can also tell us much more.
Here is the ad for the first New Haven edition:
The Connecticut Journal, And The New-Haven Post-Boy. October 30, 1772
The Connecticut Journal was owned and operated by Thomas and Samuel Green, the only printers in New Haven in 1772; it was common practice for printers to include announcements of their other publications in their newspapers. The paper came out every Friday, so “next Monday” means the first edition of the sermon was available on November 2.
Timothy Green ran The New-London Gazette and was the only printer in New London, CT in the early 1770s. The November 13, 1772 issue of his paper included this advertisement:
The New-London Gazette. November 13, 1772.
The first striking detail of this ad is the mention of the addition of “a short Account of the Life of said Moses Paul.” The source of this biographical sketch is a broadside that was published in New Haven on the day of Moses Paul’s execution — a common tradition in England, but less common in the colonies. That broadside is a subject for another day, but it is noteworthy that the text of that broadside is included in almost every edition of the sermon that follows the first New London edition.
The other critical detail in this advertisement is the distribution information — the short list of names following “A few of the above Sermons may be had of…” Anyone familiar with Samson Occom’s life will recognize the name of the Rev. Samuel Buell of East Hampton, Long Island.
Samuel Buell. The Excellence and Importance of the Saving Knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel-Preacher… (1761)
Samuel Buell preached the sermon at Occom’s ordination at East Hampton, NY on August 29, 1759 and was an important figure in Occom’s Christian evangelical network. Occom’s connections to the Native communities of eastern Long Island are also deep – he established a school at Montauk in November 1749 and married a Montaukett woman, Mary Fowler, in 1751. Occom and his family lived at Montauk until 1764 when they moved back to Mohegan. One can imagine the Native public of Montauk eager to read this sermon, especially considering that many of them may have learned to read English from Occom himself.
This item is just one small example of the ways that close attention to the details of printing and publishing history can expose important network connections. This single advertisement provides evidence that Occom’s sermon reached a specific Native Public within weeks of its first publication. What would it have meant to this audience to see Occom’s name on the title page of his own book? How might copies of the sermon circulated among the Indigenous communities of Long Island? How many times was this text read out loud to those who could not read it for themselves or could not afford to purchase a copy of their own?
I found nearly 100 newspaper items related to either Moses Paul’s crime and execution as well as Samson Occom and his sermon. It will take me a while to digest all of it. Stay tuned…
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