Happy Samson Occom Day!

July 14th is celebrated as Samson Occom’s feast day in the Episcopal Church.  Today, July 14, 2017, marks the 225th year since Occom’s death in 1792. 

I would like to take this occasion to announce the official release of a project that has been in the works this past year. “Samson Occom: The Journey of a Lifetime” is an 11″ resin doll set commemorating the 250th anniversary of Occom’s fundraising trip to England. While this is a tribute set, it was primarily commissioned to raise awareness for Occom and for the Brothertown Indian Tribe which he helped to found.   Miniature items, drawings, portraits and texts incorporated into a display box, help to tell the story of Occom’s life and the founding of Brothertown.

Most of these sets, it is hoped, will be donated to historical societies, museums or other interested parties for display.  Others are promised to Brothertown friends and family.  A very limited number are being offered for sale to the public to help defray some of the costs.  

If you are interested in owning one of these, please visit the following link:  Brothertowncitizen.wordpress.com

If you are a historical society, museum, or nonprofit group and are interested in a display set, please go to the Nonprofits/museum page.

Finally, if you’d simply like to learn more about the doll and/or the life of Samson Occom, please visit the Samson Occom doll information page.

Happy Samson Occom day!

The Brothertown Quarterly Report

If you haven’t already seen it on the Brothertown Facebook page, the summer quarterly report is out.  Seth Elsen did a wonderful job!  It is eye-catching and in an easy-to-read format.  There is one article in particular that I would like to share.  It is about our other arm of government: the Peacemakers.   Before I do that though, I need to address something that is missing from this report.

Last November, an item appeared in the quarterly report which incorrectly singled out head Peacemaker Edd Welsh and Peacemaker Dennis Gramentz as not having been sworn in.  Both men had, of course, been sworn in long ago.  This fact has been verified by our Chairman.   Council was emailed with the request that a retraction be printed in the next quarterly report.  However, for some reason Council put this to a vote and decided not to print a retraction.   Why?  If an organization publicly prints an inaccuracy about someone(s), should it not also publicly print a retraction to correct that error?  Both for the sake of the individuals who were wronged and also for recipients who may not know that this was only an error.

While we are on the subject of swearing in Peacemakers, our newest elected Peacemaker, Mr. Greg Wilson, will be sworn in at the Brothertown picnic this Saturday at the BINCC.  Also, Ms. Renee Gralewicz was sworn in as a Peacemaker earlier this year after Peacemaker Caroline Andler resigned.  Here is a copy of that article:

New Peacemaker Named

Congratulations and thank you to Renee Gralewicz for stepping into the Peacemaker position recently vacated by Mrs. Caroline Andler.  Ms. Gralewicz is a veteran of the U.S. Army and currently an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley.  Among other Tribal volunteer projects and positions, she did an exemplary job serving as Tribal Secretary from 2009 until 2014.  While her dedication and abilities will certainly serve the Tribe well in her new capacity, Peacemaker Andler leaves some big shoes to fill.

Mrs. Andler has served as a Peacemaker since 2014. Prior to this, she held numerous positions in the Tribe including Secretary, Genealogist, and Chairperson of the Recognition Committee. Yet none of these titles even begins to reflect the dedication and service she has extended to and for the Tribe and its citizens since the 1990’s. Her dedication to the Brothertown people has often been felt on private and personal levels while at other times, such as with her instrumental involvement in the return of the “Brothertown Collection”, her impact has been felt more broadly.

The Tribe honored her in 2009 with the Joseph Johnson Award for “OUTSTANDING SERVICE to the Tribe.” This was part of a resolution passed by Council which also cited several more of Mrs. Andler’s Brothertown achievements and gave voice to the heartfelt “THANK YOU!” and recognition that her steadfast efforts deserve. She has truly been, and continues to be, someone Joseph Johnson and all of our Brothertown Ancestors can be very proud of.

Recently discovered Samson Occom Sermons

imageFollowing is a transcription of a booklet of 5 sermons heard in Bristol England in 1766.  To my knowledge, this is the first time it has been transcribed or appears “in print” anywhere other than the original and a few photocopies.


The booklet consists of 1 sermon from Nathaniel Whitaker and 4 from Occom.  There is no information as to the author other than that he was “a youth”.  Despite this comment (which may have been more of a self-described age in relation to Christianity than a true biological age), I believe Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) may have compiled it.  Gifford was a Baptist minister in Bristol and he and Occom maintained correspondence even after Occom returned to America.  Indicative of their closeness is the fact that Occom named his youngest son (born in 1774) Andrew Gifford Occom.

The language and punctuation have been modernized to some extent.

The title page reads:

Extracts of several sermons preached extempore at different places of divine worship, in the city of Bristol, by the Rev. Mr. Nathaniel Whitaker, Minister of the Gospel at Norwich, in New-England, and the Rev. Mr. Samson Occom, An Indian minister, who are appointed to solicit benefactions from the people of this Island, for the establishing, &c, of an Indian school in America.

As taken down by a youth.

BRISTOL:  Printed in the year MDCCLXVI


Inside, the first sermon is announced thus:

An extract of a sermon preached August 10, 1766, at Tucker Street Meeting by the Rev. Mr. Samson Occom, the Indian.

These people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my people.  Isaiah XLIII . 21

When I look about me, and see such a crowded assembly, I am ready to say within myself, what shall I observe to such a people:  Such a vast number, that have been brought up under the Gospel all their lives: You are the happiest among all nations!  Happy indeed may I call you that have nothing to do but to finish your course with joy.  But as God has brought me amongst you at this time, I shall speak to you in few words at this time.  Every thing shows forth the goodness of God, that we see before us and round about us, but I shall make a few remarks upon the words that I have now read—This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise. 

In opening of the words before us

1st.  I shall show how it is, that the Lord forms a people for Himself

2nd I shall then explain what it is to show forth God’s praise. 

1st I am to show how it is that the Lord forms a people for himself.  If we look back into the creation, we shall there see, how it was that God formed man; he made him out of the dust of the earth;  he is but dust: And about God’s forming a people, first we read of it in the family of Abraham; it continued in his family for some time; He blessed him and his seed after him.  He delivered his commands unto them, that they might be formed for himself; he gave them all his laws, and he blessed them; and you may also be called his people, for he hath formed you for Himself.  Secondly, where the Gospel is received, such are formed for God.  They must have new hearts given them, and this is by the operation of the Divine Spirit, and such as these are God’s people.


I come to explain in the 2nd place, what is meant by showing forth God’s praise—First, It is to receive the Gospel with joy, and they that do so, entirely give themselves up to God, they depend upon him, they live [perhaps meant cleave?] to Him, they have now nothing to do but to show forth Gods praise; and this is the right way to happiness. 

Secondly, to show forth God’s praise is to maintain duties, inward duties; then they find sweetness in the discharge of them; they bid farewell to the rest of the world, they enter into their closets, and pray in secret.  If we love God we have effects of that love in our hearts, we feel the heart drawn forth to God.  Thirdly, to show forth God’s praise, is to serve Him.  We must be true to Him, we must love Him, we must serve Him with all our hearts; the subject must be true to his King, and the servant must be faithful to his Master, and if we do this we show forth God’s praise.  Honesty, uprightness, and truth , is what God desires of us, and we must value and esteem those that are appointed rulers over us.  Fourthly, to show forth God’s praise is to endeavor to form others to praise him.  We should speak of these things when we rise up and when we lie down.  We ought to instruct our relations, our neighbours, our friends and our acquaintances, exhort one another daily while it is called day for the night of death will soon come in which no man can work.  Fifthly, and if we are formed ourselves, we shall find an earnest desire to form others to praise Him as the psalmist did who called upon the earth and sea, and all around him, to praise the Lord, and so should we.  But I see we have not much time to spare and therefore I shall make some improvements upon what has been already said.


First, and is it so as we have heard, that God forms a people for Himself?  We must give the glory to none other but God.  Secondly, and is it so that you are all formed by God, then certainly you find a likeness of God within you, but there are many of you, that instead of praising God, are sinning with an high hand against him, and instead of being found on your knees, are running in the ways of sin and wickedness.  And let me ask you, is this the Way, do you think, to praise the Lord, and to serve Him?  You have gone contrary to the will of God.  Is this book, the Bible your stay from day to day?  If it is not so, you are not serving the Lord: But on the other hand, are there not some here, that can say humbly, they they have been formed for the praise of God, that do serve Him from day to day.  Without a doubt many of you have been praying for the poor American Heathens, that the Lord would turn their hearts, and I am firmly persuaded that the Lord has now begun His work amonst them, and many cry out after the Gospel; and I believe that numbers will be sent out to preach the Gospel among their poor benighted bretheren; and I doubt not but God will fulfil His promise to His Son, as He said, that He would give Him the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. 

To conclude, would you not all be glad to be formed of God:  Then serve Him and live to Him day by day.



Nathaniel Whitaker’s sermon from August 17, 1766 appears next in the booklet but will not be transcribed right now.

The next sermon is Occom’s and the introduction reads, “An extract of a sermon, preached August 17, 1766, at Tucker-Street Meting by the Rev. Mr. Samson Occom, Indian.”

And it repented the Lord, that He had made man on the earth, and aggrieved Him at His heart.  Genesis VI 6.

Such is the infinite mercy and goodness of God, that He puts His people into various ways for their own good, and He never gives them a blow, unless He gives them timely warning, and if you will not repent, you may expect, that the blow of the Lord will fall on you.  And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth; whatsoever pleased them in the ways of wickedness they practice, and then followed the words of my text, and it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart- what solemn words these are—methinks they would move the heathens, methinks they would make them shed tears, it grieved Him at His heart, and this shows us how disagreeable and odious sin is in the sight of God.

In further discoursing on these words, 1st I shall show what sin is. 

You have had the Word of God open to you all your days, wherein sin is discovered; yet I shall at this time inform you, what sin is.  First, it is a transgression of the Law of God, it is that wich is contrary to Him, it is that which would destroy everything that belongs to God.  When God sent for the His Son, how did sinners rise up against Him.  They followed Him, and at last the killed Him.. It began first between two brothers, I mean Cain and Abel, and Cain rose up, and slew his brother Abel.  It is what God hates, and He cannot away with it, since God is so holy, so good, and so just, and sin is so bad, so filthy, it is abominable to Him, and the spirit of God is grieved with the sin of mankind, and it grieved Him in His passage through this world, when He beheld Jerusalem, that great city, He wept over it, because they had given themselves over to all manner of wickedness.  And sin grieves the people of God, witness the Psalmist, who says, that Fountains of tears flowed from His eyes and one of the prophets, I think, ‘tis Jeremiah, wished to have a place in the wilderness, there to weep out his life for the sins of his people. 

2ndly, I come to show what destruction sin has made among the sons of men.

And for this we need not look far from the Bible; all the confusion that is among mankind, is occasioned by sin.  It is disagreeable to God.

To conclude, He is our benefactor, He is our god, He is our Redeemed; and if we allow this, how can we in our hearts, sin against Him, and how comes it to pass that we go quite contrary to what we read in the Word of God:  Have not we reason to think that the Lord is angry with us, that He is grieved at His heart”  And as we have occasioned this, let us be sorry for our own sins, and repent of them:  Let us live as become rational creatures as accountable beings, that must answer for every thought, word, and action, at the great Tribunal: Let us examine, for the time to come, how it stands between God and our souls, to the End that we may be received to the fruition of God’s Glory.


Occom’s 3rd sermon in this booklet is introduces with “An extract of a sermon preached August 14, 1766, At Broad-Mead Meeting, by the Rev. Mr. Samson Occom, the Indian.”

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into life eternal.  Matthew XXV.26.

We have abundant reason to enquire how the case stands between God and our souls; and it grieves me to look around, and see so many that are carelesss in this important point, even in this place.  In this very chapter, we have three parables: 1st.  The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to ten virgins, five were wise and five foolish.  The wise had oil in their lams, and the foolish had lamps but no oil.  And what is meant by this?  Certainly you understand the Scripture; however let me say, this oil is grace, and we find that these wise virgins were ready to meet the Bridegroom, but the foolish were in great confusion.  We also read another parable in this chapter, that a man was about to take a journey into a far country, and he called to his servants, and delivered to them his goods; unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one.  The first of these improved their talents, but he that had the one talent digged in the earth, and hid it.  Such as these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.  In opening the words before us, 1st I shall show who are those that shall be approved of at that day, who are those that are called righteous.  2dly I shall represent how the righteous shall go into everlasting life, and what this everlasting life is. 

1st I am to show who are those that shall be approved of at that day, who are those that are called righteous:  Here we need not multiply words, for the Scripture everywhere manifests it.  The first mark is holiness in their life and conversation; all their health and strength is in the Lord Jesus.  Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  And the Lord Jesus Christ was one of this character.  Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled; blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  The Lord Jesus Christ was merciful, and so are all his followers.  Blessed are the peacemakers: Our Lord is called the Prince of Peace.  Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake.  True believers are persecuted for the love they bear to God.  As soon as our Saviour was born, his life was sought after and they pursued him till they apprehended and slew him. 

I have remarked of late that the people of God are always called by some name other; and there are commonly enemies to Christianity ready to hinder the people of God from devoutly serving him.  But then, it is great consolation if ye are persecuted for righteousness sake, then you are blessed: and at the general assembly our Saviour will say to you, who have succoured your afflicted brethren here, Come ye blessed of my Father, enter into the joy of your Lord, for I was hungry, and you gave me meat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me.  I was in prison, and your came unto me.  The the righteous will answer, when saw we thee these cases and done these things?  Such as act contrary to this, do not belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and must expect a different sentence. 

2ndly I am to show how the righteous shall go into everlasting life, and what this everlasting life is.  They are departing from all sin and wickedness, the are going from all these services that they have been doing in this world, they are departing from all the enemies of God, they are entering on the possession of an everlasting kingdom, that was prepared for them from the beginning of the world, they are tending to the enjoyment of all the blessedness they are capable of possessing.  The wicked too must leave all the pleasures and delights of this world; All Sabbaths must cease to them forever, in a little time they are about to leave all their relations and friends, neighbours and acquaintance, in a short time the child must leave the parent, and the parent the child.  Then must they bid adieu to Heaven and all its glory, but where are they going?  To the infernal pit of hell.  Here they have only heard about the devils and damned spirits, but there they shall see them and hear them.  Finally, we must all meet before the Judge, and what a meeting will that be!  A meeting indeed!  It will be a great assembly!  The families of Heaven, of earth, and of hell, shall there meet together.  There all must stand before the bar of Christ.  But I shall close what has been already said with a few improvements up on the whole.

Let us see how it stands between God and our souls.  Are these things true?  Oh yes, they are!  Then let us see, whether we belong to God or no?  Whether we are His children?  There is but one heaven and one hell for us all.  We have need to look in the way which we are going.  Alas!  What should a poor heathen do if he was to come to this country to be instructed?  One would tell him he was in the right, another would tell him he was in the wrong. 

But to conclude, let me address myself to you that do not belong to Christ. Now is the time to repent; we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.  The scene will then be changed; every sermon that you hear, will rise up as a swift witness against you.  But after all, the Judge will say to those on his left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting burnings, prepared for the devil and his angels. 


The next sermon readsAn extract of a sermon preached September 7, 1766, At the Pithay Meeting by the Rev.  Mr. Samson Occom, Indian.”

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. John x. 27.

We find that the word of God is good; it is represented by Him many ways.  There must be a number that the Lord owns as His sheep and some that do not belong to His flock.

In further discoursing on these words I shall show who are those that the Lord calls His sheep, it must certainly be those that have repented, and are converted to Him.  My sheep hear my voice.  It is the work of the Spirit to show man his lost and undone state.  Man is overwhelmed with sin but God openeth a way of salvation through Jesus Christ.  And when they come to comply with this voice, the it is delightful, it is charming.  The whole Bible was a sealed book to them, till the Spirit revealed it, but now they know what it is, they understand the Scriptures so as to receive them.  It is sweet to their taste.  Then they see the sinfulness of their nature.  They then want to be in a solitary pace, there to weep out their lives with the prophet Jeremiah. 

2ndly by being favored with God’s voice we may soon discover His people: Christians rejoice in each other. 

3rdly How is it that the Lord Jesus Christ knows His sheep.  This is not difficult.  God knows all things, He knows His sheep by their peculiar marks, they have that of holiness upon them.  The Lord Jesus Christ supports His sheep in their distresses and difficulties  that they meet with in this world, and He will stand by them and deliver them out of all their troubles and at last He will give them a crown of life.  He hears all their prayers that they offer up to Him.  He remembers them so as to give them at last, according to His promise, a great and glorious reward.  He will be their comforter and guide through this vale of tears, and will acknowledge them in that upper world, before all his holy angels.  They have nothing to do but to keep His statutes and ordinances, and He will preserve them.


To conclude 1st Have we ever heard His voice?  Are we His sheep?  Have we found a way of salvation through Jesus Christ? Did we comply with it?  This makes me remember a poor Indian woman that some years ago was converted.  AS soon as she knew this book to be the book of God, she said, that it was as thunder and lightning unto her soul and every word that she read was against her, but a little while after she said it was all sweet.  It was pleasant to her taste, and all for her good.  I want to be a true Christian, one that devotes himself up to God, entirely depending on Him.


2ndly Do we hear the voice of the lord from time to time?  Do we find Him speaking to us?  Do we find sweet communion with Him?  If we do, happy are we!  Then we have nothing to do but to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.  And if there are any in this assembly that have not heard His voce, He knows you.  He is acquainted with all you secret thoughts, and you must give an account of them at His bar.  You, who have despised His mercy, will then be placed on His left hand.  And how can you stand?  How can you bear to hear that sentence pronounced on you, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.  Oh!  Don’t be contented with the outward forms of religion, but endeavour to be real Christians, that we all may meet together in Heaven.

Upcoming Events

Tomorrow evening (Sunday June 4), Brothertown Forward is hosting another talk at 7CT/8ET on their Zoom platform.  The speakers, recent graduates of Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, are Chris Keady and Liesl Spitz.  They will be re-presenting the Thomas Commuck Hymnody project they worked on and presented at Yale this past semester.  Details for logging in can be found at the bottom of this post.

Also of note:  Plans are underway for our annual trip to “old Brothertown” New York for the care and maintenance of our cemeteries there.  Marshall Historical Society has been very welcoming to the Brotherton and has hosted a reception for us whenever we are out there.  The landowners of the properties our cemeteries are on have been very kind and welcoming as well. Please try to make it out the last Saturday in June (June 24th) to care for our ancestors’ gravesites.  If you’d like to go, please contact me or feel free to simply show up.

Finally, congratulations are in order for our newly elected Peacemaker, Greg Wilson, and Council person Craig Cottrell and re-elected secretary Dave Hankwitz and Council person Skip Blanc.

Login details for Sunday’s talk:

BROTHERTOWN FORWARD is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Thomas Commuck presentation by Chris Keady and Liesl Spitz
Time: Jun 4, 2017 8:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/325743957

Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,325743957# or +16465588656,325743957#

Or Telephone:
Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)
Meeting ID: 325 743 957


Brothertown Hymnody Part Five: Thomas Commuck, Shape Note Singing, & The Fruits of Hymnody

Hymnody was a long-term cultural practice among the Brothertown Indians. It neither began nor carried on in a void. Rather, like seeds in a field, Brothertown hymnody was planted, cultivated, and harvested; repeatedly. The fruits of these harvests are visible throughout our history as well as in modern times.

Hymn singing was something the Brotherton engaged in, generally at least weekly, and often, daily, since the very beginning. It should not be surprising then, to see these “seeds” bear fruit. Most often, fruits reaped were on an individual and private level and are no longer identifiable (i.e. not found in a book or among someone’s memoirs). At other times, such as with Wesson Gage Miller’s quote in Part Four of this series, one can witness a bit of this harvest in the form of praises lauded by those who heard the Brotherton sing. At still other times, harvests have been larger with a more easily identifiable connection to the well-cultivated, fertile soil of Brothertown’s rich and enduring practice of hymnody. Such is the case with Thomas Commuck and his Indian Melodies.

In 1845, seventy-one years after Samson Occom published his hymnal, Wisconsin Brotherton Thomas Commuck published a book of his own.  Commuck’s book, unlike Occom’s, contained music notation in addition to text. Commuck wrote his own melodies but did not write the texts he joined to them. Like Occom, his publication rendered Commuck the honor of a Native American “first”. Thomas Commuck was the first Native American to publish his own tunes in “Euramerican” music notation (16) (contemporary notes on a music staff). Notably, Indian Melodies was also the first book in Wisconsin to be printed using shape notes. This is an interesting detail.


According to the mainshakers.com website, “Shape notes, [is] a form of musical notation that assigns geometric shapes to note heads… to simplify community a cappella [voice only] singing.”  Shape note singing, for those who have never heard of it, is nothing like the refined sound of a choir. In fact, it is “not performance but participatory music…usually sung at full volume in an exuberant outpouring of sound and feeling.” “It has a distinctive sound… [and] unusual harmonies (17).” Harmonies are sung in three and four parts. All of this exactly matches what we know of Brothertown singing from the beginning. While the founders only used 3 part harmonies at Moor’s school, by Commuck’s time at least, the Brotherton were singing 4 parts.


In recent months, the musical planting and cultivating which our Brothertown ancestors labored at, has begun to sprout anew. In April of this year, independent scholar and shape note singer, Gabriel Kastelle, gave a presentation to our citizens on Brothertown hymnody. Kastelle’s talk is available to watch at https://youtu.be/ObynOmEWr88. Also in April, two students at Yale Divinity School gave a presentation on Thomas Commuck and his Indian Melodies. They are planning to do a similar presentation for Brothertown citizens via Zoom on June 4th at 8pm ET (please contact me for login info or check the BIN Facebook page).  Finally, talks have been underway to both have Commuck’s tunes sung and recorded by shape-note singers and to have the singers travel to Brothertown, Wisconsin to help us “re-remember” this important part of our culture.


Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies was not randomly published in a musical void. It was the direct result of the long continuity and prominent place of hymnody in Brothertown.  The seeds our ancestors planted have borne fruit for hundreds of years: from pre-Brothertown to Occom’s hymnal to Commuck’s Indian Melodies and beyond. With the recent renewed interest of individual scholars, the shape note community, and others, now is a good time to begin cultivating these ancestral fields once more. God willing, may this renewed interest in Commuck’s music yield a fruitful harvest for the Brothertown Indians, the shape note community and all those interested in Thomas Commuck, hymnody, and/or Native American culture.



(16) Levine, Victoria Lindsay. Writing American Indian Music: Historic Transcriptions, Notation, and Arrangements p. xxxvii.

(17) http://ncshapenote.org/what.shtml What is Shape Note Music?



While the early New England missionaries and Wheelock’s Moor’s Charity School did indeed teach three part singing to many of our Brothertown ancestors, the evidence shows that this was not the first time it had been used among our people. The evidence also shows that at least 125 years before the founding of Brothertown, Native American hymnody amongst our parent tribes in New England was not mere recitation of tunes but was ‘shaped’ by them: adapted, enlivened and sung in a unique manner; a manner one might correctly term “shape-note singing”, although the term itself had not yet been invented.

For the Brothertown people, hymnody has been a culturally expressive, enduring communal activity from generation to generation. Our ancestors carried this tradition with them from New England to Brothertown New York, and from New York to the shores of Lake Winnebago. Now it is our turn to plant and cultivate. Let us not dishonor our ancestors by laying Brothertown hymnody back on the bookshelf of history between the bookends of Occom’s Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs and Commuck’s Indian Melodies. Rather, let us do our part to commemorate and revitalize this important cultural practice of the Brothertown Indians. Familiarize yourself with the tunes, watch the video mentioned above, and/or order Gabriel Kastelle’s CD sampler of 9 Commuck tunes arranged for and played on the violin.  Visit the fasola.org website to learn more about shape note singing and to see where you can take part in a singing in your area. Take your Brothertown friends and family along with you. Be ready next homecoming, picnic, or powwow to head up a little singing!  Let’s remember and honor our Tribe and Ancestors by bringing hymnody back to its rightful place within our Brothertown culture.

On the Brothertown Calendar

May 20th Elections:  If you haven’t yet mailed in your absentee ballot, you still have time. You will need to mail in your ballot, along with your voter verification form, so that it reaches the FDL post office box no later than Saturday May 20th. If you don’t know your enrollment number, I have been assured by the Election Committee that filling out the remainder of the form, along with your birth date, will suffice.  Don’t put it off any longer, get that ballot and voter verification form filled out and mailed back today!! Also on the 20th will be the May Council meeting. If you can, go in person to vote (10am-1pm CT) and stay for the meeting (10 am-noon).  All are invited to attend. It’s your Tribe; be involved.

May 28th: Also on the calendar is Brothertown Forward’s upcoming Zoom video chat with Joanna Brooks, author of The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan. The presentation begins at 8pm ET/7CT. For log in information please check the BIN Facebook page or contact me at BrothertownCitizen at aol.com.


Brothertown Hymnody Part Four: Christ, Community, and Cultural Expression

Singing was a long-standing, communal tradition amongst our ancestors and was one area where they had excelled, even over their white European neighbors.  While the tone, range of voice and meter in which they sang were unique and pleasing, there was a fourth element to this Indian hymnody which was just as important; its depth of feeling.   Brothertown hymnody centered on Christ and, couched within the edifying bonds of their community, also became a way to express the strong clash of emotions that swirled around their Native American heritage.  These strong emotions, coupled with their technical abilities, elicited strong superlative responses from those who heard the Brotherton Indians sing.


For a song to be truly beautiful and touch the heart of a listener it must first touch the heart of the singer; it must be rooted in conviction, feeling and emotion.  In the preface to his 1774 hymnal, Samson Occom claimed that there were 2 parts to singing: the “outward form” and the “inward part”.  He said, “To sing without the spirit, (though with good method) is like the sound of a musical instrument without life.”  For Occom and the Christian Indians, singing was first, a way to express their strong belief in and love of God and to worship and praise Him.  While they were called and responded to Christ as individuals they also responded to Him as a community.  As members of the same Brothertown Tribe they had a long history together.  They had suffered, moved, travelled, rebuilt lives and homesteads, and endured many things.  Assured of the love of their God and within these familial bonds of community they became free to express the Native American angst that touched them so deeply.

Despite the inculcation of the strong and persistent centuries old anti-Indian stance of society, the Brotherton always held a very deep love for their kinsmen and had a great longing to see their Tribe, and all Native Americans, endure and prosper.  This is very clear in an 1854 letter of Thomas Commuck to the Wisconsin Historical Society.  He wrote a brief “Sketch of the Brothertown Indians” and told of the sorrows and trials of our ancestors and of how he feared the loss of their memory as he contemplated, what seemed to him, the extinction of Brothertown “in another generation” or so.  Toward the end of this letter he said, “Here we have taken our last stand, as it were, and are resolved to meet manfully, that overwhelming tide of fate, which seems destined, in a few short years, to sweep the Red Man from the face of existence. The thought is a sad and gloomy one, but the fiat seems to have gone forth, and we must submit (14).”  That he loved his Tribe and people is without question.  Not only is it apparent in this letter, but also in the tune book he published in 1845 in which nearly every title bears the name of a Native American tribe or individual.

That their singing was unique and superior to others we can understand from the several superlative critiques that have survived.  One of these comes from an itinerant preacher who journeyed to Brothertown in 1844 and noted in his diary, “I was not a stranger to good singing, for my surroundings had always been fortunate in this particular, but, I am free to say, that, up to that hour, my ears had never been so thrilled by Christian melody. The tones were not as mellow as those of the African, but they were more deep and thrilling. Inclined rather to a high key, and disposed to be sharp and piercing, yet the voices of the vast congregation swept through every note of the gamut with equal freedom. I was thoroughly entranced….  The singing, however, was the principal feature, both in quantity and quality, for this highly susceptible people had given this part of the services, in all their meetings, a leading place. Among the most noted leading voices were those of mine host, Alonzo D. Dick, Jeremiah Johnson, Orrin Johnson, and Thomas Cummock (15).”

The depth of feeling that the Brothertons poured into their music was both a praise of God and an outlet through which they could safely express their personal and Native American hopes, joys, sorrows, fears, and angst.  The strength of these feelings both released a beauty into their singing and also became the very thing that caused hymnody to remain a vital and enduring part of the Brothertown community.

……………….to be continued


(14)Commuck, Thomas.  “Sketch of the Brothertown Indians.”  Wisconsin Historical Collections 4.

(15)Miller, Wesson Gage. Thirty Years in the Itinerancy p36-37.

Brothertown Hymnody Part Three: Moor’s Indian Charity School and the Brothertown Founding Fathers

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

Courtney Cottrell To Speak to Calumet County Historical Society this Monday (4/17/17)

Courtney Cottrell’s talk on the Brothertown Indians, hosted by the Calumet County Historical Society, has been rescheduled for Monday April 17 at 6pm CT.  The event will be held at the Chilton Public Library and is free and open to the public.  Please make plans to attend.

If you live hundreds or thousands of miles away, don’t despair.  The presentation is scheduled to be broadcast in real time via Zoom!  Log in details have been posted at the Brothertown Facebook page or you may also contact me here to request login information.   Anyone interested in Brothertown is welcome to attend.