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 a 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”.

… 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.


Brothertown Hymnody Part Two: Native American Singing in Colonial America

Native Americans in New England were no strangers to singing.  Song and dance had been a part of their culture for at least hundreds, if not thousands, of years.   Missionaries to New England used this to their advantage.  They taught the Indians about God and Christianity, in part, through the singing of hymns and then documented their astonishing ability to retain these hymns, adapt them to the “Indian meter”, and then sing them back in their own unique manner.

In an 1845 publication, Thomas Commuck made the claim that the Narragansett Indian tune “Old Indian Hymn”, “was heard in the air by them and other tribes bordering on the Atlantic Coast, many years before the arrival of whites in America.”  He says that “on their first visiting a church in the Plymouth Colony, after the settlement of that place by the whites [1620], the same tune was sung while performing divine service, and the Indians knew it as well as the whites. “(4)

In her book, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African American and Native American Literatures, Joanna Brooks says, “Native Americans especially were positioned to make a significant contribution to the development of American hymnody, as they were better-educated and more versatile singers than many of their Anglo-American contemporaries.  From the time of colonization, psalmody and hymnody were staples of Native-missionary interaction.  In 1661, John Eliot produced an Algonkuin-language Psalter; later Cotton Mather praised Eliot-affiliated Indians as “Notable singers” who excelled over his own “English Assemblies (p64).”

Importantly, Brooks goes on to explain how Native Americans, rather than merely singing tunes exactly as they were taught them, shaped and adapted them and made them their own.  Even as far back as 1651, someone visiting John Eliot and the Naticks wrote, “There was a psalme sung in the Indian tongue, and Indian meteer, but to an English tune (p65-66).”

In the 1740’s, Azariah Horton ministered to the Indians of Long Island.  Page 124 of The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island: A History by John Strong, reads, “Other Protestant missionaries [in addition to Horton] also used hymn singing as a catalyst to engage the Indians.  Even the Calvinists introduced music in their missionary services (Cowing, 1972, 84-85).  The Calvinist singing style, notes Kathleen Bragdon, was similar in some ways to traditional Indian music.  The psalms were sung in unison, without musical instruments, and had very little inner structure, a style that ‘resembled traditional native music in brevity, simplicity of rhythmic organization’ (Bragdon 1991, 121-22).  The emphasis on hymn singing undoubtedly provided a cultural connection, which encouraged Indians to become involved in Christian worship services. “

There are many more examples that show a long continuity of missionaries engaging Indians in the New England area through something they already enjoyed and which they could relate to and adapt; singing.   Moor’s Indian Charity School was yet another place where the Algonquin Indians had a chance to practice this long-standing tradition.

……to be continued

(4) Commuck, Thomas.  Indian Melodies, p 63.

A Wonderful Brothertown Indian Hymnody Presentation by Gabriel Kastelle

Many thanks to Mr. Gabriel Kastelle for the wonderful presentation he gave this past Sunday evening (April 9, 2017)!  Mr Kastelle spoke to us on the importance and endurance of Brothertown hymnody from Samson Occom’s 1774 hymnal to Thomas Commuck’s 1845 Indian Melodies.   Mr. Kastelle has done an impressive amount of independent research on Brothertown, our founders and our ancestral tribal histories.  This research, together with his musical degrees and long time involvement in shape note singing make Mr. Kastelle uniquely qualified to recognize, understand, and address  the many intricacies involved in the presenting and “re-remembering” of this important part of Brothertown culture.   I must also add that Gabriel Kastelle’s enormous respect and deep reverence for our Brothertown founders, history and the travails of our people make his presentation all that much more compelling.   Interspersed throughout the talk you will find several examples of Commuck’s tunes played on the violin.    You can view the full presentation on Brothertown Forward’s YouTube channel.



Upcoming Events and News Reports

imageThere are a number of upcoming opportunities for the Brothertown people to engage in events, presentations and discussions.  Here they are in date order:

Sunday, April 9th, 7CT/8ET Brothertown Forward is hosting a talk online using the Zoom platform.  The speaker is Gabriel Kastelle and the topic is Brothertown Hymnody from Samson Occom through Thomas Cummuck.  You can listen in and participate from your PC, tablet, smartphone or landline.  Please contact me or click here for more information:

Monday, April 17th, 6CT/7ET Brothertown’s own Courtney Cottrell will be speaking to Calumet County Historical Society at the Chilton Public library.  If you are able to attend in person, please support this event.  If distance does not permit, it is hoped that the presentation can still be made available on the Brothertown Forward Zoom platform.   For further information on the Historical Society please visit

Saturday, May 20th, is the date for the annual Brothertown Indian Nation elections.  Be sure to vote at the BINCC or return your absentee ballot by mail.  Word has it that election information will be mailed out to all eligible voters next week.  Please remember to call the office with any address updates.

While the date has yet to be set, Joanna Brooks, author of The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan, has agreed to do a live online presentation for Brothertown Forward!!!  Stay tuned for more details.

Finally, the first annual Brothertown powwow was held at the BINCC this past Saturday.  Judging from the pictures and comments, a great time was had by all.  Click here to watch a brief video clip of the event presented by the Fond du Lac Reporter:

Please feel free to leave comments or contact me for more information on any of the above events.

Brothertown Hymnody: An Enduring Tradition


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            When our ancestors left their original homelands to re-organize themselves into a new Tribe in New York, they carried very few possessions with them.   Besides themselves and their families, some of the most important things they did carry were their faith in God and their practice of communal hymn singing (hymnody).  The type of hymn singing they engaged in was very distinctive and unique to the New England area.  By 1801, this general type of singing would come to be known as “shape note singing” although the New England Indians had their own unique version of it and particularly excelled at its practice.   Not only did their own version of shape note singing travel with our ancestors from New England to New York, but it was still with them when they relocated to Wisconsin (still Michigan Territory) in the early part of the 1800’s.

Part One:  Occom’s Hymnal and Brothertown, New York

                        Samson Occom, the famous Native American minister, led an extremely productive and influential life.  One of his noteable achievements was the 1774 publication of a hymn book (words only) with many reprinted songs and a couple of Occom’s own (available at;view=fulltext).   This has earned him the distinctive honor of being “the first American writer of Presbyterian hymns.”(1)  This hymn book, no doubt, accompanied him 13 years later on his journey to Oneida County New York and the political formation of Brothertown.

            We read in Occom’s journal concerning the night he arrived in New York at his brother in law’s (David Fowler’s) house on October 24, 1785 that, “as we approach’d the House I heard a Melodious Singing, a number were together Singing Psalms hymns and Spiritual Songs”(2).  They sang a bit more before retiring for the night. The next day, October 25th, he noted, “In the evening Singers Came in again, and they Sang till near ten o: c.”

            On Wednesday, he wrote of more singing; as well as on Friday where they sang at “Abraham Simons” house.  On Saturday, the “huskers Sung Hymns Psalms and Spiritual Songs the bigest part of the Time, finishd in the evening,— and after Supper the Singers Sung a while”.  On Sunday it went on longer.  To say that they sang a lot may be an understatement.

            It was not just our early years there in New York that we pursued hymnody, but it continued throughout our time there.  In a letter dated December 26, 1791, Occom wrote, “one Jo–Quinney is… our Singing Master too, and he is Instructing the People in Singing Constantly, two or three Evenings every week.”(3)

            While Occom tells us that they sang “hymns Psalms and Spiritual Songs”, he doesn’t mention much more besides noting their frequency.  Yet, there was something special to be said about Brothertown singing; something that set our ancestors apart.  Partial clarity on this matter can be gained through a review of historical Native America in the New England area as well as by reviewing the education that our founders, including Occom, had received at Moor’s Charity School.

                        … be continued


(2) October 4, 1785 Journal p12r & following


A Shout Out to the Ancestors

On this date (March 13) in 1773, our ancestors from the 7 “praying towns” first met in Mohegan to discuss the possibility of migrating to new lands.

See p119 of the Brad Jarvis book Preserving the Brothertown Nation of Indians: Exploring Relationships Amongst Land, Sovereignty, and Identity, 1740-1840 for more details:“>

Tonight at 6 CT, In Person and Online: Calumet County Historical Society to sponsor talk on the Brothertown Indian Nation

Update:  Tonight’s talk has been cancelled due to unsafe weather conditions and will be rescheduled.


Weather permitting, Courtney Cottrell is set to give a talk on the Brothertown Indians tonight (March 1, 2017) at 6pm CT at the Chilton Public Library in Wisconsin. This talk will simultaneously be live streamed through the internet via Zoom. The Calumet County Historical Society is hosting the event and it is free and open to the public.

To take advantage of the livestream, please follow the instructions below.

To Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:

Or Telephone:

Dial: +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll) or +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll)

Meeting ID: 492 142 583
Media Contacts: Debbie Barany 920-418-1173, Terry Friederichs 920-849-4042, Mike Pichee 920-216-7461 or
Calumet County Historical Society to sponsor talk on the Brothertown Indian Nation
The Calumet County Historical Society is sponsoring a talk by Courtney Cottrell at the Chilton Public Library on March 1 at 6:00 pm. Courtney is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Brothertown Indian Nation and is a Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. The Brothertown Nation settled on the Eastern shore of Lake Winnebago in the early 1800’s; a portion of that area is in Calumet County.
“This is the first time our organization has asked a speaker to give a presentation. It’s great that Courtney is available to share her knowledge.” said Debbie Barany from the Calumet County Historical Society. “We really hope to have a nice turn out for Courtney’s talk!” Barany added.
The Historical Society has windows from the First Methodist Episcopal Church in its museum. That church was where the tribe held many meetings in the past. The church was located on the corner of 151 and county H. Courtney’s talk is expected to last about an hour; It will touch on the Brothertown Nation’s history, the challenges they faced in the past, those that they deal with in the present, as well as their rich culture. There will be time for questions after the presentation. All are welcome; there is no cost to the public for this event.
About Courtney Cottrell
Courtney Cottrell is the Brothertown Indian Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and a Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Along with her tribal responsibilities and commitment to a strong cultural future for the Brothertown she studies diversity in academic institutions, mainly museums. Her interests include sharing expertise between Native Americans and Western cultures through museum collaborations.
About The Calumet County Historic Society & Museum
In 1961, county veterinarian Dr. Royal Klofanda converted an old hatchery on his Reed Street property in Chilton to house his personal collection of antique farm and home implements. In September of 1967 ground was broken for the first of two 40 x 100 foot steel buildings that house the artifacts today. The museum is open each Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 from June to September. It is located one mile south of Chilton on Irish Road just off Hwy 57. The museum does not charge admission and is funded mostly by the generosity of current and past society members. Donations are always appreciated.

“Where Are The Brothertown Indians?”

            Two letters were penned in the 1850’s that are of some importance for the Brothertown Indians. The first was written by a Tribal headman; the second by a preacher who likely knew very little to nothing about the Brothertown Tribe. Despite the fact that it was never intended so, it can be of benefit to read these two letters together.

On August 22, 1852, a Brothertown Indian by the name of Thomas Commuck wrote a letter to Mr. Lyman Draper of Wisconsin’s State Historical Society*. After giving a 5-6 page historical “Sketch of the Brothertown Indians”, Commuck finished by saying, “Already has inter-marriage with the whites so changed the Brothertowns, in complexion, that three-quarters of them would be readily considered as white, where they were not known, and in another generation our Indian blood will probably become so intermixed with the general mass of mankind, that if the inquiry is made, Where are the Brothertown Indians? echo will answer, Where?”

Six years later, on July 7, 1858, another letter was penned. This one was written by the Reverend Daniel Waldo, one of the last surviving men of the Revolutionary War. Waldo wrote that when he was 14 years of age (around 1776), he had gone to hear a renowned Native American preacher by the name of Samson Occom. He recalled Occom’s appearance, voice, and the impression that he had left upon him. He also retold a bit of what he remembered from the sermon. “An old indian, he said, had a knife which he kept till he wore the blade out; and then his son took it and put a new blade to the handle, and kept it till he had worn the handle out; and this process went on till the knife had had half a dozen blades, and as many handles; but still it was all the time the same knife.”**

Like the blade of that knife, Brothertown land ownership has undergone numerous changes. At first, we held our land in common in New York. We began moving to Wisconsin in the 1830’s where we still held our land in common until 1839. Then, in an effort to avoid being removed again, we became US citizens and our lands were allotted to us as individuals. Now, our citizens are individual owners of private properties all across these United States. Although we no longer have a common Tribal land base, we are Brothertown.

Like the handle of that knife, the physical appearance of the Brothertown Indian may have changed from that of a traditional Native American color to mulatto to white, black, or what-have-you. The color of our skin does not change the fact that the Native American blood of our ancestors still runs strong and proud through our veins.  We are Brothertown.

Commuck put forth the question: “Where are the Brothertown Indians?”, but echo did not answer “where?”  Instead, through the memory and pen of Reverend Waldo, our founding father Samson Occom responded with the timeless message that no matter what adaptations we may make we are “all the time the same” Tribe.  We are Brothertown.  We are here.

*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 1859 is available to read or download at

** Annals of the American Pulpit Vol 3, p 195. Available to read at