Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul

Samson OCCOM   |   Samson OCCUM

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Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul


OCCOM, Samson. A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian, Who was executed at New Haven, on the 2d of September 1772, For the Murder of Mr. Moses Cook, Late of Waterbury, on the 7th of December 1771. New-London: T. Green, [1772]. Slim octavo, original ivory wrappers, uncut; pp. (2), 3- 23 (1).

Second edition, issued mere weeks after the exceedingly rare first edition—"the first monograph to be published by a North American Indian in English"—Occom's fiery 1772 Sermon, authored at the request of the condemned Moses Paul "to publicize the racial injustice of his murder trial and subsequent execution," delivered by Occom in Connecticut with America on the brink of Revolution, with woodcut-engraved "death's head" on title page. An exceptional copy.

Samson Occom "is recognized as the founder of Native American literature" (Brooks, American Lazarus, 55). Converted to Christianity at 17, Occom broke ties with his mentor, Eleazar Wheelock, to become a spiritual voice for the Mohegan and Brotherton tribes, who "remember Occom as an important ancestor, while literary scholars recognize him as a pioneering Native American writer and a progenitor of Native American literature" (Warrior, Introduction in Collected Writings, 3-4). Occum's Sermon is "the first monograph to be published by a North American Indian in English" (ANB). Throughout his life "Occom thought of himself first as a Mohegan with profound responsibilities to his own tribal community and to American Indian people in general." When Moses Paul (Wampanoag) asked Occom in June 1772 "to publicize the racial injustice of his murder trial and subsequent execution… Occom preached against slavery, criticized slaveholding ministers, and urged churches to refuse communion with slaveholders" (Warrior, 4, 7).

Occom delivered his Sermon on September 2, 1772, on the cusp of the American Revolution. Like Olaudah Equiano's similarly groundbreaking Narrative (1798), Occom's eloquent work appeared just as "many Native Americans and African Americans waged their own struggles for independence and freedom" (Brooks, 53). Occom spoke before a crowd of hundreds, "both white and Indian, shortly before its subject, Moses Paul, was hanged… It is a version of the 'execution sermon,' a popular genre in New England at the time, meant to serve as a deterrent to future criminals and sinners… Because Paul was drunk when he committed the murder, most of his audience would have presumed that Occom would address the problem of alcoholism among Indians…. [Yet] the way in which Occom ties all humanity together… serves to drive home is point that all will sin, all may well be redeemed, and all will be judged after death, a religious point to be sure, and for Occom, a social commentary as well" (Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature, 313-14). In "reversing the racial spectacle of the execution, Occom charged that all present—'Indians, English, and Negroes'—were sinners in need of redemption… His Sermon was first published on October 31, 1772… ranking Occom as the sixth leading author in the American colonies during the 1770s. In addition to its print circulation, it circulated orally in Native communities… The Sermon marks a turning point in the public career of Occom. It is the first recorded occasion when Occom speaks publicly as a Native minister to Native audiences and about specifically Native concerns" (Warrior, 23).

"Occom is remembered and celebrated by the Brotherton Indian Nation, the Mohegan Nation, the Montauk, and the Shinnecock, who celebrated Samson Occom Day in June 1970" (Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature, 257). Second edition: "with a woodcut-engraved death's head at head of title" (ESTC W43665), containing a biography of Moses Paul on rear wrapper. Advertised in the New-London Gazette, Nov. 13, 1772. Issued with the same pagination and barely two weeks after the virtually unobtainable New Haven first edition (we have seen only three copies offered in over 100 years). Sabin 56635. Evans 12493. Faint early owner signature above title page.

Text generally fresh with light soiling, minor expert restoration to gutter corners of unbound gatherings, small loss minimally affecting five lines of text on final leaf. A very good copy of Occom's foundational Native American work.

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