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Preview image of work. oil on canvas,  Portrait of Reverend Samson Occom 146

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Portrait of Reverend Samson Occom

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[attributed to Nathaniel Smibert]


Portrait of Reverend Samson Occom

Creation Date

ca. 1751-1756


18th century


30 1/8 in. x 24 15/16 in. (76.52 cm x 63.34 cm)

Object Type


Creation Place

North America, United States

Medium and Support

oil on canvas

Credit Line

Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III


Public Domain

Accession Number


This portrait of Samson Occom (1723–1792), a member of the Mohegan tribe, was likely created by Nathaniel Smibert. He classicizes Occom’s Native identity, figuring him in a draped robe and elevating his status to one that Euro-Americans found in portraiture. Occom converted to Christianity at an early age, studying in 1743 with Eleazer Wheelock, a Congregational minister. At Wheelock’s request, Occom traveled to England to raise funds for a school for Native American education, leaving his family in Wheelock’s care. Following his successful trip, Occom arrived home to find his family in a state of extreme poverty and ill health. The funds he raised were used to found Dartmouth College, which, although established to educate Native Americans and Euro-Americans, only graduated 19 Native students in its first 200 years. While this portrait recognizes a leader among European settlers and Native Americans, Occom’s lived experience demonstrates the complexities of colonization and its adverse effect on Native Americans.

Object Description

A painting of Samson Occum (1723–92), Native American convert to Christianity who became the first Indian to preach in England. Occum was born to the Mohegan in New London, Conn. He converted in 1741 and taught in New London until he moved to Long Island in 1749. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1759, and he recruited Native American children to study at Moor's Indian Charity School in Connecticut. Occum traveled to England, where he raised funds for the school for two years. The school was moved to New Hampshire and chartered as Dartmouth College in 1769. Occum later taught and preached among Algonquian peoples in New York. He and his wife, Mary Fowler, had ten children. Occum campaigned to move the Brotherton and Stockbridge peoples onto Oneida territory in New York as white settlements increased. They moved in 1786, and Occum died there in 1792.
"Occum, Samson" Britannica Student Encyclopedia>
[Accessed October 15, 2002].

Keywords: portraits