A member of Connecticut’s Mohegan tribe, Samson Occom converted to Christianity and became a student of the Reverend Eleazer Wheelock. Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1759, he recruited Native American children to study at Wheelock’s “Indian Charity School.” Occom was a compelling public speaker and traveled to England to raise funds for its operation. In 1769, the school was moved to New Hampshire and chartered as Dartmouth College. Occom’s commitment to this enterprise is all the more remarkable because it occurred during the French and Indian War, a destructive conflict, especially in northern New England, that ended in 1763. Nathaniel Smibert, a son of painter John Smibert, captures Occom’s arresting gaze and purposeful stance. The blue drapery mirrors the tranquil, yet vibrant sky, adding richness to the foreground. Because areas around Occom’s chest and neck are unfinished, scholars believe Smibert was still working on this portrait when he died in 1756.
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