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“Where Are The Brothertown Indians?”: As foretold by Samson Occom

On August 22, 1855, 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 “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?” Ironically, nearly 100 years earlier one of Brothertown’s founding men, the Reverend Samson Occom, had already offered an explanation from which Commuck could have drawn hope.

Around the year 1776, Reverend Occom gave a sermon whose message was later recalled by attendee, Daniel Waldo: “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 that knife, Brothertown may have undergone many changes in location, land ownership, skin coloration, governance, etc. However, no matter where they live, how they choose to govern themselves, or what color their skin may be, the blood of their ancestors still runs strong and proud within the veins of the Brothertown Indian family. They are still telling their stories, still operating under their own Tribal governance, still singing, still sharing meals, and still interacting with one another on a daily basis.

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

*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 1859.

**Annals of the American Pulpit Vol 3, p 195.

Adapted from a blog post originally published February 27, 2017. Permission granted.