This sermon was written and performed by Samson Occum, a minister at New Haven. This copy is located at UCLA Young Research Library, under the call number E90.P28 O15.
A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul
This sermon was written for the execution of Moses Paul, a Native American man accused of the murder of Moses Cook. The murder occurred in New Haven in December of 1771, and the following execution in September of 1772 was the first hanging in New Haven in twenty years. 1 The murder occurred at a tavern in New Haven, Connecticut, where Paul was denied service, due to the fact that he was already inebriated. After the tavern closed, Paul waited for the owner, to exit the tavern. As the owner of the tavern exited, he was attacked by Paul and defended by bystander Moses Cook. Unfortunately, Cook paid a high price for his bravery: he was clubbed on the head so violently that he died.
During the appeal process, the validity of claims made both by witnesses and Paul himself were hotly debated. Paul claimed that he had not been drunk at all, but righteously angry at the owner’s refusal to serve him. He appealed for the charge to be reduced to manslaughter, rather than murder, claiming that he had not intended to kill Cook and had only struck him in self-defense. All of these claims were denied by the courts, and Paul was sentenced to die by hanging. The incident would fuel prejudice against Native Americans, whom the settlers of the region believed drank too much and became violent when intoxicated.2 As a result, Paul’s conviction and execution marks the beginning of a disproportionate amount of convictions for people of color in the United States, a trend that survives to this day.
Though murders were not common occurrences for New Haven at the time, the story would have been swept away and forgotten by history had Paul not invited the Reverend Samson Occom to perform a sermon at his hanging. Paul invited Occom for two reasons: their shared faith as Christians, and their shared heritage as members of the Mohegan tribe. The intersection of perceived Christian temperance and perceived Mohegan drunkenness provided a unique situation for Occom to speak into. The resulting interest, combined with Occom’s popularity as a charismatic preacher prompted many to show up to the hanging, at which Occom emphasized temperance and a need for conversion due to the imminence of death.3 Those who heard the sermon pushed for its publication, and on November 13, 1772, the sermon was published in The New London Gazette .4 The sermon was printed by Timothy Green, the official printer of Connecticut at the time,5 and was declared to be the first Native American publication in the United States. The popularity that this brought to Occom allowed him to thrive in missionary work, with specific regards to the conversion of Native Americans.6
This copy of the sermon, housed at the Young Research Library Special Collections at the University of California Los Angeles, is an imperfect copy, with some pages missing and many damages.7 Attempts were made by previous owners to repair damaged pages with tape, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The paper is of a low quality, and the age of the artifact has only weakened what was thin and weak to begin with. In addition, the book has been bound at least twice: one can easily see where the signatures have torn through the paper several times. Strangely, this copy of the sermon claims to have been published in 1771, a full year before the execution took place, which calls into question the efficacy of the printer, T. Green, and this copy in general. Finally, the printing styles vary moderately as one flips through the sermon, which indicates that in addition to being rebound, printers may have had to re-print sections of the sermon for this particular copy.
Anthony Vaver: Vaver's website, "Early American Crime," discusses the murder of Moses Cook, the trial and appeal process, and the execution of Moses Paul. Those interested in the social implications of this case may find this source to be compelling.
Ava Chamberlain: Chamberlain's article, "The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut" discusses the societal implications of Moses Paul's execution, as well as Paul's rationale for asking Samson Occom to preach.
Baumann Rare Books: The Baumann Rare Books webpage focuses on the implications of the Christian faith shared by Mosel Paul and Samson Occom.
Early Native American Literature: The Early Native American Literature Website discusses Samson Occom's journey to ministry and the impact that his work had on his two communities: the Christian church, and his Mohegan family.
UCLA Library Catalog: The UCLA Library Catalog entry for "Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul" provides specific information about the copy that UCLA holds in its Special Collections Library.
Yale Library: The Yale Library entry provides more information about the career of Samson Occom after his sermon was published.
1 Chamberlain, Ava. “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut.”“The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut.”: The New England Quarterly, vol. 77, no. 3, Sept. 2004, pp. 414–450. JSTOR↩
3 Vaver, Anthony.“Crime Poems: Competing Accounts of Moses Paul and the First Native American Publication.” Early American Crime, 14 Mar. 2012↩
4 Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian. First Edition, Samson Occom, Bauman Rare Books↩
7 “A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul.” UCLA Library Catalog Holdings Information. ↩
This spotlight exhibit by Gracen Blackwell as part of Dr. Johanna Drucker's "History of the Book and Literacy Technologies" seminar in Winter 2018 in the Information Studies Department at UCLA.
For documentation on this project, personnel, technical information, see Documentation. For contact email: drucker AT gseis.ucla.edu.