Hidden History: Samuel Kirkland, Part 1

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Samuel Kirkland came to central New York from Connecticut in 1764. He walked 200 miles through winter to Iroquois land, where he established the first protestant mission in the Iroquois’ territory.

Kirkland first settled in with the Senecas and was well received by the tribal chief. During his secondary school education, he became familiar with the Mohawk language, and that background helped him grasp the Seneca language.

In 1766, he returned to Connecticut, where he was ordained as a minister. Kirkland then made his way back to New York, this time to the Oneidas, who had aided him during his journey to the Senecas.

He would spend most of the next 40 years living among the Oneidas. Kirkland took up residence at the tribe’s principal village, Kanonwalohale, which is known today as Oneida Castle.

At first, Kirkland tried to assimilate. He dressed in Oneida clothing and toiled in his own garden unsuccessfully, often going hungry.

After a year of this, he concluded that he was leaving the Oneidas with a poor opinion of his religion, so he resumed wearing English clothing and turned all of his attention to his preaching.

Within three years, Kirkland began to win admiration from the oneidas and others. He received a letter from London telling him that trustees of his church had awarded him 100 pounds sterling for his services.

At about the same time, other people began to send contributions to Kirkland that he used to buy books for the Oneidas and their children.

Next week — how Samuel Kirkland went from missionary to revolutionary agent.

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