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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 608


This is the grave of Samuel Kirkland.

Born in 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut, Kirkland went to Princeton and graduated in 1765. A man of the Great Awakening, he decided to try and convert Native Americans to Presbyterianism. He started working with Eleazar Wheelock at his early Native American missionary school, met the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant before Brant became a leader in fighting with the British in the American Revolution. In 1770, Kirkland moved to central New York to convert the tribes there, particularly the Iroquois Confederation. He became a mediator between the American revolutionaries and the Iroquois during the war, helping to convince the Oneida and Tuscaroras. This did not work out well for them in the end and they were soon dispossessed of their land as aggressively as those who fought with the British. It was also really a civil war among the Iroquois Confederation and incredibly deadly for all involved. Kirkland himself bailed on the area during the Revolution, moving to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which makes sense given that he had a family and it had become genuinely dangerous in central New York.

After the Revolution, Kirkland continued to missionize the Iroquois. But like most missionaries, he was also an active agent of the American state. It was Kirkland who led the program to force the Iroquois off their land, buying it off of them and leaving them increasingly dispossessed. His personal assistant was at every single Oneida land cession from 1785 and 1818, for example. Some called him the peacekeeper who kept the Iroquois and whites as the latter stole all the former’s land. Whether this is really a positive or not, I leave that evaluation up to you. In 1788, Kirkland founded the Hamilton Oneida Academy for both Native and white men. In 1812, that school became Hamilton College, a quite good, if extremely isolated, liberal arts college today.

Kirkland died in 1808. In his mind, he furthered the cause of Christ. In reality, he furthered the cause of genocide.

Samuel Kirkland is buried in Hamilton College Cemetery, Clinton, New York.

This grave visit was funded by LGM readers, the first grave of the recent reader-funded excursion to upstate New York. Many thanks! For fairly obvious reasons, linking to Pay Pal from Cuba is not happening. But in the future, you can donate to see other American missionaries, including Adoniram Judson, buried in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Samuel Zwermer, buried in Holland, Michigan, which would also allow me to visit that town’s superb New Holland Brewery again. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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