One of the highlights of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection is a copy of the fourth edition of A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, who was Executed at New-Haven, on the 2d of September 1772, for the Murder of Mr. Moses Cook, Late of Waterbury, on the 7th of December 1771 printed in New London, Connecticut in 1772.
We also hold two copies of the curious 1788 edition of the same sermon published in London, with an additional work by Jonathan Edwards appended to it.
The original 1772 edition is generally regarded as the first published book by a Native American author, and it raises a host of fascinating questions about the treatment of Native people by the British Colonial justice system, drunkenness, and capital punishment. The multiple editions of the Sermon that appeared over the next 50 years are a testament to its popularity. A digitized version of the 1788 edition is available online through The Internet Archive.
Much has been written about Occom’s Sermon, and there is much more work to be done. To cite just one example, Ava Chamberlain published a fascinating article in 2004: “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut” (The New England Quarterly , Vol. 77, No. 3 (Sep., 2004) , pp. 414-450). Her piece digs into the facts of the case of Moses Paul and the cross-cultural tensions surrounding his execution.
The sermon is also curious from a bibliographical/publishing history perspective — why was it printed in London in 1788, more than fifteen years after the first edition? Although the 1788 London title page claims it is “New Haven, Connecticut: Printed, 1788. London: Reprinted, 1788” I have yet to turn up any evidence of a 1788 New Haven edition of the sermon. Even more curious, why was Occom’s sermon translated into Welsh in 1789?
Another angle for research is to situate Occom’s work within the broader context of the genre of the Execution Sermon. A quick search of the “Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800” database turned up 79 sermons published in North America prior to 1800 with the word “execution” in the title. A handful of these are freely available via The Internet Archive, including another that falls just outside the scope of Evans: A sermon, preached at Scipio, N.Y. at the execution of John Delaware, a native, for the murder of Ezekiel Crane, August 17, 1804.
As a college founded to train young men for the ministry, the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections has no shortage of sermons. As far as I can tell, apart from the two editions of Occom’s Sermon, we only hold one other example of this particular sub-genre in our collection: Religious Education of Children Recommended: in a Sermon Preach’d in the Church of Portsmouth December 27th 1739. Being the Day Appointed for the Execution of Penelope Kenny by Arthur Browne.
Browne’s Sermon was printed in Boston in 1739, and, as far as I can tell, was not reprinted. What makes this sermon particularly interesting is that Penelope Kenny was one of two women hanged in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on December 27, 1739. According to Christopher Benedetto, they were the first women executed in Anglo-American New Hampshire.