The Hanging of Moses Paul, an Indian

Sermon Given at the Execution of Moses Paul


The Rev. Samson Occom


            Bethany in the late eighteenth century was mostly a hard-working farming community, a rural backwater, and didn’t generate much in the way of news. However, an incident that happened at David Clark’s tavern in Bethany made the history books. The exact location of Clark’s tavern is not known, but it was probably near what was known as Rocky Corner, near the intersection of Old Amity Road and Meyers Road today. Rocky Corner was the first center of town life, where the Clark family was known to have a homestead. Taverns in those days were often just a farmhouse on the main road; towns were required by law to provide food and lodging for travelers, and if no public house was available, local farmers were required to offer hospitality, for which they charged money. Houses such as this were called “racon” houses, because in the morning, the traveler would reckon up with the host.

            Moses Paul was born in 1742 in Barnstable, Massachusetts. His parents were of the Wampanoag tribe; his mother was a devout Presbyterian, and his father died in the siege of Louisbourg in 1745. Moses was bound out at age five and lived in Windham, Connecticut for six or seven years with John Manning. There he learned to read and write, and was instructed in the Christian religion. Later he served in a Colonial militia, and then worked as a merchant sailor, afterward returning to Connecticut, living in Waterbury.

            Paul had apparently picked up the habit of heavy drinking as a soldier and sailor. Drunkenness was a Puritan no-no, as a threat to a well-ordered society, and habitual drunkards were definitely not of the Elect. But the  threat of a drunken Indian struck terror into the souls of white settlers, who had heard stories about bands of drunken Indians attacking frontier settlements, murdering and raping the inhabitants. The stereotype of the drunken Indian who couldn’t handle his liquor was part of the Puritan view of Indians as naturally depraved savages who were unsalvageable instruments of the devil who must be removed or destroyed.

            The incident happened on Saturday evening, December 7, 1771. At that time, by a law of 1669, it was illegal to sell liquor to Indians, but the law was widely ignored. Here is an account of what happened as reported by the Courant on December 13, 1771:

Last Saturday evening Mr. Moses Cook, of Waterbury, being at Mr. Clark’s tavern, in Bethany, where there was an Indian named Moses Paul, who had behaved so disorderly, (on Mrs. Clark’s refusing to let him have a dram) that he was turned out of doors, when he swore to be revenged on some one person in the house; and Mr. Cook going out soon after, received from the Indian (who tis supposed lay in wait near the house, in order to put his threat in execution) a violent blow on his head, with some weapon, that broke his scull in so terrible a manner, that he died of the wound last night. The Indian was apprehended and committed to the gaol in this town last Sunday.

            This account played into stereotypes about Indians, as sneaky and vengeful, and as savages who became murderous when drunk. Moses Paul was indicted for murder, charged with striking Cook in the head with a flat-iron weighing 4 ½ pounds, which caused his death five days later. The jury convicted Paul, and he was sentenced to be hanged six months later, to give Paul time to prepare himself to meet his maker.

            Paul, however, decided to appeal his case, and he was represented by William Samuel Johnson, a prominent attorney. There had been no conviction for murder in New Haven since 1749, and Moses Paul’s case was a sensational one. There were four churches around New Haven green, and all four visited Paul in jail. In earlier times, crime was equated with sin, and accused criminals in those days were expected to confess their crime and repent, and most of them did, giving out statements that followed a formula, expressing remorse and penitence, and trusting in God’s judgment.

            But in Paul’s time, the accused were more likely to appeal their convictions. Paul appealed the verdict, and his account of the incident painted a different picture from the testimony in the trial.  Paul admitted that he was somewhat intoxicated, but felt that he was cut off by Mrs. Clark unfairly, and that the house owed him money. Moses Cook, 55, of Waterbury, who was the alleged victim, reprimanded Paul in a threatening manner, and then proceeded to beat Paul as he forced him outside. Cook tied Paul’s legs together  with a cart-rope, and beat him with the other end of the rope, finishing by throwing him down a steep bank head-first. Paul had lain there for a quarter-hour in the snow when Cook returned with a whip, calling Paul a drunken dog, whipping him, and telling him to get up. Paul tried to go back into the tavern to get his belongings when Cook once again beat him and threw him outdoors, declaring “homicidal intentions” toward Paul to another patron named Hurlbutt, who was named as a potential witness. Cook grabbed a cudgel and proceeded to attack Paul once more. Paul, in fear of his life, grabbed a stick and struck Cook with a blow that proved fatal. Paul also stated that Hurlbutt was witness to the fact that Paul did not “lay in wait” for Cook, as was alleged.

            As the appeal process played out, local ministers visited Paul in jail, trying to convince him of the justice of his sentence and not to resist it. Of the four ministers who visited, Paul favored Jonathan Edwards Jr, son of the famous revivalist and pastor of the dissident White Haven church. Edwards had been raised in the Indian mission at Stockbridge, where his father was pastor, and he spoke the Indian language. After his initial conviction, Paul asked Edwards to deliver his execution day sermon. Execution sermons were something that not many preachers had the opportunity to deliver. An execution, especially a sensational one like Paul’s, would guarantee a large crowd, and publication of the sermon afterwards.

            Paul’s appeal was denied, and his execution was scheduled for September 2, 1772. Five days before that date, Paul was baptized by Bela Hubbard, an Anglican priest. Three days before the execution, at Paul’s request, Jonathan Edwards Jr. delivered a sermon for Paul’s benefit. But for the execution day sermon, Paul asked a fellow Indian, Samson Occom, to deliver the sermon.

            Samson Occom was a Mohegan, born in a wigwam in 1723, and raised at a place called Mohegan in New London. He was believed to be descended from Uncas, the famous tribal sachem. As a youth, he led a traditional, peripatetic life with his family, hunting, fishing, and fowling. Impressed by evangelical preachers, Occom was converted to Christianity, and yearned to study the scriptures. He went to study with Eleazar Wheelock in Lebanon, and stayed four years. He later became a schoolteacher to the Indians in Montauk, Long Island, where he married and had children.

            Ordained in 1759, Occom became a missionary to the Niantic Indians, and helped the evangelist preacher George Whitefield raise money for Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian school, which was the forerunner of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Wheelock sent Occom, who was skilled at preaching and fundraising, to Britain in 1765 to raise money for the school. Occom delivered over three hundred sermons in Britain, and raised more than £11,000.  Wheelock moved his school to New Hampshire and turned it into a college, and Occom lost faith with Wheelock after he learned that Indian enrollment had dropped to three. Thereafter, Occom devoted himself to helping Indians, and also wrote a hymn book.

            Moses Paul’s execution was attended by a huge crowd of Indians and whites. It was the first execution in New Haven in twenty years, and people also came for the novelty of hearing an Indian preach against the evils of alcoholism. Occom’s sermon was based on New Light theology and delivered in the style of a revival sermon. Execution day sermons were a popular genre that stressed the importance of confession and repentance; the avoidance of the temptation of sin, the horrors of hell, and the joys of heaven. Occom stressed the depravity of all mankind, regardless of race, and that redemption was offered to all. He exhorted Moses Paul to repent and accept Christ, and also addressed fellow Indians generally, telling them to stop indulging in drunkenness, to repent, and to accept Christ as their savior. Alcohol was a real scourge to the Indians, and many families were ruined because of it. It was essentially a temperance sermon, and to the whites, Occom was an example that proved that Indians could be Christianized and civilized.  

            The Sermon Preached by Samson Occom at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, was published in 1772 and was an instant best seller. One of the first books by an Indian published in English, it went through nineteen editions, and was even published in Welsh.

            There is no way to prove that Moses Paul was unfairly convicted, but it seems clear that the jury were white people who were sympathetic to Cook, and that the general feeling of the community was “hang the Indian.” It is a fact that in cases where an Indian killed a white man that the Indian was found guilty of murder, not manslaughter, no matter what the circumstances.


Ava Chamberlain. “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in   Eighteenth-Century Connecticut.” The New England Quarterly, (Sep., 2004) Vol. 77, No. 3, pp. 414-450. Accessed May 11, 2021

Anthony Vaver, website, Early American Crime, accessed May 3, 2021,   

Mohegan Elder Beth Regan,"Samson Occom the Man" -  audio presentation, “Grating the            Nutmeg” website, accessed May 3, 2021.



The Hanging of Moses Paul, an Indian