A city set on a hill

What may be learnt from the New England colonists’ treatment of the Indians

David J Phillips

There is no land that does not ‘belong’ to someone. Everyone has a landscape with which they identify and use for subsistence. Before the invasion of the Europeans, the area of New England was occupied by a number of Amerindian tribes, who were masters of the land. In the area now known as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode island were living hunter gatherer nomads with varying degrees of sedentation for shifting agriculture. The land was fertile for those with the ‘know how’ to cultivate and while each Indian community had sufficient hunting within reach of their fields and without conflict with their neighbors, they stayed settled only for a short period of years. Subsistence was the aim by securing hunting and fishing rights, without disturbing their neighbors with their small fields near to their settlements of simple dwellings. Land belonged communally, without fences; what ‘belonged’ to the individual or the family was the carcase of animals and fish he or they hunted and fished, and the produce from what they had planted. The landscape that provided them belonged to no one and everyone.The population of the natives around 1500 in New England is estimated to have been 70,000 to 140,000 (Daniels 2012.169).

By the beginning of the 17th century there were many European vistors to the New England coast and trade in furs and fish was established with the Indians. By 1610 some two hundred British vessels were visiting the coast apart from other Europeans (Mann 2006.47). The Indians even learnt to use sails on their boats for their own coastal trade. The coast and the fertile river valleys were well populated, with well established villages,which discouraged earleir plans to establish European settlements; also the Indians soon dissauded any stay of any length (Mann:2006.39).

However later reports reaching England gave the impression that much was largely unoccupied and therefore open to be taken by who would make use of it. This was not only becaue of the lack of fences and human habitations. It was not realised that the native population had been reduced by infections brought by these earlier contacts with European seamen, especially by an epidemic in 1616-17, possibly of smallpox or budonic plaque or measles that killed a third of the Wampanoag (Daniels 2012.169).

The tribes living in the area of present day Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island were: In the west on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts were the Pocumtuc; the Nipmuck were settled in central Massachusetts. The Massachusetts and Wampanoag occupied the coast from Boston to the southern coast and the Nauset occupied Cape Cod. The Narrraganset lived in what later would be Rhode Island while to the west of them were the Pequot and Mohegan in eastern Connecticut.

The Wampanoag

We take as an example the Wampanoag, as they feature first in the relationship with the English invasion, being a help to the Plymouth Pilgrims. They numbered thousands due to the fertile soil and good fishing, but earlier visits of Europeans to the coast had brought epidemics to which the Indian had no immunity, and between 1615 and 1619 a plague, once thought to be smallpox, but probably leptospirosis, nearly wiped them out. The Pilgrims found this out from Squinto, who befriended them. John Winthrop, leader of the Puritans, on the way to Boston, saw it a benevolent providence, as both colonies would have space and land for initial settlement (Johnson 1998.33). Wampanoag means ‘people of the dawn’ or ‘easterners’, their language was Wopânânk or Massachusetts one of the Algonquian linguistic family. The last speaker died a century ago, but there is a project in 1993 to revive it.

The Wampanoag were semi sedentary hunter gatherers and shifting agriculturists, moving seasonally between regular sites favorable to these activities. Their lodges consisted of branches and skins of various animals which they packed and took with them to a new site. The Indians would be hospitable to colonial visitors, Thomas Morton wrote, allowing the tired visitor to sleep, and then awaken him a meal. They moved seasonally, winter ans summer to not to exhaust fuel and hunting in one place (Morton 1637). The men were the hunters, fishers and warriors, the women gathered and tended the fields, especially cultivating maize, beans and squash. They would plant the crops mixed in the same field, which the colonists found strange (Morton 1637). They did not domestic animals. Each group had defined areas for game and fish, and the colonies were to disrupt this system. They traded by barter with each other and had a currency of shells called wampum (Morton 1637).

Their society was based on the nuclear family and was matrilinear, the women owned the shelter and domestic and agricultural belongings, which their daughters inherited and a new couple would live matrilocally. Premarital sex was not condemned, but both were expected to be faithful after marriage. Polygamy and divorce were common. Loyalty was to the family, the clan and the people. Women could be leaders or sachems of the groups. The society was organized into a confederation of of groups, each with its sachem, with and overall sachem.

Prior to the coming of the colonists, explorers had captured Indians and sold them as slaves. Such was Squanto, who escaped from Spain to London, learnt English, and returned to New England to find his clan dead, and the Pilgrims arrived at New Plymouth. He lived with the Pilgrims for a time, helped them to plant their first crops, and introduced them to Massasoit, the overall sachem of the Wampanoag. Massasoit asked the Plymouth people to give English names to his sons: Wamsutta became Alexander and Metacom Philip (Willeson 1945.390). The Wampanoag beliefs were based on their shaman manipulating the spirits (manito) in the landscape for healing or for projecting misfortune at a distance on those that displeased them. Their Great Spirit was Kehtannit the creator, but he or it was never personalized, and had not moral attributes or gender. According to Morton they had a concept of the creation of a first man and woman, believed that a flood had killed wicked men, and looked forward to life after death with the Great Spirit (Morton 1637).

Good Intentions

The colonies that settled in New England were the New Plymouth Pilgrims arriving in 1620, the Cape Ann and Salem group north of Boston in 1618, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony settling around Boston beginning in 1630 and further migrations made the Bay the largest colony. The Dorchester Company of investors of colonization had as one of its goals the evangelization of the Indians. They commenced a settlement at Cape Ann north of present Boston where the fishing was good, but the land was not fertile to have expansive agricultural settlement. The Massachusetts Bay Company obtained a charter from Charles I, glad to be rid of Puritans who would disrupt his church policies, in 1629. John Winslow joined the enterprise, although his family thought he should stay in England to realize his aims there. His aims for the colony were to curb the spread on Roman Catholicism in America. The Jesuits were active in French Canada to the north and the French and Spaniards to the south in Florida and Mexico and if judgment fell on England there would be an example of Reformation society left in America. Therefore many saw one of the aims of the colonies was to enable the natives to be brought from error to sincere Christianity (Johnson 1998.26). Roger Williams saw them as descendents of the lost tribes of Israel due to apparent similarities of customes (Daniels 2012.171). The Pilgrims of Plymouth established a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoag in the first terrible winter of 1620 defined a basis of mutual reciprocity in behavor and property (Daniels 2012.172). Much of the Indians culture and physique was admired in New England’s Prospects (1634) by William Wood (Daniels 2012.174). John Winslow leader of the Bay company liked their task as ‘A city set on a hill’, quoting Christ’s words (Matthew 5:8), that His disciples should be an example in the life style and behavior to the world. Winslow fervently wished they be an example to the world how they believed church and society should be shaped by the Bible. This is how the Christians saw their enterprise of settling in New England, including a goal to convert the Indians.

Growth in English Migration

As the reigns of the Stuart kings tried to establish an absolute monarchy with Catholic tendencies, the civil wars and further two reigns of Stuarts, many thousands emigrated to America for religious freedom. In this way they avoided outright religious persecution and also the economic pressures as the rising middle and rural classes suffered the lack of farming land (Johnson 1998.22). From the start there was recognized a distinction between those with a religious commitment and those for various motives were seeking a better economic life. From the compact on the Mayflower 1620, Plymouth colony was divided between between ‘saints’ and ‘strangers’, those who sought a more biblical form of church and those who sought a new life. The Mayflower brought 41 ‘saints’ and 40 ‘strangers’ with 23 servants. With subsequent migrants there were a total 108 ‘saints’ and 133 ‘strangers’ with 121 servants and others not identified (Willison 1945.454). So that the ‘Pilgrims’ with a religious commitment beyond nominal membership of the Church of England, were soon outnumbered.

The Bay colony around Boston started by seeking to be an example society according to Puritan principles with a unity of church and society to give the cohesion for survival. This it attained, and compared to the Pilgrims at Plymouth, it attracted thousands of immigrants, with some 20,000 arrived in the 1630s. During the Civil Wars in England migration paused, and some colonists returned to fight on the side of the Parliamentary forces. The colony suffered economic distress, but this led to new industries being established, so as not to be dependent on England.

Family as the fundamental social unit

In comparison to other colonies, the Puritans emphasized the family unit with children and servants. The women were partners with their husbands in the family enterprise, whether farming, a craft or a profession (Daniels 2012.155), and widows inherited a third of the husband’s estate (Morgan 1956.42-44). Family as a unit was so important that single persons were obliged to join a family either as a boarder or as a servant (Morgan 1956.27, 145) and immigrants arriving, leaving a spouse in England, were sent back on the next ship (Morgan 1956.39). This contributed a greater social cohesion to the northern colonies. The Puritans believed that the family was ordained by God in creation and the institutions of church and state were added after the Fall of man to supervise the family (Morgan 1956.134, 142).

The church was a voluntary association of families based on the individual confession of faith of the parents, children included until old enough to make their own confession. Although women did not have the vote in civic and town meetings, they were equally church members on confession of faith with the men. Servants often had to make their own confession. Daily devotions and Christian instruction was an obligatory part of life (Morgan 1956.139). So when the missionaries settled the Indians into towns, it brought them into a well established social structure of Christian living. Servants were either voluntary employees in industrial or domestic service, or apprentices. Slavery was not favored, except in the case of captives from a ‘just war’ or as a punishment for theft, to compensate for the loss (Morgan 1956.110). Some Irish, Indians and some Africans were slaves, but they had to be provided for by the families in which they were placed, as other servants.

Secular motives predominate

With in fifty years, the colonies spread taking more land from the Indians; John Winthrop considered the land a ‘vacuum’ because the Indians had not ‘subdued’ it, presumably meaning it had not been extensively cultivated with mills and other industries to develop the produce. Therefore the Indian did not have a legal right to it (Zinn 2005.14). Together with this growing occupation of land also the religious goals of the colonies became moderated. The Puritans believed that they were still part of the Church of England, but they had reformed it according to the Reformation, hence ‘pure’. Church and state were united so that every citizen was obliged to attend the state’s church. But many of the migrants were not ‘Puritan’ with a real Christian commitment, so in order to maintain the union between church and society the Halfway Covenant was adopted in 1662, where by peoples baptized in infancy, which meant anyone and everyone in 17th century England, were accepted as church members and therefore had civil rights as well. The Puritans themselves distinguished between the ‘civil man’ who was outwardly a good citizen, whose behavior was motivated by social restraint and education. But civilization was not the way to salvation. The true citizen was motivated by faith and justification by God. Therefore many a ‘civil man’ was not a member of the church (Morgan 1956.4).

The majority of immigrants were reasonably prosperous gentry, merchants and skilled craftsmen with their servants and apprentices. In contrast to other colonies the migrants came because religious or political motives, some under threat of arrest and persecution. Except for the brief reign of James II, 1685-88, the religious threat faded in England and was less an issue for the majority of colonists. Coming from England where land was in short supply, the excess of available land produced a prosperous trading society with Europe. In 1664 Roger Williams complained of the trinity of profit, preferment and pleasure. By 1698 there was one trading ship, home ported in New England, for every 400 residents (Daniels 2012. 200f). There was a waning of piety, with the second and third generations (Daniels 2012.121); as the religious issues in England became remote, the colonies spread out, in fact the frontier was quite porous as others came with differing views.

Many immigrants described the land as fair and prosperous. Well could the Indians seem threatened. Seeing the land as undeveloped by the natives, the colonists spread out. By 1643, 56 English towns had been founded in the areas of modern Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire (Daniels 2012.54). Each town needed the approval of the colony government, and the Indians occupying the land paid. They started with 25 to 60 families, located near a river for transport, the town could occupy on average over 100 square miles. The land was held communally to start with, pasture and agricultural strips in open fields being allocated according to the number of persons in the families (Daniels 2012.88).

Relations with the Indians can be divided into two periods, the first from the landing of the Pilgrims,1620, to the Pequot war 1637, when both Indians and English had a mutual respect for each other. The colonists learnt from the natives methods of agriculture and fishing, admired their physique and the industry of their women (Daniels 2012.170,173). Plymouth colony formed a treaty with the Wampanoag,as between two equal nations (Daniels 2012.172). The majority of the colonists viewed the Indians either as useful in the fur trade or a dangerous obstacle to peaceful extension of their colony. The wars were a pretext to take more land, by what Roger Williams called ‘a depraved attitude after the great vanities, dreams and shadows of this vanishing life, great portions of land’ (Zinn 2005.16). By the time of the so called King Philip’s War, 1675 to 1678, there was an adult generation born and grown up in the colony, that saw the Indians as primitive and a threat. But during this first period of mutual respect, mission began to the Indians.

Reaching the Indians

However there were those who sought the fulfillment of mission mandate. Pastor Roger Williams arrived in Boston in 1631, and considered being a missionary to the Indians early in his troubled time as a pastor in the Bay (Willeson 1945.388). As pastor at Salem, then later at Plymouth, he spent time with the Indians, visiting Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag and Canonicus, sachem of the Narragansett, and learnt the language. He had a plan to settle among the Narragansett and preach to them (Beade 1988). However he then returned to Salem as assistant pastor. He disagreed with the authorities of the Bay, because they considered themselves still loyal to the Church of England hoping for its reformation, which Williams considered beyond hope. He also argued that the state had no jurisdiction over the church, the two should be separate, while the colony held them close together. Finally and fundamentally, he rejected the validity of the right of the white man to dispose of the land of the Indian, whether by Royal charter or decision of the Colony. The land belonged to the Indians and he circulated a tract declaring this obvious truth (Willison 1945.347).

These three issues undermined the very foundations of the authority and existence of the colony. He was called before the court and in 1635, he was banished from the colony and threatened with deportation to England where at that stage he might have faced prison or death from the Anglicans led by Archbishop Laud. He fled south west with some friends from Salem and survived the harsh winter helped by first the Wampanoag, then crossed the Seekonk River to be received by the Narragansett as neetop. or ‘my friend’ (Beade 1988). He bought land from the Indians and with his friends established Providence, later Rhode Island. When his colony’s existence was threatened by the other colonies he journeyed to England, then in the midst of the Civil War, to get a charter for his colony, confirming what he had arranged with the Indians. On the way he arranged peace between the Dutch in New Amsterdam (now New York) and the local Indians. On the voyage he wrote and published in London a ‘A Key Into the Language of America‘, which contained a phrase book with observations about the Indians culture and life style. He again argued the land belonged to the Indians (Beade 1988). He scoffed at the English who considered the Indians uncivilized, as they, in their way, partook of the sociability of the nature of mankind, caring for their poor and children. Thomas Morton also noted that native children respected their elders, and as adults cared for their aged elders; behavior better than some ‘civilized’ people (Morton 1637).

The Pequot War

A change in the colonies relationship with the Indians came with the Pequot War. Many of the Indians saw the presence of the colonies as a deterrent against attack from other tribes to the west, however the Pequot would not accept this. ut trouble erupted when the English started settlements in the Connecticut Valley and the seizure of lands belonging to the Pequot. They attacked settlers in the Connecticut valley (Cryer 1965.190), destroying small settlements, in which the men were killed and scalped and the women and children captured, which culminated in the Pequot War 1636-38. The Pequot then attempted to sue for peace (Daniels 2012.179). In fact the colony hierarchy had made a trade treaty with the Pequot and Mohican in 1637 without consulting the people, and for this Eliot opposed it. Roger Williams immediately became a peacemaker, persuading the Narragansett not to join the Pequot in war against the colonies. He even informed the colonists of the tactics of the Pequot. The immediate cause of the war was that the Indians had killed two English dishonest traders, thinking they were Dutch. When Pequot refused to hand over the murderers the colony went to war, against their Governor’s advice. The war decimated the Pequot nation, and the massacre of 400 Indians at Mystic, offended even the Indian allies of the colonists. The survivors joined other tribes. This war, 1637-1638, showed that the majority in the colony saw the Indians as a threat to the survival of the colony. The colonists shared as much as the blame for provoking hostilities (Daniels 2012.179). The decimation of the Pequot helped an English takeover of the northern part of New Netherland (New York), along the Connecticut River. Now the colonies has the ascendency over the remaining Indians.

The Gospel Progresses

In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts passed an “Act for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians”. This initiative came from alert individuals backed by the colony government. John Eliot came to the colony in 1631 and soon settled into the pastorate of Roxbury church, south of Boston. After 12 years in the pastorate Eliot befriended a young Indian and spent two years learning the language. In September 1646, he set out with pastors Richard Mather and John Allen a few miles westwards to a village on the south side of the Charles River, where he first preached to the Nipmuc Indians through an interpreter. This place is now Newton MA which he called Nonantum or Place of Rejoicing. The number of converts made him think of the possibility of integrating the Indians into colonial society. Eliot wrote a number of tracts describing the Indian work. At the Synod meeting in 1647 he described the advance of the Gospel among the Indians (Cryer 1965.205). Eliot continued to make many visits to Natick, and was soon preaching in the native language. The first chief called Waban,was converted, and the Indians asked whether their children might live with the English to learn the ‘right way’. This was on October 28, 1648, and the chief asked whether the Indians asked for land to build their own town. Within two years Indian converts, with various motives, were congregating at Natick to form one of the first Praying Towns.

This is celebrated, today, in the mural of the Puritan minister ‘John Eliot leads Natick Indians in Christian Prayer’, as depicted on the rotunda on the Massachusetts State House in Boston. In the winter of 1649 John Winslow wrote his The Glorious Progress of the Gospel among the Indians in New England and Edward Winslow presented it to Parliament in London the next year. Parliament was now dominant after two civil wars and the execution of Charles I, and favorable to the Puritans.

Banishing Ignorance

The Puritans believed that all men were created equal in families, and the institutions of the church and society had been added to aid salvation and to live of God honoring lives. Therefore all three institutions must contribute in making the colony an example to the world, a city set on a hill. Eliot as a Puritan believed ignorance of Scripture was the reason for sin; the Catholic church had kept this knowledge to the clergy, but the Reformation had brought Scriptural knowledge to the masses with the opportunity of salvation (Morgan 1956.89). ‘Every grace entered the soul by understanding’. They knew Scripture truth and the habits learnt did not guarantee salvation, but prepared for God to work regeneration (Morgan 1956.90-91). Though believing in predestination, the Puritans believed salvation should be actively sought and encouraged by society (Morgan 1956.96). Instruction gave both the opportunity and the need for the new birth. It was the responsibility of every family to teach the basics of the faith by catechism and Bible reading to children and servants in the home, supplemented by teaching in church (Morgan 1956.97,100). The parents were to teach by example and gentle discipline, rather than the rod, to prepare their household for Christian living.

This was aided by Reading and Writing schools giving Bible literacy as well as preparing for useful employment (Morgan 1956.101). Martin Luther had championed schools for both girls and boys for the same reason a hundred years before. This was followed by the Grammar schools that taught the classics and for a few, the liberal arts at Harvard, and some to study theology for the ministry. If this was true for those raised in Christian families, how much more for the Indians who did not have these advantages, so education was vital to the reaching of the Indians.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England was set up with 1,700 pounds sterling for salaries and scholarships for promising Indians students (Willinson 1945.334). Havard, the first university in America, struggled financially soon after its founding in 1636, but the Society raised funds for Indian education and the college waived tuition and housing costs for Indians. Later the Harvard Charter of 1650 dedicated the college to ‘the education of the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge: and godliness’. The Indian College was the first brick building on the site and five Indians were students. It housed a printing press to print Eliot’s translation of the Bible in 1663, using the Natick dialect, known as ‘Mamusse Wuneetupanattamwe Up- Biblum God‘ (Massachusett language is the same as Natick or Wampanoag). The Indians has little immunity to European illnesses and students quickly succumbed, so the building was little used for housing students, and was pulled down in 1693.

The Mission develops

Other pioneers were also taking up the spiritual and social cause of the Indians. Eliot was assisted for many years by pastor Samuel Danforth and Major Daniel Gookin (Cryer 1965.212). Gookin arrived from Virginia in 1644 and resided with Eliot, but returned to England to service Cromwell. Fled back to New England with to signers of the death warrant of Charles 1st. He was appointed the first Superintendent of the Praying Towns and wrote two books on the Indians. Pastor Thomas Hooker, who had taught Eliot at Cambridge and proved to be his mentor, preceded him to New England by a year. He was a pioneer in defining democracy, ‘that the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people’ (Cryer 1965.1993). He soon disagreed with the Bay colony authorities and moved, in 1636, west to the Connecticut River, to the future Hartford and founded the colony of Connecticut with Pastor Samuel Stone and one hundred other colonists. In 1630s the Valley was in conflict as the Pequot sought to control the fur trade and other trade against the other tribes. The Pequot attacked Wetherfield, south of Hartford, in 1636. After the Pequot War Connecticut had treaties with the Narragansetts and Mohegans. In the next century, a few miles to the north, at Northampton, Jonathan Edwards and his would be son in law David Brainerd would work among the Indians.

Richard Bourne, arrived in 1634 and founded the town of Sandwick on Cape Co. He was instrumental in the continued peace with the Indians; he learned the Indian language and assisted Pastor Leveridge in teaching the Indians as early as 1652 and is listed as being paid for some of this work with the Indians. At one time, when the Indians had decided to attack the small town of Sandwich, Bourne, hearing of it, was able to persuade them to stop. He was often called upon to translate between the settlers and Indians. He gave 50 square miles for the Praying Indians, as the converts became known, and the Indians established the ‘Kingdom of Mishpec’ with self government supported by Bourne’s counsel. He preached among them until his death in 1688 (Willison 1945.389).

John Cotton, while pastor at Plymouth, learnt the language and preached to five congregations of Indians. Samuel Treat, pastor at Eastham trained four Indians as school teachers and four more as preachers; he taught them from a translation of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Willison 1945. 389). Thomas Mayhew junior preached to the Gayhead section of the Wampanoag on the island of Martha’s Vineyard (Willison 1945). The Mayhew family had great success with their fair treatment of the Indians, so that the Island protected from the bloodshed. After the disappearance of the son in a vovage to England, Mayhew senior became a missionary in his place. In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts directed the pastors to select two among them to serve as missionaries to the natives. His nephew, Experience Mayhew, continued the ministry. There were soon congregations on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Indian Opposition

A situation arose in which the rapid spread of farms, clearing the forest and fencing in the land, depleted the game and many of the Indian became impoverished but resisted becoming the slaves of the colonists. Forest, that had supported game for the Indians, was turned into pasture with fences for the cattle, horses, sheep, oxen, pigs and goats brought from Britain. Other areas were broken up with plough and harrow. All this was alien to the Indian’s view of land as communal property, each tribe and community would have mutually understood areas of forest for hunting and for their fields. There was a tendency for tribes weakened by the loss of their land, such as on Cape Cod, to convert more easily to gain assistance from the colonists (Willisdon 1945.389).

The Indians often opposed the Gospel because of the taking of their land. Most of the colonists just took land without permission or payment. When John Eliot asked the Podunk near Hartford if they would accept Christ they replied: ‘No! We have lost most of our lands, but we are not going to become the white man’s slaves’. Massasoit, while an ally of Plymouth, with a treaty with them, resisted conversion and asked the Pilgrims not to draw his people away from their gods. The Indians were treated with contempt by most of the colonists, and kept them at a great disadvantage in trade deals, and their insatiable hunger for land generated mounting bitterness. So when Eliot asked Philip, Massasoit’s, son, to convert, he replied, taking hold of a button on the missionaries coat, ‘I care no more for your gospel than that’ (Willison 1945.392). Above all the Indians saw the religion of the white man did not work because of the vices of the colonists and their attitude to the Indians. The failure of the Gospel to convert the behavior of the professed Christians was a conclusive barrier to the reaching of the unconverted.

Praying Towns

1. The Praying towns arose from Eliot’s vision that progress in Christianity would depend on the Indians having a more settled life (Cryer 1965.208). The tribes, already weakened by disease and the loss of hunting grounds by the colonies, saw being allied to the colonists would deter other tribes from attacking them. The colonists saw the towns as a way for the Indians to renounce their way of life, ceremonies and beliefs to become ‘Red’ Puritans. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle appeared disorderly to those who considered God had established order in society from creation that would glorify God (Morgan 1956.16). The Puritans did not believe that civilization made a Christian; that was only a work of the Holy Spirit (Morgan 1956.2), but separation to a more Christian environment removed the danger of backsliding or syncretism, and also was practical as hunting grounds were taken over by farming.

2. By 1650 Eliot formed Natick as the first village for Praying Indians. By 1660 seven Praying Towns were established in Nipmuc territory. By 1675 there were fourteen praying towns, with populations varying between 100-150. Total population about 2,300 by 1674 (Richter 2001.95). The 14 towns were in Massachusetts and 19 smaller ones in the area of New Plymouth. As the Indian population in 1675 in southern New England was between 11,600 and 20,000, this meant between 8 and 14 percent were in the Towns (Daniels 2012.185). This brought the Indians within the regime of the God ordained order for creation, of the family as the basic unit for spiritual and material well-being, as with the supervision of church and state of the colony that supervised the family from the dangers of sinfulness.

3. Land was assigned by the Colony council, against the protests of neighboring colonists. Natick was guaranteed two thousand acres or 810 hectares. Eliot sought land grants for all the towns. To safeguard the land being sold if the Indians indulged in short-sighted gain, any change need to be approved by the Colony Council. The towns would have streets, a townhall, a chapel, houses and a school of simple construction. Natick soon had also a bridge across the Charles River and a fort.

4. Employment. The Indian women had always worked the fields, woven cloth, raised children, etc. Therefore their role continued and even improved in the Praying Towns. However the men’s role was hunting, fishing and warfare which came to an end with the spread of the settlements. The warriors had difficulty to adapt to other forms of work, and from this arose the slander that they were lazy. In 1662 the Council laid down Proposals concerning the employment of the Indians for trade between the Towns and the colonists. It was suggested that they trade in hemp, wheat, flax, tar and hay. Gookin persuaded the Council to provide the means to do this. Eliot encouraged basket making and the spinning and weaving of wool and cotton, which the women already had ability to do. The aim was for the towns to trade for things the colonists produced (Cryer 1965.213).

5. The spiritual genuineness of the conversions was questioned by some. From 1652, Eliot encouraged the Indians to testify in their meetings of their faith in Christ and repentance. Preaching the Word was the occasion for God to regenerate the heart and establish faith, but this might take time as the Indian attended to the message. Although it was not until 1659 that some were admitted into membership of the Roxbury congregation. Natick was recognized as independent local church in1660 by the colony’s pastors.

6. At Natick evangelists were trained to evangelize more Indians, and an Indian pastor Daniel led the work. Two sons of a chief, Sampson and Joseph went as Christian missionaries to another town for four years, a ministry which resulted in better constructed huts and a greater yield of the harvests. Twenty four evangelists were trained.

7. Eliot wrote Rules of Conduct for towns, consisting of the Ten Commandments and eight others, setting monetary penalties for idleness, eating lice, promiscuity, wife beating, women tying up their hair and that the men should cut their hair.

8. The Puritans rejected hierarchical ecclesiology, that relied on a clergy providing ritual. The individual had access to Scripture to read it for themselves. Therefore Eliot immediately translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. He taught the Catechism, which he translated in 1654, Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew followed in 1655. The complete New Testament was printed in 1661, but the Old Testament was delayed in print until 1664 as it had to include a set of metrical Psalms. Other Christian books followed to form an Indian Library. Eliot produced a Harmony of the Gospels in 1678.

9. Education in the home, at church and in the schools, was seen as essential to spiritual growth; all men being equal and responsible to seek salvation, they needed to read the Bible for themselves. The Puritans believed that the mind had to be regenerated. A primer was produced for the Indians to learn to read their own ‘heart’ language as well as in English. Eliot found that few English were willing to teach the Indians, so Indian Teachers were trained. An Indian Grammar was produced for English people to learn the language. Money was voted by the Long Parliament in England for training of Indian teachers. Although the Indian College building at Harvard was not used as intended for residential students, Indians were were taught elsewhere, such as at the Grammar School at Cambridge, Mass.

10. Civil government in the towns was conducted in the Indian’s own language. They elected their own officials which gave a certain continuity with their own tribal practice, and often their own natural leaders merely assumed the new roles. Some English roles were introduced such as magistrate and constable. The Indians were given, what the Puritans considered divinely ordered society, for their spiritual material good, as family, church and state.

11. The loss of the shaman and the healing by the spirits was substituted by Eliot and others teaching anatomy and ‘Physick’ (Cryer 1965.215). This teaching with a Bible worldview, would counter the fear of the spirits and of evil spells.

12. The colonists as a whole still treated the Indians as second class or with disdain. Eliot’s vision for the towns was to give a measure of assimilation into colony society failed. Indians had difficulty in accepting the impersonal way rules of conduct were considered in the colony, while their way was by establishing personal relationship and conduct was a matter of reciprocal giving. Most colonists viewed the Indians with suspicion or hostility.

King Philip’s war 1675 -76, led by Massasoit’s son Metacom, or Philip, was to be a disaster for the Indians. Many were killed, others were sold as slaves to Bermuda and elsewhere. Roger Williams worked for the security of the Narragansett from invasions of their lands by the other colonists. He tried to stop the war but at least succeeded in keeping the Narragansett from joining in (Beade 1988). The war broke up the Indian nations in New England and ended their resistance to the spread of the colonies. Some of the Praying Towns were closed down and the Indians imprisoned on an island in the Bay. Other prisoners of war were sold as slaves to the West Indies.

The continued mission

The task continued with the well known ministries of David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, Eleazer Wheelock and the founding of Moor’s Charity School and Dartmouth College, and Indian pastors like Samson Occom. Brainerd ministered in five different places in a few years, Kaunamsek, NY, Forks of the Delaware (PA), Crossweekdung and Cranberry (NJ) and points on the Susquehanna River (PA). Edwards taught Job Strong, Joseph Bellamy, Samuel Hopkins and Gideon Hawley while at Northampton who later became missionaries to the Onohquagas and others. Edwards preached to Mohegan and Mohawk peoples for seven years from 1751 in the isolated mission place of Stockbridge, which he had previously helped set up (Gibson 2011). Edwards in 1755 sent his nine-year-old son, also called Jonathan, with Hawley, who was setting out to begin work among Indian tribes at Onohoquaha, already 200 miles west of Stockbridge. Jonathan junior would learn the Mohawk language in the hope that, when he grew up, he might himself become a missionary among them (Macleod 2007).

Samson Occum, who knew English, Hebrew and Greek, pastored survivors of the Pequot on Long Island and the Mohegan in Connecticut. Dartmouth College, formed part of Wheelock’s so called “Grand Design”,of an educational institution for Native Americans and English missionaries that would be an instrument of salvation for native populations in the Northeast. David Brainerd’s brother John had a long ministry among the Indians. John Sargent was at Stockbridge before Edwards. Azariah Horton labored among the Montaukett Indians of eastern Long Island from 1741. He found three women who had had previous Christian contact and knew a hymn from memory. A few were baptized. The Moravian missionaries established themselves with the Mohicans and Delaware at Gnaddenhutten, Ohio, in 1772. In the war of 1754, these Indians adopted the pacifist doctrine of the Moravians, against other Mohican and Mohawk who were allies of the English. In the Revolutionary War they were suspected of aiding the other side. The Indians were evicted and starved; others were massacred by the Pennsylvania militia. A sharp division between the national society and the minority of Christians, who cared and served the Indians, has persisted ever since.


Those who had the interest and respect for the Indians were a small minority, with motives based on Scripture and supported by Puritan leadership in the Colony and by the Puritan government in England. The majority of the colonists treated the Indians with disdain for their way of life and as an obstacle to obtain more land, or as useful for trade or knowledge for survival. However the Puritan missionaries faced the same challenges and put into practice various methods that have been followed by their Evangelical successors in Brazil and elsewhere.

Initiative. The Puritans destroyed the myth that Protestants, except for the Moravians, did not engage in foreign missions, until around 1790 with Carey and Fuller. The Puritans were thinking of mission to the Indian before they landed, a century before the first Moravians in 1728. The failed attempt at settlement by French Calvinists in Rio Bay with contact with the Indians predated them (1555), and the Dutch in North East Brazil organized Reformed churches among the Indians from 1630. They demonstrated that mission is a priority for the Christian church.

Imperialists and destroyers of culture? The missionaries were a minority seeking to limit the injustice of colonization. If the Puritans had not gone to New England others would have, and the threat to the Indian way of life and culture came from the massive expansion of the colony, not from the efforts of the missionaries. On the other hand the establishment of the colonies was providential in fulfilling the Gospel mandate; missionaries were to use colonialism, while criticizing its abuses. In the future many missions would see colonialism as unjust yet also as a means to evangelize and protect native peoples social injustice, as from the slave trade, as Livingstone, for example. Mission medical work provided physical survival for many a people while linguistic work provided a key element in the survival of the culture.

Motivation. The initiative of befriending the Indians came from an understanding of Scripture, that every ethnic group should be offered salvation; a belief in predestination did not hinder this, but rather saw it as the divine purpose, key men becoming God’s instruments in that purpose. Some held exotic ideas that the Indians were the ten lost tribes of Israel, but Puritan way of life required all activity should be based on Scripture. Compassion based on a view that the Indian way of living was wretched compared to the European also contributed. We note the pastors themselves took responsibility for mission and did not leave it to subordinate specialists. This at a time when their church buildings were merely windowless barns under a thatched roof; while in Brazil there are many cases where priority is given to enlarge and beautify the buildings and leave missionaries without financial support.

Holistic. The method included every aspect of the Indians life: spiritual, education, health, employment, moral rehabilitation and a degree of assimilation with colonial life. Health was previously the responsibility of the shaman. Witchcraft is still the cause of dissension an even murder today among Brazil’s Indians. Medical and dental visits, the training of indigenous health workers in the villages is necessary to give the Indian and similar level of health care as the national society.

Understanding. The missionaries sought to have an understanding of the Indian, way of life and opinions to the point of being involved in inter-tribal relationships. This involved systematic contact to learn the language, the social relationships and the material way of life, to the point of empathy. Cultural anthropology is a useful tool in this process, which many missionaries have yet to appropriate. As Incarnation was the method of the Gospel, God becoming man, so an disciplined effort to see the world as the Indian does is vital.

Exposition. The missionaries expounded the Bible. Eliot believed that the Gospel could be communicated in the Indian’s language but preached at first through an interpreter. His first text was Ezekiel 37:3, but he continued with a summary of the whole Biblical theology, of creation, fall, law and judgment, the coming of Christ, heaven and hell (Cryer 1963.202). A century later Jonathan Edwards, regrettably, considered the language ‘barbarous’ and ‘unfit to express moral and divine things.’ He preached by interpreters, but chose texts mainly from Matthew and Luke, particularly the parables, making use of imagery and metaphors in his Indian sermons (Gibson 2011). He wrote 200 new sermons for the Indians. Brainerd learned the language and preached Christocentrically, deriving other doctrines from the Person and Work of Christ (Thornbury 1963.54).

Conversion. The conversion of the Indians may take longer, as the existence of a surrounding Christianized culture needs to be taken into account, which the colonists brought with them, but the Indian did not have. Contextualizing the message must be accompanied by contextualizing the pattern of the Christian life and worship, and including aspects of the culture that are not a threat to faith, feathers and all. Pastors in Brazil affirm that it takes two years for an Indian to be converted.

Education. Teaching not only the basics of faith in Christ, but the construction of a Biblical world-view is essential for conversion. Understanding was the basis for a sound change of life. The thorough use of all-age Sunday school as well as Biblical literacy in the ‘heart’ language aids the individual to take responsibility for his or her own spiritual growth. Otherwise much of Christian living will become merely the imitation of Evangelical habits.

Resistance. Failure to see more converts was due not only to the hold of the shaman and the Indians’ belief system, but also the perceived failure of the Christianity to change the behavior of the majority of the colonists. In Brazil the ‘Cristão‘ is the logger, gold prospector, farmer who invades Indian lands, destroys the environment, disregards laws to protect Indian lands, and sends genocidal gunmen or deliberately infects the Indians with diseases for which they had no immunity. The example of the Indian pastor or missionary is important to make a distinction between national society and the national Christian.

Land rights. The missionaries understood the rights of the Indians to the land, and the presumption that the land had no ownership because because of the Indian communal concept and semi nomadic life style, and could therefore be taken, was considered an injustice. The invasion of Indian lands is a constant reality in Brazil, and the Indian’s prior claim must be upheld in decisions of Indian Lands.

Literacy. The missionaries rightly sought mastery of the Indian language as key to befriending and evangelizing, but they also saw the need of Indian literacy and education as a crucial asset to Indians survival, spiritual and secular welfare. A literate culture imposed writing on an oral culture but this lead to the survival of the languages. Isolation is no longer an option, and a purely oral mode of communication is not possible in the modern inter-cultural situation. Worldwide, Evangelicals have saved many languages from extinction, by the emphasis on Bible translation, so the Indians have an essential tool to maintain their separate identity.

Literature. Eliot recognized the need of a translation of the Bible and other texts so developed an Indian library. The missionaries recognized the need for literature for the non-Indian to both understand the Indian and to learn his language. In Brazil, Evangelical missions have emphasized the need for the Indian to face spiritual issues as well as associated changes in culture and assimilation within their mother tongue.

Life style. They also identified the Indians life style as contributing to sin and resistance. They confused assimilation to English colonial life and sedentary agricultural subsistence and trade with living as a Christian. However taking the long term view, with the spread of the colonies the establishment of the Praying Towns and the assimilation was they only viable way forward. The Jesuits set up their ‘mission’ towns for enforced assimilation in Brazil. Salesians destroyed the communal houses and imposed boarding schools, in which even the Indian languages were forbidden. Evangelicals have concentrated on allowing the Indian to adapt to the level assimilation they desire, ‘redeeming’ their languages from extinction, putting the Bible and other aids into the Indian’s hands to make his own decisions. Later in New England Wheelock was also concerned about the corrosive influence on Indian culture of the English vices. Contact inevitably bring change of culture and lifestyle, and most of that contact is by those who have no regard for the Indians’ welfare or very life, in order to further their profits by exploiting the natural resources. In New England, as in Brazil, the missionary’s contact aims at the welfare and voluntary modification of the Indians’ life style.

Separation. The Praying Towns involved taking the converted Indians out of the immediate company of non Christian Indians. The social unity of the sib or clan in a village creates a difficulty for those not participating in the rites and (im)morality of the traditional religion. In Brazil we have villages divided between Christians and traditional religionists, but also villages consisting solely of Christians. However, it is just as necessary to find separation from the vices of the national society. Brainerd also felt the need to move the Crossweeksung Indians to Cranberry (NJ) where the land was more fertile and where they could live together, which the Indians did (Thornbury 1963.57).

Indigenous leadership. The importance of training examples of Indian evangelists and pastors was recognized from the start and had a good measure of success. Pastors continued to serve into the next century. In Brazil the training of indigenous leadership, at various academic levels, is a priority.

Employment. Training and opportunities have to be given to the Indians, both men and women to trade with the surrounding colonial society, both for the Indians’ welfare and their acceptance in society. While some of the ready available roles, such as gardening and weaving benefited the women’s traditional roles, the missionary had to be creative to provide a substitute for the warrior and hunter status of the men. Social programs to aid the Indian in being fulfilled and supporting families economically and being able to obtain industrial goods are essential.


The ideal of the colony as whole, to be a witness to a biblical, reformed society, ‘a city set on a hill’, ultimately failed in its treatment of the Indians. The colonists were men of their age in which death penalties, fear of witchcraft and war were common and violent ways to decide disputes. The very ecclesiastical motives for the Puritans exiling themselves from England were key motives for the Civil Wars in England 1642-1651. The Thirty Years War and the violence of the Netherland’s struggle against Spain, in which Protestantism was threatened with extinction was fresh in their minds (Daniels 2012.177). The wars against the Indians led to the closing of most Praying Towns, the imprisonment or exile of the Indians, and captives were sold as slaves to the West Indies. However a minority of dedicated Christians courageously fulfilled the Lord’s mission mandate, often misunderstood by both Indian and colonist, but their work was blessed with a qualified success, with a broad holistic program, that continued into the next century.


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