John Eliot: Apostle to the Indians

My next nightstand book is The History of Missions by Stephen Neill, an Anglican who worked for many years in India. I skimmed the book for any information on missions among Native Americans. I came across John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians. He came to Boston in 1631, a year after its founding, and pastored a new church in Roxbury. He was creative and ahead of his time, like some Spanish priests in Mexico. Instead of trying to bring Indians into his meetinghouse, he spent time learning the Algonquian language, through a bilingual child who lived with his family. He learned the language enough to preach in a chieftain's wigwam and invited him back to teach more. He translated the Bible and it became the first Bible printed in the colonies. He eventually made converts and formed "Praying Indian" villages. Check out the rules they agreed to live by here. Things ended tragically for these villages of converts when King Philip's war broke out. the praying Indians were not trusted by the English, who's religion they converted to, or the natives in alliance with King Philip, who's religion they left. Here is one sad account.
By August 30, 1675, the Governor and Council of the Massachusetts Colony, in response to public demand, disbanded all Praying Indian companies, confined these Christian Indians to the Old Praying Indian towns, and restricted their travel to within one mile of the center of those towns and only then when in the company of an Englishman. If a Native American broke these rules, he could be arrested or shot on sight. Most Englishmen were unwilling to reside in these towns because of the prejudice directed toward any Englishman supporting the Praying Indian cause.

Christian Indians were caught between two warring factions: the English and the hostile tribes fighting with King Philip. They pledged their loyalty to the English who refused to trust them and, at the same time, faced the enmity of their own people. Their loyalty was rewarded with such public hatred toward them that in August, 1675, the General Council in Boston began to consider removing the Praying Indians to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Finally, in October, 1675, the order passed for removal; by December of that year, there were over 500 Christian Indians confined to the island. "The enmity, jealousy, and clamors of some people against them put the magistracy upon a kind of necessity to send them all to the Island...." where they "... lived chiefly upon clams and shell-fish, that they digged out of the sand, at low water; the Island was bleak and cold, their wigwams poor and mean, their clothes few and thin; some little corn they had of their own, which the Council ordered to be fetched from their plantations, and conveyed to them by little and little...."

There they stayed until released in 1677, but the world to which they returned was totally changed. The English had defeated the warring tribes,leaving the Native Americans strangers in their own homeland.
Some more from the Historical Society of Natick Mass.
The prosperity of the village was destroyed when King Philip, son of the chief, Massasoit, attacked the white settlers causing such fear among them that in 1675 the Indians were restricted to their villages, which made it difficult for them to farm or to tend their livestock. In October of that year, over Eliot's protests, the General Court ordered the Natick Indians sent to Deer Island. Many Indians did not survive the lack of food and the cold and those who returned seven months later found their homes destroyed.

The Praying Indians did not flourish after their return to Natick and Eliot died in 1690. An Indian named Takawampbait had been ordained by Eliot and he carried on until his death in 1716. Two other Indians preached before the New England Company sent first Rev. Oliver Peabody and later Stephen Badger to fill the Indian church pulpit.

The land in the Natick Plantation was held in common by the Indians until 1719 when twenty men were named as Proprietors to oversee any division of land. Eliot had given the Indians their form of government and they held their own town meetings and elected their own officials. However, they were under the Guardianship of the Court and had to have permission to sell land.
Here is even more sad information.
The start of King Philip's War on June 20, 1675 -- initiated by Pometacom, Great Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation -- marked the demise of the Praying Towns in northeastern Connecticut. Anti-Indian sentiment raged throughout central New England. Nipmuc elders, women and children may have fled to safety in the Praying Town at Okommakamesit or with other tribes; or, they may have been among the nearly 400 Indians (whose able-bodied men were drawn into the war) who were left on Long Island to suffer from lack of adequate food and shelter.
There is a bounty of links and info here. I'm happy to report that the Praying Indians of Natick have resumed annual powwows.

see more posts on missions, missionaries and native americans.


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