Mohican Indians of Stockbridge and John Sergeant

Today's post for National American Indian Heritage Month is about the Mohican Indians, their travels and travails and the missionary who worked among them, John Sergeant, who was a mentor to David Brainerd. Sergeant's son was also involved in the Brotherton movement. Here is part of the history from the Stockbridge-Munsee community.
European Christians with missionary zeal also entered Native villages for the purpose of converting the people from their traditional spiritual practices to Christianity. Some Native people, noting that the Europeans seemed to be prospering in this new land, felt that perhaps the Europeans' God was more powerful, and agreed to be missionized. In 1734, a missionary named John Sergeant came to live with the Mohicans in their village of Wnahktukuk. He earnestly preached the Christian religion, baptized those who accepted his teaching, and gave them Christian names such as John, Rebekah, Timothy, Mary and Abraham.

In 1738, the Mohicans gave John Sergeant permission to start a mission in the village. Eventually, the European inhabitants gave this place the name "Stockbridge," after a village in England. It was located on the Housatonic River near a great meadow bounded by the beautiful Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. In this mission village, a church and school were built. The Mohicans, we well as other Native people who relocated there, became known as the "Stockbridge Indians."
The Mohicans made a political and religious decision.

Ronkapot, chief of the Mahicans of Massachusetts, came to a hard decision. Since he could not hope to defeat the white invaders who were pressing on his lands, he would join them. His tribe would become Christians. In 1734, he asked for missionaries.

After negotiations, the Puritans responded by sending John Sergeant. John took a deep interest in the fortunes of this declining tribe who needed much more than spiritual assistance. One of his first efforts was to open a school for their children. When he returned east to complete his own education, he took two Mahicans with him to further theirs.

Then the Yale graduate returned to work among the Indians. At that time they lived as two bands many miles apart. He and his assistant Timothy Woodbridge were exhausted traveling between them. He suggested the two groups unite in a central location. In this way they founded Stockbridge, Massachusetts and he built the first house there.
In modern thought, Sergeant is not considered the ideal candidate for missions.
To Sergeant, the American Indians were "a very miserable and
degenerate Part" of the human race, who had "their own foolish,
barbarous, and wicked Custom," knew "nothing like Government
among themselves," and had "an Aversion to every Thing that restrains
their Liberty." He became convinced, as other missionaries did,
that missionary efforts would be fruitless unless the Indians
became reasonably "civilized" and learned English. Nor, he believed,
would the American-Indian children placed in unsupervised English
families improve their moral or social fortunes.
However, his church grew. "During his fourteen years at Stockbridge, the Indian population
increased from less than 50 to 218, 129 of whom he had baptized." But the Revolutionary War changed everything for the native Americans. From the Stockbridge-Munsee history.
It became apparent after the Revolutionary War, with their numbers greatly reduced and intruders (called "settlers") using unscrupulous means to gain title to the land, that the Stockbridge Mohican people were not welcome in their own Christian village any longer. The Oneida, who had also fought for the colonists in the war, offered them a portion of their rich farmland and forest. The Stockbridge Mohican accepted the invitation and moved to New Stockbridge, near Oneida Lake, in the mid-1780's. Again they cleared forests and built farms. A school, church, and sawmill were built. The tribe flourished under the leadership of Joseph Quinney and his counselors.
This migration was part of the Brotherton movement, partly led by Samson Occom, but also partly led spiritually by Sergeant's son, also named John.
John and Abigail Sergeant had had three children. Their daughter,
Electa, the first white child born in Stockbridge, married Colonel
Mark Hopkins. Their elder son, Erastus, became the first physician
in Stockbridge, and the younger son, John Sergeant, Jr., only
two when his father died, studied at Princeton for two years,
was ordained to the Congregational ministry, and in 1775 took
charge of the Indian congregation in Stockbridge. In 1786 the
Housatonic Indians moved to New Stockbridge, New York, where
the Indians formed two factions. One group invited John Sergeant,
Jr., to become its pastor, while the other retained Sampson Occum
as its pastor. After Occum's death, the two groups united under
Sergeant, who divided his time between New and Old Stockbridge,
where his family lived.
As can be expected, spreading whites wanted that land too. Eventually the Mohicans ended up in Wisconsin and founded another town, naming it Stockbridge. Please read the Stockbridge-Munsee history for the entire story. The tribe has survived despite losing almost all of their land. They are thriving now with a casino business and employing many in the community around them.

see more posts on native Americans, church, and missionaries.


Anonymous said…
Interesting post, I know little about the real Mohican Tribe but would like to find out more.
It is interesting to me that although the whites in their greed cheated the natives out of their land and that many professed christianity, it was also the true christians (many missionaries) who defended the natives and fought for their rights. Christian missionaries in the south tried to stop the eviction of the Cherokee from their lands, taking the case to the supreme court where they won, but Andrew Jackson and his corrupt cronies evicted them anyway. It was also a Christian Padre in Central America who along with the church put an end to slavery in that area more than a century and a half before the civil war and in spite of the fact that slavery had existed there long before the white man arrived. These are deeds which christians do not get enough credit for.
Jeff Siemers said…
Please check out my blog at

Jeff Siemers
Anonymous said…
"and am saved by the Creator of the universe, Jesus Christ" : are you crazy ? I guess it's a joke...

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