Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chapter 14: "The Praying Indians"

John Eliot preaching to the Indians
October 1646
When I was reading Mary Rowlandson's Captive Narrative I kept coming across the term "a Praying Indian." The phrase was used as a title, rather than a simple observation.
So, me being me, I had to research.
And this is what I discovered:
Praying Indian is a 17th century term referring to Native Americans of New England who converted to Christianity.

In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts passed an "Act for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians". This act and the success of Reverend John Eliot and other missionaries in preaching the Christianity to the New England tribes raised interest in England.
In 1649 the Long Parliament passed an Ordination forming "A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England" which raised funds to support the cause. Contributors raised approximately 12,000 pounds to investment in this cause, to be used mainly in the Colony of Massachusetts and in New York.
Reverend Eliot received financial aid from this corporation to start schools for teaching the Native Americans.

On October 28, 1646, in Nonantum (in Newton), Rev. Eliot gave his first sermon to Native Americans in their own language. This happened in the wigwam of Waban, the first convert of his tribe.
Christian Indian Towns were eventually located throughout Eastern and Central Massachusetts. They included: Natick, Littleton (Nashoba), Lowell (Wamesit) (then part of Chelmsford), Grafton (Hassanamessit), Marlborough (Okommakamesit), Hopkinton (Makunkokoag), and Canton (Punkapoag). Today only Natick retains its original name (a proposal to rename it "Eliot" was rejected by the General Court).

These towns were situated so as to serve as an outlying wall of defense for the colony, but came to an end in 1675 during King Philip's War when residents were first confined to their villages (thus restricted from their farms and unable to feed themselves), and many were confined on Deer Island in Boston Harbor.
(from Wikipedia, accessed 21 Mar 2007.
Another sloppy citation. So shoot me!)
One of the fun things about Wikipedia is that within their articles they hyperlink to practically every word except "and" and "the."
But they generally do a fine job of putting together a fast read on any subject. Leaving it to the reader to decide if they want to do more research.
More research?
Yes please! I'd love some more research! Pass the research please. Thank you! Oh, this is delicious. Yum yum!
The additional research pointed out that there were at one time 19 Praying Indian villages situated around the Massachusetts area, actually in a ring around Boston, each about 12-14 miles apart. The Praying Indian villages were fortified against attack by other hostile Indians tribes.
They also served as scouts for the English, serving a common interest for safety against the raiding hostile tribes.
Now this is how I imagine things going back then:
The Puritans are all about their faith. And their faith is now shared by some of the Native Americans. I have read the account of John Eliot's sermon as reported by a Native American, and it is a stirring document. Two races are united by a common faith. Glory!
So how did things come to pass that Mary Rowlandson and later Hannah Dustin were put into such dire circumstances at the hands of the Indians?
Well, this is what happened:

"The Praying Indians could have served as an intelligence force for the English. John Sassamon was a Christian Indian who served frequently as an interpreter and witness for both the English and the Native Americans.
As early as 1674, Sassamon discovered that his countrymen (hostile Indians) were preparing for war. He reported this information immediately to the governor of Plymouth Colony but was not believed because he was a Native American. (italics mine-Jill)
In April and again in May, 1675, Waban, Praying Indian leader at Natick warned the English of Philip's intentions to attack the colonists.
Various Native American sources reported that "when the woods were grown thick with green trees then it [war] was likely to appear...." In August, 1675, the three warriors accompanying the English to Quaboag (Brookfield) Plantation suggested that the local tribes should not be trusted. The English chose to disregard this advice and shortly thereafter the local Nipmuks ambushed them.

According to S. A. Drake, "... at this time if any Indian appeared friendly, all Indians were so declaimed against, that scarcely any one among the English could be found that would allow that an Indian could be faithful or honest in any affair."

(Isn't that a heart breaking statement? -Jill)

"Instead of using the Praying Indians as allies, the English disregarded any advice a Native American offered.

Although the colonials did raise a Praying Indian company, composed of 52 Native Americans, on July 2, 1675, and these warriors comported themselves well in the July Mount Hope campaign, a certain segment of the English population distrusted all Native Americans and felt that the Praying Indians would always be more loyal to the hostile tribes than to the English."

(Stupid, stupid stupid....)

"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."
(They did what???)
"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 (the praying Indians) 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...."

(I can't stand it....this is horrible.)

"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."
(By the way, any site that had .edu or .gov is a site you can generally trust. Watch out for .com or .org)
The Praying Indians were from a group of over a thousand Indians at when the Puritans arrived, at the end of this time, there were less than three hundred living.
Amazingly, some of those Praying Indian's decedents are still living. They never abandoned their faith, and just had a celebration of their 350 Anniversary last year. See details here!

I'm giving you the background on the Praying Indians because as you will soon see, Hannah Dustin is about to come into the hands of one Bampico, a former Praying Indian.


Lovella ♥ said...

That is a lot of research. I had never heard of any of this evangelizing. I will be interested to see how this affected Hannah's outcome. History isn't always romantic and beautiful is it? I do enjoy you telling it though.

Becky said...

Absolutely fascinating! Your rendition starts off with such a postitive slant. Can you possibly imagine any government of today, collecting that much money for the sole purpose of witnessing to immigrants or other nations? Our world would be a different place! Jealousy, predjudice, and greed have a horrible impact on people of all tribes. This is a sad legacy to have as Christians. May we not repeat history.