NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:

Previous section

Next section

Chapter IV. — The Northern Indians are Offended at the Introduction of Civilization and the Gospel, because of Their Tendency to Subvert Indian Society.

THE introduction of the principles of civilization among the New England tribes, who were half hunters and half icthyophagi, is a standpoint from which we may contemplate the Indian character in a new and instructive phasis. When, in 1586, the scholar Harriot showed the Virginia Indians the Bible, and explained to them its contents, they imagined it to be some great talisman, and handled, hugged, and kissed it with great reverence, rubbing it against their heads and breasts. They were strongly impressed with the belief that it was the material of the book, and not its doctrines, which was the embodiment of its virtues. [93] In 1608, when the shores of the Chesapeake were explored by Smith, the English were accustomed to have prayers recited daily, and a psalm sung, at which the Susquehannocks, who were spectators, greatly wondered, regarding the rites and ceremonies with deep interest — feeling animated by the vocal sounds, but profoundly ignorant of the language, and of its true import. [94] Being themselves ceremonialists to an almost unlimited extent, in the worship they offered to the gods of the air, hills, and valleys, and also ready interpreters of symbols, the ritual was to them an object of wonder. Similar ideas of mysticism prevailed among the northern tribes; and, though the Reformation may be thought to have exercised but little influence upon the history, fate, and condition of the American Indians, yet very different was the result. Its ultimate effects upon them, through the teaching of those colonists practising its strictest principles, were very momentous. To hunt deer and bears, to idle away time, and to worship dryads and wood demons, were acts equally subversive of the principles of civilization and of Christianity. Prior to the settlement of the English colonies, the mode by which the Romish church had attempted to engraft Christianity upon the Indians, was almost entirely symbolical and ceremonial. This agreed generally with the character of their ancient system. It made physical signs, rites, and genuflexions, the object of their religion; and the Romish church, substituting true for false symbols of religion, and, at the same time, prescribing ceremonial observances which were not onerous, placed before them an acceptable system, and

-- 106 --

taught them the first principles of morality and industry. Those who renounced the old, and accepted the new, system of symbols were denominated converts. Hence, the Romish missionaries were represented as having been very successful among the natives who, it is apprehended, had but imperfect notions on the subject, and were allowed to dance around the Christian altar, beating their drums and clanging their rattles, at the same time chanting their ancient mystical choruses. But the Protestant colonists, who had embraced the Reformed doctrines, expected something more, and desired that, when the worship of the true Deity superseded that of the false, it should be accompanied by those tests of faith and holiness enjoined by God's law. In verity, Jehovah was required to take the place of Manito, Owayneo, and Wacondah. This brought the English missionaries into direct conflict with the entire body of the Indian priests, powwows, seers, and jossakeeds; a struggle which yet exists with the tribes.

Harriot informs us that the Virginia Indians believed in the existence of one God; yet, in the same sentence, he also says that the sun, moon, and stars were subordinate gods; that the gods were all of human shape; and that offerings were presented to their images.

Very similar to this were the declarations of the northern Indians; but yet, while they acknowledged God as riding on the clouds, the images they worshipped in secret and in their assemblies were, in fact, demons and devils. To disseminate the doctrines of the gospel, amid such an embodiment of dark superstition, was not an easy task, yet it was zealously and firmly pursued. Cotton Mather informs us that, within thirty years from the time when the first formal efforts were made to preach the gospel to the Indians, there were six churches and eighteen assemblies of catechumens, or converted natives, within the boundaries of Massachusetts, and, in 1682, the entire Bible was made accessible to them by means of the translations of Eliot. [95]

Within the space of a few years, the English population spread themselves over the entire country, enterprise having been a marked characteristic of all the early settlements. The Indians, divided into innumerable small tribes and bands, occupied the interior territory, and a great part of the immediate coast line. Wherever the colonists located themselves, the natives watched their movements with an evident, though jealous interest. Industrious, thrifty, cautious, courageous, and temperate, the more reflecting sagamores could hardly fail to be impressed with the idea, that the colonists were the mere heralds of a people destined to increase rapidly, both in number and in power, and to occupy the whole country, to the detriment of the Red man, whose dominion must decline as the influence of the white man increased.

It would be erroneous to suppose that such a striking moral effect could have been produced, without exciting the strong antipathy of the Indian priesthood. On the contrary, a virulent, secret, deep-seated, and, so far as their influence extended, universal

-- 107 --

opposition was developed among the native powwows, from the waters of the Connecticut to those of the Penobscot. Bitter indeed was this revelation to the Indians, and truly bitter to them was every phase in their experience of civilization. They detested a life of labor, and had no relish for the standard of its stern virtues and personal responsibility, or its maxims of exact justice, as announced by the decalogue. The idea that such members of the wandering tribes as were guilty of theft, murder, prevarication, and covetousness, would be brought to judgment therefor, was indeed fearful to them; but when, to this doctrine, was enjoined the requirement that they should relinquish their system of worship, their necromancy, their magic ceremonies, and all their forest rites, their deepest ire was aroused.

In this missionary labor, Eliot, commonly called the Apostle to the Indians, first distinguished himself. He emigrated from England in 1631, and was chosen minister at Dorchester, where, in the exercise of his pastoral duties, his attention was directed to the Indian tribes, of whom numerous clans and villages then overspread the territory, and were thus interspersed among the settlements of the whites. Being a graduate of Cambridge, and a person of considerable learning, Eliot began the study of the Indian languages under the no small stimulus, it is inferred, of finding therein some elements of the Hebrew. In this important inquiry into the affinities of nations, a research far in advance of the age in which he lived, Eliot's principal aid and pundit was Nasutan, a descendant of the Massachusetts stock, who had learned to speak the English language, and who was pronounced, by a divine [96] of that period, "a pregnant-witted young man."


In 1646, the subject of the conversion of the Indians was discussed by the Association of Colonial Ministers, who adopted a resolution, strongly urging the expediency and necessity of immediate action. In accordance with this view, Mr. Eliot appointed a time and place for an assemblage of the Indians, which was convened on the 28th of October of the same year. His text was, "Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind: Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." [97] The place was called Nonantum (God's word displayed), and a strong impression was made upon the Indian mind by this appeal.

Another convocation of the Indians took place a fortnight subsequently, at the same place, where Eliot addressed them in their own language. Other meetings followed thereafter. The Indians who attended agreed to settle at that place, as also to adopt the rules, observe the practices of civilization, and faithfully adhere to the precepts of Christianity. Thus was established the first settlement of praying Indians. They received instruction gladly, labored diligently at husbandry, and became very expert in the use of farming tools. Being regularly catechised and instructed, a congregation

-- 108 --

of converts was, in the end, established. The Indians being carefully watched over, with the aid of native helps, the new principles spread rapidly among them. A second meeting was held at Nepoaset, in Mr. Eliot's parish, and others at Pawtucket, at Concord, and on the peninsula of Cape Cod, which were all equally successful. These proceedings elicited strong opposition among the native priests, and powwows, who, seeing their ancient power over the Indians about to depart, struck their necromantic drums, at their secret meetings, with greater energy.

Accounts of the successful propagation of the gospel in America, were published and circulated throughout England, where they excited so much interest during the two following years (1647 and 1648), that, when an appeal was made to Parliament to second their efforts, that body passed an act to incorporate a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England. In 1661, Eliot published a translation of the Old Testament, in the Indian dialect of Massachusetts, which was called by him the Natic, manifestly because he deemed that to be the generic language. This volume was a work of great labor, and had received the most careful attention. After a long interval it was followed by a translation of the Gospels, and, in 1684, the two parts were reproduced together, in one volume, at Cambridge. This was, in every way, a gigantic work, and could not have been accomplished without the aid of the London Society for Propagating the Gospel, under whose auspices it was executed. Eliot and Nasutan had spent many long years upon it; as it progressed, the several parts of each, book being practically employed in the dissemination of the truths they contained. It still retains its position, as the most considerable and important monument of our Indian philology.

-- 109 --

Previous section

Next section

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
Powered by PhiloLogic