Thursday, December 11, 2008

Historical Memoirs

Samuel Hopkins was one of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs acting on behalf of the New England Company (see my post of 11/19/2008) and in that capacity, he was one of the ministers who approached Konkapot and Umpachenee about the possibility of starting a mission on the Housatonic River. The Commissioners hired John Sergeant to be the first missionary and he served from 1734 until his death in 1749.

In 1753, Samuel Hopkins' book, Historical Memoirs was printed (an abridged version came out in 1972). It actually has a title that is probably longer than this post so far, and it is about the early days of the mission. Hopkins had access to something we don't have - John Sergeant Sr.'s journal. That alone makes his book important.

Sergeant was 39 when he died and he was a minister just as Hopkins was a minister.... do you know what I'm getting at? It was only natural for Hopkins to edify or aggrandize Sergeant. (Maybe this was more because of racial/cultural issues than about Sergeant's early death.) Laura M. Smith in her book The Poor Indians (page 153), says that Sergeant "seems to disappear before the reader's eyes as Hopkins relates the story of [Sergeant's] life."

So was John Sergeant Sr. a saintly hero as Hopkins portrays him, or an evil agent of anti-diversity as some modern idealogues may tend to portray him? Do we know enough about him so that he is more than just a Rorshach test of our own sentiments? Maybe we do. It is clear that Christianity got off to a strong start in John Sergeant's mission work with the Mohicans and other Algonkians and we know that his converts were fond of him. I'm inclined to think that if it was not for the success of John Sergeant Sr.'s ministry, the Stockbridge Mohicans would not be here today.

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