Monday, January 26, 2009

Sergeant Meets the Indians

(Western Massachusetts) The Berkshires in autumn

The Commissioners of Indian Affairs, a group that included Rev. Samuel Hopkins, Rev.Stephen Williams, and Massachusetts Governor Jonathan Belcher, picked John Sergeant, a twenty-four year-old Yale tutor, to be the first Missionary on the Housatonic. In October, 1734, Rev. Nehemiah Bull, another one of the commissioners, traveled to the Housatonic River with Sergeant and introduced him to the Indians.

I'm a big fan of the first few chapters of The Mohicans of Stockbridge by Patrick Frazier. His description of John Sergeant's first trip to the Housatonic is on page 20:

They met the Indians midway between [their] two villages at what is now Great Barrington. There must have been quiet apprehension as the Indians encountered Sergeant. The man who had been sent to save them was small and frail and had a dead hand. His pale, solemn visage and somber clothes contrasted sharply with those of his hosts and with the brilliant hues of a New England autumn. The young man gazed on a group of natives, some tattooed darkly with totemic signs or marks of past deeds, their ears and noses pierced with baubles and their bodies draped with a mixture of Indian and European fashion.
A Housatonic who spoke English acted as an interpreter. Sergeant adapted his short talk on Christianity 'as well as I could to their capacities and manner of thinking.' There were no words in Mohican to express the finer points of Christian theology. Whatever he said must have made an impression, for the interpreter later told him that one Indian who had been unreceptive to the whole idea of a mission was moved and wanted to learn more.
You can read some of Frazier's book for free on Google Books, but some pages, including page 20, are omitted. If you're interested in Algonkian Church history, you may want to buy it. To my way of thinking, it seems like Frazier describes one remarkable event after another in his first few chapters. In the last 3/5 or so of the book, military history becomes prominent. Maybe that is why I'm much less enthused about that part.

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