Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Peak of Christianity Among Indians in New England

In an article posted to the website of The New Yorker magazine, Jill Lepore named the "Massachusetts Psalter" (see its title page above) as one of "The Top Ten Books of 1709." Lepore explains that the psalter is a "book of psalms, translated into Algonquian, and set into type by a Nipmuck Indian named James Printer."

Daniel Gookin was a missionary in the 1600's. According to his reports, there were over 1400 "praying Indians" on Martha's Vineyard and another 1100 Native Christians in Massachusetts Bay in 1674 (Historical Collections of Indians in New England, 1792, cited on page 46 of De Jong's As the Waters Cover the Sea).

Gookin somehow estimated a total of 3600 Christian Indians in Massachusetts at that time. However, historian Alden Vaughan reviewed a number of documents, including Gookin's, and estimated that 2500 was a more accurate number. Furthermore, according to Vaughan, one out of every five Indians in New England in 1674 was a Christian.

De Jong explains why Algonkian Christianity never reached higher numbers than that:

Early in the summer of 1675, for motives still being debated by historians, the Wampanoag sachem known as King Philip and his allies from three other Indian tribes attacked the colonists and their Indian allies. In a savage, year-long war in which an estimated five thousand Indians and ten percent of colonial forces were killed. Over thirty years of mission work was damaged irreparably..... Hundreds of Christian Indians were killed in the war and countless others died from hunger and exposure suffered on Deer Island in Boston Bay, onto which they had been herded by apprehensive colonists. Only four of the fourteen towns survived the conflict (pages 46-47).

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