CHRISTIAN INDIANS OF NEW ENGLAND
In this history, reference has constantly been made to the Christian or Friendly Indians, and in some cases, comments have been made as to their relation to the war, their personal services, etc. It seems fitting that some more general and definite reference should be made to their services, and their relation to the Colony, as well as to their place in public opinion.
In preceding chapters, many incidents concerning the Christian Indians have been related in connection with the operations of the English soldiers, while the same matters, somewhat more at length, are here related again. It will be readily understood, that these repetitions are made for the sake of preserving the continuity of the story, in this chapter devoted to these Indians.
In order to a clear understanding, it may be well to refer briefly to the origin of the movement, which resulted in "christianizing" a part of the Indians in the New England Colonies. The experiment was inaugurated by the zealous efforts of Rev. John Eliot, who came to New England in the ship "Lyon, William Peirce Master," which arrived in Boston, November 3, 1631. He was born in Nasing, Essex, England, in 1604, "of godly parents." He was a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he received his B.A. degree, in 1622.
Upon his arrival in Boston, Mr. Eliot was engaged to officiate in the church in the absence of Mr. Wilson, the pastor, then in England; and next year, his friends, to whom he was partly engaged before leaving England, having arrived and settled at Roxbury, he was called to their new church, and there ordained as their teacher, in 1632. His affianced wife arrived in the summer of that year, and they were married in October. Mr. Eliot soon evinced deep interest in the welfare of the Indians, and studied their language and habits, and especially their habits of thought in the direction of religion.1 He went much amongst them, and, in order to a closer study of their language, hired one of good intelligence and spirit, to live at his house and (1 A very interesting little book has just now (May, 1896) been written by Mr. William Wallace Tooker, giving the biography of a Long Island Indian named Cheekanoe or Cockenoe, and presenting a claim, with strong circumstantial evidence, that he was identical with the young Pequot captive of whom Mr. Eliot speaks, as living at Mr. Richard Calicott's in Dorchester, and who was the first to teach Mr. Eliot the Indian language, and his first interpreter.) assist in his studies.
This Indian was Job Nesutan, and he was Mr. Eliot's chief assistant, but was killed at the beginning of Philip's War, while serving with the English against Philip, though he was then eighty-six years old. Mr. Eliot was eminent for his learning, especially in Hebrew, but was more eminent for his deep piety and self-consecration to his chosen work. He was particularly impressed with the great opportunity presented by the Indian tribes, for the spread of the gospel of Christ. He marked with great concern the general indifference of the English to this opportunity for Christian work, but doubled his own endeavors to achieve the great purpose.
There is no more glorious achievement in our annals, both for its heroic spirit and its vast labor, than his mastering of the Indian language and his translation of the Bible into the Indian tongue. In the meantime, the Indians in the neighborhood of the settlements, had lived mostly at peace with the English, who had bought their lands, peltry, and labor, and paid in "truck," cheap clothes, fire-arms, "fire-water," etc.; for the most part carrying on with them a system of deception and extortion which we, in our reverence for the Puritans and Pilgrims, can hardly realize as possible.
But we remember the confidence of their religious purpose, and their strong faith that God meant this country for them, and to "give the lands of the heathen for their inheritance;" and they looked upon the Indians, as the Jews upon the Gentiles of old, as necessary impediments to their onward course, to be used for their own advantage, when possible, or to be pushed aside at will. But all did not hold this opinion; and there were many among the leaders, in all the colonies, who from the first, regarded the rights of the Indians, and sought to help them; and many believed that they should be treated with justice under the laws, their rights maintained, and their spiritual welfare secured by the efforts of the Courts and the Churches.
Many letters had been written by the settlers, to their friends in England, about the Indians and their habits, and also of the remarkable success of the French Jesuits in converting them to their religion; all which had the effect of stirring up a strong sentiment in England towards the evangelization of the Indians in New England, by the settlers. But greatest of all influences tending to this purpose, were the letters and tracts of Mr. Eliot. Several of the tracts are still preserved, and No. 1 was reprinted in 1865, for Joseph Sabin, New York. This "Tract I." was first printed in 1643, with the following title:
New England's First Fruits in respect--Conversion of Some First of the Conviction of divers of the Indians. Preparation of SundryThe remainder of the title referred to the "Colledge at Cambridge," etc.
Later, three other tracts appeared, viz.:
TRACT II.1 The Day breaking if not the Sun rising of the Gospel with the Indians in New England. London, 1647. (1 Reprinted in Mass. Hist. Coll., vol. xxiv. 1-23.)
TRACT III. The clear sunshine of the Gospel breaking forth upon the Indians of New England. Thomas Shepard, London, 1648.
TRACT IV. The glorious progress of the Gospel amongst the Indians of New England. Edward Winslow, London, 1649.
There were eleven tracts in all, the last issued in 1671.
In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts passed an Act for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians, and recommending elders of the churches to take measures for carrying this into effect.
In England, great interest was shown in the work, and Mr. Eliot received pecuniary assistance for establishing schools among the natives. Oliver Cromwell and other high dignitaries were greatly interested, and July 27, 1649, an Ordinance was passed by the "Long Parliament," forming "A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England." Nearly ś12,000 in money was collected and invested by this corporation, for the purposes set forth; and Commissioners, and a Treasurer were appointed in New England to receive and expend the income, chiefly in Massachusetts, near Boston, but a portion in somewhat distant parts, and in New York.
Upon the Restoration of Charles II. in 1660, this corporation was annulled, but by the extreme exertions of Hon. Robert Boyle, the company was re‰stablished with a royal charter, and kept up its work. The work was chiefly done by itinerant teachers, preachers and missionaries, and was kept up in various stations until the Revolution, after which, by the charter, it had to be transferred to the Provinces.2 (2 Interesting details concerning this society will be found in the NEW ENGLAND HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER, vol. 36, pages 157-161, 371-6; and vol. 39, pages 299-300. The society, which is still in existence, is now called the "New England Society."
Two societies incorporated since, and both still in existence, have similar names, and are likely to be confounded with it, namely, "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," incorporated in 1701; and "The Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and others in North America," incorporated in 1787. See above-mentioned "REGISTER," vol. 39, pp. 182-3, and vol. 42, pp. 329-30.)
On October 28th, 1646, Mr. Eliot, by appointment, met a small congregation of Indians at Nonantum, now within the city of Newton, and preached to them in their own tongue. The meeting was held in the wigwam of one named Waban, who was converted afterwards and became ruler of the "Praying Village" at Natick. Mr. Eliot labored thereafter unceasingly in behalf of the Indians, and chiefly through his wisdom, fidelity and devotion, the Christian Indian communities attained the size and efficiency, with which they were found at the beginning of Philip's war, their relations to which, we started mainly to consider.
From Major-General Gookin's "History of the Christian Indians" we learn nearly all that is known of their numbers, progress, conditions, sufferings and services during Philip's war. In the beginning he says:
The Christian Indians in New England have their dwellings in sundry jurisdictions of the English Colonies, and that at a considerable distance from each other; more particularly,
1st. Upon the Islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, in which two islands there inhabit many hundreds of them that visibly profess the Gospel. These Indians have felt very little of this war comparatively; for the English that dwell upon those Islands have held a good correspondence with these Indians all the time of the war, as they did before the war began, etc.
Gen. Gookin says these "Island Indians" were accustomed to come up into the colonies to work in the summer for the settlers, and thus to supply themselves with clothing and other things which were very scarce upon the islands. When the war broke out these were all sent back to their homes with great loss, "because the English were so jealous, and filled with animosity against all Indians without exception." These, therefore, had no part in the war.
2nd. Another considerable number of Christian Indians live within the jurisdiction of New Plymouth, called the Cape Indians.
He speaks of the assistance which these rendered the English in the war, but says that the English in the Plymouth colony were slow to employ them, being suspicious of them, as they were related to the Wampanoags, but there was no evidence of bad faith on their part in any instance. These, like the Island Indians, were outside active participation, except those who served with the English.
He mentions next, the small number of those belonging to the Mohegans, and living at New Warwick, Connecticut, who had been taught by Rev. James Fitch, pastor of the church at Norwich. There were about forty of these Indians who had become Christians in profession, through the efforts of Mr. Fitch; while Uncas their chief, and his son Oneko, were bitterly opposed to the teaching and preaching among the Mohegans. But all were on friendly terms with the colonies, and served very gladly whenever the service would lead them against the Narragansets, their ancient implacable enemies. In their character as "Christian" Indians, they did not, therefore, attain much prominence.
The chief body of the Christian Indians were lastly, those within the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Colony, "who were taught and instructed in the Christian faith, by that indefatigable servant of God and minister of Christ, Mr. John Eliot;" who, Gen. Gookin declares (in 1676-7), has labored among all the praying Indians in New England, more or less for thirty years. Of the Massachusetts Christian Indians he speaks in full, these having been under his special superintendence, and having been more concerned in the war, than any or all the rest.
There were seven villages of these Christian Indians, all to the south of the Merrimac River, viz.:
Wamesit, included in old Chelmsford, but now the city of Lowell.
These were the "Old Praying" villages, so-called, in distinction from some half dozen villages among the Nipmucks, called the "New Praying Towns," which latter, however, were just beginning, and soon fell off from the English, when their tribes joined in the war.
A few of these only, came to Marlborough and joined the Christian Indians there, and remained until forced away by their tribes in hostility. These "Praying towns" were so located that they might have formed a line of defence, for the greater part of the Massachusetts towns upon the frontier; and it was proposed and urged by those who knew most about these Christian Indians that the forts, which in most cases they had built for themselves, under the direction of the English, should now be garrisoned by them, with English officers and about one third of the garrison English soldiers; and that these should be improved in scouting and guarding the frontiers. There is little doubt that this course would have saved most of the destruction and bloodshed, which took place in Massachusetts during the war; but there was a furious popular prejudice against all Indians, and the majority of the population had no confidence in any attempt to employ Indians in military movements.
The Mohegans and Pequods, under Uncas, were in alliance with the English, and were bound to them by their hostility to the Narragansets, and though not Christian Indians, serve to illustrate the wisdom of the plan proposed in Massachusetts by Gen. Gookin. For the hostile Indians never dared to invade the Connecticut Colony to any notable extent, and burned only one small (and already deserted) village, during the whole war.
In the beginning of the war, in the campaign at Mount Hope, we have seen that the Mohegans, with a few of the Christian Indians from Natick, did all the execution which was wrought upon Philip in his retreat.
A Christian Indian, John Sassamon, whom Gen. Gookin calls the "first Martyr of the Christian Indians," and whose story is told in the first chapter, ante page 25, was, we have seen, murdered for his discovery of Philip's plans to the English. He was killed by Philip's order, and his murderers were afterwards arrested and executed by the English. It was this conviction and execution of the murderers of Sassamon, undoubtedly, which precipitated the war at least a year before Philip had planned its beginning.
In the meantime, several of the Christian Indians had expressed their belief, that a plan was on foot for the general destruction of the English in the colonies; and among these was Waban, a Nipmuck, at whose tent, amongst that people, Mr. Eliot had first preached to them in their own tongue. Waban himself, having been the first of his tribe to be converted, became afterwards the principal ruler of the Christian Indians at Natick. In April, 1675, Waban came to Gen. Gookin and warned him of Philip's intention, shortly to attack the English; and again in May, he came and urged the same, and said that "just as soon as the trees were leaved out," the Indians would fall upon the towns. Very little attention was paid to these reports by the Governor and Council at Boston, and within a month the despatch came from Plymouth that the war had begun, account of which has been given.
When the forces first marched out to Mount Hope, June 24th, 1675, Capt. Prentice took with him as guides three Christian Indians, viz., James Quanapohit; Thomas Quanapohit, alias "Rumneymarsh," his brother; and Zachary Abram, all of whom, in that campaign, acquitted themselves bravely and well, despite the bitter hostility of many of the officers and soldiers, and their threats and open insults. If our soldiers had not been blinded by the popular clamor against all Indians, they would have seen in their experience with these scouts, and in the success of Uncas and his Indians a few days later, the utter uselessness of the noisy and clumsy infantry tactics of the English, in Indian warfare, whenever it was a march of invasion or pursuit.
The enemy were always apprised of the coming of the troops for miles ahead. The Connecticut officers and soldiers were readier to learn of their Indian allies, and were thus saved from many disasters, and secured many substantial victories. It is related, that in one of their marches into the enemy's country, one of the English soldiers wore squeaking shoes, and the Indian leader insisted upon his changing them for his own moccasins, while he carried the shoes, slung at his back, and himself went barefoot.
Another of the soldiers wore a pair of leather breeches which being dry made a rustling noise, which the Indian objected to, and refused to proceed, until the breeches were either removed or soaked in water, to prevent the rustling. The chief element of success in Indian warfare was the secrecy and silence of their movements. We can appreciate, therefore, the immense advantage the early and general use of the friendly Indians, would have brought to the forces of the colony. It is probable that nearly all the fearful disasters which came to our troops, and the many defeats and disappointments which came to their plans, might have been prevented, but for that stupid prejudice and distrust which shut out, and contemptuously ignored, the willing services of the Christian Indians.
The Governor and Council, and most of the men in authority, and many of the chief officers like Gen. Denison, Major Willard, Major Savage, Capts. Prentice and Henchman, favored the use of friendly Indians; indeed the Governor, July 2, 1675, gave orders to Gen. Gookin to raise a company of the Christian Indians, for service at Mount Hope. In pursuance of this, one-third of the able-bodied men in all the villages were mustered, and amounted to a company of fifty-two. This company was conducted to Mount Hope by Capt. Johnson and a small escort, and there delivered to the commander of the forces.
All served twenty-five days, when one-half their number were dismissed, the rest remaining until the close of the campaign, as seen under the chapter devoted to Capt. Henchman's operations. All acquitted themselves satisfactorily to their officers. Some of them proved their sincerity in the barbarous way of that day; for it is told that John Hunter, Thomas Quanapohit, and Felix, brought home to Gov. Leverett four of the scalps of enemies slain by their hands in this campaign; and Job Nesutan, the principal assistant of Mr. Eliot in his translation of the Bible, was killed. There can be little doubt that if in the pursuit of Philip into the Nipmuck country, the counsel of the Natick Indians had been heeded by Capt. Henchman, Philip and most of his company would have been destroyed, the Mohegans having on the previous day sorely pressed them and driven them into swamps.
In the negotiations attempted by Capt. Hutchinson with Quabaug Indians, three of the Christian Indians were sent as guides and interpreters, viz.: George Memecho, and the brothers Joseph and Sampson, sons of old Robin Petuhanit, deceased. These all strongly advised against the advance, and warned the English, but were in the fight with Capt. Wheeler's men.
George was captured and afterwards escaped, bringing back an intelligent account of the situation of the hostile tribes; and it is probable that the entire force under Capt. Wheeler would have been destroyed but for the fidelity and skill of Joseph and Sampson, in conducting the retreat and avoiding the ambush set by the enemy. But, although this was known and vouched for by the officers, the popular feeling was so bitter, that these two were threatened and insulted by the soldiers, so that in utter discouragement they fell away to the enemy at Hassanamesit, and Sampson was slain in fight by some friendly Indian scouts at Wachusett; while Joseph, having been captured, was sold into slavery at Jamaica, by some Boston merchants, but afterwards, by Mr. Eliot's importunity, was brought back again, though never released.
Finally, Aug. 30, 1675, the Governor and Council, yielding to popular prejudice, against their own better judgment, decreed the disbandment of all Christian Indian companies in service; and that they be restrained from all usual commerce with the English, and confined to their five villages; and no one of them to travel more than one mile from the centre of such village except in the company of English, or on service. The five villages designated were Natick, Punquapog, Nashobah, Wamesit, and Hassanamesit.
All Christian Indians were to repair to these villages. If any shall be found breaking these rules, the English are at liberty to shoot them down as enemies, or arrest them. It was recommended by the Court that several of the English should reside in each village, and this was earnestly desired by the Indians themselves, for their own protection; but few could be found who were willing to withstand popular prejudice, as all who expressed sympathy or confidence towards these Indians were at once denounced as fools or traitors. Maj. Gen. Gookin, and even the saintly Eliot, were loaded with reproaches and threats, and insulted in the streets, because of their advocacy of the rights of the Christian Indians.
John Watson, senior, and Henry Prentiss, of Cambridge, were with the Naticks for twelve weeks and gave certificate of their orderly, discreet and religious conduct. Although Watson had gone among them bitterly opposed to them, and sharing the common opinion against them, he was entirely converted by his experience, and declared it, though incurring much popular indignation by that course. Chief among the officers who led the hostile fury was Capt. Mosely in Boston, whose acts of persecution are set down in the chapter heretofore devoted to him, among which the breaking up of the village at Marlborough, and the imprisonment of the helpless and harmless Indians, was perhaps the most open outrage sustained by any; and it is to the credit of the magistrates that they did not yield to the tremendous pressure of the people's rage, which by every device possible kept these poor creatures on trial for their lives, and imprisoned through many weeks.
Early in October, the fever rose to its height, and the Court was importuned with many petitions to remove all the Christian Indians to one place, and put them under military guard. In spite of all proof and testimony, and all the favor of the Court, and the best conscience of the community, together with the advocacy of Gen. Gookin, Mr. Eliot, Corporal Thomas Swift, inspector at Punquapog, John Watson above mentioned, Mr. John Hoar of Concord, and others, the popular frenzy prevailed, and there is no doubt that, in several cases, fires were set and damage was done, by inhabitants living near the "Praying Villages," who hated these Indians and desired their removal; or often by hostile Indians who were skulking about in the neighborhood, and knew they had more to fear from the scouts of these Christian Indians than from all the troops of the English. October 18th, a party of the hostile Indians set fire to a haystack of Lieut. Richardson at Chelmsford, and managed so that the deed should appear to be done by the Wamesit Praying Indians, that so the English should remove them from their village, or so persecute them as to drive them to the enemy.
This crime was afterward confessed by Nathaniel, a hostile Indian, who was taken at Dover by the strategy of Major Waldron, and executed at Boston. Although Lieut. Richardson declared that the "Praying Indians" were his warm friends, and would never injure him, their best friend in those parts, all availed nothing, the vulgar clamor prevailed, and the Court next day, passed an order for the troopers to bring down the Wamesits, and also the Punkapogs, upon some like occasion of complaint.
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