INDIAN MISSIONS AND
THE PURITAN LEGACY
America was a field for foreign missions long before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A. B. C. F. M) sent the first American missionaries overseas. Missions to North America were predominantly, though by no means exclusively, aimed at the conversion of Native Americans, and Indian missions continued long after foreign operations commenced. The A. B. C. F. M. itself maintained extensive missions to the North American Indians throughout the period of this study. Foreign missions and Indian missions were organized into separate departments in 1832, but that does not mean they were regarded as distinctly different types of mission work. In the eyes of the missionaries, “heathenism” possessed an essential unity. All heathens were similarly possessed by mental stagnation and moral degradation—to different degrees, perhaps, but always owing to their ignorance of gospel truth. That was one indispensable justification for missions in the first place.
The presumed ontological unity of heathenism also meant that the long history of missions to the Native Americans was available to foreign missionaries as a potentially rich legacy of experience. Rufus Anderson had ample opportunity for drawing lessons from the experiences of Indian missions. Although he took charge of the foreign department when he became a corresponding secretary in 1832, he worked in daily contact with the other corresponding secretaries at the Missionary Rooms and took part in the weekly