The United Colonies of New England, 1643-90

By Harry M. Ward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
Cement of the Union

"A great part of time, if not the greatest, which is spent by our honnored commissioner of the United Colonies at theire annuall meetings," it was observed in 1658, "is about affaires relating to the Indians."1 Thus the Confederation which survived the crisis years of 1653-5 retained as its chief area of jurisdiction that which the individual general courts did not care to accept. The preoccupation of the Commissioners of the Confederation with the "Indian Worke" during the period of the falling out of the confederates best depicts conversely their lack of influence in the affairs of state. The Puritan colonies during the first decade of their union did not pay sufficient attention to the "main ends" of their confederating: the spreading of the Gospel. They had become so involved with worldly affairs they had forgotten things spiritual. But the constitutional crises in the Confederacy left the Commissioners without effective political influence and turned their full attention to spreading the Gospel among the heathen savages and to preserving their own unity in the Gospel. This dual purpose of Confederation--conversion of the Indians and consolidating the control of the Puritan orthdoxy, a purpose with which the magistrates of New England were in one accord--served to keep alive the consciousness for union emerging from the old Confederation until it could again be revived. The chief role of the Confederacy during 1655-70 was not that of a worldly superstructure of the colonies, but, as in Corinthians, a "house not built with hands."

When the Confederacy was formed in 1643, the first of a series of tracts designed to promote missionary work in the New World appeared in England,2 but little interest was stimulated on either side of the Atlantic until a young minister of the church at Roxbury began preaching to the Indians of his neighborhood in their own tongue.3 In the same year, Edward Winslow was sent as an agent of the colonies to England, and he carried with him the news of Eliot's ambitious undertaking for

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