Noble, Wretched, & Redeemable: Protestant Missionaries to the Indians in Canada and the United States, 1820-1900

By C. L. Higham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Noble Savages and Wretched Indians

MISSIONARIES ENTERED the North American frontiers with images of the "noble savage" dancing in their minds, only to encounter what they began to call "wretched Indians." While missionary societies provided an institutional structure and financial support for their missionaries, the missionaries entered their fields in western North America with ideas absorbed from Canadian and American societies, among them popular eighteenth- and nineteenth- century perceptions about Indians. Additionally, missionaries, even when not working with or for the different governments, operated in areas controlled by government policies, including Indian policy, which differed greatly between Canada and the United States. These two factors, preconceptions and policy, shaped how missionaries reacted once they arrived at their missions.


THE NOBLE SAVAGE

Protestant missionaries from Canada and the United States entered their work in nineteenth-century North America as distinct products of their societies. For hundreds of years, Western theologians and scientists had been developing racial concepts, even though most of them had never encountered Indians or the "other" in terms of race. These racial attitudes and stereotypes had trickled down to the missionaries, but most of them had little constructive information about the people they planned to convert.

From the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century, theories about the origins of Indians, Africans, and other groups were based on a combination of Biblical theory and accounts from travelers. Historians such as Robert Berkhofer Jr., Reginald Horsman, Francis Jennings, Roy Harvey Pearce, Bernard Sheehan, William Stanton, and Ronald Takaki have examined these theories. 1 While their

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