A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600-1690

A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600-1690

A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600-1690

A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600-1690

Excerpt

In the second decade of the Puritan settlement of New England, Monequasson, a man of the Massachusett tribe, reflected upon his condition since the arrival of the English and cried, "I have nothing, nor Childe, nor Wife." His lament was recorded and published by the Calvinist minister of Roxbury, John Eliot. In carrying the Puritan mission to the Massachusett, Eliot dedicated his life's work not only to converting an indigenous people to Protestantism, but also to acculturating them in the ways of the English. For his efforts he gained a reputation as "the Apostle to the Indians." In his many "Indian tracts," Roxbury's parson served as the voice of the Massachusett, a branch of the Algonkian-speaking people of northeastern North America after whom the colony of Massachusetts Bay was called. Eliot documented the tribe's dual struggle to adapt to colonial settlement and political domination and to make sense of the decimation wreaked upon them by European-borne epidemics. Ironically, toward the end of his long and full life, Eliot reflected upon his mission and echoed the loss Monequasson had anguished over forty years before, crying, "Alas, I have lost every thing; my understanding leaves me, my memory fails me, my utterance fails me. . . ." When Eliot's voice fell silent, the few Massachusett still surviving lost their historical voice--and their place--in the colony named for them. This book attempts to give voice, once again, to their history.

Despite the worthy effort of colonial historians to describe the destruction of an American Indian society with greater reference to the interaction of competing cultures, recent interpretations of Massachusett history, by and large, have continued to depict the first Americans as passive victims in a tragic history. The major treatments which touch on the Massachusett experience--Francis Jennings The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (1976) and Neal Salisbury's . . .

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