Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880

By Phillip H. Round | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
Three
NEW AND UNCOMMON MEANS

CHRISTIAN MISSIONS CONTINUED TO BE the single most important source of print media in Indian Country during the nineteenth century. But unlike John Eliot and Eleazar Wheelock, the missionaries who fanned out across an ever- expanding territory to the west of the original thirteen states used what geographer, clergyman, and “friend of the Indian” Jedidiah Morse (1761–1826) called “new and uncommon means” to produce and circulate religious books to their Native charges. With modern printing technologies like steam presses and stereotype plates and emerging marketing strategies that guaranteed mass circulation, this new generation of missionary print providers looked forward to a time when “every family” would have access to “a competent supply of common Bibles, and catechisms, a good reference Bible, concordance, and commentary.”1 Of course, these evangelical dreams focused most often on “the Book,” the Bible. In reality, however, the new Christian print missions that spread among the tribal communities of the Great Lakes, the Plains, the Columbia Plateau, and the Southeast distributed a wealth of other printed materials — tracts, primers, hymnals, geographies, and spellers — to their Native parishioners. Missionary presses produced not only Bibles but also “school cards,” treaties, and laws, often in Native languages. Sometimes they engaged in job printing to make ends meet. One missionary printer’s diary noted that along with hymnals and tracts he produced horse bills and trade licenses.2

On the surface, it would appear that the ideology of the book that John Eliot had established in seventeenth- century New England sustained nineteenth- century missionaries as well. In theory, much had remained unchanged in the nineteenth century, despite the rapid transformation in print technologies and the establishment of tract societies dedicated to circulating

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