Making War and Minting Christians: Masculinity, Religion, and Colonialism in Early New England

By Pointer, Richard W.; Romero, R. Todd | Church History, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Making War and Minting Christians: Masculinity, Religion, and Colonialism in Early New England


Pointer, Richard W., Romero, R. Todd, Church History


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Planting and sustaining Anglo-American communities in an alien New England was a test of English manhood. Preserving and renewing Native communities in the face of colonialism was a test of Indian manhood. That much Englishmen and Native Americans in seventeenth-century southern New England had in common. So, too, did they each believe that the success of their endeavors as men depended largely upon their access to spiritual power. Inhabitants of "enchanted worlds" (7), they conceived of all aspects of life, including what it meant to be a man, through distinctly religious lenses. Religious beliefs and practices profoundly colored notions of masculinity on both sides of the cultural divide. It makes sense, then, that any effort to understand gender identities, and particularly ideas of manliness, in early New England place Native and English religions at the center of their study. To his credit, this is precisely what Todd Romero does in his analysis of the ways in which the links between religion and gender played out within the interactions between Natives and newcomers in the first century of colonial New England history. The result is an important and welcome contribution to our understanding of the Indian-Anglo-American encounter in early New England.

Romero organizes his investigation into a straightforward, three-part structure. Part 1 explores Native and English conceptions of manhood. The other two sections examine the impact differences in those conceptions had upon cross-cultural religious interactions (and more specifically, Anglo-American Christian missionary efforts) and on Indian-English warfare in the region. Drawing on Puritan written sources, material objects from the period, and Native oral traditions, Romero asserts that "Native and Anglo-American understandings of masculinity constituted a sort of counterpoint in the seventeenth century" (20). While elements of similarity or harmony existed, such as the view that manhood was something one had to grow into from boyhood and was to be achieved not simply assumed, differences in their views stuck out to area Indians and Englishmen more often. And where there was difference, there was typically a presumption of inadequacy on the other's part; in settler eyes, when Indian men gambled, hunted, or fought in the Native manner, or when they let their women do their agricultural work, they were acting in a decidedly unmanly and even savage fashion. In response, considerable colonial energies were spent trying to get Natives to change their minds and their ways where men were concerned.

Nowhere were such concerted efforts more evident than in Puritan evangelism of Indians. Scholars have long emphasized the New English conviction that to Christianize Natives, they had to first civilize them. What Romero adds to that argument is greater clarity about how central notions of masculinity were to the civilizing/Christianizing project and to Indian responses to it. The progress of the gospel was measured in part by how far and how well Indian men had exchanged their old garb, old speech, and old comportment for English styles that embodied how a true, Christian man looked, sounded, and behaved. …

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