MISSIONARY SOCIETIES required their missionaries to begin the business of conversion and civilization as soon as they arrived at their destination. In the idealized plan of the missionary societies, teaching natives about Christ took precedence over anything else. To do that, missionaries needed to be able to communicate with the Indians. To this end, they had to either learn the native language or teach the Indians English. Once the missionaries made this choice, they needed to decide which alphabet to use, and what to translate or teach. As the difficulties of the translation process became apparent and the procedure stretched from weeks to months to years, missionaries struggled to communicate this to the missionary societies and the Christian public. The translation process, which continued throughout the nineteenth century as missionaries encountered new groups of natives, became the first area of tension between missionaries and the missionary societies.
Many Protestant missionaries published translations and dictionaries in order to aid future missionaries. These writings show us how the demands of the missionary societies shaped the development of the wretched Indian image from the 1820s to the 1850s, and how that image interacted with and eventually dominated the noble savage image by the beginning of the 1850s. The language studies and exercises created by the missionaries furnish subtle clues to their new attitude toward the Indians and reflect their frustration with the goals set for them by the missionary societies.
Throughout the nineteenth century, missionary societies continually pressured missionaries to translate and create religious texts in Indian languages. Missionaries approached translation with the idea that it would be a relatively simple process. The existence of some eighteenth-century dictionaries of Indian languages proved that it could be done. Despite the fact that missionaries in Canada