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Native Americans, Conversion, and Christian Practice in Colonial New England, 1640—1730

  • Linford D. Fisher (a1)

Fortunately, the two travelers arrived before sunset. Earlier in the day, on 5 May 1674, John Eliot and Daniel Gookin had set out from Boston for Wamesit, the northernmost of the fourteen Indian “praying towns” within the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the one most subjected to retaliatory attacks from raiding bands of Mohawks in the previous few years. Upon safe arrival, the Englishmen greeted their Pennacook friends and gathered as many as they could at the wigwam of Wannalancet, the head sachem of Wamesit, where Eliot, the aging missionary to the Indians, proceeded to talk about the meaning of the parable of the marriage of the king's son in Matthew 22:1—4. Wannalancet, according to Gookin, was a “sober and grave person, and of years, between fifty and sixty”; he had from the beginning been “loving and friendly to the English,” and in return they had tried to encourage him to embrace Christianity. Although the English missionaries would have desired him to readily accept the gospel message they preached, Wannalancet voluntarily incorporated Christian practices slowly, over time, without necessarily repudiating his native culture and traditional religious practices.1 For four years Wannalancet “had been willing to hear the word of God preached”; when Eliot or other missionaries made their periodic visits to Wamesit, Wannalancet made sure he was there. Over time, Wannalancet adopted the English practices of keeping the Sabbath, learning to go to any available meeting or instruction, fellowshipping, and refraining from various activities proscribed by the town's praying leaders. Despite all that, however, the English missionaries still complained that he “hath stood off” since he had “not yielded up himself personally.”2

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Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
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