a raw display of violence, Miles Standish, the Mayflower ’s soldier-for-hire and military leader—although perhaps best known for his role in the fictitious Longfellow poem The Courtship of Miles Standish— had once grabbed the knife of an Indian and slit his throat, a brutal demonstration of the English will to tamp down Indian resistance.
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As with almost all things Puritan, theology played a role in relations with the Indians. Of enormous importance to many Puritan ministers was the hope of converting Indians. The most vigorous Puritan missionary to the Indians, John Eliot, believed that Native Americans might be one of the biblical lost tribes of Israel. Arriving in Boston in 1631, Eliot devoted his life to converting the Indians. After completing a dictionary of the Algonquian language—the most widely spoken language among the northeastern tribes—Eliot set about translat-ing both Old and New Testaments into a phonetic version of Massachusetts, an Algonquian dialect. Completed in 1663, this was the first Bible printed in North America. By then, there was a significant number of converts, known as “praying Indians,” and in 1651 Eliot established the first “praying towns.” Set up across Massachusetts, these villages accommodated these converts, many of whom were willing to assimilate. When Harvard College, founded in 1635, was officially in-corporated in 1650, its charter specified a commitment to educate “the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge and godliness.”
(Despite the good intentions, only a handful of Indians attended Harvard in its earliest years.) As far as the Puritans were concerned, Richard Francis points out, “the biggest favor they could do the Indians, indeed anybody, was to convert them to Christianity, to their own Puritan doctrines. . . .
Most Puritans believed the Second Coming of Christ was imminent.
It would take place when the scattered tribes of Jews were reunited and converted to Christianity. A place would be made for them in the glittering New Jerusalem that would then come into being. . . . If the American Indian should prove to be the lost tribes of Israel, then it might well follow that the New World, in geographical and historical terms, might prove to be the New World in redemptive terms as | 65 \
America’s Hidden Hi Ç ory well, the culmination of both earthly and spiritual history, the site of the New Jerusalem. . . . This made the task of converting the Indians one of the utmost urgency: the destiny of Christendom might depend on it.”22
Though not as zealous as Spanish and French missionaries had been in the Americas, some early Puritans, including Eliot, believed converting the Indians was their duty. But they planned to do so without the brutal tactics employed by the Spanish, for whom the threats of slavery and death were early tools of conversion. As part of the “Black Legend,” a long Protestant propaganda war against Catholicism, the English attempted to distinguish themselves from the Spanish by printing the landmark accounts of the torture and mistreatment of Caribbean natives by Bartolomé de Las Casas. A Dominican priest whose 1552 Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies catalogued the brutal subjugation of Cuba, Las Casas had sparked some nominal reforms by the Spanish throne. Using the words of Las Casas, retitled The Tears of the Indians and referred to as the “Spanish Cruelties,” the English tried to claim the moral high ground. As historian Jill Lepore wrote, “Part of the mission of New England’s ‘city on a hill,’ then, was to advertise the civility of the English colonists and to hold it in stark contrast with the barbarous cruelty of Spain’s conquistadors and the false and blasphemous impiety of France’s Jesuit missionaries.”23
But as New England villages spread and grew into towns, and as the Puritans pushed further inland and south from their initial coastal toeholds at
Jeffrey "falcon" Logue, Silvia Lew
Nora [Roberts Nora] Roberts