Bringing the good news: Protestant missionaries to the Indians of New England and New York, 1700--1775

Date of Completion

January 1993


History, United States|Education, History of|Education, Religious




From 1700 to 1775, some 159 Protestant missionaries attempted to complete the task of civilizing and Christianizing the Indians of New England and New York. Three British societies were involved--the New England Company, the Scottish Society, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. A fourth missionary group, the Moravians, was based in Saxony. The dissertation is concerned with the reasons why, when the evangelistic scene looked so promising in 1698, by 1775 the missionaries themselves felt defeated. The explanation is revealed primarily through the records of the missionary societies and the missionaries' own journals and letters.^ Although there were some notably successful missionaries in each of the four societies, the Moravians' appeal yielded more Indian converts. Their communitarian lifestyle and demonstrated lack of interest in the Indians' land particularly distinguished them from the other evangelists. The four societies differed greatly in theology and liturgy, but a particular missionary's success bore little apparent relation either to his pulpit style or to the message he was bringing to the Indians.^ The missionary societies established schools as well as churches and employed a large number of native American men and women as teachers and preachers. Indian children and adults initially received schools with enthusiasm, but the missionaries failed to capitalize on this advantage.^ Neither the missionaries nor the larger society of which they were a part could ever fully accept the Indians as civilized Christians. More specific reasons for the missionaries' failure include the constraints imposed by the imperial wars; animosity and open competition between the societies; the hostility of English settlers towards the Moravians; the missionaries' own lack of ability and motivation; and the lack of moral and financial support from provincial and imperial governments. Even without these limitations, the missionary societies would probably have failed. Except for the Moravians, the missionaries could never overcome the Indians' conviction that their real goal was to acquire the Indians' land. ^