From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

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Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England

Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England

English missionaries John Eliot and Thomas Mayhew were intent on spreading the message of the gospel among the Indians in New England. In addition to preaching sermons in the natives’ own tongue, English clergymen believed natives needed to receive the word of God in their own language. Therefore, Eliot, Mayhew, and other New England missionaries produced printed books in the Algonquian language. This work could not be accomplished without strong financial support. Writing letters and publishing tracts, John Eliot worked tirelessly to persuade his supporters in England to contribute financially to these evangelical efforts.

In response to Eliot’s call, a society dedicated to spreading Christianity throughout the English North American colonies was formed in London: “The President and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England.” An act of Parliament in 1649 established this first Protestant missionary society of its kind “for the advancement of civilization and Christianity among the Indians of New England.” The society consisted of sixteen members in England.

Through the society, money would be paid to “commissioners” in New England and could be used such manner as shall best and principally conduce to the preaching and propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the Natives, and also for maintaining of schools, and nurseries of learning, and for the better education of the children of the Natives.

Through its financial contributions, the society was extraordinarily influential in shaping the Anglo-Protestant culture of early New England. Funds paid for the printing of several native-language texts, including the Algonquian Bible (1663). The society paid the salary of Marmaduke Johnson, a printer sent from England to assist in the printing of the Bible, and it also financed the purchase of imported type and paper used to print the Bible. The society also provided funds to Harvard for the education of “Indian Youth,” and these funds directly supported the construction of the Indian College at Harvard.