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Native American Popular Religion in New England’s Old Colony, 1670–1770

  • Douglas L. Winiarski


In recent years, historians have turned their attention to the continued presence of Native Americans living “behind the frontier” in eighteenth-century New England. Where a previous generation of scholars once wrangled over the benignity of seventeenth-century Puritan “praying towns” and equated conversion with cultural suicide, current studies of Native religion in the decades preceding the American Revolution suggest that Indians preserved traditional culture by grafting Christianity onto a preexisting grid of beliefs and practices. A case study based on the writings of a lay missionary and civil magistrate named Josiah Cotton, this essay contributes to revisionist scholarship by examining Native American spirituality under the broader and more inclusive category of popular religion. Most Wampanoag families in New England's “Old Colony” lived between cultures—neither fully integrated into English society nor fully traditional in their identities or worldview. The ambiguities of their colonial situation, in turn, facilitated the emergence of a diverse spectrum of religious beliefs and practices that, at times, transcended racial categories. English settlers consulted Native American shamans and cunning folk; rumors of witchcraft, ghosts, and spirits permeated all ranks of society; and Indians and their white neighbors shared a preoccupation with spiritual healing. A few core families aspired to all the trappings of English life; they internalized Puritan doctrine, engaged in sophisticated devotional routines, and joined local Indian churches. Others continued to live in traditional ways and simply ignored the pastoral labors of regional missionaries. But for the majority of Native Christians who lived and worked side-by-side with their English neighbors, religion remained an eclectic affair as they deployed a variety of spiritual resources to combat the vicissitudes and uncertainties of everyday life.



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Previous versions of this essay were presented at the 114th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (2000), the fall colloquium of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture (2002), the Third Mashantucket Pequot History Conference (2002), and the monthly meeting of FLEA, the Fall Line Early Americanists reading group (2003). I would like to thank Charles Cohen, David Edmunds, Chris Grasso, Allan Greer, Robert Gross, Evan Haefeli, Ronald Hoffman, Woody Holton, Edward Larkin, Daniel Mandell, Mark McGarvie, Julius Rubin, Alan Shackleford, Erik Seeman, Barbara Smith, Stephen Stein, Fredrika Teute, Mark Valeri, and Rachel Wheeler for their incisive comments.

Manuscript quotations follow the expanded method of transcription and appear by permission of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.; Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University; Massachusetts Histori cal Society, Boston; Newberry Library, Chicago; and Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Mass.

1. Josiah Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family, 1727–1755,” Ms. AM 1165, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 302.

2. Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 291.

3. Winiarski, Douglas L., “‘Pale Blewish Lights’ and a Dead Man's Groan: Tales of the Supernatural from Eighteenth-Century Plymouth, Massachusetts,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 55 (1998): 497530 .

4. I borrow this last phrase from Mandell, Daniel R.'s landmark study, Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996). On New England Indians’ appropriation of Christianity, see Brenner, Elise M., “To Pray or to Be Prey: That Is the Question: Strategies for Cultural Autonomy of Massachusetts Praying Town Indians,” Ethnohistory 27 (1980): 135–52; Ronda, James P., “Generations of the Faith: The Christian Indians of Martha's Vineyard,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 38 (1981): 369–94; Youngs, J. William T. Jr., “The Indian Saints of Early New England,” Early American Literature 16 (1981–82): 241–56; Bragdon, Kathleen J., “The Material Culture of the Christian Indians of New England, 1650–1775,” in Documentary Archaeology in the New World, ed. Beudry, Mary C. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 126–31; Monaghan, E. Jennifer, “‘She loved to read in good books’: Literacy and the Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1643–1725,” History of Education Quarterly 30 (1990): 493521 ; VanLonkhuyzen, Harold W., “A Reappraisal of the Praying Indians: Acculturation, Conversion, and Identity at Natick, Massachusetts, 1646–1730,” New England Quarterly 63 (1990): 396428 ; Bragdon, Kathleen J., “Native Christianity in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts: Ritual as Cultural Reaffirmation,” in New Dimensions in Ethnohistory: Papers of the Second Laurier Conference on Ethnohistory and Ethnology, ed. Gough, Barry and Christie, Laird (Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1991), 119–26; Bragdon, Kathleen J., “Vernacular Literacy and Massachusett World View, 1650–1750,” in Algonkians of New England: Past and Present, vol. 16, Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, ed. Benes, Peter (Boston: Boston University Press, 1993), 2634 ; Cohen, Charles L., “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians: A Theological and Cultural Perspective,” in Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives on a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Faith, ed. Bremer, Francis J. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993), 233–54; Pointer, Richard W., “‘Poor Indians’ and the ‘Poor in Spirit’: The Indian Impact on David Brainerd,” New England Quarterly 67 (1994): 403–26; Bragdon, Kathleen J., “Gender as a Social Category in Native Southern New England,” Ethnohistory 43 (1996): 573–92; Salisbury, Neal, “‘I Loved the Place of My Dwelling’: Puritan Missionaries and Native Americans in Seventeenth-Century Southern New England,” in In equality in Early America, ed. Pestana, Carla and Salinger, Sharon V. (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999), 111–33; Murray, Laura J., “What Did Christianity Do for Joseph Johnson? A Mohegan Preacher and His Community,” in Possible Pasts: Becoming Colonial in Early America, ed. St. George, Robert Blair (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), 160–80; Wyss, Hilary E., Writing Indians: Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000); Salisbury, Neal, “Embracing Ambiguity: Native Peoples and Christianity in Seventeenth-Century North America,” Ethnohistory 50 (2003): 247–59; and Silverman, David J., “The Church in New England Indian Community Life: A View from the Islands and Cape Cod,” in Reinterpreting New England Indians and the Colonial Experience, ed. Calloway, Colin G. and Salisbury, Neal (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2003), 264–98.

5. See, for example, Underhill, Ruth M., Red Man's Religion: Beliefs and Practices of the Indians North of Mexico (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965); Hultkrantz, Ake, The Religions of the American Indians, trans. Setterwall, Monica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979); Brown, Joseph Epes, The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian (New York: Crossroad, 1982); and Brown, Joseph Epes with Emily Cousins, Teaching Spirits: Understanding Native American Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

6. Deloria, Vine Jr., God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, rev. ed. (Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 1994); Deloria, Vine Jr., Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (New York: Scribner, 1995).

7. Martin, Joel W., “Indians, Contact, and Colonialism in the Deep South: Themes for a Postcolonial History of American Religion,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Tweed, Thomas A. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 151 .

8. For a similar argument, see Porterfield, Amanda, “Witchcraft and the Colonization of Algonquian and Iroquois Culture,” Religion and American Culture 2 (1992): 105–6.

9. See Vaughan, Alden T., New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620–1675, 3d ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995); Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975); Salisbury, Neal, “Red Puritans: The ‘Praying Indians’ of Massachusetts Bay and John Eliot,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 31 (1976): 2754 ; Shuffelton, Frank, “Indian Devils and Pilgrim Fathers: Squanto, Hobomok, and the English Conception of Indian Religion,” New England Quarterly 49 (1976): 108–16; Simmons, William S., “Conversion from Indian to Puritan,” New England Quarterly 52 (1979): 197218 ; Simmons, William S., “Cultural Bias in the New England Puritans’ Percep tion of Indians,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 38 (1981): 5672 ; Axtell, James, The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Cohen, “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians,” 233–54; and Tinker, George E., Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). Axtell's book is one of the few early works of ethnohistory to extend the “contest of cultures” paradigm into the eighteenth century.

10. See Merrell, James H., The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (New York: Norton, 1991); Axtell, James, The Indians’ New South: Cultural Change in the Colonial Southeast (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997); and Calloway, Colin G., New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

11. On this issue, see Neal Salisbury's introduction to Algonkians of New England, ed. Benes, 10–11.

12. See R. Edmunds, David, The Shawnee Prophet (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983); Dowd, Gregory Evans, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Cave, Alfred A., “The Delaware Prophet Neolin: A Reappraisal,” Ethnohistory 46 (1999): 265–90; DeMallie, Raymond J., ed., The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984); Powers, William K., “When Black Elk Speaks, Everybody Listens,” in Religion in Native North America, ed. Vecsey, Christopher (Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1990), 136–51; Holler, Clyde, Black Elk's Religion: The Sun Dance and Lakota Catholicism (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1995); Holler, Clyde, ed., The Black Elk Reader (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000); O’Connell, Barry, ed., On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, A Pequot (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992); Pointer, “‘Poor Indians’ and the ‘Poor in Spirit,’” 403–26; Murray, Laura J., ed., To Do Good to My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson, 1751–1776 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998); McDermott, Gerald R., “Jonathan Edwards and American Indians: The Devil Sucks Their Blood,” New England Quarterly 71 (1999): 539–57; Merritt, Jane T., At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700–1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Wheeler, Rachel, “Women and Christian Practice in a Mahican Village,” Religion and American Culture 13 (2003): 2767 ; and Wheeler, Rachel, “‘Friends to Your Souls’: Jonathan Edwards’ Indian Pastorate and the Doctrine of Original Sin,” Church History 72 (2003): 736–65.

13. For example, see Martin, Joel W., The Land Looks after Us: A History of Native American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Young, William A., Quest for Harmony: Native American Spiritual Traditions (New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2002).

14. I borrow this useful phrase from Treat, James, Native and Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States and Canada (New York: Routledge, 1996).

15. Prominent monographs in this dynamic new subfield of Indian history include Mandell, Behind the Frontier; O’Brien, Jean M., Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650–1790 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Plane, Ann Marie, Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000); and Silverman, David J., Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity and Community among the Wampanoag Indians, 1600–1871 (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2005). See also the essays in Calloway, Colin G., ed., After King Philip's War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997); Daunton, Martin and Halpern, Rick, eds., Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–1850 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999); Grumet, Robert S., Northeastern Indian Lives, 1632–1816 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996); and Calloway and Salisbury, Reinterpreting New England Indians and the Colonial Experience.

16. Seminal works in the field of popular religion include Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971); Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, trans. Bray, Barbara (New York: George Braziller, 1978); Ginzburg, Carlo, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John, and Tedeschi, Anne (New York: Penguin Books, 1982); Christian, William A. Jr., Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); and Scribner, Robert W., Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Germany (London: Hambledon Press, 1987). For methodological and historiographical review essays, see Davis, Natalie Zemon, “Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion, ed. Trinkhaus, Charles and Oberman, Heiko A. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), 307–36; Clark, Stuart, “French Historians and Early Modern Popular Culture,” Past & Present 100 (1983): 6299 ; Davis, Natalie Zemon, “From ‘Popular Religion’ to Religious Cultures,” in Reformation Europe: A Guide to Research, ed. Ozment, Steven E. (St. Louis: Center for Reformation Research, 1982), 321–41; Hall, David D., “Introduction,” in Understanding Popular Culture: Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, ed. Kaplan, Steven L. (New York: Mouton, 1984), 518 ; Butler, Jon, “The Future of American Religious History: Prospectus, Agenda, Transatlantic Problématique,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 42 (1985): 167–83; Scribner, Bob, “Is a History of Popu lar Culture Possible?” History of European Ideas 10 (1989): 175–91; Butler, Jon, “Historiographical Heresy: Catholicism as a Model for American Religious History,” in Belief in History: Innovative Approaches to European and American Religion, ed. Kselman, Thomas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 286309 ; Primiano, Leonard Norman, “Vernacular Religion and the Search for Method in Religious Folklife,” Western Folklore 54 (1995): 3756 ; and Hall, David D., “Introduction,” and Robert Orsi, “Everyday Miracles: The Study of Lived Religion,” both in Lived Religion: Toward a History of Practice, ed. Hall, David D. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997), vii21.

17. Farriss, Nancy M., Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); Clendinnen, Inga, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517–1570 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Burkhart, Louise M., The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989); MacCormack, Sabine, Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991); Cervantes, Fernando, The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); Taylor, William B., Magistrates of the Sacred: Priest and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996); Mills, Kenneth, Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640–1750 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997); Dean, Carolyn, Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999); Griffiths, Nicholas and Cervantes, Fernando, eds., Spiritual Encounters: Interactions between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Morrison, Kenneth M., The Solidarity of Kin: Ethnohistory, Religious Studies, and the Algonkian-French Religious Encounter (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002); Greer, Allan, “Conversion and Identity: Iroquois Christianity in Seventeenth-Century New France,” in Conversion: Old Worlds and New, ed. Mills, Kenneth and Grafton, Anthony (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2003), 175–98; and Greer, Allan and Bilinkoff, Jodi, eds., Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas (New York: Routledge, 2003).

18. Wall, Helena M., “Confessions of a British North Americanist: Borderlands Historiography and Early American History,” Reviews in American History 25 (1997): 112 .

19. Salisbury, Neal, “Religious Encounters in a Colonial Context: New England and New France in the Seventeenth Century,” American Indian Quarterly 16 (1992): 501–9. Likewise, Fernando Cervantes acknowledges that “there may be many more aspects in common between the Puritan and the Catholic experiences that future studies concerned with interaction at the unofficial level could investigate,” yet only one essay in Spiritual Encounters provides even a brief discussion of religious exchange in New England (Cervantes, “Epilogue: The Middle Ground,” in Spiritual Encounters, 283; David Murray, “Spreading the Word: Missionaries, Conversion, and Circulation in the Northeast,” in Spiritual Encounters, 43–64); Juster, Susan detects a similar emphasis in Greer and Bilinkoff's recent collection, Colonial Saints (William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 60 [2003]: 911–14). Of the several hemispheric anthologies of religious encounter published in the past few years, only St. George, ed., Possible Pasts, places studies of religious exchange in colonial Latin America side-by-side with essays on Puritanism and Native Christianity in early New England.

20. See Hall, David D., Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York: Knopf, 1989), 11, 15, 245, and passim; see also Hall, David D., “Introduction,” Understanding Popular Culture: Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, ed. Kaplan, Steven (New York: Mouton, 1984), 518 ; Hall, David D., “Toward a History of Popular Religion in Early New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 41 (1984): 4955 ; Hall, David D., “Religion and Society: Problems and Considerations,” in Colonial British America, ed. Greene, Jack P. and Pole, J. R. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 317–44; Hall, David D., “Forward,” in Roger Thompson, Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649–1699 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), viix ; Hall, David D., “On Common Ground: The Coherence of American Puritan Studies,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 44 (1987): 193229 ; David D. Hall, “Introduction,” in Wonders of the Invisible World: 1600–1900, 11–16; “Narrating Puritanism,” in New Directions in American Religious History, ed. Harry S. Stout and D. G. Hart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 51–83; and David D. Hall, “Introduction,” in Lived Religion in America, vii–xiii.

21. Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 169; Cotton, Josiah, “Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick) Indian Language,” ed. Pickering, John, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ser. 3, 2 (1830): 147257 ; Mather, Cotton, Mehquantamwahuwaenin wutche nemunukeeg Lordooe mishadtuppooonk: Usseonk wogkouunummunat kah anunumwontamunat peantamoe peyamoonk ut Lordooe mishadtuppooonkanit (A Monitor for Communicants: An Essay to Excite and Assist Religious Approaches to the Table of the Lord), trans. Cotton, Josiah (Boston: Benjamin Green, 1716).

22. Josiah Cotton to Adam Winthrop, November 7, 1732, in Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 237. For an extended discussion of these communities, see Winiarski, Douglas L., “A Question of Plain Dealing: Josiah Cotton, Native Christians, and the Quest for Security in Eighteenth-Century Plymouth County,” New England Quarterly 77 (2004): 368412 .

23. Historians have dismissed the missionary activities of the New England Company in the eighteenth century, in part, because they have placed too much emphasis on the collapse of John Eliot's flagship praying town at Natick. In point of fact, Natick stands out as a notable failure in an era of dramatic success. Cf. Vaughan, New England Frontier, 320–21; Jennings, Invasion of America, 325; Bowden, Henry Warner, American Indians and Christian Missions: Studies in Cultural Conflict (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 136–37; Calloway, New Worlds for All, 77; Salisbury, “Religious Encounters in a Colonial Context,” 503–4; Morrison, Dane, A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600–1690 (New York: Peter Lang, 1995); Lepore, Jill, The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 4344 ; and Plane, Colonial Intimacies, 103–5.

24. Richard Bourne to Daniel Gookin, August 1, 1674, in Gookin, Daniel, “Historical Collections of the Indians in New England,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 1 (1792): 196200 ; Thomas Hinckley to William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley, April 2, 1685, “The Hinckley Papers,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th ser., 5 (1861): 133; Drake, James David, King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675–1676 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 169 ; Mather, Cotton, A Letter, about the Present State of Christianity, among the Christianized Indians of New-England (Boston: Timothy Green, 1705), 5 .

25. Travers, Len, ed., “The Missionary Journal of John Cotton, Jr., 1666–1678,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 109 (1997): 5990 ; John Cotton, Jr., to Increase Mather, March 23, 1693, Americana Papers, Mark and Llora Bortman Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University; Grindal Rawson and Samuel Danforth, “Account of an Indian Visitation, A.D. 1698,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1st ser., 10 (1809): 129–34; Mather, Letter about the Present State of Christianity, 4–10.

26. Knight, Sarah Kemble, “The Journal of Madam Knight,” in Colonial American Travel Narratives, ed. Martin, Wendy (New York: Penguin, 1994), 6565 ; Axtell, The Invasion Within, 243–47; “The Indian Powwow, or Deception Rewarded,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 2 (1848): 44; Caulkins, Frances Manwaring, Memoir of the Rev. William Adams, of Dedham, Mass., and of the Rev. Eliphalet Adams, of New London, Conn. (Cambridge, Mass.: Metcalf and Company, 1849), 3536 ; Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, ed., Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., 1755–1794 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916), 142–45, 401; Jonathan Barber to Benjamin Colman, October 2, 1733, Benjamin Colman Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass.; Occom, Samson, “A Short Narrative of My Life,” in The Heath Anthology of American Literature, ed. Bruce-Novoa, Juan et al. (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1990), 730 .

27. Kitteredge, George L., ed., “Letters of Samuel Lee and Samuel Sewall Relating to New England Indians,” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 14 (1911–13): 148 .

28. Readers will note that I avoid classifying eighteenth-century Wampanoag beliefs and practices as a form of religious “syncretism.” Instead, I follow William Taylor's powerful critique of this controversial interpretive category. “Local religion in central and western Mexico during the eighteenth century,” he maintains,

was not unified, fixed, and uncontested from top to bottom, or simply set against the religion of Catholic priests. Any explanation of religious change there needs to account for the local conflicts over religious practices and the multiple meanings of religious symbols; for the understandings that were shared between rulers and ruled and the misunderstandings that could divide them; for the development of parallel and complementary practices, as well as mixed or fused ones; [and] for ways in which religion could still be altered by groups and individuals in conflict.

The “mechanical and organic metaphors” that anchor prominent studies of religious syncretism, according to Taylor, unsatisfactorily emphasize “an end state of completion and wholeness.” The four categories that I deploy below— parallelism, eclecticism, hybridity, and influence—gesture toward what Taylor calls the “inherently transitional and incomplete” nature of Native Christianity (Taylor, Magistrates of the Sacred, 59).

29. For a detailed history of the Manomet Ponds church, see Winiarski, “A Question of Plain Dealing,” 401–8.

30. Ronda, “Generations of the Faith,” 372–85.

31. Key studies of the Puritan family upon which this paragraph is based include Morgan, Edmund S., The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, rev. ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1966); Demos, John, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Moran, Gerald F., “Religious Renewal, Puritan Tribalism, and the Family in Seventeenth-Century Milford, Connecticut,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 36 (1979): 236–54; Moran, Gerald F. and Vinovskis, Maris S., “The Puritan Family and Religion: A Critical Reappraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 39 (1982): 2963 ; Mary Mc-Manus Ramsbottom, “Religious Society and the Family in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1630–1740” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1987); Dinkin, Robert J., “Seating the Meetinghouse in Early Massachusetts,” in Material Life in America, 1600–1860, ed. St. George, Robert Blair (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988), 407–18; Porterfield, Amanda, Female Piety in Puritan New England: The Emergence of Religious Humanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 9395 ; Anne Speerschneider Brown, “‘Bound up in a Bundle of Life’: The Social Meaning of Religious Practice in Northeastern Massachusetts, 1700–1765” (Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1995); Brown, Anne S. and Hall, David D., “Family Strategies and Religious Practice: Baptism and the Lord's Supper in Early New England,” in Lived Religion: Toward a History of Practice, ed. Hall, David D. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997), 4168 ; and David D. Hall, “Puritanism's Progress from ‘Religion and Society’ to Practices: The New Religious History,” in Possible Pasts, 148–59.

32. Morgan, Puritan Family, 161–86; Moran, “Religious Renewal, Puritan Tribalism, and the Family,” 236–54.

33. Travers, “Missionary Journal of John Cotton, Jr.,” 89–101; Thomas Tupper, “An Account of Mr. Tuppers Congregation of Indians,” 1693, Pilgrim Society, Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, Mass. (published as part of the online exhibit “In Their Own Write: Native American Documents from the Collections of the Pilgrim Hall Museum,” [accessed June 14, 2004]); Speck, Frank G., Territorial Subdivisions and Boundaries of the Wampanoag, Massachusett, and Nausett Indians (New York: Heye Foundation, 1928), 9192 ; Josiah Cotton, “An Account of Monument ponds Indians taken by Josiah Cotton,” 1710, trans. Rosseter Cotton, Curwen Family Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.; Clifford, James, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 303–5; Peters, Russell M., The Wampanoag of Mashpee: An Indian Perspective on American History (Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Nimrod Press, 1987), 2223 .

34. New England Company for the Propagation of the Gospel (hereafter NEC), Commissioners’ Minutes, Ms. 7953, Guildhall Museum, London, October 11, 1708 (microfilm, Yale University); Cotton, “Account of Monument ponds Indians.” For an extended discussion of Hood's family, see Winiarski, “A Question of Plain Dealing,” 396–401. On core parish families in English churches, see Gerald Francis Moran, “The Puritan Saint: Religious Experience, Church Membership, and Piety in Connecticut, 1636–1776” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1974), 174–88; and Moran, “Religious Renewal, Puritan Tribalism, and the Family,” 253–54.

35. Travers, “Missionary Journal of John Cotton, Jr.,” 89–90; NEC, Commissioners’ Minutes, 1699–1784, Ms. 7953, passim; NEC, Commissioners’ Accounts, 1657–1731, Ms. 7946, Guildhall Library (microfilm, Yale University), passim; Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 316; Cotton, “Account of Monument ponds Indians”; “Report of a Committee on the State of the Indians in Mashpee and Parts Adjacent,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., 3 (1809): 13–14.

36. Josiah Cotton, “Service among the Indians,” October 28, 1716–September 15, 1717, Ms.L., Massachusetts Historical Society; Josiah Cotton, “Cotton Diaries, 1733–1774,” Cotton Families Collection, Pilgrim Society, Pilgrim Hall, 2–3, 6–8, 21, 28–32, 35, 37. For a statistical summary of Cotton's preaching activities at Plain Dealing, see Winiarski, “A Question of Plain Dealing,” 378–79.

37. Hall, , Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment, 15, 130 ; Hall, “Narrating Puritanism,” 62–64, 67–68.

38. Plymouth County Probate Records, 1685–1903, microfilm, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 3:121, 4:147, 6:28. These cases represented three of the five surviving estate inventories from Plymouth County. Elsewhere in New England, only two of ten eighteenth-century Nantucket inventories and none of the estates probated in Hartford County, Connecticut, between 1692 and 1747 included references to books (Elizabeth A. Little, Probate Records of Nantucket Indians [Nantucket, Mass.: Nantucket Historical Society, 1980], 12; Hermes, Katherine, “‘By their desire recorded’: Native American Wills and Estate Papers in Colonial Connecticut,” Connecticut History 38 [1999]: 150–73).

39. Cotton, “Account of Monument ponds Indians”; Josiah Cotton, “Indian Call of Joseph Moses,” September 28, 1729, Curwen Family Papers.

40. John Cotton, Jr., to Daniel Gookin, September 14, 1674, in Gookin, “Historical Collections of the Indians in New England,” 200; Josiah Cotton, “Some Inquiries … Made among the Indians in the General Visitation,” September 4, 1726, Curwen Family Papers; Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 134. Kathleen Bragdon and Ives Goddard have suggested that Native literacy was widespread in the late colonial period, but evidence from Josiah Cotton's mission papers confirms the recent, more skeptical, figures compiled by Jennifer Monaghan and David Silverman for Indians living on Martha's Vineyard. Cf. Bragdon, Kathleen, “Probate Records as a Source for Algonquian Ethnohistory,” in Papers of the Tenth Algonquian Conference, ed. Cowan, William (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1979), 140 ; Kathleen Bragdon, “‘Another Tongue Brought in’: An Ethnohistorical Study of Native Writings in Massachusett” (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1981), 49–64; Bragdon, Kathleen, “Linguistic Acculturation in Massachusett: 1663–1771,” in Papers of the Twelfth Algonquian Conference, ed. Cowan, William (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1981), 122 ; Bragdon, “Vernacular Literacy and Massachusett World View,” 29–30; Ives Goddard and Bragdon, eds., Native Writings in Massachusett, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1988), 1:14; Monaghan, “She loved to read in good books,” 493–521; and Silverman, David J., “The Impact of Indentured Servitude on the Society and Culture of Southern New England Indians, 1680–1810,” New England Quarterly 74 (2001): 656–63.

41. Cotton, “Some Inquiries … Made among the Indians.”

42. McLoughlin, William G., “Free Love, Immortalism, and Perfectionism in Cumberland, Rhode Island, 1748–1768,” Rhode Island History 33 (1974): 6786 ; Walett, Francis G., “Shadrack Ireland and the ‘Immortals’ of Colonial New England,” in Sibley's Heir: A Volume in Memory of Clifford Kenyon Shipton ed. Allis, Frederick S. Jr. (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1982), 541–50; Brooke, John L., “‘The True Spiritual Seed’: Sectarian Religion and the Persistence of the Occult in Eighteenth-Century New England,” in Wonders of the Invisible World: 1600–1900, ed. Benes, Peter (Boston: Boston University Press, 1995), 107–26; Seeman, Erik R., Pious Persuasions: Laity and Clergy and Eighteenth-Century New England, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 139–46; Douglas Leo Winiarski, “All Manner of Error and Delusion: Josiah Cotton and the Religious Transformation of Southeastern New England, 1700–1770” (Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University, 2000), 117–19, 423–26.

43. The Ned family Bible bears a Latin inscription stating that the book originally was given to Josiah Willard in 1706 by John Wainwright (Goddard and Bragdon, Native Writings in Massachusett, 2:457). Secretary of Massachusetts and future commissioner of the New England Company, Willard was a friend and correspondent of Cotton’s, and it is probably that he forwarded Wainwright's gift to the Plymouth lay missionary.

44. Goddard and Bragdon, Native Writings in Massachusett, 2:447, 449, 451.

45. Ibid., 2:447, 449–51, 453, 457.

46. Hall, “Toward a History of Popular Religion in Early New England,” 53; Hall, “Narrating Puritanism,” 71.

47. White, Richard, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), x .

48. Cotton, “Service among the Indians”; Cotton, “Cotton Diaries,” 2–3, 6–8, 21, 28–32, 35, 37; Cotton, “Indian Sermon,” February 12, 1710, Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection, Ms. 1592, Newberry Library, Chicago, Ill.; Cotton, “Indian Sermon,” March 14, 1723, Cotton Family Sermons, American Antiquarian Society. For a statistical summary of Cotton's pastoral visitations, see Winiarski, “A Question of Plain Dealing,” 381.

49. Watson, Patricia Ann, The Angelical Conjunction: The Preacher-Physicians of Colonial New England (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), 1324 ; Minkema, Kenneth P., “The Spiritual Meanings of Illness in Eighteenth-Century New England,” in Religions of the United States in Practice, 2 vols., ed. McDannell, Colleen (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), 1:268–78; Winiarski, “All Manner of Error and Delusion,” 89–98.

50. Simmons, William S., “Southern New England Shamanism: An Ethnographic Reconstruction,” in Papers of the Seventh Algonquian Conference, ed. Cowan, William (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1976), 217–55; Bragdon, Kathleen J., Native People of Southern New England, 1500–1650 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 201–8.

51. Kitteredge, “Letters of Samuel Lee and Samuel Sewall,” 154.

52. Travers, “Missionary Journal of John Cotton, Jr.,” 95–96; Cotton, “Some Inquiries … Made among the Indians”; Winiarski, “All Manner of Error and Delusion,” 408.

53. Cotton, “Vocabulary of the Massachusett (or Natick) Indian Language,” 252.

54. For complementary assessments of the role of healing among Native Christians in early New England, see Ronda, “Generations of the Faith,” 386–87; and Cohen, “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians,” 253–54. Simmons, “Southern New England Shamanism: An Ethnographic Reconstruction,” 239–43, provides a detailed overview of shamanic curing rituals among the Algonquians of southern New England.

55. Cotton, “Indian Sermon,” January 1710, Cotton Family Sermons.

56. Simmons, William Scranton, Cautantowwit's House: An Indian Burial Ground on the Island of Conanicut in Narragansett Bay (Providence: Brown University Press, 1970); Crosby, Constance A., “From Myth to History, or Why King Philip's Ghost Walks Abroad,” in The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern United States, ed. Leone, Mark P. and Potter, Parker B. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988), 189 ; Bragdon, Native People of Southern New England, 190–91.

57. Cotton, “Cotton Diaries,” 28. On Algonquian mortuary practices in the protohistoric, early contact, and provincial periods of New England history, see Simmons, Cautantowwit's House; Gibson, Susan G., Burr's Hill: A Seventeenth Century Wampanoag Burial Ground in Warren, Rhode Island (Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1980); Robinson, Paul A., Kelley, Marc A., and Rubertone, Patricia E., “Preliminary Biocultural Interpretations from a Seventeenth- Century Narragansett Indian Cemetery in Rhode Island,” in Cultures in Contact: The Impact of European Contacts on Native American Cultural Institutions, A.D. 1000–1800, ed. Fitzhugh, William W. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985), 107–30; Brenner, Elise M., “Archaeological Investigations at a Massachusetts Praying Town,” Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 47 (1986): 7476 ; Crosby, “From Myth to History,” 183–209; Bragdon, Native People of Southern New England, 233–41; Amory, Hugh, “The Trout and the Milk: An Ethnobibliographical Talk,” Harvard Library Bulletin 7 (1996): 5065 ; and Rubertone, Patricia E., Grave Undertakings: An Archaeology of Roger Williams and Narragansett Indians (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001).

58. Ronda, “Generations of the Faith,” 371.

59. Kitteredge, “Letters of Samuel Lee and Samuel Sewall,” 149, 151–52, 154.

60. Simmons, William S., Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620–1984 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1986), 251–53; Constance A. Crosby, “The Algonkian Spiritual Landscape,” in Algonkians of New England, 35–41.

61. Simmons, Spirit of the New England Tribes, 253.

62. For these examples, see Winiarski, Douglas L., “The Education of Joseph Prince,” in Worlds of Children, 1620–1920, ed. Benes, Peter (Boston: Boston University Press, 2004), 5054 .

63. Crane, Elaine Forman, Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002); Hall, Worlds of Wonder, 176; McLoughlin, William G., ed., The Diary of Isaac Backus, 3 vols. (Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1979), 3:1275 ; Simmons, Spirit of the New England Tribes, passim.

64. “Witchcraft in Hingham,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 5 (1851): 263; Connecticut Archives, Crimes and Misdemeanors, ser. 1, vol. 2 (1707–24), 73, 398–401; Thomas Clap to Eleazar Wheelock, August 18, 1737, Wheelock Papers, #737468, Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, N.H.; Seeman, Pious Persuasions, 124–25; Perry, William S., ed., Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church, 4 vols. (Hartford: Church Press, 1873), 3:387 ; Benjamin Bangs, “Diary, 1742–1765,” March 25, 1762, Massachusetts Historical Society.

65. Kitteredge, “Letters of Samuel Lee and Samuel Sewall,” 149, 151; Simmons, Spirit of the New England Tribes, 91–92; Occom, Samson, “A Short Account of the Montauk Indians, on Long-Island,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 10 (1809): 109 .

66. Cave, Alfred A., “Indian Shamans and English Witches in Seventeenth-Century New England,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 128 (1992): 243–44; Cave, Alfred A., “New England Puritan Misperceptions of Native American Shamanism,” International Society Science Review 67 (1992), 19 ; Simmons, Spirit of the New England Tribes, 91–117; Porterfield, “Witchcraft and the Colonization of Algonquian and Iroquois Culture,” 110.

67. Several scholars have argued on the basis of limited evidence that English missionaries “prevailed” over Algonquian shamans—particularly dur ing periods in which Native communities were ravaged by epidemic disease (Cohen, “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians,” 253–54; Simmons, “Conversion from Indian to Puritan,” 208–12; Salisbury, “I Loved the Place of My Dwelling,” 117–19). Such arguments, however, draw upon promotional or hagiographical sources that should be read with extreme caution. Neither Indian nor English healers were effective against epidemic diseases and most stories of medical duels between shamans and missionaries were undoubtedly apocryphal. Ronda suggests in “Generations of the Faith,” 382, that Native Christian preachers became the “new powwows,” though the evidence from the Old Colony does not seem to support his hypothesis. For examples of eighteenth-century Algonquian shamanism, see the sources cited in n. 26.

68. The literature on European “cunning folk” is extensive. See Macfarlane, Alan, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 115–34; Thomas, , Religion and the Decline of Magic, 212–52; and Sharpe, James, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 6670 . For New England examples, see Demos, John Putnam, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 8084 ; Godbeer, Richard, The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 2454 ; and Peter Benes, “Fortune Tellers, Wise-Men, and Magical Healers in New England, 1644–1850,” in Wonders of the Invisible World, 127–48.

69. Brooke, “The True Spiritual Seed,” 120–21.

70. Ibid., 118; Benes, “Fortune Tellers, Wise-Men, and Magical Healers,” 135–37.

71. Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901), 1:385–86.

72. Mayhew, Matthew, A Brief Narrative of the Success which the Gospel Hath Had among the Indians (Boston: Bartholomew Green, 1694), 22 ; Piersen, William D., Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 84 ; Cotton, “Account of the Cotton Family,” 247 (italics added).

73. On Native American participation in the Great Awakening, see Simmons, William S., “The Great Awakening and Indian Conversion in Southern New England,” in Papers of the Tenth Algonquian Conference, ed. Cowan, William (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1979), 2536 ; and Simmons, William S., “Red Yankees: Narragansett Conversion in the Great Awakening,” American Ethnologist 10 (1983): 253–71.

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Native American Popular Religion in New England’s Old Colony, 1670–1770

  • Douglas L. Winiarski


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