In 1643, twelve years after his arrival in Massachusetts Bay, John Eliot (1604-90), the Roxbury clergyman better known as the “Apostle to the Indians,” began to learn an Algonquian dialect in preparation for missionary work. After three years of study, he started to preach to the Indians in the colony. He continued to labor among them until the late 1680's, when his infirmity no longer permitted him to leave Roxbury. Over the course of these forty years, he attracted some eleven hundred Indians to the Christian faith, established fourteen reservations (“praying towns”) for his proselytes, and produced for Indians' use a number of Algonquian language works, including a translation of the Bible.
During the past twenty-five years, Eliot's career has received considerable scholarly attention. In 1965 Alden Vaughan portrayed Eliot as a conscientious missionary whose objective was to spread “Christian civilization” among the Indians.