Saturday, February 4, 2012

John Eliot - Apostle to the Indians

The first Bible printed in America was in the Algonquin Indian language. John Eliot (1604-1690) was responsible for translating the Bible into Algonquin and printing it in 1663. This was nearly one hundred and twenty years before the first Bible in the English language printed in America was published by  Robert Aitken in 1782.

Eliot, born in Widford, Hertfordshire, England, became reknown as the "Apostle to the American Indians."

He was born to Bennett Eliot a middle class farmer and was baptized on the 5th of August 1604.

In 1622, Eliot studied at Jesus College, Cambridge where he became distinguished in his skill for languages and received a Bachelor of Arts decree. Between 1629 and 1630, Eliot became an assistant at the school of Reverend Thomas Hooker located in Little Baddow near Chelmsford. Thomas Hooker's association with the school ended in 1630 when he chose to immigrate to America due to persecution. It was through the influence of Thomas Hooker which led him to become a Puritan. Eliot was unable to follow the nonconformist principles under Archbishop Laud and so chose to emigrate to the American colonies in 1631. Eliot chose to follow Hooker to America in 1631 upon experiencing the difficulties of nonconformist ministers. He settled in Boston and assisted the ministry of the First Church.

In November of 1632; Eliot became a teacher in the Church of Christ of Roxbury, Massachusetts. He continued to serve there until his death in 1690. Hannah Mulford, to whom he was betrothed in England, emigrated to America becoming his wife and constant helper. Eliot collaborated with Thomas Weld, pastor of the Roxbury Church, and Richard Mather preparing a new metrical version of the Psalms which became known as the "Bay Psalm Book" of 1640.

The "Bay Psalm Book," published in 1640, became the first book printed in the English colonies. Furthermore, they wrote "The Christian Commonwealth" and the "Harmony of the Gospels" which was published in 1678.

Thomas Weld and John Eliot were opposed to the antinomian teachings of Anne Hutchinson.

Eliot sought to learn the dialects of the Algonquin Indians. He accomplished this through the assistance of a young Indian whom he received in his home. Through the assistance of the young man, Eliot translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer into Algonquin. In October of 1646, Eliot sucessfully began preaching at Newton to the Algonquin Indians in their own language taking a sincere interest in the welfare of the Indians to whom he began to minister. Several of the Indians who heard him preach declared their faith in Jesus Christ during the third meeting in which Eliot preached. His initial success among the Algonquin Indians was very fruitful for many other Indians soon proclaimed their faith in Christ.

Eliot petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to set aside lands to be protected as their residence. The Court granted Eliot's petition and directed that two clergymen be annually elected by the clergy of the colony to minister to the Algonquin. Villages of "praying Indians" were established and he assisted in the organization of the first Indian church. The first work published by Eliot in 1653 in Cambridge, Massachusetts was a catechism in the Algonquin language. This became the first book printed in and Indian language. By 1661, the whole New Testament had been translated into Algonquin and was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Two years later, Eliot had translated the entire Bible printing a Bible that included the Old Testament in Algonquin.

In 1644 Eliot published "Baxter's Call to the Unconverted" at Cambridge, Mass.

In 1664, his sons, John and Joseph, assisted him in preparing "The Indian Grammar Begun, or an Essay to Bring the Indian Language into Rules." In 1669, he published "The Indian Primer"  comprised of an exposition of the Lord's Prayer and a translation of the Larger Catechism which was published in Cambridge. The "Indian Dialogues" was a little volume which was printed in English in 1761 and the Logick Primer was published in 1672. Both the "Indian Dialogues" and the "Logick Primer" were created to instruct Indians in the English language. "Thomas Shepard's Sincere Convert" was translated into Algonquin and published in 1689 by Grindal Rawson. The Algonquin Bible printed in 1663 at Cambridge, Massachusetts by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson was the first Bible printed in the American colonies.

Reverend John Cotton also had a wide knowledge of the Indian language. A second edition was printed in 1685 in which the Reverend John Cotton (1640-1699)  of Plymouth assisted John Eliot.

Necessary funds for the advancement of the ministry came from private sources in England and throughout New England began when Eliot's endeavors to minister to the Indians became known.

John Eliot's mission to serve and minister to the Algonquin Indians led to the formation of the "Society for the Propogation of the Gospel in New England" which was incorporated by parliament in July of 1649. The society supported and directed the work inaugurated by John Eliot.

Eliot's Bible brought the message of the Gospel to the American Indian and provided from them a written language enhancing their literacy. A reason why English language Bibles were not printed in the American colonies until the Aiken's Bible of was that it was cheaper and easier to import the Bible from England. The Bible which John Eliot needed for missionary work among the Algonquin Indians required a Bible not found in England. The Algonquin Indian communicated primarily through spoken language and limited pictorial images. Eliot recognized the need of the Algonquin to have a written language which wound enhance their literacy. John Eliot gave them the gift of God's Word enhancing their literacy through their own written language.

He learned to speak their verbal language and utlized the phonetic alphabet - the manner in which one pronouces words comprised of character symbols to translate the Bible into their native tongue using the English alphabet.

Hence, the Algonquin didn't need to learn to speak English but had a Bible they could read. This opened a door through which Indians could learn the alphabet to communicate and write books of their own.

The Christian Indian town which was founded by Eliot was moved from Nonaturn to Natick in 1651. The Algonquin build residences, a meeting-house, and a school-house were erected. Eliot would continue to preach whenever able approximately once in every two weeks. His preaching ministry to the Indians continued throughout the rest of his life. Other pastors were encouraged to follow in Eliot's footsteps. Under his direction a second town at Ponkapog (Stoughton) was established in 1654. Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket were the locations in which his success among the Indians was duplicated. An unofficial census of "praying Indians" numbered 3,600 Christians by 1674. Tragically, during the era known as the King Philip's War, their numbers met reverses. John Eliot had a sincere love to the Algonquin Indians and sought to minister to their needs. Tragically, others did not share his compassion to the Native American Indians.

When Eliot died in Roxbury, Massachusetts in May 21, 1690, the ministry among the Algonquin Indians was at the height of their success and prosperity.

Tragically, after Eliot's death their extinction proceeded rapidly. Today, there isn't one person who is able to read the Scriptures which Eliot translated into the Algonquin language.

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