« Prev SECTION III. Difficulties attending the… Next »


Difficulties attending the Christianizing of the Indians First difficulty, the rooted aversion to Christianity that generally prevails among them.

I shall now attempt something with relation to the last particular required by the Honourable Society in their letter, viz. To give some account of the “difficulties I have already met with in my work, and the methods I make use of for surmounting the same.” And, in the first instance, first, I have met with great difficulty in my work among these Indians, “from the rooted aversion to Christianity that generally prevails among them.” They are not only brutishly stupid and ignorant of divine things, but many of them are obstinately set against Christianity, and seem to abhor even the Christian name.

This aversion to Christianity arises partly from a view of the “immorality and vicious behaviour of many who are called Christians.” They observe that horrid wickedness in nominal Christians, which the light of nature condemns in themselves: and not having distinguishing views of things, are ready to look upon all the white people alike, and to condemn them alike, for the abominable practices of some. Hence when I have attempted to treat with them about Christianity, they have frequently objected the scandalous practices of Christians. They have observed to me, that the white people lie, defraud, steal, and drink worse than the Indians; that they have taught the Indians these things, especially the latter of them; who before the coming of the English, knew of no such thing as strong drink: that the English have, by these means, made them quarrel and kill one another; and, in a word, brought them to the practice of all those vices that now prevail among them. So that they are now vastly more vicious, as well as much more miserable, than they were before the coming of the white people into the country. These, and such like objections, they frequently make against Christianity, which are not easily answered to their satisfaction; many of them being facts too notoriously true.

The only way I have to take in order to surmount this difficulty, is to distinguish between nominal and real Christians; and to show them, that the ill conduct of many of the former proceeds not from their being Christians, but from their being Christians only in name, not in heart, &c. To which it has sometimes been objected, that if all those who will cheat the Indians are Christians only in name, there are but few left in the country to be Christians in heart. This, and many other of the remarks they pass upon the white people, and their miscarriages, I am forced to own, and cannot but grant, that many nominal Christians are more abominably wicked than the Indians. But then I attempt to show them, that there are some who feel the power of Christianity, and that these are not so. I ask them, when they ever saw me guilty of the vices they complain of, and charge Christians in general with? But still the great difficulty is, that the people who live back in the country nearest to them, and the traders that go among them, are generally of the most irreligious and vicious sort; and the conduct of one or two persons, be it never so exemplary, is not sufficient to counterbalance the vicious behaviour of so many of the same denomination, and so to recommend Christianity to pagans.

Another thing that serves to make them more averse to Christianity, is a “fear of being enslaved.” They are, perhaps, some of the most jealous people living, and extremely averse to a state of servitude, and hence are always afraid of some design forming against them. Besides, they seem to have no sentiments of generosity, benevolence, and goodness; that if any thing be proposed to them, as being for their good, they are ready rather to suspect, that there is at bottom some design forming against them, than that such proposals flow from good-will to them, and a desire of their welfare. And hence, when I have attempted to recommend Christianity to their acceptance, they have sometimes objected, that the white people have come among them, have cheated them out of their lands, driven them back to the mountains, from the pleasant places they used to enjoy by the sea-side &c.; that therefore they have no reason to think the white people are now seeking their welfare; but rather that they have sent me out to draw them together, under a pretence of kindness to them, that they may have an opportunity to make slaves of them, as they do of the poor negroes, or else to ship them on board their vessels, and make them fight with their enemies, &c. Thus they have oftentimes construed all the kindness I could show them, and the hardships I have endured in order to treat with them about Christianity. “He never would (say they) take all this pains to do us good, he must have some wicked design to hurt us some way or other.” And to give them assurance of the contrary, is not an easy matter, while there are so many who (agreeable to their apprehension) are only “seeking their own,” not the good of others.

To remove this difficulty I inform them, that I am not sent out among them by those persons in these provinces, who they suppose have cheated them out of their lands; but by pious people at a great distance, who never had an inch of their lands, nor ever thought of doing them any hurt, &c.

But here will arise so many frivolous and impertinent questions, that it would tire one’s patience, and wear out one’s spirits to hear them; such as, “But why did not these good people send you to teach us before, while we had our lands down by the sea-side, &c. If they had sent you then, we should likely have heard you, and turned Christians.” The poor creatures still imagining, that I should be much beholden to them, in case they would hearken to Christianity; and insinuating, that this was a favour they could not now be so good as to show me, seeing they had received so many injuries from the white people.

Another spring of aversion to Christianity in the Indians, is, “their strong attachment to their own religious notions, (if they may be called religious,) and the early prejudices they have imbibed in favour of their own frantic and ridiculous kind of worship.” What their notions of God are, in their pagan state, is hard precisely to determine. I have taken much pains to inquire of my Christian people, whether they, before their acquaintance with Christianity, imagined there was a plurality of great invisible powers, or whether they supposed but one such being, and worshipped him in a variety of forms and shapes: but cannot learn any thing of them so distinct as to be fully satisfying upon the point. Their notions in that state were so prodigiously dark and confused, that they seemed not to know what they thought themselves. But so far as I can learn, they had a notion of a plurality of invisible deities, and paid some kind of homage to them promiscuously, under a great variety of forms and shapes. And it is certain, that those who yet remain pagans pay some kind of superstitious reverence to beasts, birds, fishes, and even reptiles; that is, some to one kind of animal, and some to another. They do not indeed suppose a divine power essential to, or inhering in, these creatures, but that some invisible beings I cannot learn that it is always one such being only, but divers; not distinguished from each other by certain names, but only notionally communicate to those animals a great power (either one or other of them, just as it happens, or perhaps sometimes all of them,) and so make these creatures the immediate authors of good to certain persons. Whence such a creature becomes sacred to the persons to whom he is supposed to be the immediate author of good, and through him they must worship the invisible powers, though to others he is no more than another creature. And perhaps another animal is looked upon to be the immediate author of good to another, and consequently he must worship the invisible powers in that animal. And I have known a pagan burn fine tobacco for incense, in order to appease the anger of that invisible power which he supposed presided over rattle-snakes, because one of these animals was killed by an other Indian near his house.

But after the strictest inquiry respecting their notions of the Deity, I find, that in ancient times, before the coming of the white people, some supposed there were four invisible powers, who presided over the four corners of the earth. Others imagined the sun to be the only deity, and that all things were made by him. Others, at the same 424time, have a confused notion of a certain body or fountain of deity, somewhat like the anima mundi, so frequently mentioned by the more learned ancient heathens, diffusing itself to various animals, and even to inanimate things, making them the immediate authors of good to certain persons, as before observed, with respect to various supposed deities. But after the coming of the white people, they seemed to suppose there were three deities, and three only, because they saw people of three different kinds of complexion, viz. English, Negroes, and themselves.

It is a notion pretty generally prevailing among them, that it was not the same God made them, who made us; but that they were made after the white people: which further shows, that they imagine a plurality of divine powers. And I fancy they suppose their god gained some special skill by seeing the white people made, and so made them better: for it is certain they look upon themselves, and their methods of living, (which, they say, their god expressly prescribed for them,) vastly preferable to the white people, and their methods. And hence will frequently sit and laugh at them, as being good for nothing else but to plough and fatigue themselves with hard labour; while they enjoy the satisfaction of stretching themselves on the ground, and sleeping as much as they please; and have no other trouble but now and then to chase the deer, which is often attended with pleasure rather than pain. Hence, by the way, many of them look upon it as disgraceful for them to become Christians, as it would be esteemed among Christians for any to become pagans. And now although they suppose our religion will do well enough for us, because prescribed by our God, yet it is no ways proper for them, because not of the same make and original. This they have sometimes offered as a reason why they did not incline to hearken to Christianity.

They seem to have some confused notion about a future state of existence, and many of them imagine that the chichung, (i. e. the shadow,) or what survives the body, will at death go southward, and in an unknown but curious place, will enjoy some kind of happiness, such as, hunting, feasting, dancing, and the like. And what they suppose will contribute much to their happiness in that state, is that they shall never be weary of those entertainments. It seems by this notion of their going southward to obtain happiness, as if they had their course into these parts of the world from some very cold climate, and found the further they went southward the more comfortable they were; and thence concluded, that perfect felicity was to be found further towards the same point.

They seem to have some faint and glimmering notion about rewards and punishments, or at least happiness and misery, in a future state, that is, some that I have conversed with, though others seem to know of no such thing. Those that suppose this, seem to imagine that most will be happy, and that those who are not so, will be punished only with privation, being only excluded the walls of that good world where happy souls shall dwell.

These rewards and punishments they suppose to depend entirely upon their conduct with relation to the duties of the second table, i. e. their behaviour towards mankind, and seem, so far as I can see, not to imagine that they have any reference to their religious notions or practices, or any thing that relates to the worship of God. I remember I once consulted a very ancient but intelligent Indian upon this point, for my own satisfaction; and asked him whether the Indians of old times had supposed there was any thing of the man that would survive the body? He replied, Yes. I asked him, where they supposed its abode would be? He replied, “It would go southward.” I asked him further, whether it would be happy there? He answered, after a considerable pause, “that the souls of good folks would be happy, and the souls of bad folks miserable.” I then asked him, who he called bad folks? His answer (as I remember) was, “Those who lie, steal, quarrel with their neighbours, are unkind to their friends, and especially to aged parents, and, in a word, such as are a plague to mankind.” These were his bad folks; but not a word was said about their neglect of divine worship, and their badness in that respect.

They have indeed some kind of religious worship, are frequently offering sacrifices to some supposed invisible powers, and are very ready to impute their calamities in the present world, to the neglect of these sacrifices; but there is no appearance of reverence and devotion in the homage they pay them; and what they do of this nature, seems to be done only to appease the supposed anger of their deities, to engage them to be placable to themselves, and do them no hurt, or at most, only to invite these powers to succeed them in those enterprises they are engaged in respecting the present life. So that in offering these sacrifices, they seem to have no reference to a future state, but only to present comfort. And this is the account my interpreter always gives me of this matter. “They sacrifice (says he) that they may have success in hunting and other affairs, and that sickness and other calamities may not befall them, which they fear in the present world, in case of neglect; but they do not suppose God will ever punish them in the coming world for neglecting to sacrifice,” &c. And indeed they seem to imagine, that those whom they call bad folks, are excluded from the company of good people in that state, not so much because God remembers, and is determined to punish them for their sins of any kind, either immediately against himself or their neighbour, as because they would be a plague to society, and would render others unhappy if admitted to dwell with them. So that they are excluded rather of necessity, than by God acting as a righteous judge.

They give much heed to dreams, because they suppose these invisible powers give them directions at such times about certain affairs, and sometimes inform them what animal they would choose to be worshipped in. They are likewise much attached to the traditions and fabulous notions of their fathers, who have informed them of divers miracles that were anciently wrought among the Indians, which they firmly believe, and thence look upon their ancestors to have been the best of men. They also mention some wonderful things which, they say, have happened since the memory of some who are now living. One I remember affirmed to me, that himself had once been dead four days, that most of his friends in that time were gathered together to his funeral, and that he should have been buried, but that some of his relations at a great distance, who were sent for upon that occasion, were not arrived, before whose coming he came to life again. In this time, he says, he went to the place where the sun rises, (imagining the earth to be plain,) and directly over that place, at a great height in the air, he was admitted, he says, into a great house, which he supposes was several miles in length, and saw many wonderful things, too tedious as well as ridiculous to mention. Another person, a woman, whom I have not seen, but been credibly informed of by the Indians, declares, that she was dead several days, that her soul went southward, and feasted and danced with the happy spirits, and that she found all things exactly agreeable to the Indian notions of a future state.

These superstitious notions and traditions, and this kind of ridiculous worship I have mentioned, they are extremely attached to, and the prejudice they have imbibed in favour of these things, renders them not a little averse to the doctrine of Christianity. Some of them have told me, when I have endeavoured to instruct them, “that their fathers had taught them already, and that they did not want to learn now.”

It will be too tedious to give any considerable account of the methods I make use of for surmounting this difficulty. I will just say, I endeavour, as much as possible, to show them the inconsistency of their own notions, and so to confound them out of their own mouths. But I must also say, I have sometimes been almost nonplussed with them, and scarce knew what to answer them: but never have been more perplexed with them, than when they have pretended to yield to me as knowing more than they, and consequently have asked me numbers of impertinent, and yet difficult questions, as, “How the Indians came first into this part of the world, away from all the white people, if what I said was true,” viz. that the same God made them who made us? “How the Indians became black, if they had the same original parents with the white people?” And numbers more of the like nature. These things, I must say, have been not a little difficult and discouraging, especially when withal some of the 425 Indians have appeared angry and malicious against Christianity.

What further contributes to their aversion to Christianity is, the influence that their powows (conjurers or diviners) have upon them. These are a sort of persons who are supposed to have a power of foretelling future events, or recovering the sick, at least oftentimes, and of charming, enchanting, or poisoning persons to death by their magic divinations. And their spirit, in its various operations, seems to be a Satanical imitation of the spirit of prophecy that the church in early ages was favoured with. Some of these diviners are endowed with the spirit in infancy; others in adult age. It seems not to depend upon their own will, nor to be acquired by any endeavours of the person who is the subject of it, although it is supposed to be given to children sometimes in consequence of some means the parents use with them for that purpose; one of which is to make the child swallow a small living frog, after having performed some superstitious rites and ceremonies upon it. They are not under the influence of this spirit always alike, but it comes upon them at times. And those who are endowed with it, are accounted singularly favoured.

I have laboured to gain some acquaintance with this affair of their conjuration, and have for that end consulted and queried with the man mentioned in my Journal of May 9, who, since his conversion to Christianity, has endeavoured to give me the best intelligence he could of this matter. But it seems to be such a mystery of iniquity, that I cannot well understand it, and do not know oftentimes what ideas to affix to the terms he makes use of; and, so far as I can learn, he himself has not any clear notions of the thing, now his spirit of divination is gone from him. However, the manner in which he says he obtained this spirit of divination was this; he was admitted into the presence of a great wan, who informed him, that he loved, pitied, and desired to do him good. It was not in this world that he saw the great man, but in a world above at a vast distance from this. The great man, he says, was clothed with the day; yea, with the brightest day he ever saw; a day of many years, yea, of everlasting continuance! this whole world, he says, was drawn upon him, so that in him, the earth, and all things in it, might be seen. I asked him, if rocks, mountains, and seas were drawn upon, or appeared in him? He replied, that every thing that was beautiful and lovely in the earth was upon him, and might be seen by looking on him, as well as if one was on the earth to take a view of them there. By the side of the great man, he says, stood his shadow or spirit; for he used (chichung) the word they commonly use to express that of the man which survives the body, which word properly signifies a shadow. This shadow, he says, was as lovely as the man himself, and filled all places, and was most agreeable as well as wonderful to him. Here, he says, he tarried some time, and was unspeakably entertained and delighted with a view of the great man, of his shadow or spirit, and of all things in him. And what is most of all astonishing, he imagines all this to have passed before he was born. He never had been, he says, in this world at that time. And what confirms him in the belief of this, is, that the great man told him, that he must come down to earth, be born of such a woman, meet with such and such things, and in particular, that he should once in his life be guilty of murder. At this he was displeased, and told the great man, he would never murder. But the great man replied, “I have said it, and it shall be so.” Which has accordingly happened. At this time, he says, the great man asked him what he would choose in life. He replied, First to be a hunter, and afterwards to be a powow or diviner. Whereupon the great man told him, he should have what he desired, and that his shadow should go along with him down to earth, and be with him for ever. There was, he says, all this time no words spoken between them. The conference was not carried on by any human language, but they had a kind of mental intelligence of each other’s thoughts, dispositions, and proposals. After this, he says, he saw the great man no more; but supposes he now came down to earth to be born, but the spirit or shadow of the great man still attended him, and ever after continued to appear to him in dreams and other ways, until he felt the power of God’s word upon his heart; since which it has entirely left him.

This spirit, he says, used sometimes to direct him in dreams to go to such a place and hunt, assuring him he should there meet with success, which accordingly proved so. And when he had been there some time, the spirit would order him to another place. So that he had success in hunting, according to the great man’s promise made to him at the time of his choosing this employment.

There were some times when this spirit came upon him in a special manner, and he was full of what he saw in the great man; and then, he says, he was all light, and not only light himself, but it was light all around him, so that he could see through men, and knew the thoughts of their hearts, &c. These depths of Satan I leave to others to fathom or to dive into as they please, and do not pretend, for my own part, to know what ideas to affix to such terms, and cannot well guess what conceptions of things these creatures have at these times when they call themselves all light. But my interpreter tells me, that he heard one of them tell a certain Indian the secret thoughts of his heart, which he had never divulged. The case was this, the Indian was bitten with a snake, and was in extreme pain with the bite. Whereupon the diviner (who was applied to for his recovery) told him, that at such a time he had promised, that the next deer he killed, he would sacrifice it to some great power, but had broken his promise. And now, said he, that great power has ordered this snake to bite you for your neglect. The Indian confessed it was so, but said he had never told any body of it. But as Satan, no doubt, excited the Indian to make that promise, it was no wonder he should be able to communicate the matter to the conjurer.

These things serve to fix them down in their idolatry, and to make them believe there is no safety to be expected, but by their continuing to offer such sacrifices. And the influence that these powows have upon them, either through the esteem or fear they have of them, is no small hinderance to their embracing Christianity.

To remove this difficulty, I have laboured to show the Indians, that these diviners have no power to recover the sick, when the God whom Christians serve, has determined them for death; and that the supposed great power who influences these diviners has himself no power in this case: and that if they seem to recover any by their magic charms, they are only such as the God I preached to them, had determined should recover, and who would have recovered without their conjurations, &c. And when I have apprehended them afraid of embracing Christianity, lest they should be enchanted and poisoned, I have endeavoured to relieve their minds of this fear, by asking them, Why their powows did not enchant and poison me, seeing they had as much reason to hate me for preaching to and desiring them to become Christians, as they could have to hate them in case they should actually become such? And that they might have an evidence of the power and goodness of God engaged for the protection of Christians, I ventured to bid a challenge to all their powows and great powers to do their worst on me first of all, and thus laboured to tread down their influence.

Many things further might be offered upon this head, but thus much may suffice for a representation of their aversion to and prejudice against Christianity, the springs of it, and the difficulties thence arising.

« Prev SECTION III. Difficulties attending the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection