E/MS Unit I

Lesson B: Indian “Praying Towns”

Key Questions

  1. What were the Puritans' goals when they settled what is now Massachusetts?
  2. What did Puritan settlers do to achieve these goals?
  3. Where were the Indian "praying towns"?

Primary Sources

Document E/MS I-7: An Example to All: Excerpts from A Model of Christian Charity, by John Winthrop, 1630

Document E/MS I-7: An Example to All: Excerpts from A Model of Christian Charity, by John Winthrop, 1630

We do not know exactly when John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, gave the famous speech “A Model of Christian Charity” to the men and women who sailed with him on the Arabella. Most likely it was on board the ship. The following excerpt has been transcribed with modern spelling.

...Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God,... We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

And to shut this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. "Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil," in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.

Full text is on line at University of Virginia's Religious Freedom website.

Document E/MS I-8: Massachusetts Bay Colony seal, 1629

Document E/MS I-8: Massachusetts Bay Colony seal, 1629

King Charles I granted the colonists a charter in 1629 and gave them the authority to use a seal. This seal was used until 1686, shortly after the first charter was revoked, and again from 1689-1692.

Document E/MS I-9: Teaching and Preaching: Excerpt from John Winthrop’s Journal, Describing the Rev. John Eliot’s Methods of Instructing Indians, 1647

Document E/MS I-9: Teaching and Preaching: Excerpt from John Winthrop’s Journal, Describing the Rev. John Eliot’s Methods of Instructing Indians, 1647

[Eliot's] manner of proceeding was thus: he would persuade one of the other elders or some magistrate to begin the exercise with prayer in English; then he took a text, and read it first in the Indian language, and after in English; then he preached to them in Indian about an hour; (but first I should have spoke of the catechising their children, who were soon brought to answer some short questions, whereupon he gave each of the men apple or a cake), then he demanded of some of the chiefs, if they understood him; if they answered, yea, then he asked them if they had any questions to propound. And they had usually two or three more questions, which he did resolve…

[One] question was, what was the reason, that when all Englishmen did know God, yet some of them were poor. His answer was, 1. that God knows it is better for his children to be good than be rich; he knows withal, that if some of them had riches, they would abuse them, and wax proud and wanton, etc.. therefore he gives them no more riches than may be needful for them, that they may be kept from pride, etc. to depend upon him, 2. he would hereby have men know, that he hath better blessings to bestow upon good men than riches, etc., and that their best portion is in heaven, etc.

[Another] question was, if a man had two wives, (which was ordinary with them), seeing he must put away one, which he should put away. To this it was answered, that by the law of God the first is the true wife, and the other is no wife; but if such a case fell out, they should then repair to the magistrates, and they would direct them what to do, for it might be, that the first wife might be an adulteress, etc., and then she was to be put away.

When all their questions were resolved, he concluded with prayer in the Indian language.

From John Winthrop's journal for 1647.


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