APPENDIX TO PART I
EXTRACTS FROM THE LIFE OF JOHN ELIOT, BY CONVERS FRANCIS
MR. ELIOT had been for some time assiduously employed in learning the Indian language. To accomplish this, he secured the assistance of one of the natives, who could speak English. Eliot, at the close of his Indian Grammar, mentions him as "a pregnant-witted young man, who had been a servant in an English house, who pretty well understood his own language, and had a clear pronunciation." He took this Indian into his family, and by constant intercourse with him soon become sufficiently conversant with the vocabulary and construction of the language to translate the ten commandments, the Lord's prayer, and several passages of Scripture, besides composing exhortations and prayers.
Mr. Eliot must have found his task anything but easy or inviting. He was to learn a dialect, in which he could be assisted by no affinity with the languages he already knew. He was to do this without the help of any written or printed specimens, with nothing in the shape of a grammar or analysis, but merely by oral communication with his Indian instructor, or with other natives, who, however comparatively intelligent, must from the nature of the case have been very imperfect teachers. He applied himself to the work with great patience and sagacity, carefully acting the
differences between the Indian and the English modes of constructing words; and, having once got a clew to this, he pursued every noun and verb he could think of through all possible variations. In this way he arrived at analyses and rules, which he could apply for himself in a general manner.
Neal says that Eliot was able to speak the language intelligibly after conversing with the Indian servant a few months. This, in a limited sense, may be true; but he is said to have been engaged two years in the process of learning, before he went to preached to the Indians. In that time he acquired a somewhat ready facility in the use of that dialect, by means of which he was to carry the instructions of spiritual truth to the men of the forest, though as late as 1649 he still lamented his want of skill in this respect.
Notice having been given of his intention [of instructing the Indians], Mr. Eliot, in company with three others, whose names are not mentioned, having implored the divine blessing on the undertaking, made his first visit to the Indians on the 28th of October, 1646 at a place afterwards called Nonantum; a spot that has the honor of being the first on which a civilized and Christian settlement of Indians was effected within the English colonies of North America. This name was given to the high grounds in the north, east part of Newton, and to the bounds of that town and Watertown. At a short distance from the wigwams, they were met by Waban, a leading man among the Indians at that place, accompanied by others, and were welcomed with "English salutations." Waban, who is described as "the chief minister of justice among them," had before shown a better disposition than any other native to receive the religious instruction of the Christians, and had voluntarily proposed to have his eldest son educated by them. His son had been accordingly placed at school in Dedham, whence he had now come to attend the meeting.
The Indians assembled in Waban's wigwam; and thither Mr. Eliot and his friends were conducted. When the company were all collected and quiet, a religious service was begun with prayer. This was uttered in English; the reason for which, as given by Mr. Eliot and his companions, was, that he did not then feel sufficiently acquainted with the Indian language to use it in that service.
The same difficulty would not occur in preaching, since for this, we may suppose, he had sufficiently prepared his thoughts and expressions to make his discourse intelligible on all important points; and if he should, in some parts, fail of being, understood, he could repeat or correct himself, till he should succeed better. Besides, he took with him an interpretor, who was frequently able to express his instructions more distinctly than he could himself. Though the prayer was unintelligible to the Indians, yet, as they knew what the nature of the service was, Mr. Eliot believed it might not be without an effect in subduing their feelings so as to prepare them better to listen to the preaching.
Mr. Eliot then began his sermon, or address, from Ezek. xxxvii. 9, 10. The word wind, in this passage, suggested to the minds of some, who afterwards gave an account of this meeting, a coincidence which might, in the spirit of the times, be construed into a special appointment of Providence. The name of Waban signified, in the Indian tongue, wind; so that when the preacher uttered the words, "say to the wind," it was as if he had proclaimed, "say to Waban." As this man afterwards exerted much influence in awaking the attention of his fellow savages to Christianity, it might seem that in this first visit of the messengers of the gospel he was singled out by a special call to work in the cause. It is not surprising that the Indians were struck with the coincidence. Mr. Eliot gave no countenance to a superstitious use of the circumstance, and took care to tell them that, when he chose his text, he had no thought of any such application.
The sermon was an hour and a quarter long. One cannot but suspect that Mr. Eliot injudiciously crowded too much into one address. It would seem to have been better, for the first time at least, to have given a shorter sermon, and to have touched upon fewer subjects. But he was doubtless borne on by his zeal to do much in a good cause; and, as we have reason to think, by the attentive, though vague, curiosity of the Indians.
Thus ended a conference three hours long, at the end of which the Indians affirmed that they were not weary, and requested their visitors to come again. They expressed a wish to build a town and live together. Mr. Eliot promised to intercede for them with the court. He and his companions then gave the men some tobacco, and the children some apples, and bade them farewell.
A fortnight afterwards, on the 11th of November, Mr. Eliot and his friends repeated their visit to the wigwam of Waban. This meeting was more numerous than the former. The religious service was opened, as before, with a prayer in English. This was followed by a few brief and plain questions addressed to the children, admitting short and easy answers. The children seemed well disposed to listen and learn. To encourage them, Mr. Eliot gave them occasionally an apple or a cake; and the adults were requested to repeat to them the instructions that had been given. He then preached to the assembly in their own language, telling them that he had come to bring them good news from God, and show them how wicked men might become good and happy; and, in general, discoursing on nearly the same topics as he had treated at his first visit.Next