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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Praying Savages of Natick

By Daniel Gookin (1612–1687)

[From Historical Collections of the Indians in New England. Written in 1674.]

HERE I shall take the liberty, though it be a digression, to relate a story of remark concerning a child at Natick, a youth of about eleven years of age, who was of a sober and grave carriage, and an attentive hearer of the Word, considering his age and capacity, but he had a weak body and was consumptive. This child hearing Mr. Eliot preach upon a time at Natick, when the ordinance of baptism was to be administered unto some children, whose parents had made profession of their faith and were joined to the church; upon which occasion Mr. Eliot said, that baptism was Christ’s mark, which he ordered to be set upon his lambs, and that it was a manifest token of Christ’s love to the offspring of his people to set this mark upon them; this child taking special notice of this passage, did often solicit his father and mother that one or both of them would endeavor to join to the church, that he might be marked for one of Christ’s lambs before he died. The parents who were well inclined, especially the mother, and being also very affectionate to their child, as the Indians generally are, did seriously ponder the child’s reiterated entreaties; and not long after, first the mother, and then the father of the child, joined to the church. Soon after the lad was baptized; in which he did greatly rejoice and triumph, that now he was marked for one of Christ’s lambs; and now said he to his father and mother, “I am willing to die;” which shortly after came to pass; and I doubt not, but as the child had Christ’s name set upon him in baptism and by faith, so his immortal soul is now in glory, rejoicing in communion with Christ.

This relation, which is a most true and certain thing, should methinks be argumentative to persuade the Antipædobaptists of our age to so much affection and humanity unto their offspring, as the poor Indians had to their child, to offer them up to God, that his mark and name in baptism might be set upon them.

There are many Indians that live among those that have subjected to the Gospel, that are catechised, do attend public worship, read the Scriptures, pray in their family morning and evening; but being not yet come so far, as to be able or willing to profess their faith in Christ, and yield obedience and subjection unto him in his church, are not admitted to partake in the ordinances of God, proper and peculiar to the church of Christ; which is a garden enclosed, as the Scripture saith.

The manner practised by these Indians in the worship of God is thus. Upon the Lord’s days, fast days, and lecture days, the people assemble together at the sound of a drum,—for bells they yet have not,—twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, on Lord’s days, but only once upon lecture days; where one of their teachers, if they have more than one, begins with solemn and affectionate prayer. Then, after a short pause, either himself or some other thereunto appointed readeth a chapter distinctly out of the Old or New Testament. At the conclusion thereof a psalm, or part of a psalm, is appointed, rehearsed, and solemnly sung. Then the minister catechises and prays before his sermon; and so preacheth from some text of Scripture. Then concludeth with prayer, and a psalm, and a blessing pronounced. Sometimes, instead of reading the chapter, some persons do answer some part of the catechism.

In all these acts of worship, for I have been often present with them, they demean themselves visibly with reverence, attention, modesty, and solemnity; the menkind sitting by themselves and the womenkind by themselves, according to their age, quality, and degree, in a comely manner. And for my own part, I have no doubt, but am fully satisfied, according to the judgment of charity, that divers of them do fear God and are true believers; but yet I will not deny but that there may be some of them hypocrites, that profess religion, and yet are not sound-hearted. But things that are secret belong to God; and things that are revealed, unto us and our children.

Their teachers are generally chosen from among themselves,—except some few English teachers,—of the most pious and able men among them. If these did not supply, they would generally be destitute: for the learned English young men do not hitherto incline or endeavor to fit themselves for that service, by learning the Indian language. Possibly the reasons may be: First, the difficulty to attain that speech. Secondly, little encouragement, while they prepare for it. Thirdly, the difficulty in the practice of such a calling among them, by reason of the poverty and barbarity, which cannot be grappled with, unless the person be very much mortified, self-denying, and of a public spirit, seeking greatly God’s glory; and these are rare qualifications in young men. It is but one of an hundred that is so endowed.

Mr. Eliot hath of late years fallen into a practice among the Indians, the better to prepare and furnish them with abilities to explicate and apply the Scriptures, by setting up a lecture among them in logic and theology, once every fortnight, all the summer, at Natick; whereat he is present and ready, and reads and explains to them the principles of those arts. And God hath been pleased graciously so to bless these means, that several of them, especially young men of acute parts, have gained much knowledge, and are able to speak methodically and profitably unto any plain text of Scripture, yea, as well as you can imagine such little means of learning can advantage them unto. From this church and town of Natick hath issued forth, as from a seminary of virtue and piety, divers teachers that are employed in several new praying towns; of which we shall hear more, God willing, hereafter.