Charles M. (Charles Mayo) Ellis.

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on the twenty-sixth of November, in the same year. The whole
proceedings of the meetings are still preserved. After prayer and
a discourse, the Indians put such questions as suggested them-
selves, such as these, Hoio he hnew Jesus Christ ? Whether the
English were ever ignorant of Christ ? Whether Christ could
understand prayers in Indian ? Hoiv the ivorld came to be full
of people, if all men were drowned in the flood ? Why sea water
was salt and river water fresh ? These and many more were put
at the different meetings. They are curious and interesting as
they show the operation of men's minds and of the religious sen-
timent. But they are too voluminous for the limits of this sketch.
The accounts of the meetings were sent to England and soon af-
ter published and excited great interest.

It was a maxim with Eliot that the Indians must be civilized in
order to their being christianized. Accordingly, he took the
greatest pains not only to teach them the truths of Christianity,
but to show to them the benefits of the various arts known to the
English, and to urge them to industry, good order, and good gov-
ernment. He looked to their physical comfort. "Cleanliness"
he considered " next to Godliness." On the organization of a
town at Natick, a simple code of laws was agreed upon, which in-
dicate at once the habits of the natives, and the aim and obstacles
of Eliot. They punished 1st, idleness, 2d, licentiousness, 3d,
cruelty to women, 4th, vagrancy, 5th, looseness in dress, 6th, fil-
thiness in person. These were, no doubt, made by Eliot.

Part I.] history of roxbury. 107

Before, or about the time when Eliot commenced his labor at
Nonanlum,he had visited the Indians at Dorchester mill, but was
not well received by them, though they afterwards desired him
to preach to them. He began with those in his immediate vicin-
ity. The next year, he went to Concord to preach, when he con-
verted the chief and gained converts in the tribe. In 1648, he
went to a tribe on the Merrimac, in 1648 to Yarmouth, after-
wards to Lancaster and Brookfield. It was his custom for many
years to preach to the Indians once a fortnight. In 1670 he made
a journey to the Indians at Martha's Vineyard. In 1673-4 he
travelled through the country of the Nipmucks, who inhabited the
southern parts of Western Massachusetts and the North of Con-
necticut, preaching constantly and teaching them in their wig-

The progress he made was not rapid. It may be judged of
from the fact that, at the breaking out of Philip's war the whole
number of christian Indians in the Massachusetts colony was
about 1150. The work was beset with difficulties. King Philip
told the Apostle, that he cared no more for his religion than for a
button on his coat. Ninigret, the Narraganset sachem, when re-
quested by Mayhew leave to preach to his tribe, told him to make
the English good first. There was great personal danger and
hardship. On one occasion, the life of Mr. Eliot was threatened
if he dared to visit a certain tribe, but he did not hesitate, saying,
*' it is God's work and I fear not," and he went, under the guard
of his friends and some christian Indians. In one of his letters,
he says " I have not been dry night nor day, from the third day
of the week unto the sixth, but so travelled, and at night pull off
my boots, wring my stockings and on with them again, and so
continue. But God steps in and helps." Gookin, a judge of the
Indian Court, said he was afraid to go through the streets alone.
Eliot was not proof against all hardship. In 1657, he was
" exercised by the sciatica, cndarmg much anguish and dolour,"
so that he could not preach for twenty weeks.

Yet he accomplished much. Under him the Indians became
neat, and industrious. They began to leave their old habits and
organize into civilized society. Several of their towns became
quite thriving and respectable. In 1647, on Eliot's petition a
court was established for the Indian tribe of Nonantum. The


wnrranl of Mr. Justice Waban, " You, you big constable, qnick
you catch um Jeremiah OfTscow, strong you hold um, safe you
bring urn, afore me Waban, justice peace," and his righteous
judgment in the case, between the drunken Indians, "tie um all
up, and whip um plaintiff", and whip um fendant, and whip um
witness," have become equally well known, but the general good
order and thrifty condition of the Natick Indians is proof enough
of a wise administration of afTairs. Even the ridiculous warrant
is equalled in brevity by one from the English court. " To the
Marshal, or his deputy. By virtue hereof you are required to
levy of the land of John Lamb to the value of £50 : IS, (and 2sh.
for this ex'on,) to satisfy the worshipful! Thomas Dudley for a
judgment granted at the Court held at Boston the 6th month."

In 1647, there was a synod which the Indians attended. A ser-
mon was preached in the Indian language, and after it they had
an opportunity to put any questions that suggested themselves.

In 1650, the Natick Indians urged Eliot to allow them to form
a town. The Indian Town was organized the sixth of August,
1651. The regular formation of a church was conducted with
great caution, from conscientious fears lest the natives should be
admitted to communion without fit preparation. Repeated exam-
inations were had, some of them public ; and, in 1660, an Indian
church was formed.

In connection with these labors, Eliot undertook and accom-
olished others, designed to establish his work on a lasting basis.
He thought of making a translation of the Bible at least as early
as 1649. In 1651, he had begun it. In 1661, the New Testa-
ment was published in Indian, and the Old Testament in 1663.
His labors for the Indians were the dearest objects of his heart.
The result he hoped for was one that it cheered his manly and
benevolent soul to think upon. He looked to the direct effect of
his own labors with the greater solicitude, because, having few
to aid him, he could not but feel how much the success of his
objects depended on his own single arm alone. He had not
merely to write but to do much of the labor of printing also. In
a letter written concerning a second edition of the Bible, which
was published in 16S5, he speaks of having only one person be-
sides himself able to conduct the work. This was the Indian
James, who got the sirname Printer from his calling.

Part !.] history of roxbury. 109

III speaking of this work', Edward Everett has said "since the
" days of the Apostle Paul, a nobler, truer, and warmer spirit than
"John Eliot never lived ; and taking the state of the country, the
" narrowness of the means, the rudeness of the age, into consid-
"eralion, the History of the Christian Church does not contain
" an example of resolute, untiring, successful labor, superior to
" that of translating the entire Scriptures into the language of the
'' native tribes of Massachusetts, a labor performed under the con-
" slant burden of his duties as a minister and a preacher and at a
" time when his spirits began to flag."

But it seems to me thai vast as was the undertaking, &; however
common patience might have broken under so long and wearisome
a labor, the literary toil of Eliot was not so great as his mission-
ary labors. In these, while he had few of the pleasures of study
or learning, he had quite as much tedious drudgery, and he had
also to encounter danger, to endure excessive hardships, and what
perhaps would be most trying of all, to withstand the attacks and
calumnies of the English, themselves. The feelings of many of
the English were hostile to his eflbrts. When the natives were
committing depredations on their property, burning their villages,
and murdering families all about, the English could not enter
with great sympathy into the feelings of Eliot. Besides this,
Eliot had the pain of seeing his best efforts thwarted, in a hun-
dred ways, and the labors of twice as many years as it took him
to translate the Bible, undone in a moment, by some cruel or im-
prudent act on the part of his own countrymen. Such things as
these will damp and dishearten one who fears no danger and
never is tired with the severest labor.

For fi)rty years, day after day, week after week, he continued
his visits to the Indians, not merely preaching, and holding
"talks" with them, but going about amongst them every where,
as the earliest code of laws proves, in the midst of every thing
loathsome and revolting. His feelings must have been bitter
when at the end of the war he found that more than half those
who had been numbered amongst the little body of his converts,
had renounced the faith, and taken up arms against the English.

In 1675, several captive Indians were brought to Boston. —
Eliot interested himself deeply in their behalf. Hi.^ diary shows
how warm was his byuipaihy. But the people looked at it with


jealousy, and nothing but respect for Eliot could have prevented
forcible interference. It was a sore trial for him to see men
ruthlessly rooting out the truths he had planted, and to feel that,
such was the state of men's minds, no one would again attempt
to do what he had effected.

In 1675, is a note in his diary "soone after the warre wh. ye
" Indians brake forth, the history wr. oflf I cannot, I may not re-
*' late, the prophane Indians proved a sharpe rod to the English,
*' and the English proved a very sharpe rod to the praying
*' Indians."'

After the war was over, he records how the soldiers welcomed
our Indians (the praying Indians) wherever they met them and
" led them to the ordinarys and made them drink, and bred them
•" by such a habit to love strong drink, so that it was a terrible
■" snare to us. They learned so to love strong drink that they
^' spent all their wages and pawned all they had for strong
"drink," "so that drunkenness increased, quarrelling and fiting,"
&;c. He then laments over the loss of their Bibles.

The translation of the Bible could not so severely tax all his
energies, as these labors. It certainly was attended with none of
the bitter discouragements he found in them.

Besides the Bible, Eliot translated many other books into the
Indian language. Baxter's Call, and the Psalter, were published
in 1664, the Indian Grammar, in 1666, several editions of Cate-
chisms and Primers, the "Sound Believer," and some tracts,
about the same time.

Besides his Indian books, Eliot wrote and published several
English ones ; in 1665, the "Communion of the Churches ;" in
1672, the "Logical Primer;" in 1678, the "Harmony of the

"The Christian Commonwealth," was also written by Eliot. —
This was a rare book and little known here till its recent publica-
tion by the Historical Society. It probably appeared during the
latter part of Cromwell's government, or just before the restora-
tion of Charles II, in 1660. In May, (the 22d) 1661, the Gen-
eral Court deeming sundry expressions therein, "touching kingly
Government in England, offensive," "ordered that all persons
whatsoever in this jurisdiction, that have any of the ?aid Bookes
in iheire Cuslody, shall on theire pnrrills, within foworloen dayes

Part I.] history of roxbury. Ill

after publication hereof, cancel and deface the same, or deliver
them unto the next Magistrate, or to the Secretary, whereby all
divulgement and improvement of the said offensive Boolce may
be prevented," and Eliot's acknowledgement be copied and
posted in Boston, Charleslown, Cambridge, Salem and Ipswich.

He acknowledged the lawfulness of the English government,
and the error of such expressions as too manifestly scandalized
the Government by the King; as anli-chrislian, and that all forms
of government deduced from Scripture, are of God.

The Christian Commonwealth was a form of government,
which Eliot proposed to have adopted by the English Common-
wealth. Il was based on what he found in the Scriptures, and he
thought that no one could deny it without derogating from their
" sufficiency and perfection." It was upon a similar plan that
Natick was organized. The form proposed was for individuals
to organize into tens, or tithings, tens into hundreds, and so up-
wards, with rulers of tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands, &c. The
several rulers in their jurisdictions were to be judges and cases
were to be carried from one court to another up to the highest
council chosen by the whole body. Each ruler was to expound
the law according to the Scriptures, and each was to superintend
and direct those below him. The Supreme Council was to have
supervision of all. It was the highest court of law. It had the
power of declaring war and making peace, and the power of reg-
ulating commerce, the arts, and religion. This he termed a Sin-
gle Platform. But he contemplated the indefinite extension of
the plan so as to embrace any number, and provided for rulers of
myriads, ten myriads, millions, &c. He provided also for the
choice of Princes, in populous Nations where there are other civil
distinctions of societies, to take care of the good government of
the superior rulers under them, and be members of the Supreme
Council, who should be chosen by the people over whom they
were to rule. For laws the Scriptures were to be the guide, be-
ing, as he said, " the perfect system to guide all the morall actions
of man either towards God or man," the rules whereof the Judges
were to apply to each man, guided "by their wisdom and discre-
tion, and a pure conscience." Each decided case would become
a precedent according to the principles of the common law^


The work shows that he was, as he said, no Statesman, in the
common acceptation of the term. It does not manifest any
knowledge of the science of political government, and its various
checks and balancing powers. On the other hand it indicates,
for that day, a liberal mind. It does not, like the early laws of
the colony, for instance, copy the exact penalties of the Mosaic
code ; and unless limits are to be fixed, by construction, to his
plan, where he has placed none, there may be found in this work
the statement of a principle higher than has ever yet been
adopted by any government in the world, of the absolute harmo-
ny of all laws. Divine and human, that no enactments of man
can be binding which conflict with the laws of God. Govern-
ments have been based on the idea of the sacrifice of the rights
of individuals, and men have had hardly time to study the
theory of securing to each, perfect protection.

Eliot has been censured for his retractions, as an instance of
weakness. But, if the whole vi'ork be carefully considered, it
will be seen that he rather acknowledged that he had no desire to
promote civil dissention, and did not desire that the strongest
constructions should be given to a few phrases as perhaps appli-
cable to existing circumstances, but intended a general application
of his theory, whilst he still insisted on the general proposition of
the legitimacy of Divine laws for human government. Much of
the force of this will depend on the sense in which he intended
to speak of the laborer against Antichrist, whether as against a
single man, or for all noble works.

The inquiry which will most interest us, is how these labors of
Mr. Eliot were viewed and supported by his own people. And,
though no full account can be given of their labors with him,
there is evidence enough to show that they approved and aided
his eflforts for the Indians.

Daniel Gookin, the one who, next to Eliot, was most active in
this work, lived, for a time at Roxbury. In one of his letters,
Eliot speaks of asking advice of one of the Elders of liis church
on some matter of importance concerning the Indians. This, no
doubt, was Elder Heath. In a later letter he speaks of the great
encouragement of the Ruling Elder. Another letter of that day,
written by one interested in those matters, mentions Eliot's broth-
er as a "right godly and diligent person who useth to accompany"

Part f.] history of roxbury. \\3

him. This was Philip Eliot. In anolher letter, Eliot speaks of
" four of us" going to the Indians. Very likely they were Gook-
in, Heath, his brother Philip, and himself. In July, 1654, there
was a public examination of the Indians in Eliot's church at Rox-
bury- There were several Indians who became members of his
church. From these circumstances, and the unbounded love and
respect felt by the Roxbury people for Mr. Eliot as long as he
lived, there can be no doubt that they did all in their power to en-
courage his work amongst the Indians. In several instances vis-
its of the Indians to Roxbury are mentioned.

Another circumstance is worth noticing. When the people of
Roxbury came to take up lands, they selected their locations
amongst the praying Indians in the country then known as the
country of the Niptnucks, at Manchage, now Oxford, at Chabun-
akongkoman, or Dudley, Waanexit, Quatesset, and Wabquissit,
the present town of Woodstock in Connecticut, and other places
where the Indians had been converted to Christianity. This, cer-
tainly, is a sure indication of the steady adherence of his fellow
townsmen, and their belief in the actual benefits of his missionary

The same thing may be inferred from ihe fact that he never,
for one moment, held any but the first place in the esteem and
love of his own parish, those who knew all he did, and the mo-
tives that governed him.

Of his labors in his ofHce very little can be told. But for near-
ly sixty years he remained with the parish, and always was be-
loved by all. There is not a word that is not in his praise. A
single anecdote, which was told by some of the ancient inhabi-
tants of the town, shows what was the character that stamped it-
self on their memories.

His charity was so great that his salary was often distributed
for the relief of his needy neighbors, so soon after the period at
which he received it, that before another period arrived his own
family were straitened for the comforts of life. One day the par-
ish treasurer, on paying the money due, which he put into a
handkerchief, in order to prevent Mr. Eliot from giving away his
money before he got home, tied the ends of the handkerchief in
as many hard knots as he could. The good man received the
handkerchief and took leave of the treasurer. He immediately


went to the house of a sick and necessitous family. On entering
he gave them his blessing, and told them God had sent them
some relief. The sufferers, with tears of gratitude welcomed
their pious benefactor, who, with moistened eyes began to untie
the knots in his handkerchief. After many efforts to get at his
money, and impatient at the perplexity and delay, he gave the
handkerchief and all the money to the mother of the family, say-
ing with trembling accents, " Here, my dear, take it; J believe
the Lord designed all for you." Whenever he is spoken of by
any of them he is named in terms of more than common endear-

It could not have been otherwise- He worked only for good.
He was earnest and sincere. The great principle of active benev-
olence governed him in all his acts. I have alluded to the pain
with which be saw the white men tempt the poor natives, whom
he had partly redeemed, back to their evil life. No one ever
wept more bitterly than he did over the wrongs done to the red
man. But his sympathies were awake to every thing humane.
The facts noted in his diary show his character, and they strike
one the more as they contrast themselves with such as Mr. Dan-
forth records side by side with them. Danforth records the dates
of earthquakes, ordinations, fasts, shipwrecks, the appearances of
comets and their positions, the weather, synods, accidents, and
gossip in general. Eliot thanks God that the £12 : IS : 09 which
they raised to buy Edward Stowell out of Turkish captivity made
un just the sum needed. He speaks of the attempts made to re-
duce Southold and Southampton, " because they stand for their
liberty ;" of the Sabbath School; of " the gracious gift of char-
ily from the friends in Dublin for such as died in the warr;" of
his visits to men, indians and whites, in prison, and on the scaf-
fold. Every thing tells of his philanthrophy.

In his parish he always declined taking wine, quietly remark-
ing that it was an ancient beverage undoubtedly, but he believed
water was an older one. He utterly condemned the filthy use of
tobacco. He .preached and prayed against wigs and long hair,
and censured many fashions of the day as ridiculous. Some of
his biographers have set down his sentiments on these matters as
well as on war, temperance, and the treatment of the natives, to
his " prejudices." But they condemn themselves more than they

Part I.] history of roxbury. 115

censure him. He considered what ^?as just, and thought of the
follies of fashion as they indicated and affected character. For
hinriself he saved, that he might be liberal. He never had but one
dish at meal. He wore a leathern girdle. Yet, notwithstanding
his great private benevolence, with his small salary, he accom-
plished very costly undertakings.

When he could not preach, at the close of his life, he said to
the parish, "I do here give up my salary to the Lord Jesus Christ,
and now brethren, you may fix that upon any man that God shall
make a pastor." But the Society declined to receive it, saying
they deemed his presence necessary, whatever sum was granted
for his support.

"Mr. Eliot was peculiarly happy in domestic life. His wife
" was an excellent economist, and by her prudent management
" enabled jhim to be generous to his friends and hospitable to
*' strangers. With a moderate stipend, he educated four sons at
" college."

As a preacher, Eliot was very efTective and popular. His man-
ner was easy and pleasing, his voice sweet and clear, his style
p!ain, and free from the conceit of the day. He always was ear-
nest and spoke from the fulness of his own feelings.

In a publication of 1654, Eliot is thus noticed :

"Mr. Eliot, Pastor of the Church of Christ at Roxbury, in
** New England, much honored for his labors in the Lord.

Greate is thy worke in Wildernesse, Oh man,
Young Eiiot neere twenty yeares thou hast

In western worlde with miccle toil thy span
Spent well — neere out, and now thy grey havers gracest

Are by thy Land Lord Christ, who makes use of thee
To feede his flock, and heatlien people teach,

In theire owne language, God and Christ, to see :
A Saviour their blind hearts could not reach,

Poore naked children come to lerne God's mind
Before thy face with reverent regard.

Blesse God for thee may thecse poore heatiien blinde.
That from thy moutli Christ's gospell swete have heard.

Eliot thy name is through the wild woods spread.
In Indian moutlis frequents' thy fame, for why ?

In sundry shapes the Devills make them dread :
And now the Lord makes them their wigwam fly.


Rejoice in this, nay ratlier joy that thou,
Amongst Clirists' soldiers hast thy name sure set,

Although small gains on earth accrew to you,
Yet Christ to orowne will thee to Heaven soono fet.

Yet the ''gray haired man" had not "spent his span well-neere
out." For nearly forty years after that was written, did he keep
on in his work with the same energy, zeal and activity that he
had had when a young man-
There seems to be a fatality about the connection of whites
with the red men. It was thought that Eliot was founding a
great work. But it failed and ended with him. The very last
descendant of the Natidk town has gone. His code of laws was
condemned by his own friends, from the meanest fawning on
power. His college never graduated so many as it took to plan
it. His schools soon ceased* His books are rare curiosities. —
Even the Bible, to which he trusted to bless millions, and to ele-
vate a race of men, cannot be read by a single man in the whole
world. The Indians are driven away thousands of miles from
the spot where he believed they would live as civilized men. —
Even in his own day he saw his converts melting away under
various influences ; and now he seems to be esteemed by the
world as one of its good men : some, with Everett, associate
greatness with his name. Yet even his biographers speak of
him as "the good old man," "the pious heart," in the pitying tone,
oftener than in the true significance of those honorable words,
and apply to his labors the eternal test of every thing but truth

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Online LibraryCharles M. (Charles Mayo) EllisThe history of Roxbury town (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 11)