Date of Award

12-2016

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Third Committee Member

Scott W. See

Additional Committee Members

Micah Pawling

Janet TeBrake

Abstract

From 1744 to 1764 significant numbers of Christian missionaries traveled countless miles across the colonial Northeast to bring the Christian Gospel to the indigenous peoples who inhabited the region’s frontier borderlands. They ventured into the woods sometimes at great peril, and this study seeks to understand the impulses that compelled missionaries to confront the many challenges and uncertainties characteristic of frontier life. In addition to harsh conditions and loneliness, Christian messengers found Native peoples who were content with their own spiritual world. They questioned the sensibilities of Christian dogma, voiced suspicions about missionary intentions, and showed open resentment toward missionary intrusion.

Nonetheless, despite proven risks of contact with Europeans, such as entanglement in foreign wars, loss of ancestral homelands, and exposure to European pathogens, many Native Americans responded favorably to the bearer of Christianity and his message. This study also examines Indian motives for Christian conversion, and, equally important, the style and substance of Indian conversions. In some respects, the Gospel of the frontier turned out to be the Gospel according to the Indians, as, for instance, they syncretized elements of Christianity with those of Native spiritual worldviews.

This dissertation explains why Catholic missionaries were deemed more successful in the field than their Protestant counterparts, yet argues that neither Catholic priests, Protestant clerics, nor Indian converts existed in total isolation, but rather were subject to forces beyond their control, so that each mission differed from the others dependent on its location and with regard to circumstances that changed over time. Context was critical. These decades witnessed the culmination of an era in the Northeast in which the outcome of human endeavor was elusive, and a discussion of Indian captivities provides personal and immediate insight on the complexities of intercultural relations at frontier junctions where peoples of all nations and many, including religious, walks of life crossed paths. A focus on Christian missionaries and Indian converts illustrates in depth creative adaptation and tenacity of the human spirit as missionaries sought to save Indian souls and as Indians pursued the best possible world, temporal as well as spiritual, for their people.

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