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The United States of America: A History
Book 1: Chapter VII - The Indians


THE great continent on which the Pilgrims had landed was the home of innumerable tribes of Indians. They had no settled abode. The entire nation wandered hither and thither as their fancy or their chances of successful hunting directed. When the wood was burned down in their neighbourhood, or the game became scarce, they abandoned their villages and moved off to a more inviting region. They had their great warriors, their great battles, their brilliant victories, their crushing defeats— all as uninteresting to mankind as the wars of the kites and crows. They were a race of tall, powerful men—copper-coloured, with hazel eye, high cheek-bone, and coarse black hair. In manner they were grave, and not without a measure of dignity. They had courage, but it was of that kind which is greater in suffering than in doing. They were a cunning, treacherous, cruel race, among whom the slaughter of women and children took rank as a great feat of arms. They had almost no laws, and for religious beliefs a few of the most grovelling superstitions. They worshipped the Devil because he was wicked, and might do them an injury. Civilization could lay no hold upon them. They quickly learned to use the white man's musket. They never learned to use the tools of the white man's industry. They developed a love for intoxicating drink passionate and irresistible beyond all example. The settlers behaved to them as Christian men should. They took no land from them. What land they required they bought and paid for. Every acre of New England soil was come by with scrupulous honesty. The friendship of the Indians was anxiously cultivated—sometimes from fear, oftener from pity. But nothing could stay their progress towards extinction. Inordinate drunkenness and the gradual limitation of their hunting-grounds told fatally on their numbers. And occasionally the English were forced to march against some tribe which refused to be at peace, and to inflict a defeat which left few survivors.

1646 A.D.

Early in the history of New England, efforts were made to win the Indians to the Christian faith. The Governor of Massachusetts appointed ministers to carry the gospel to the savages. Mr. John Eliot, the Apostle of the Indians, was a minister near Boston. Moved by the pitiful condition of the natives, he acquired the language of some of the tribes in his neighbourhood. He went and preached to them in their own tongue. They printed books for them. The savages received his words. Many of them listened to his sermons in tears. Many professed faith in Christ, and were gathered into congregations. lie gave them a simple code of laws. It was even attempted to establish a college for training native teachers. But this had to be abandoned. The slothfulness of the Indian youth, and their devouring passion for strong liquors, unfitted them for the ministry. These vices seemed incurable in the Indian character. No persuasion could induce them to labour. They could be taught to rest on the Sabbath; they could not be taught to work on the other six days. And even the best of them would sell all they had for spirits. These were grave hindrances; but, in spite of them, Christianity made considerable progress among the Indians. The hold which it then gained was never altogether lost. And it was observed that in all the misunderstandings which arose between the English and the natives, the converts steadfastly adhered to their new friends.


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