A biography of John Eliot, 1604-1690
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The objective of this dissertation is to re-create, as thoroughly as possible, the life of John Eliot, 1604-1690. To accomplish this end, the author has used an historical and descriptive method. The author began by gathering all the available material he could find which had direct bearing on the preacher's life. These materials were then critically evaluated in the light of scholarly knowledge of New England Puritanism. The result is an essay designed to reveal in an original manner the life of the "Apostle to the Indians," and the "Saint of the New England Way," within his historic, political, and social setting. EARLY LIFE: John Eliot was the son of Bennett Eliot and Lettese Agar. He was baptized on August 24, 1604, in Nazing, England. He grew up in the villages of East Anglia. English Puritanism was vibrant during this period, and Eliot was strongly influenced by Puritan thinking. In 1630, Eliot migrated to Massachusetts. THE THEOLOGICAL CLIMATE IN MASSACHUSETTS: The covenant or federalist theology was the dominating force in Puritan Massachusetts. This theology was so forceful that it intimately influenced the whole social, political, and ecclesiastical structure of the Bay Colony. The church polity of the covenant contained the leaven of democracy with its provision for voting and discussion amongst church members. Church and state were mutually supportive, but not in unity. ELIOT AS TEACHER AND PASTOR: In 1632, John Eliot was ordained a teacher in the First Church, Roxbury, "to teach Doctrine & therein to Administer a word of knowledge." The young Puritants vigorous ascetic tendencies adapted him well to his role. John Eliot helped guide the church during the dangerous times of the balky Roger Williams and the winsome Anne Hutchinson. He was one of the leaders at all of the early synods that helped to farm Congregational polity. At these synods, he was deeply involved in the Half-Way Covenant controversy. ELIOT'S EFFORTS FOR THE INDIANS: Eliot did his best to convert the Indians by making them conform to English patterns of life. He preached to them in their own tongue. He encouraged Indian publications, Indian towns, and Indian churches. The greatest single monument to Eliotts life was the translation of the Bible into Algonquin. The Bible was dedicated and presented to Charles II in 1664. Eliot's sacred, dedicated mission was a failure. War, vice, drunkenness, and disease hastened the demise of the Massachusetts Indians. Why did he fail? Probably because he was more concerned for the Indians(1) sinful condition than he was interested in the Indians(1) culture. The integrative nature of his theology forced him to look at the Indian in terms of himself. He tried to offer the Indian a religion, ideal and experience that he believed he had achieved for himself. He was only able to see the savage Indian world in terms of the civilized Puritan Reality. ELIOTIS OTHER LABORS: Eliot labored in a wide range of early Massachusetts life. For nearly sixty years he served a growing parish. He was their sole clergyman from 1642-1650, and 1674-1689. He served as "overseer" at Harvard College from 1642-1685. He established fourteen Indian towns, the Roxbury Latin School, and the Eliot School, Jamaica Plain. He printed fifteen Indian translations, including two entire editions of the Bible. He was the first to request funds for a college in North America. He was an editor of the first book printed in North America, The Bay Psalm Book. ELIOT'S LAST YEARS: Eliot's old age was mostly spent alone. He had buried his supportive wife and his five exemplary sons, three of whom were devoted to religious work. Only a daughter survived him. He watched the decline of the churches and the Indian mission. He saw the tyranny of Andros descend upon the colony and then lift again after the victory of William of Orange. A moment before death, at the age of eighty-six, he is recorded to have said, "Welcome joy!" He was not afraid to die. But the Massachusetts Indians had lost a great champion.
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