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Erasing Native American Religious Traditions: Missionary to the Delaware

Array ( [0] => ENGL 6330 Spring 2018 [1] => no-show [2] => student exhibit )

There are two ways of representing and recommending true religion and virtue to the world, which God hath made use of; the one is by doctrine and precept, the other is by instance and example; both are abundantly used in the holy scriptures.

--Jonathan Edwards, An Account of the Life of the late Reverend Mr David Brainerd, iii.

David Brainerd teaching Native Americans in New England

David Brainerd, a native of Connecticut and something of a rebel, was forbidden from ministering after being expelled from Yale College two years after he began his studies.  At the time it was illegal to minister unless you graduated from Yale, Harvard, or a college in Europe.  This once again highlights the danger of allowing governments and institutions to have all the power when it comes to the preaching of Christianity.  One body controlling the dispersal of spiritual knowledge leads to serious consequences.  Brainerd however, continued to preach, eventually gaining the notice of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Brainerd then began to preach with the sole purpose of the "propagation of Christian knowledge" to the native people of New England.[1]

In the image to the right, Brainerd is preaching to the Native Americans.  It is interesting to note many of the people are sitting down as if they are dependant on his words.

Gideon Howley, who preached after Brainerd's death spoke highly of his influence, stating "I need, greatly need, something more than humane to support me. I read my Bible and Mr Brainerd's Life, the only books I brought with me, and from them have a little support" (132).[2]  Brainerd's influence inspired many Native American's to convert to Christianity and many missionaries to continue to spread Christianity.

David Brainerd first page.jpg
Title page of David Brainerd's Journal

Brainerd had a significant impact on the Native American people he taught.  He especially had success among the Delaware people, or as they called themselves Lenape.  He also worked in Crossweeksung, a settlement in New Jersey, setting up a Christian community of 130 members.

Brainerd preferred being a missionary.  It may have been because of how he was treated by an established institution, but Brainerd continually refused to leave the missionary field to be a church minister.  He stated: "[I] could have no freedom in the thought of any other circumstances or business in life: All my desire was the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God: God does not suffer me to please or comfort myself with hopes of seeing friends, returning to my dear acquaintance, and enjoying worldly comforts" (145).[2]  

[1] Edwards, Jonathan. An Account of the Life of the late Reverend Mr David Brainerd. Edinburgh, William Gray, 1765.

[2] Piper, John. Tested By Fire: The Fruit of Suffering in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd. Inter-Varsity Press, 2001.

Image Credits

Page, Jesse. David Brainerd, the apostle to the North American Indians. 1891. S.W. Partridge & Co, London. Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:David_Brainerd_preaching.jpg

Edwards, Jonathan. An account of the life of the late Reverend Mr David Brainerd. Edinburgh, William Gray, 1765.