Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America
A reinterpretation of the place of the Christian Indian in colonial America
study of cultural encounter, this book takes a fresh look at the much ignored and often misunderstood experience of Christian Indians in early America. Focusing on New England missionary settlements from the mid-seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, Hilary E. Wyss examines the ways in which Native American converts to Christianity developed their own distinct identity within the context of a colonial culture.
A study of cultural encounter, this book takes a fresh look at the much ignored and often misunderstood experience of Christian Indians in early America. Focusing on New England missionary settlements from the mid-seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, Hilary E. Wyss examines the ways in which Native American converts to Christianity developed their own distinct identity within the context of a colonial culture.
With an approach that weaves together literature, religious studies, and ethno-history, Wyss grounds her work in the analysis of a rarely read body of "autobiographical" writings by Christian Indians, including letters, journal entries, and religious confessions. She then juxtaposes these documents to the writings of better known Native Americans like Samson Occom as well as to the published works of Anglo-Americans, such as Mary Rowlandson's famous captivity narrative and Eleazor Wheelock's accounts of his charity schools.
In their search for ostensibly "authentic" Native voices, scholars have tended to overlook the writings of Christian Indians. Yet, Wyss argues, these texts reveal the emergence of a dynamic Native American identity through Christianity. More specifically, they show how the active appropriation of New England Protestantism contributed to the formation of a particular Indian identity that resisted colonialism by using its language against itself.
"This book will fill a crucial gap in Native American literary studies. While there have been biographical studies of some of the figures Wyss discusses, and works focusing on individual authors of this period, there is no other critical work that brings such diverse forms of writing—missionary tracts, captivity narratives, diplomatic exchanges—together. This is well-researched, necessary scholarship."—Michael A. Elliott, Emory University
"This beautifully written book examines often overlooked writings of Christian Indians in early America. Wyss argues that the Native Americans who converted to Christianity forged a unique identity as they negotiated their place and power in between Native American tribal culture and Protestant Anglo America. She examines missionary tracts, journal entries, captivity narratives, diplomatic exchanges, letters, and biographical excerpts lodged in printed Anglo histories . . . to demonstrate the complicated ways in which Indian converts modified the language of the colonizers to create an idiom of resistance. . . . A well-researched and important study that bridges literature, religious studies, history, and Native American studies."—Religious Studies Review
"[This] is an important contribution to early American studies because it insists that American Indian voices be recognized as part of the political dynamics forming the nation. It dispels the myth that American Indians did not write. It further dispels the myth that American Indians were silent people who rarely verbalized political or theological opinions. . . . Writing Indians performs a much-needed scholarly function. By bringing the writings of Christian Indians into the academic marketplace, Wyss is insisting that these narratives, and the people who wrote them, be given literary currency."—American Indian Culture and Research Journal
"A fascinating study of Christian Indian writings from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, relating them to the culture of colonial America as well as to the traditional society of Native Americans. Drawing on many little-known sources, she reveals in great detail the ambiguities and complexities inherent in the language of early Christian Indian converts and their Anglo-American missionaries. In so doing, Wyss offers a compelling argument about how certain Indians adapted to Christian theology, reconfigured it to meet specific goals, and ultimately, in a way that strengthened their traditional culture, adopted it as their own."—New England Quarterly
"[A] convincing and compelling book. Shedding so much light on sources that have received so little attention, Writing Indians helps us to more thoroughly appreciate the lives of Native Americans who lived in an exciting but troubling time in American history."—American Literature