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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor

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John Eliot

ELIOT, John, first styled "the Indian apostle" by Thomas Thorowgood in 1660, a designation so appropriate that it has secured universal and perpetual acceptance, born probably in Widford, Hertfordshire, England, as there is a record of his baptism in that parish on 5 August '1604; died in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 21 May 1690. His father, Bennett, a yeoman, was a landholder in the parishes of Ware, Widford, Hunsdon, and Estweeke, in the County of Hertford, and elsewhere, and he bequeaths in his will, made 5 November 1621, the profits of these lands, to the amount of £8,, annually, to Trusty and well beloved friends," for the maintenance of his son John in the University of Cambridge, "where he is a Scholar."

He had matriculated as a "pensioner" (i. e., one who pays his own expenses) at Jesus College, 20 March 1619, and the degree of A. B. was conferred upon him in 1622. The only record of his life during the next nine years is that he was employed as a teacher in a grammar school at Little Baddow, near Chelmsford, England, established by the Rev. Thomas Hooker, the illustrious pastor of the Church that, first established at Cambridge, Massachusetts, was removed to Hartford, Conn. In Anderson's "History of the Colonial Church" (London, 1856) is the following statement respecting Mr. Eliot : "That he had entered into holy orders in the Church of England before he left home is evident from the insertion of his name in the list given by Neal of the emigrant clergy." The Church of England was then dealing rigorously with those who did not conform to her doctrines and ordinances. Imprisonment awaited those who were bold in their opposition, and many hastened to the New World as a refuge from persecution. John Eliot landed at Boston, Massachusetts, 4 November 1631. Three brothers and three sisters accompanied him, or came a few years later. In his record he writes, " he adjoined to the Church at Boston, and there exercised, in the absents of Mr. Wilson, the pastor of the Church, who was gone back to England."

His labors gave the greatest satisfaction, as is evident from a passage in his record : " The next summer Mr. Wilson returned, and by the time the Church at Boston was intended to call him to office." But, he says, he was "foreingaiged" to friends who had crossed the ocean and settled at Roxbury. The record of Gov. Winthrop is: "Though Boston labored all they could, both with the congregation of Roxbury and with Mr. Eliot himself, alleging their want of him and the covenant between them, etc., yet he could not be diverted from accepting the call of Roxbury."

Here he became the "teacher" of the Church, with which he retained a lifelong connection, having Mr. Weld, Mr. Danforth, and Mr. Walter as colleagues, and at long intervals being without clerical assistance. A timeworn manuscript volume, now in the keeping of the New England historic-genealogical society, Boston, contains the record of his Church work, vast and interesting. It has been printed by the City of Boston as "3Report of the Record Commissioners, Document 114" (1880); and, with notes, in the New England "Historical and Genealogical Record " (vols. 33 and 34). His active and aggressive spirit twice brought him into unpleasant relations with the civil authorities in 1634, for criticizing the method of making a treaty with the Pequods, and again in 1660, when one of his publications, written several years previously, " The Christian Commonwealth," was " condemned, and by order of the general court suppressed." Explanations and acknowledgments led to a speedy and satisfactory settlement. Several petitions in his handwriting, signed by himself and others, to the general court, attest the interest that he took in the secular affairs of the commonwealth. In 1637 he took part in the examination of Mrs. Ann Hutchinson for her religious opinions, which were repulsive to him, and for which she was banished. An account of her trial may be found in Thomas Hutchinson's "History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1628 to 1749."

Eliot's fame depends mainly upon his labors in Christianizing the Indians. The translations of the Bible, and several other books into their language, are his imperishable monument. As far north as the Merrimae River, as far east as Cape Cod, to the towns in the southern part of Massachusetts, to Brookfield, sixty miles west of Roxbury, to northeastern Connecticut, and to the vicinity of Hartford and to Martha's Vineyard, he traveled, proclaiming the gospel to the red man with an enthusiasm that brought thousands under its influence. A pamphlet of twenty-five pages, entitled " The Daybreaking, if not the Sunrising, of the Gospel with the Indians in New England" (London, 1647), gives " a true relation of our beginnings with the Indians." At Nonantum, in the northeast corner of Newton, on the south side of Charles River, about five miles from Roxbury, on 28 October 1646, "four of us" went to the wigwam of Waaubon, and there met a company of Indians, men, women, and children, "gathered together from all quarters round about."

After a prayer in English, Mr. Eliot preached to them in their own tongue for an hour and a quarter. When asked if they understood all that he had said, many voices replied in the affirmative. Questions followed, curious, wonderful, and interesting. The meeting lasted three hours, and the Indians said they were not weary; but their instructors resolved to leave them "with an appetite." An appointment for another meeting was made, and apples were given to the children, and tobacco to the men. The Indians desired more ground to build a town, and it was promised that the government should be petitioned in their behalf for this purpose. The second meeting differed from the first in this: it was closed with a prayer "in their own language for above a quarter of an hour."

The pamphlet describes also a third and a fourth meeting. The Indians showed great willingness to receive the gospel, requesting that their children might find homes with their white friends in order that they might be trained in the right way, and some adults sought employment with the settlers, that they might receive instruction in the truths of Christianity. It was then believed by many that these Indians were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, and this opinion was an additional incentive for efforts to convert them. Mr. Eliot was convinced that the Indians must give up their roving habits and become members of settled communities before they could make much progress in the Christian life. Natick, seventeen miles southwest of Boston, a place "somewhat remote from the English," was selected as a very advantageous place for a town, and thither the Indians at Nonantum, and other " praying Indians," as the converts were called, removed in 1651.

A civil government was established, and, after many delays and much hesitation, a Church was formed in 1660, an ecclesiastical organization that continued until the death of their last pastor, Daniel Takawombpait, an Indian, in 1716. The work, although it sometimes encountered fierce opposition on the part of the Indians and ungenerous depreciation on the whites, prospered until King Philip's war in 1675. Town after town was organized, and worshipping assemblies gathered, in several instances presided over by Indian preachers, until within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts there were seven old and seven new "praying towns," embracing not fewer than eleven hundred " souls yielding obedience to the gospel." Those in Plymouth colony and in the isles of the ocean much exceeded this number. In the war the praying Indians suffered dreadfully, both from their own countrymen, by whom they were hated, and by a great majority of the English, who suspected them of the most atrocious intentions. It is now generally believed that the latter were saved from extinction by the aid received from the friendly Indians. But to them the war was ruin.

The number of Indian towns and their inhabitants were greatly diminished, and after the death of Mr. Eliot, a few years later, their extinction was rapid and irresistible. When the infirmities of age made him too feeble for the exertions of an active life, he proposed that Negro servants should be sent to him for religious instruction; and a boy, made blind by falling into the fire, was taught by him to repeat many chapters of the Bible. One of his last recorded acts was to give by deed, in 1689, about seventy-five acres of land for "the maintenance, support, and encouragement of a school and schoolmaster at that part of Roxbury commonly called Jamaica, or the Pond Plain, for the teaching and instructing the children of that end of the town (together with such Indians and Negroes as shall or may come to the said school)," etc. His remains were placed in the parish tomb in the old burying ground at Roxbury. No authentic likeness of him exists.

The accompanying picture is known as the Whiting portrait of the "apostle," but there is no authority for the statement that it is a representation of John Eliot. His name is inscribed, with those of his successors in the ministry at Roxbury, upon a monumental structure that coyers the tomb. There is a monument to his memory in the Indian burying ground at South Natick, a granite watering trough at Canton, Massachusetts, and a memorial structure at Newton, on or near the site of Nonantum, where the apostle first preached to the Indians. See the accompanying illustration.

His life and labors have been the subject of numerous biographies, the first by Cotton Mather in 1691, and the best by Convers Francis in 1836 (vol. 5, Sparks's "American Biography"). Mr. Eliot's manner must have been particularly attractive, judging from the accounts of his contemporaries and of several strangers who visited him. Dankers & Sluyter, agents for the Labadist community, in the record of their visit made in 1680, speak of him as "a very old man, named John Eliot, as the best of the ministers who we have yet heard" in Boston and its vicinity. John Dunton, a bookseller from London, describes him in 1686 as "the glory of Roxbury, as well as of all New England "; and the narrative in French of the Jesuit Father Gabriel Druilletes, a missionary from Canada, who spent the night before Christmas in 1650 at the apostle's house, justifies the statement of the historian, Mr. Parkman, that "there was great, sympathy between the two missionaries, and Eliot prayed his guest to spend the winter with him."

Before leaving England, Mr. Eliot had made a matrimonial engagement, and his betrothed came over in the year following his arrival. The first entry on the record of "Marages of the Inhabitants of Roxbury" is that of Mr. John Eliot and Hanna Mumford, 4 September 1632. To use his own words, spoken at her funeral three years before his own death, she was a " dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife." Unusual honors were paid to her memory. Six children a daughter and five sons were born to them. Of the sons, but one survived their parents, the Rev. Joseph, who, as a " burning and shining light," ministered to the people of Guilford, Connecticut, from 1664 till 1694. From him descend all the posterity of the apostle bearing his surname. A genealogy of the descendants of John Eliot was published in 1854: FitzGreene Halleck; the Rev. Jared Eliot, of Killingworth (now Clinton), Connecticut, eminent as a minister, physician, and scientist in our colonial history; Professor Elisha Mitchell, of the University of North Carolina, whose remains are at rest upon the highest peak of land in the United States east of Mississippi River, named Mt. Mitchell, in his honor: Charles Wyllys Elliott; and Ethelinda Eliot Beers, who wrote the poem "All Quiet along the Potomac" are the most distinguished of his posterity. With his colleague, the Rev. Thomas Weld, and his neighbor, the Rev. Richard Mather, of Dorchester, Mr. Eliot translated into the Indian language the Psalms of David, and their work, the "Bay Psalm Book," was the first book printed in this country (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1640).

It was reprinted and extensively used in England and Scotland, and a small edition was reprinted in Cambridge in 1862 as a curiosity. So rare has this book become that a copy has been sold for $1,200. There is one in the Lenox library, New York. In the tracts entitled "The Clear Sunshine of the Gospel," " The Glorious Progress of the Gospel," " The Light appearing more and more toward the Perfect Day," " Strength out of Weakness," "Tears of Repentance," "A Late and Further Manifestation of the Progress of the Gospel," "A Brief Narrative," and in other communications, published mostly in London from 1647 till 1671, the methods employed, and the progress made in the conversion of the Indians, are set forth with much interesting detail by Mr. Eliot and others. The principal part of the expense of these and other publications, as well as the salaries of those engaged in labors among the Indians, was defrayed by "A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England," established in London in 1649.

In 1653 or 1654 Mr. Eliot's Catechism, probably the first book in the Indian language, was printed at Cambridge. No copy can be found. Another edition was printed in 1662. Genesis and Matthew, in Indian, were printed in 1665; but no copy is known. Before the close of 1658 he published a translation of a few psalms in metre. The New Testament in Indian was printed at Cambridge in 1661. A few copies remain, one of which was sold a few years ago for $700. The libraries of the University of Edinburgh and the Congregational library in Boston, Massachusetts, contain the only known copies (not alike) of "A Christian Covenanting Confession," in Indian and English, which are thought to have been printed in 1660. In 1663 the Old Testament was printed. This, bound with the New Testament, a metrical version of the Psalms, and with a single leaf containing what has been called a Catechism, is known as the first edition of the Indian Bible the first Bible printed in America. A copy of this edition was sold at auction a few years ago for $1,250. The second edition of the New Testament was published at Cambridge in 1680, and this, bound with the Old Testament (1685), the Psalms in metre, and the Catechism, complete the second edition of the Indian Bible. These editions cannot be regarded as very rare, since between fifty and sixty copies (many of them imperfect) are owned in this country. The finest collection of them is in the Lenox library, New York.

There are copies that show signs of much use, and some have autographs and other manuscript of Indian owners. The Psalter, as well as the New Testament, of the first edition was bound separately. Of the translation of Baxter's " Call to the Unconverted" (1664), no copy has been found; but of the second edition (1688) there are copies at Harvard College and in other libraries. An abridgment of Bishop Bayly's "Practice of Piety," translated into Indian, was printed in 1665, and again in 1685. Yale College owns a copy. Of "The Indian Grammar Begun" (Cambridge, 1666), copies are in the John Carter Brown library at Providence, R. I., and in the Lenox library, New York. "The Indian Primer," of which the only copy known is in the library of the University of Edinburgh, was printed at Cambridge in 1669. It has been reprinted. The last of Mr. Eliot's translations printed in his lifetime, "The Sincere Convert," by the Rev. Thomas Shepard, was published in 1689. Mr. Eliot's published books in the English language are: " The Christian Commonwealth" (London, 1659). This book is extremely rare, haying been suppressed by the government because it was "full of seditious principles and notions in relation to all established governments in the Christian world, especially against the government established in their native country." The author was induced to make public acknowledgment that he had " offended" in his opinions. " The Communion of Churches "(Cambridge, 1665). This book has been described as the first privately printed book in America. A copy is in the Lenox library. "Indian Dialogues" (Cambridge, 1671), in the Lenox library. " Indian Logick Primer" (Cambridge, 1672), in the library of the British museum. "The Harmony of the Gospels" (Boston, 1678), in the Lenox library. "Brief Answer to a Book by John Norcot against Infant Baptism" (Boston, 1679). The copy in the Lenox library is the only one known. " Dying Speeches of Several Indians" (Cambridge, about 1680). But one copy is known, which is in the Lenox library. Many of these have been reprinted separately, in the collections of the Massachusetts historical society and elsewhere.

His grandson, Jared Eliot, born in Guilford, Connecticut, 7 November 1685 ; died in Killingworth (now Clinton), Connecticut, 22 April 1763, was the son of Rev. Joseph Eliot, who was graduated at Harvard in 1658. Immediately after his graduation at Yale in 1706, Jared was appointed schoolmaster of his native town, and numbered among his pupils Samuel Johnson, first president of Kings (now Columbia) College. In March 1707, he accepted a call from the Church at Killingworth, to become the successor of Rector Abraham Pierson, whose favorite pupil he had been while at Yale. He retained this charge till his death, and while discharging in full measure the duties of his office he found time to make himself eminently useful and famous as a physician, an agriculturist, a scientitle investigator, and an author. In 1747 he writes in the preface to his "Essays upon Field Husbandry " : "Having spent more than Thirty years in a Business that required a great deal of Travel, altho' it did not much hinder Reading and Study, it gave me an opportunity to see much of the Country, of making many Observations, and of being acquainted with very many Persons of Worth and Ingenuity, both Farmers and Others."

This manner of life brought him into intimate relations with Benjamin Franklin, and others who at that early day took delight in scientitle pursuits. Franklin writes to him in 1755: "I remember with Pleasure the cheerful hours I enjoyed last winter in your Company, and would with all my heart give any ten of the thick old Folios that stand on the shelves before me for a little book of the stories you then told with so much propriety and humor." In Sparks's edition of Franklin's works are eleven letters to Mr. Eliot. His high standing as a clergyman is attested by the fact that he was several times moderator at the meetings of the General association of Connecticut. As a physician, his ability gave him the highest rank. Not only in his own but also in neighboring colonies, his skill was frequently in demand, some of his medical pupils afterward becoming distinguished physicians.

He received the degree of A. M. from Harvard in 1709; he was elected a trustee of Yale in 1730, in which capacity he rendered valuable services to that College during life, besides making himself in his will the first contributor to its library fund, and in 1756 or 1757 was unanimously chosen a fellow of the Royal society, London. His publications include sermons entitled "The Right Hand of Fellowship" (Boston, 1730); "Religion Supported by Reason and Divine Revelation" (New London, 1736); "Give Caesar his Due" (New London, 1738); " The Blessings Bestowed on Them that Fear God" (New London, 1739): " God's Marvellous Kindness," preached on the occasion of a general thanksgiving to commemorate the capture of the City of Louisbourg (New London, 1745); " Repeated Bereavements Considered and Improved " (New London, 1748); and "A Discourse on the Death of Rev. William Worthington" (New Haven, 1757);"An Essay upon Field Husbandry in New England" (Boston, 1760); and an "Essay on the Invention or Art of Making Very Good, if not the Best, Iron from Black Sea Sand" (New York, 1762). The accompanying illustration is a copy of a medal awarded to the Rev. Jared Eliot in 1762, by the London Institute, "for producing malleable iron from the American black sand."

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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