The first book printed in America was the Bay Psalm Book by John Eliot, who was baptized in England as an infant on Aug. 5, 1604. Called “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot sailed to America and preached his first sermon in the Algonquian language in 1646.
Eliot translated the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and the Bible – the first to be printed in America, in 1663. In a 1674 census, 4,000 “Praying Indians” were in 14 self-ruling villages with houses, streets, bridges, and their own ministers. “Praying Indian” villages were located throughout Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard and Rhode Island.
John Eliot wrote: “The Word of God is the perfect System of Laws to guide all moral actions of man.”
In “A Brief Narrative,” July 20, 1670, Eliot wrote: “These Indians being of kin to our Massachusett Indians … received amongst them the light and love of the Truth. … On a day of Fasting and Prayer, Elders were ordained. … The Teacher of the Praying Indians of Nantucket, with a Brother … who made good Confessions of Jesus Christ … did make report that there be about ninety families who pray unto God in that island, so effectual is the Light of the Gospel.”
Sadly, after the death of Pilgrim leader William Bradford in 1657 and the death of Wampanoag chief Massasoit in 1661, tensions arose between the settlers and the Indians. In 1675, Massasoit’s son, known as chief or “King” Philip, was upset over encroachment on Indian lands. The new Plymouth Colony Governor, Josiah Winslow, did nothing to quell his concerns. Indian warriors attacked more than half of New England’s 90 towns.
During King Philip’s War from 1675 to 1678, over 800 settlers died, 1,200 homes burned, 8,000 cattle lost, and the entire English population of 52,000 in Massachusetts and Rhode Island was threatened to be driven back to the coast.
Unfortunately, John Eliot’s Christian “Praying Indians” were caught in the middle, not being trusted by King Philip’s warriors nor by panicking colonists. As a results, many tragically died.
A remnant of the Christian Wampanoag continued, with “Blind” Joe Amos bringing the Baptist faith to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in the 1830s. Mwalim Peters, a researcher of Mashpee Wampanoag history, stated that Rev. Amos “knew the entire King James Bible by heart and could recite it in both English and Wampanoag.”
Peters noted that Rev. Amos: “… preached under the shade of a large oak tree every Sunday throughout the seasons.” He was joined by Rev. William Apes, an itinerant Pequot minister adopted by the Mashpee tribe.
In 2007, the Mashpee Baptist Church chose as its pastor Rev. Curtis W. Frye Jr., a great-great-great-grandson of Rev. Blind Joe Amos. Rev. Curtis W. Frye stated: “Blind Joe was one of the preachers who brought the gospel to the Wampanoag people. … I try to follow in his footsteps. … We are still here and we are still doing what Blind Joe did, and that’s preach the word of God.”
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