Natives and Strangers

What follows is a detailed outline of early Anglican work among the First Nations of North America from the early 1600s to the middle of the 19th century. It includes several lessons for today, both in the mission field abroad and at home.


“A General Thanksgiving” from the Book of Common Prayer

Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee to give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we may shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.


“Yoedouhrahdagwha,” from the Yoedatyadadaastha Ne Yakaweaheyouh

Seshatsteaghseragwekouh Niyoh, Raniha ne agwekouh seanideareskouh, yagh teyoegwayanere tagwanhaseokouh yaagwadate ieseke yoegwadadoeneaghtouh neoni oegweryane tegwanoughweratouh ne agwekouh tsinisayanere neoni tsinigwanorouhgwha, agwekouh oni ne oegwehokouh. 

Wagwayadaderiste tsitakyoenhetouh, tagwadeweyeadouhtyese, neoni agwekouh tsiniwadaskatsherayea ne keatho tsiyakyoenhe; nok agwekouh seaha tsiyagh thiyayehewe tsinighshenorouhgwha tsisheyahdagwea tsiyouhweatsyate ne rorighoeny Shoegwayaner Jesus Christ; ne raodeweyeana ne keadearat, neoni ne tsiyorharats ne oeweseaghtshera. Neoni wagweanideaghtea aaskyouh yayagwaheghsheke agweakouh tsiniseanideareskouh, nene oegweryane yakayerike tsinaghdayagwadeanouhwerouhheke, neoni nene aweghnestahkouh ne agwaneadouhsheke, ne yagh neok thiyaghtekayady ne agwaghsene, nok nene tsiniyakyoenhotea, egh noewe nayoegwadadatkawea ne agwayodeaghseheke, ne egh niyayoegwenoehatye saheadouh orighwadokeaghtitsherakouh neoni aderighwagwarihsyouhsera oegweghniseragwekouh, ne raorihoenyat Jesus Christ Shoegwayaner; ne raouhha, ne ieseke neoni ne Onikouhradokeghty, agwekouh ayetshineatouh neoni oeweseaghtshera, tsiyouweatsyate yagh thiyaoedoktea. Amen.


Early Starts in the Southeast

Icon of Manteo & Virginia Dare, commissioned by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

Naturally, Anglican missions started in the Southeast as they followed the English colonization efforts. While there was not a systematic effort to evangelize the natives, as formal efforts would only start in 1710, the missionary efforts in Roanoke and Virginia served as useful prototypes for later evangelization.

Initially contact in the Carolinas was quite productive. In the course of Governor John White’s exploration of the North Carolina coast, he made an ally of a local leader Manteo, who assisted White in his punitive expeditions against rival tribes.((Alden T. Vaughan, Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain 1500-1776 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 28.)) In August 1587, Manteo converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England, retaining his native name. Some modern historians have occasionally doubted the authenticity of Manteo’s conversion. These doubts, centuries removed from the original event, are no doubt in vogue with some, but historian Dr. David Quinn notes that Manteo was baptized into the Church of England after an extensive investigation into Christian and Protestant theology on his trip to England.((David Beers Quinn, Set Fair For Roanoke: Voyages & Colonies, 1584-1606 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 233.))

While this could have been the start of of a genuine mass evangelization of the Carolina region, the Church of England found it difficult to structurally adapt to the frontier.((Malinda May, “Religious History. Early Christian Presence: Catholics and Anglicans,” Sounds of Faith, University of North Carolina, 2002, accessed November 1st 2017, The rigid nature of the parish system and the ambiguity regarding the Church’s place in the wider political and commercial objectives of English colonization, ultimately doomed missionary efforts. English churchmen had to answer an uncomfortable question. If Anglicanism was simply just the national religion of the English people, could the Church of England ever really bring the gospel to every tongue and tribe?((Samuel S. Hill, Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Second Edition, ed. Samuel S. Hill, Charles H. Lippy and Charles Reagan Wilson (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2005), 58.))

In nearby Virginia, while there was similarity to the failures of North Carolina, there was some attempt to create lasting spiritual change. While the most notable convert was Pocahontas, baptized and married as Rebecca Rolfe, English missionaries like George Thorpe sought to convert native youth through education.((Karen Wood, “Virginia,” in Native America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Daniel S. Murphree (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2012), 1173.)) However Thorpe’s zeal could not overcome the wider political tensions in Virginia. Increasing numbers of settlers and English expansion provoked a massive native attack in 1622, lead by Opechancanough.((Curiously enough, Opechancanough has been proposed to be the infamous “Don Luis,” a Virignia Indian who had travelled to Spain and then later lead an attack on the Jesuit missionaries in the region. Helen C. Roundtree has suggested in Pocahontas, Powhatan and Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (2005) that if Opechancanough was not Don Luis then it is likely he was his son or nephew.)) Not only did this attack kill Thorpe but it lead to a series of Anglo-Powhatan wars, ending with the Middle Plantation Treaty of 1677, which limited interactions between English settlers and natives; putting an end to any chance of significant evangelization.((“Historic Documents: Middle Treaty Plantation of 1677,” Powhatan Museum, accessed November 12th, 2017. Ultimately any desire to win souls in the New World was overwhelmed by the wars and tensions of colonization. While the Southeastern experiments were limited and ultimately tragic, Thorpe’s emphasis on education as a tool of evangelization did lead to promising developments in the Northeast.


The Gospel Moves North

An icon of Fr. Thomas Bray commissioned by the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia

After the fits and starts in the South, the Church realized that a systematic approach was required across the colonies. Due to a distressing letter, Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, sent Rev. Thomas Bray to investigate religious life in the American colonies.((Winston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919), 508.)) By 1710 the new Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) had expanded its mission from British settlers to Native Americans and African slaves.((Michael Howard, Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction (London: McFarland, 2011), 211.)) Understanding that regular parish priests had neither the resources, time or interest in evangelizing to the natives, the Society took upon itself to engage, “in a serious and sustained effort to convert Native American…populations,” to Anglicanism.((David L. Holmes, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1993), 77. Travis Glasson, Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012), 38.))

Building upon Thorpe’s maiden effort, the Society relied on education and literacy, sending over 130,000 Bibles and prayer books to America.((Glasson, Mastering Christianity, 38.)) By the late 18th century, they had developed a reputation for being intensely zealous, brave and scholarly, prompting Thomas Jefferson to label them “Anglican Jesuits.”((Lynn Bridges, The Religious American Experience: A Concise History (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 214.))

Possibly learning from failed attempts to impose English prayer books in Celtic speaking Scotland and Cornwall, SPG missionaries set about translating the Book of Common Prayer into native languages, starting with Mohawk.((William B. Hart, “Mohawk Schoolmasters And Catechists in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Iroquoia: An Experiment In Fostering Literacy And Religious Change,” in The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800: A Collection of Essays, ed. Edward G. Gray and Norman Fiering (New York: Berghahn, 2000), 233.)) With the help of Joseph Brant, later a famous Mohawk-Iroquois war leader who fought against the American Revolution, the Gospel of Mark was also translated Mohawk.((Brian S. Osborne and Donald Swainson. Kingston, Building on the Past for the Future (Beverly: Quarry Heritage Books, 2011), 31.)) From here the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer was translated into nearly all the languages of the Iroquoian and Siouan dialects.((Dr. William Muss-Arnolt, The Book of Common Prayer Among the Nations (London: SPCK, 1913),

Unlike in Virginia and the Carolinas, this strategy of sending dedicated missionaries partnered with native translators proved fruitful. The majority of Iroquois speakers became Christians by the 19th century and due to the influence of convert leaders like Brant, most remained Anglican.((Laurence M. Hauptman, Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations Since 1800 (Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2008), 4.)) In fact, to this day one of the oldest churches in the Anglican Church of Canada remains Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks in Brantford, Ontario.((“Her Royal Majesty’s Chapel of the Mohawks,” National Parks of Canada, accessed October 27, 2017.

Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Mohawk leaders at the Chapel of the Mohawks


Episcopalians Go West

William Hobart Hare, Missionary Bishop to the Niobrara.

Missionary focus on the tribes in the Northwestern frontier was born out of strategic British concern for the region but post-Revolutionary American Indian policy sent missionaries out west. Bishops were appointed to the Iroquoian speaking natives of the upstate New York area but followed them out West as the federal government pursued a policy of Indian removal and deportation.((Susan Feinmore Cooper, “Missions to the Oneidas” last accessed November 5, 2017. No longer tied to political concerns, the Church could pursue missions wherever it saw the need. Priests like Joseph Gilfillan and Samuel Hinman translated the Prayer Book into Ojibwa and Dakota.((“Native American Episcopal Experience,” The Archives of the Episcopal Church, accessed October 27, 2017. Bishop Henry Whipple ministered to the exiled natives of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Bishop William Hobart Hare converted over 7,000 natives in South Dakota. Soon, missions were sent as far as Alaska and Arizona. Like in other more successful efforts, the Church partnered with native convert leaders as opposed to
domineering them.

One of the most notable of these converts was Fr. David Oakerhater.((K.B. Kueteman, “He Goes First: The Episcopal Saint David Pendleton Oakerhater,” accessed November 1, 2017. Born Noksowist (“Bear Going Straight”), he raised up the ranks of the Cheyenne military society known as the Bowstrings, becoming the youngest to complete the sun dance ritual, taking on the name Okuh hatuh. He became a prolific raider against the rival Otoe and Missouri tribes. Partnering with Chief Quanah Parker and the Comanches, he took part in several battles against the U.S. government, culminating in their defeat at the end of the Red River War in 1875. As a prisoner, he came into contact with the gospel through an Episcopal deaconess and was baptized after studying with an Episcopal priest. He took on the biblical name David and was eventually ordained. Father Oakerhater went back home to Oklahoma where his successful ministry caused astonishment among those who had known him before. Oakerhater’s first sermon began with these words:

Men, you all know me. You remember me when I led you out to war I went first and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is my leader. He goes first, and all He tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road, a war that makes all for peace.((Kueteman, “He Goes First.”))

Father Oakerhater became the first Native American introduced to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints in 1985.


An Assessment

While every year that first Thanksgiving seems to be more and more removed from our experiences, I think there are some timely lessons for all of us. Not only are Anglicans involved in missions throughout the world, but in particular as America becomes more secularized and polarized, we will increasingly become strangers from each other.

First the Anglican experience in Native American missions reveal some important missteps to avoid. While young traditionalists are rediscovering the importance of confessionalization, sometimes overzealous doctrinal debates can look like infighting. Presbyterian and Anglican competition for Iroquoian converts often discouraged potential believers who questioned why believers in the one truth faith would fight so much.((Roger M. Carpenter. “Times Are Altered with Us”: American Indians from First Contact to the New Republic (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), 242.)) Especially relevant in our modern climate is the necessity to avoid politicization. While the SPG efforts among the Mohawks were successful, the Oneida mission was damaged nearly beyond repair due to early missionaries impugning the politics of their Presbyterian rivals.((Ethan A. Schmidt. Native Americans In The American Revolution: How the War Divided, Devastated, and Transformed the Early American Indian World (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2014), 64.)) On all counts we must avoid all instances of hypocrisy. British injustices to the Mohawks after the Revolution lead Joseph Brant to declare to George III:

Do you call yourselves Christians? Does the religion of Him who you call your Savior inspire your spirit, and guide your practices? Surely not. It is recorded of him that a bruised reed he never broke. Cease then to call yourselves Christians, lest you declare to the world your hypocrisy. Cease too to call other nations savage, when you are tenfold more the children of cruelty than they.((Edited by Kent Nerburn. The Wisdom of the Native Americans: Including the Soul of an Indian and Other Writings (Novato, New World Library, 1999), 34.))

There are also positive lessons to take from this experience. We cannot engage in missions unless we make it a priority, be it to a people totally foreign to us or our next door neighbors. William Doane, the Bishop of Albany and first vice-president of the Episcopal Board of Missions argued it was Bishop Hare’s dedication to those he served that made his mission so successful. He lauded Bishop Hare for “consecrat[ing] himself to to their service.”((Bishop William Crosswell Doane, quoted in The Handbook of the Church’s Mission to the Indians (Hartford: Church Missions Publishing Company, 1894), xvi.)) Half-hearted attempts will not suffice.

Lastly, our witness can often be most powerful when partnered with a recognition of sinful injustice. Bishops Whipple and Hare not only confirmed their concern for their flocks with sermons but with deeds. They met with the U.S. government to protest injustices and advocated against illegal violations of their flocks’ rights.((Holmes, A Brief History, 72.)) We cannot minister to an increasingly skeptical and hostile world without a spirit of Hosea 12:6.

While we give thanks for the immense blessings we’ve received in this country, the lessons of our Anglican forebears, both natives and strangers remain relevant. Let’s take this year’s Thanksgiving to use our blessings to “labor joyfully in the extension of His kingdom.”

Joseph Laughon

Joseph Laughon is layman in the Anglican Church of North America and worships with his wife at All Saints Anglican in Long Beach, California. He is a history graduate from Concordia University, Irvine and is a member of the American region of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He is also a contributor to The Hipster Conservative and his own blog at Musings On The Right.

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