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Native American Conversion Experiences

posted by DAISHI on - Viewed by 122 users

I'm posting this as a gauge of what the average individual online might think of a topic such as this. I already know what the interest is like from the historian community, but I'm unsure what average readers know or think about this topic.

In the mid 1600s, Native Americans converted to Christianity for a variety of reasons. Some did so for protection from more hostile tribes, others did so in order to earn the favor of God to protect against disasters, some did so in order to live in a community they'd long cherished, some did so to take advantage of English institutions.

What many don't know is what was involved in the conversion experience. Native Americans had to give up their traditional spirituality of course, but they also had to modify a number of their other lifestyles. As Christians living in Praying Towns, they became citizens of England and conducted themselves with all the benefits thereof, including having courts, judges, appeals courts, teachers, magistrates, jailors and eventually advanced offices such as lawyers, composed of their own people.

They formed a cluster of towns in the New England area that were organized plots combining English style houses with traditional native homes such as teepees.

These conversions were fraught with difficulty. It was hard to give up traditional beliefs for some, while others had addictions that made it difficult to remain in the community, addictions such as alcohol. Others faced harsh persecution for their efforts and were threatened by former allies and neighbors for their conversion.

The enduring element of these conversions was the diversity of reasons behind why they chose to do so. Whether for personal gain, to belong to a community, for protection or because of a genuine heartfelt conviction, natives came to the Praying Towns and became fully functioning English citizens themselves. They served in times of war and served as advisers and in political roles. It wouldn't be until the coming of King Philip's War, at the turn of the 17th century, that this trust between native and English would be broken as local citizens turned against natives, who they feared would ally with King Philip over England. This began the slow unraveling of the Praying Town Communities, which suffered harsh persecution from the British while the war endured, and which needed a significant amount of time to rebuild.

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