This is a (very long) history paper on Ntive American Algonquian Christian converts in New England, in the mid to late 17th century. It is for history lovers who enjoy the academic sort. It's a rough draft I plan to refine a good bit more, however I present this rough draft in the spirit of open research for all of you who enjoy history, especially religious and Native American history. It is presented without footnotes in order to dissuade plagiarization, which if course nobody would do. Hah. Enjoy!
"I Give and I Gain"
Charity as a bridge between Algonquin and English Culture
James Kirby Martin
Wapun had lived in Natick only a few years, daughter of the warrior Matunaagd, who died while hunting just a year before she'd moved into the town. Her father had first come to know the English minister, John Eliot, during the sermons he'd given throughout the region at various places where their people camped. Though many had not paid the minister much attention, her father, for whatever reason, had been intrigued by several of the ideas presented. For as long as she'd known, he'd given out of a portion of what he hunted, extending gifts to his neighbors and friends. It was a custom shared by many of their people, and gift giving was a part of their nature, an expected custom that helped establish their place in the tribe. Matunaagd had been even more generous with his gifts than his peers, though, and had earned a great reputation among their people. He had become especially intrigued with one Scripture quoted by the minister, which said "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Though he, personally, chose to remain aloof, enjoying his time in the woods and on the hunt, he'd felt a great appreciation for the notion expressed in that Scripture. It was one he'd passed onto her, given their close association with the English. Even if Matunaagd remained a non-believer until his final hour, Wapun had treasured the moments they'd shared as father and daughter, and the Scripture itself continued to resonate in her heart. Among her people she'd continued the tradition of her father to give and more abundantly than was expected, even when it hindered her own household, if even so slightly. As her faith in the minister's words had continued to grow, she'd eventually chosen to take up residence in the new town established for the Indians of the region, in Natick. It was known as a Praying Town, and they as the Praying Indians, among the English who lived not too distant from them. Somehow, despite the hundred or so that had moved within the town, her own reputation had also continued to grow.
When considering the reasons that Native Americans converted to Christianity, especially when examining the Algonquin speaking peoples of the Northeast, it is important to consider that a number of factors came into play. Some are easier to identify than others. Warfare could drive tribal groups into the security of these Praying Towns that offered at least some English protection from hostile native enemies. Sickness or disease that afflicted them might have some hope of treatment and, if nothing else, the efforts of the ministers to ease their burdens might be a comfort. Of course there were spiritual reasons for conversions. Many testimonies account of growing native awareness of a corruption in their souls, as English ministers continued to warn of Hell and the consequences of wrong behavior. However, subtle elements of the Christian faith may have provided special connections that eased the transition of native inhabitants from their traditional spiritual beliefs to the institutionalized religion of the English people. Strong identification with the concept of Christian charity may have provided a sturdy bridge points from traditional culture to a synthesis of former beliefs combined with new ideas introduced in the Christian religion. Especially when discussing women, whose roles changed rapidly in Praying Town communities, it is important to consider how charity afforded them new opportunities to define themselves in a world that was part Algonquin, part English, part traditional belief, and part Christian.
Charity has a long standing history in the Gospel and as a part of the Christian religious institution. An examination of their standing in both the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as observation of their place in the institution of Christianity, is necessary to understanding the potential interaction Christian notions of charity would have had with Algonquin concepts of it. Early within the Old Testament there is an emphasis on fair treatment of the poorest members of the tribal societies that constituted the Jewish people. "You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless." There are a number of ways to interpret what this means, but that economic exploitation should be avoided becomes explicit in later passages throughout the Old Testament. During one of Israel's most desperate times, as they rebuilt their country following their return from exile in Persia, many of the poorer members of their society found themselves economically disadvantaged. They were forced to mortgage their lands and homes, take out large loans with huge interest payments as well as sell themselves into slavery in order to obtain food to eat. Nehemiah, the representative charged with overseeing the rebuilding of the capital city of Jerusalem, demanded that the wealthy of the country give back all interest charged. In addition, these elites gave back all lands, vineyards and homes they had seized out of their economic exploitation of the poor. Nehemiah himself refused to take any of the payment he would have deserved as governor, which included food and money, and allowed it to filter back to the general public. This is very much in line with an ancient Jewish concept of Jubilee, which included the freeing of all slaves and the return of all loans and property. It was debt elimination, and the notion of extending economic mercy to the neediest was embedded into the Jewish culture. As a religious concept, it was highly implied that withholding mercy from the poor would lead to God's judgment.
This Biblical emphasis on charity, engrained into the Judaic worldview, continued onward for centuries into the New Testament. Christ himself makes clear that if anyone asks for money or help in any form, it is appropriate to give to that individual what they might need. This is perhaps most idealized in his phrase, "Love your neighbor as yourself", which he ties with the love of God as the greatest commandment that can be given. This is played out in the assistance of others many times throughout the Bible. In fact, in the post-Resurrection society created by the New Testament church, the church is said to have held all things in common possession, "And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." James would later go on to write at length about the futility of any faith that did not exhibit itself in some outward form, in some act of good deed. While the deed itself did not save a man's soul, it did demonstrate a change in his character. When discussing the poor, he poses the question, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" It is therefore easy to see a Biblical mandate to care for the needy, the poor and hungry that is ongoing from the Old Testament into the New Testament. It is tied to avoiding God's wrath, as well as demonstrating that one is actually a true believer. There are, thus, severe spiritual ramifications for a member of the Christian faith. Giving is not optional when viewed from this perspective.
This emphasis on charity has had long standing ramifications for the institution of Christianity and the people that it is composed of. During the peak of the Great Recession, between 2007 and 2009, charitable giving decreased least among religious Christian groups, most especially Protestant ones. This is consistent with another survey taken by The Chronicles of Philanthropy that show the states with the highest religious participation, especially in the South, also have the highest number of charitable givers. A number of theories have arisen as to why, from religious training to habit development, especially considering that tithing and the giving of money is engrained into weekly religious services. Regardless of the cause, it has become a part of the culture, a fact that is illustrated consistently in these surveys. This emphasis on helping one another is not a recent phenomenon in Christian thought and action, as demonstrated from Biblical texts, but was also emphasized by Puritan leaders in New England. This is important because this particular Christian group was one of the most influential when dealing with the Algonquin speaking peoples of that region. John Winthrop, Puritan lawyer and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, penned an entire essay on this issue in "A Model of Christian Charity". Essentially, Winthrop argues that people, under normal circumstances, should aid others out of their abundance. A man should not put his family at risk in giving, so special circumstances may require he give in other ways, such as through labor. Winthrop lays out guidelines such as these for charity. Other examples include giving based on a person's necessity versus more liberal requests. If a man needed food to live, it must be given. If he required a hammer to fix his house, there was less emphasis on giving, if the circumstances were extraordinary. This was because a man had to first tend to caring for his family and setting up his posterity for his children. The sum of his writing is "That which the most in their churches maintain as truth in profession only, we must bring into familiar and constant practice; as in this duty of love, we must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure heart fervently. We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren." Charity was essential not only as a Christian command, as an essential demonstration of love, but also was a practical survival tool. The endurance of a Puritan community, transplanted to another continent, required looking out for one another in a variety of ways. However, that practical reality did not divorce the action from the spiritual connotations inherent in the Biblical texts they founded their precepts on.
Having established the long history of charity and its critical position in the Christian faith, it then becomes necessary to examine the role of charity within the Algonquin speaking peoples of the northeast. It should first be understood that the notion of 'giving' pervaded many aspects of their culture, from the methods in which they went on hunting expeditions to the economy that they engaged in throughout the forests and along the shores of New England. However, the terms on which giving was understood were slightly different. As a function of the hunt, giving was necessary to stem the wrath of guardian spirits that presided over animals that they were patrons over. In this respect, 'reciprocity' played a critical role. The killing of an animal was not a simple act within the hunting culture of the semi nomadic Algonquian people, and required payment back to the deity that presided over the animal. A show of thanks was necessary, and could take on a number of forms. Due to the nature of Native American spirituality, this concept was shared and spread among tribes throughout not only North America but South America as well, although the act took on different variants. The Maya offered blood at major ceremonies to appease deities, while the Thirst Dance was used among the Plains Nations. Both engaged the gods in a variety of ways and required demonstrations of reciprocity, signs of thanks. These were not always physical acts. Among the Algonquin of the Northeast, for instance, thanks was often demonstrated both verbally and physically. Verbal thanks were often given to the spirits presiding over an animal killed. However, the unique place that Tobacco occupied in their culture led to its use among Algonquin people as a way of reciprocating toward the gods for mercy demonstrated. It was a sacred substance, not to be overindulged, but used in a number of ceremonies. Four puffs would be taken before being passed along to another imbiber, an act of sharing in itself. It could on occasion be replaced by the bark of certain trees, the leaves of certain berry bushes or other vegetation, but only at times when Tobacco was scarce. Still, it core function was to give back to the spirits for what was given.
It was used as a sharing substance, establishing connections with the spirits as well as with one another and those considered outsiders. Again, the act of sharing was inherent to the use of Tobacco. Among the Algonquian, it was used as an offering to spirits when hunting or harvesting food. The spirits presiding over these physical manifestations had to be appeased, because reciprocity had to be observed. The spirits gave the physical creature that the native tribes used for their survival, which was reciprocated with verbal thanks and a gift of tobacco, illustrating the dependence humans had on the spirits and their gratitude. Both groups, in this case, received a gift of one sort or another. However, the ceremony could extend even further. In exchange for the physical gift, the Algonquian might also bury the bones in their anatomical order to allow for their later resuscitation. This illustrates to what degree they were willing to reciprocate the mercy of the spirits guarding over these animals. As a spiritual practice this connected the living not only with the spirits guarding over the physical world, but also the dead that had departed into the next world. The Ojibway of the Northeast and Great Lakes, for instance, would toss food and tobacco into their fires during reciprocity ceremonies. In return, their gift was reported by the deceased to the "Master of the Dead", who would extend blessings to the living. However, giving was not only vertical, going upward to the spirits, but also horizontal. Tribes that did not associate with one another on a normal basis often named one another in a way that indicated a distinct 'otherness', marking them as outsiders. As Jordan Paper points out, the name "Sioux" meant snake, and indicates an awareness of difference from them to tribes further distant. Again, an act of sharing was used to placate such disparate groups using a common method, the sharing of the Sacred Pipe. This tradition facilitated the establishment of trade and diplomatic ties. The presentation of the pipe itself was often sufficient to allow safe travel through what may have otherwise been hostile territory, but only in sharing the pipe were ties established. After meeting together in a close space, the pipe would be passed between participants in the direction toward which the sun was, using six pinches of tobacco. This number itself was sacred, and symbolized the four winds, plus two pinches for the sky and earth. The pipe moved sunwise, not an uncommon direction in the construction of longhouses and the direction of ceremonies, and involved a sense of sharing and reciprocity. The pipe was given and shared, using a sacred substance, and established a communion between the members. In the same way that tobacco was given to placate the spirits in return for food, tobacco was given to placate foreign groups in return for trade and diplomatic negotiation, as well as a general sense of safety and good will.
As a spiritual practice, then, the giving of a gift, particularly tobacco, permeated all manner of native traditions. Giving was understood as sharing, as an act of giving away as well as receiving. refusal was a breach of etiquette. However it is important to remember that natives did not separate spiritual and physical concerns in the way that the English did, and so even the act of establishing trade or diplomatic ties was a spiritual act that required communal giving and sharing. Further, charity as the Algonquin understood it was not limited to spiritual practices involving killing, harvesting or diplomatic ties. It also served a very real economic function in what is termed a "gift exchange economy". This manner of economy was filled with its own nuances and regulations that, when not obeyed, could lead to open conflict. It is one reason cited by scholars for ongoing conflicts between Algonquian groups and the English, in that the English did not entirely understand and observe the demands of a gift exchange economy. Under this economy, natives were required not only to give, but to receive gifts as well as repay them at a later date. This was a vastly different from the market system being established at that time by the English, who emphasized the personal possession of land and items, and established fixed prices for goods that were exchanged on a basis of sale. Among the natives, the giving of gifts, especially gifts of a special or elaborate nature, served to bolster one's status. This was in addition to formalizing and maintaining relationships between native groups. It was a critical element of their socioeconomic establishment, and failure to observe the notion of reciprocity could be taken as an offense, leading to outright conflict.
Trade between Algonquian groups and the English illustrate the different emphasis and world views of these two groups. When Englishmen in Virginia attempted trade with varying tribes of this culture, they were met with resistance. Algonquian groups saw the world as one whole gift from the Creator, meant to flow to everyone. Giving was a requirement of existence as opposed to a virtue that exhibited itself occasionally, and this included economic relationships in a way the English did not embrace. When chiefs paid tribute to their head Sachem, Powhatan, they were actually reflecting well on their own authority and power, as opposed to simply elevating Powhatan's position among their people. Gift giving as a reciprocal relationship meant that beyond elevating their own status via the gift, these chiefs could also expect aid at some point, although exact times were not specified. In this way the gift giving and receiving was mutual, generous, but also an obligation. At the highest political levels, failure to give and receive gifts was almost equal to a declaration of war, and so there was no option as to whether or not to participate. Alliances were maintained via this relationship. However, at lesser levels, common economic levels, it was equated with theft. Receiving but not giving was to receive the gift in the wrong spirit, to take without returning out of the bounty that was created for all people to share. When analyzing the consequences of English violations of the gift economy among the Algonquian tribes near Jamestown, a pattern of escalating conflict arises as the level of violation increases. The worst offenses were not only rejecting the gift exchange economy but engaging in it with rival tribes. This led to outright and ongoing violent conflict between the English and natives.
If gift giving was linked to status, spirituality and position within a tribal group, as well as an expectation of trade conduct, the contours of why charity might be shown start to change. The argument is not that natives were not genuinely charitable, only that they received a measure back in ways that were perhaps unmeasurable to English documenters that wrote of the lives of these people. This synthesis requires just a brief context. First of all, the numbers that inhabited the Praying Town were never especially large. While several communities existed in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Plymouth Colony, the Praying Towns that came together in Massachusetts is the focus, which includes the communities on Martha's Vineyard. On the Massachusetts mainland there were, by the time of King Phillip's War, a total of fourteen Praying Towns. Of these, seven were recently established and mostly of small populations, vessels that received groups of Nipmuck that had recently converted. The seven original towns, which were older and more heavily populated, were Wanesit, Nashoban, Okkokonimesit, Hassannamesit, Makunkoag, Punkapog, and most famously, Natick, the original Praying Town established by John Eliot. At their peak, this group of fourteen towns held multiple congregations, two officially covenant established churches, and eleven hundred Praying Indians. Natick, at its peak, held one hundred forty-five Praying Indians when Daniel Gookin conducted his survey of the towns. The average town size, then, was 79 people, and Natick was only surpassed by the town of Wabquissit at a town size of 150. At such small populations, it becomes interesting to note the individuals that were documented by Experience Mayhew when he conducted his survey of notable native converts.
First, there is a quantitative and qualitative distinction among the natives that Mayhew documents. Not all converts are given equal treatment, as some have far more written about them than others. Among those of whom more is written, there are certain trends behind why. These include more numerous documented acts committed. Mayhew separates his treatment of these natives into Ministers, Men, Women and Children. When discussing ministers, he primarily restricts himself to a discussion of their sermons, their wisdom and their manner of presiding over congregations. In this way it is easier to get a sense of what these men did, given the place they occupy in the historical records. As official members of the church, there was a larger opportunity for documenting their words and deeds, especially as a matter of public records. This extends slightly into the realm of common men he documented as well, who could occupy the roles of magistrates and judges within the communities of the Praying Towns. However, the women Mayhew attempts to document have no opportunity to take on such roles, and so he is forced to look at other behaviors that he deemed respectable and worthy of note. It is here where the concept of charity again takes on a prominent place in this discussion, and brings up a curious bridge between native and English cultures that would have facilitated not only conversion, but a chance at status and position within these newly established communities.
While an analysis of the Massachusetts mainland provides a trend for understanding population numbers in these Praying Town communities, the documentation from the Mayhew family on Martha's Vineyard allows for us to assess the attributes of the people who inhabited such places. Experience Mayhew compiled an extensive collection of profiles of various notable Praying Indians. It should be noted that among almost all of them, there are certain commonalities that, because of their prevalence and ubiquity, will go without discussion. Characteristics such as church attendance, frequency of prayer and willingness to honor the Sabbath were all elements that made these people admissible to the Praying Town communities in the first place. These qualities frequent accounts from the smallest to the largest, and offer little to distinguish individuals. However, the larger of the accounts often contain documentation of an individual's charity, an element that pervades the women's accounts due to their previously noted inability to stand out via any official office. Wuttununohkomkooh, Hannah Ahhunnut, Assannooshque, Momchquannum, Hannah Nohnosoo and Hannah Tiller will all serve as examples for how charity might have distinguished members of these often small communities. Wuttununohkomkooh stands out in Mayhew's chronicles as an interesting figure owing to the accounts of her previous acquaintance with a singular, all powerful God, one that she worshiped solely in contradiction to the pattern of her people, who saw spiritual power throughout many aspects of nature. According to Mayhew, she claimed to have known this God prior to the introduction of monotheism into the region by the English, as well as claimed to have gone to the English upon hearing they prayed to a singular God. In many ways she is distinguished in this record as having been aware of the singular God's nature as well as being the initiator of relations with the English. This is one of the most unique traits of Wuttununohkomkooh. What unites her with the other women in this record, some of whom are attributed with similar divine blessings themselves, is her gift of charity. "...She was so eminent an Example, that she was thereby distinguished, not only from those who were totally destitute of a true Love to their Neighbours, but even from most of them who had some Measure thereof bestowed on them." Her reputation was such that her charity was noted by Mayhew as unparalleled, and that she never ceased to be courteous and giving to everyone she knew. She assisted the poor, not only in physical gifts but also in communicating "good things" to them as she was able. What stands in contrast to these grand attributes of Wuttununohkomkooh is the physical description of her. She was said to be a short woman, with only low intelligence, and Mayhew claimed her name meant "humble", which was mirrored in her physical appearance and mental prowess. Defying her physical and mental gifts, her charity rises as one of the distinguishing characteristics she possessed.
Hannah Ahhunnut is contrasted in a similar way against her charitable nature. She was, of course, notable for all the typical aspects of a Praying Indian. She read the Scriptures, was a member of the visible church on Martha's Vineyard, and honored the Sabbath. If it were only for these characteristics, there would be little to distinguish her from the many other women who owned similar characteristics in Mayhew's documents. However, again charity comes to the forefront as a reason for her grand place in the documentation. "She was very merciful to the Poor" and "was remarkable for her Willingness and Ability to be helpful to the Sick". In many ways Ahhunnut obeyed the guidelines set out by John Winthrop by giving to others according to their needs. This was demonstrated when she attempted to bring them things they might require while sick, and not only physical things. It is interesting that she was called upon to pray for these same sick people, though she refrained when men of prominent position were available to afford them the same service. Still, she managed to occupy the same role that a minister might, in praying and consoling the sick, as well as being the teacher among women and answering questions asked about the Bible. So Hannah Ahhunnut actually takes on a number of prominent roles despite her lack of any office. These chances were afforded first by her giving nature, which allowed her access to a number of people, and afforded her a bit of authority at the same time. This occurred against a humble background, as she was a widow who returned to her home on Martha's Vineyard alone and without family.
Assannooshque continues the trend of charitable women living on Martha's Vineyard, whose documentation is swollen by her acts of giving. She, too, was a widow, who refused to marry again after the passing of her husband. Assannooshque claimed that a single life was actually beneficial, in that it would keep her from some of the troubles and distractions of marriage. It is at this juncture of her record that her charity comes to take on a significant role, occupying at least a third of the documentation we have of her. "She brought up her Children comfortably, both as to Food and Raiment, though there were a considerable number of them; and which is yet more, she kept a very hospitable House". This woman was reputed to give out of proportion to what she possessed, and was known as a graceful host. She had many who came to visit her, and she was always more than willing to give them much out of her home. So great was her reputation that significant members of the community would come to stay with her whenever they traveled through the region, though her compassion was not limited to the well known or elite. She was also remarked as a great giver to the poor, which she did by feeding them or visiting them when they were sick. Mayhew notes that she would find any way possible to help them, as she could. Assannooshque was also particularly noted as a giver and caretaker to the orphaned, and opened her home to those children who had no fathers or mothers. Her home acted as a temporary way station for these vulnerable youths, and she would care for them until more stable, permanent solutions could be found. Finally, her giving was so out of proportion to her possessions that Mayhew says she might have given "too liberally". It was such an issue within her own family that they would often ask her whether she was risking the security of her home, though she was reputed as saying she believed there was no danger in giving, due to the fact that God would give back more. Mayhew goes on to note that her charity was not only one of physical giving, but also of spiritual correction. She was reputed as being unwilling to allow even men of significant position in the community to go without correction, including magistrates and ministers, whom she admonished. This woman, a widow, did this even when criticized by her family, and despite the disadvantage of living a significant distance from any place of public worship.
The next in our list, Momchquannum, persisted in one of the ongoing trends of these women, that of being a widow, and one of noted poverty. Mayhew notes that she was "a poor widow", one that "could give no more than two mites" and yet who "seemed conscience of doing that; and the most Miserable and Helpless were those to whom her charity was chiefly extended." These notably charitable women are predominantly widows, and often times give despite not having much for themselves. Like many others, this led to a position of respect in her community, and she, too, provided Biblical instruction. These instructions were extended not only to women but men as well. She went on to become a visible member of the church who participated in full communion, a rare honor for not only natives but even the English.
Hannah Nohnosoo was, too, a widow, one who lived almost forty years after the death of her husband, who was a notable member of the church and one that occupied the dual positions of petty sachem as well as that of ruling elder in the church. Hannah was notable for her charity, but hers was of a unique and especially valuable sort. She had "very considerable Skill in some of the Distempers to which human Bodies are subject" or, in other words, knew how to prepare various herbal treatments for the sick and ill. Notably she gave these treatments away rather than requiring something in return, and was especially considerate of the poor around her. However, her kindness and charity extended not only to the poor, or even to fellow natives, but to the English as well. Mayhew notes one particularly interesting event in which a mixed group of women approached her, composed of both English as well as Indian women. They had all been married but lacked children, and were noted as barren, something they hoped to remedy through the help of Hannah's preparations. After developing a concoction for this group, they were all, apparently, successfully able to become pregnant, for which they all were obliged to Hannah Nohnosoo. Such help for others was not uncommon for her, although there were, of course, limits to her giving. Still, she gave as freely as she could to aid the impoverished sick, and this in turn placed her into a position in her community where she was respected. Young people, especially, were her audience, and she often gave them counsel and instruction in how to live. Much like her contemporaries, she was a woman whose behavior elevated her status and thus placed her into a position to act as an advisor and elder to others.
Finally, we come to Hannah Tiller, who was not noted as a widow but who did have a set of troubles all her own. Her husband was a drunk, argumentative and, it is hinted, abusive. "He would frequently have his drunk Fits, and was often very contentious in them". Hannah apparently responded to her husband's alcoholic fits by treating him gently and calmly, in the hopes of talking him down, which was a difficult proposition. However, the problems were ongoing and so notable that her neighbors suggested she have her problems redressed by the civil authorities. She refused this in the ongoing hope she'd be able to convince him change. This was apparently achieved after some time, and her husband's behavior changed for the better. During this same span of time, Hannah developed a reputation as an incredibly kind and charitable woman. "Her Charity, or Kindness, was more especially discovered to such of her neighbours, as, being sick and weak, were unable to take care of themselves". She would not only visit these people, but bring them presents. This was done despite the fact that she, personally, owned very little of any value. Still, as Mayhew says, "she would pray them to accept of what she brought them, telling them that others had need take care of them". Beyond the help she extended to her fellow natives, she also provided help and charity to the English that lived nearby. One man testified that she had come by during his illness to help around his home, taking care of the chores and various tasks his household required. Neither did she ask of any reward. This care toward the English was demonstrated in at least one more case. A particularly poor neighbor of hers apparently had an intellectually disabled daughter who possessed no ability to reason and was said to be "very helpless", essentially unable to perform basic tasks for herself. So, Hannah Tiller began a yearly process of knitting stockings for the girl just before the coming of Winter. She continued to do this into the very year of her death and, as with all charity she showed, requested nothing back. As with so many other women noted here, her notable character put her into a position to advise and counsel others. As many other natives in these documents records, she was inclined toward discussions of the Bible and answering questions concerning various spiritual issues. So wise was her counsel that not only Indian, but English neighbors also came to hear from her. During her times visiting the sick, even further opportunities were made available for her to discuss the Bible, life after death, and the rewards of Heaven that those who physically suffered would one day attain. In all these ways, she was a respected councilor and considered wise, highly esteemed within her community and even among the nearby English.
These women, taken together, demonstrate commonalities that are worth investigating. Four were widows, some for a long time following the death of their husbands, and one was married to an abusive man. None of them are noted for being of particular physical note. In fact, one is described as quite low in stature. None seem to have been exceptionally intelligent, beyond wisdom they demonstrated from Biblical sources. None seemed to have been particularly wealthy and, in fact, many were outright poor. When examining these various characteristics, it shouldn't be shocking to see men like Mayhew describing these various women as humble. So, why do they stand out in the records? Many women were never documented, and those kept in Mayhew's compilation all contain traits of piety, including prayer, church attendance, and personal holiness. These six women, though, have swollen accounts, often double the length and notation of their peers, with particulars about their lives absent from the accounts of other women. They all emerge from humble backgrounds of, at best, modest means, and yet go on to occupy notable places within their community. All of them become advisers and counselors of one sort or another, not only to other women, but to men, prominent men of office, and the English. Lastly, and common to this subgroup of the Praying Indian women, they were all noted for acts of charity.
It is often difficult to document the words of natives, who left accounts as interpreted and transcribed by English ministers. Valid sources all, there is still always the question of how true to the native's intentions the words have been interpreted. English ministers did, after all, have a stake in promoting conversion experiences in order to obtain greater financial backing. In the same breath, one cannot doubt their words entirely, since many of these ministers exhibited extreme distaste for sins of various sorts, including lies. Documentation of actions, though, are slightly easier to take at face value. Ministers and documenters such as Eliot and Mayhew would have had little reason to alter the noted behaviors of these individuals, given that they would have been under the impression that these acts were of Christian charity. What they might not have been entirely aware of, however, was the possible link between a long socio-religious heritage among the Algonquin that linked charity to religious expression, status, social bonds and economy.
All of these women gave while also refusing any returns on their giving. This would not have been unusual in the Algonquin culture, in which gift giving was common. When Assannooshque said "there was no Danger in giving Victuals to such as needed it; for to such as did so God would send more, when more was necessary", she may not only have been making a statement of faith, but also demonstrating a confidence in a long existing economy of gift exchange. At some point they would be given to. While in the immediate they might not ask anything back, a demonstration of Algonquin gift giving as well as Christian charity that required nothing back, they could anticipate a return at a later date as a part of that same gift giving economy, as well as a belief in God to provide in a timely fashion. This notion is given verbal expression by Assannooshque but may have also existed in some form in the minds of all these women. Further, their gift giving afforded them opportunities and positions that were not given to their peers, even among those documented by Mayhew in these communities.
Remembering that all these women were of humble background, of modest means and incapable of holding political or religious office, they were afforded little opportunity to distinguish themselves in the community. This could have combined with a reduction of their roles as native men were encouraged to take up stronger roles at home, gardening, planting and laboring on their lands. Long the domain of women, the Puritan work ethic encouraged male participation at home and a reduction of hunting and fishing. The traditional role of women, and their domain, was thus reduced. When looking for points of pride and position, as women defined new roles for themselves in a new world that was developing, charity was an easy fallback given its emphasis in the Christian religion and its role in their traditional society. Noticing how much these women gave, which Christian ministers noted was often out of proportion to what they owned, it might seem unusual or impractical for them give with such abundance. However, remembering that abundant giving was often a way of establishing status in a gift exchange economy, these women were actually benefitting themselves in a way that men like Mayhew might not have been entirely aware of. These women were elevating their positions in the community in a powerful way linked to giving, a point of emphasis in Algonquin culture. It should then be unsurprising to see the roles they were able to take on as members of the community. These women counseled the young and other women, as might be expected. However, they were also of such high regard within their communities that they were able to take on roles officially reserved for men of office. They went among the sick, praying and ministering to them, as well as leading discussions and answering Biblical questions. They corrected the faults of their fellow natives, even correcting men of office and high status within their communities. Out of the reputation they garnered at home, they also developed the respect of the neighboring English, which could potentially have afforded a whole host of benefits when contemplating economic or social aid.
By assessing the inherited role of charity among the Algonquin and the bridge it formed with Christian culture, we begin to see how it might have afforded a powerful way for women to define positions for themselves, elevate their status and take on prominent places in a rapidly changing society. Christianity, while often foreign in many regards, especially in its insistence on a singular God and the notions of Heaven and Hell, still held a powerful appeal in its focus on charitable giving. Women could find new ways of establishing themselves in the Praying Towns by relying on an ancient custom that united conveniently with a foundational principle of Christian living. There is further room for discussion here of how reciprocity might have played an ongoing role in the daily lives of all Praying Indians, who might have adopted frequent prayer and integrated it into their traditional understanding of reciprocity when relating to divine beings, and illustrate why they were so frequent in their prayers. There is also room to investigate how well the experiences of men paralleled that of women when being charitable. For now, it may be said that charity at least provided one method by which women could establish themselves in their communities, as sources of wisdom, correction, as healers and leaders.
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