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Bethel Indian Town

Bethel in 1752
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Notes on Bethel, October 4, 1752

Extracts from a letter by John Brainerd to the Scotch Society for the Propagation of the Gospel:

I have been employed as a Missionary among the Indians for above four years and a half.  In that Space of Time the Number has considerably encreased, though for more than two years after I came, we were visited with much Sickness, and great Mortality.  [The Mission has forty families, thirty-seven congregants and fifty children attending school, though at this time, not so great a number.]

These People thus settled on this Spot, do universally do something more or less at Husbandry.  But they have been brought up in such an idle, wandering manner, that it is very difficult to keep them steady to any Business; and indeed it is not without Difficulty that they learn to do the several sorts of Work that belongs to Tillage of Land, &c. 

[T]he number of Inhabitants in this Place has encreased not withstanding the great Mortality amongst us; so our Church is enlarg’d, although we lost at least a third Part of those that were Members of it when I came.  And although some that were most hopeful, and gave the fairest Prospect of being a Blessing among us were removed, yet the Lord hath mercifully raised up others who in some measure fill up their Places.

We have one [young man] training up for the Ministry [Peter Tatamy at the College of New Jersey, who died of tuberculosis in 1753] at the Expence of the Society in Scotland; he is a very promising young Man, makes good Proficiency in his Learning, and is, I hope, truly pious; may the Lord continue his Life and make him a Blessing to his Pagan brethren.

I am getting some of the Boys put out to learn Trades, and propose shortly to set up a Working School for the Girls, at which they must be taught to spin, knit, &c.  I propose another School of the like Nature for the Boys, such as are not put out to Trades, at which they may be learned to work, and from their Childhood inured and trained up to the Business of Husbandry.  This might be another excellent Help to our Cause if it could be obtained.  I have no Provision for it yet, saving that at a very considerable Expence I have secured a large Tract of Land suitable for the Business to be managed upon.

The great and almost universal Propensity in the whole Nation of Indians to strong Drink, is a great Obstacle in the Way of their being brought to Christianity.  This above all others is the Sin that easily besets them, and has been the greatest Blemish to the Cause of Religion among them in this Place.  This Sin of Drunkenness, and the Effects of it, have gi[ven] me inexprssible Trouble and Anxiety, of Sour since I have been employed in this Business.  And though I have done my utmost, and even summoned all the Powers of my Soul to represent the Evil of it; yet with some it is still prevalent.

And our Neighbours the white People are not a little accessory to the Commission of this Evil.  There is scarce one of them that has strong Liquor to dispose of, but what will sell to the Indians, although I have set the Evil before them, and ernestly besought them not to do it.  And some I have been told will buy Drink in Taverns and public Houses, and give them, to see if they cannot make Christian Indians drunk as well as others.  Some likewise have endeavoured to asperse my Character to the Indians, and represent me as a vagrant wandering Fellow, that wanted to pick up something among the Indians for a Living; but blessed be God, their malicious and groundless Aspersions have not had the desired Effect.  The poor Indians are conscious to themselves that I am their good Friend, and sincerely engaged to provide them their best Good.

Another thing that renders it exceeding difficult to bring the Indians into a Christian Method of Living, is an indolent wandering unsteady Disposition, which greatly prevails among them.  In this Manner they have been educated, and it seems to be so rivetted into their Natures, that it is almost as difficult to reform them in this Point, as to change their Colour:  This has been a sore Trial to me ever since I entered upon the Business.  I have preached one Lecture after another upon this Subject, and used my utmost Endeavours in a more private Manner to reform them; and have reason to bless God my Labours in that Respect have not been altogether in vain, tho’ I have yet much Exercise on that Head.

Notes:  Peter Tatamy was the son of Moses Tatamy, David Brainerd's first convert amongst the Delawares and famous Indian diplomat residing at the Forks of the Delaware.  The references to one-third of the mission congregation leaving at the arrival of John Brainerd is reflected in the examples of Joe Peepy, Isaac Still, Sam Davis and others who moved to Pennsylvania and became associated with the Movarians. Davis was baptized Tobias by the Moravians, and he, along with most of the Peepy family, were murdered by Pennsylvania militia at Gnadenhutten (the second village of that name) in 1782.

 The complaint of alcoholism was universal at this time; it was common practice for whites to provide liquor to Indians in order to gain an advantage over them, both in trading and in land deals.  The story of Weequehela and Capt. John Leonard was a part of the Bethel mission history.  Finally, the custom of the Indians to "wander" was an ongoing demonstration of their traditions of moving from one part of their territory to other parts, as from the inland area to the seashore.  Moravian records are filled with Indian converts living in the interior of Pennsylvania making regular journeys to the Jersey shore during the colonial period.  Into the early 19th century, Indians who remained near Brotherton and Weekping (Coaxen) in Burlington County, were well-known visitors to the shore (Bathsheba, widow of Charles Moolis was an example).  This so-called "wanderlust" is a hallmark of the American character, which was influenced by American Indian culture.

 

American Indian Historical Research

For information on Brotherton & Weekping

For information on Weequehela & Spotswood, NJ

For information on the Gnadenhutten Massacre

For information on the Indian Company of 1778