More than a century after the Puritans converted praying Indians and organized them into towns, they fought on the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
The Puritans believed the native tribes to be idolatrous savages who needed to be enlightened and saved. Some Puritans thought the Indians were the 10 lost tribes of Israel.
The Massachusetts Bay charter declared part of the Puritan mission to be “To winn and incite the natives of the country to the knowledge and Obedience of the onlie true God and Saviour of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth.”
On October 28, 1646, in Nonantum (now Newton), missionary John Eliot preached his first sermon to members of the Massachusett tribe in their own language. He eventually translated the Bible into the Massachusett language and had it printed, the first Bible published in America.
Eliot and other missionaries continued to convert Indians.
The praying Indians were set apart from the colonists and from disagreeable neighboring tribes. They became farmers, established homesteads, built frame houses, lost their tribal identities and intermarried with blacks and whites.
Praying towns in Massachusetts included Gay Head and Christiantown on Martha’s Vineyard;, Nantucket, Natick, Mashpee, Grafton, Dartmouth and Herring Pond in Plymouth. In Connecticut, In Connecticut, Nipmuc praying towns included Maanexit, believed to be in today’s Fabyan, Quinnatisset, six miles south of Maanexit, and Wagaquasset in Woodstock.
Historian Gary Nash argued after 10 years of effort, only about a thousand Indians were settled in four villages of praying Indians. Fewer than 100 declared their conversion to Puritan version of congregationalism.
It was the weaker and more demoralized tribes who responded to the missionaries, hoping to avoid war and to protect their territory.
During the American Revolution, as many as 100 praying Indians enlisted in the Continental Army. They were integrated with other units; some Indian mariners belonged to John Glover’s Marblehead regiment; some belonged to the 1st Rhode Island regiment.
They fought in the battles of Bunker Hill, Battle Road, Trenton and Saratoga. Historian George Quintal Jr.compiled their service histories in his book Patriots of Color: ‘A Peculiar Beauty and Merit.’
- James Anthony, born in Natick, served for eight months in 1775 under Col. Jonathan Ward. He re-enlisted from 1777 to 1780 in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under Col. William Shepherd. He fought at Saratoga and was at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777. Anthony was discharged 14 March 1780.
- Alexander Quapish was born around 1741 in Yarmouth, Mass., and enlisted in Dedham in 1775. He was a member of Col. Loammi Baldwin’s main guard. He got sick in March 1776 and died in Needham. A man named Michael Bacon, likely the father of a 10-year-old drummer boy Quapish befriended, took care of him in his last days and buried him. Bacon sought compensation.
- Ceasar Ferrit had West Indies, French, Dutch, and Natick Indian ancestry. He was born around 1720, raised in Boston by an English family and moved to the praying town of Natick in 1751. He volunteered as a minutemen at Lexington and Concord with his son John, and he helped ambush British soldiers in Lexington. He also served in militias and regiments from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Ferrit was about 61 when he was discharged in 1781.
Today, descendants of the Praying Indians from Natick have organized as the Praying Indian Tribe of Natick.