Guide to the Collection
Representative digitized documents from this collection:
The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America records include historical materials, correspondence, general business records, diaries, and financial records of the first Protestant missionary society of its kind in North America.
The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America was the first Protestant missionary organization of its type in North America. It existed in concept prior to its 1787 charter as a group of Boston individuals sponsoring missionary work in New England.
The Society was officially founded in 1787 by a group of Massachusetts citizens concerned with converting the Indians from their native polytheistic religions to Christianity. Inspired by The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, a group of 21 prominent Massachusetts citizens petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a charter. These men shared certain characteristics, among them were political views and educational backgrounds (several were Harvard graduates).
The Society's object was "the dissemination of Christian knowledge, and the means of religious instruction among all those, in their country, who were destitute of them." It was quite a struggle for the missionaries to convert the Indians. Christianity was alien to the Native Americans. The early missionaries, such as John Eliot, Gideon Hawley, the Mayhews, and John Cotton, mastered the Indian language, formed alphabets and grammar books and learned to preach in the native tongue. Conducting sermons and visiting Indian homes were the early ways of propagating the gospel.
Around the first decade of the 19th century, education in missionary schools became the focus. The outcome of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves added to the shift toward industrial education, as white society tried to "civilize and Christianize" the blacks as well as the Indians. During the mid-19th century, industrial schools for blacks sprung up in the southeast, such as Claflin University, Tuskegee Normal School, and Hampton Institute in Virginia. Inspired by reform groups such as the Temperance Society, white America began to shift the focus of education for Indians and blacks away from reading and writing and more toward assimilating these two groups with white habits and trades to make them useful in society.
The records of the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, housed in 23 boxes, contain missionary diaries, missionary and Society correspondence, the Society's commission, annual Select Committee reports documenting missionary work, annual accounts of stock and income, auditor's reports, business correspondence, receipts and vouchers, as well as some 1910 photographs of missions.
The contents may be broken down into two large series: a general category and a business category. The General section, the bulk of the collection, is made up of a general correspondence section of missionary and Society member correspondence between 1756 and 1922, primarily written to the Society's secretary and treasurer. Included are letters from New England missionaries such as Elijah Kellogg and Abraham Plumer. There are letters from the presidents of industrial schools for Indians and blacks beginning around 1850 and 1870, respectively. Of particular note are the letters from Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Normal School. The general section also includes some New England missionary diaries documenting their daily work.
Due to the policy of assimilation of Indians and blacks through industrial education, which developed toward the second half of the 19th century, there is a noticeable change in the style and content of the general correspondence by this period. The letters shift from daily missionary documentaries of their field work, sometimes in diary form to letters to the heads of the industrial schools describing the set-up at their schools.
The diaries of six missionaries all date between 1791-1828, with the exception of George Kenngott's. The diaries reveal missionary thought with an emphasis on family or health problems. They usually have daily entries covering a several month period. The Indian point of view is very under-represented in the diaries, as well as in the general correspondence. A better account of Indian life may be found in George Kenngott's 1910 report of his travels among the western tribes. Photographs are included.
Finally, the General section also includes the historical papers which pertain to the founding of the Society, as well as any material which predates its founding in March 1787. The collection of letters between Gideon Hawley and Edward Wigglesworth is an example of the work conducted under the Society leadership prior to 1787 which inspired its founding. The Business section consists of annual Select Committee reports, 1828-1913; annual treasury reports, 1807-1909; auditor's reports, 1921-1947; four bank books, 1841-1850; Select Committee meeting minutes; receipts; vouchers; and some correspondence of a business nature.
It is not unusual to find an overlapping of some materials in the General and Business sections. For example, both contain correspondence, albeit of a different content. All of the materials after 1922 are filed in the Business section because the bulk of it is business correspondence concerning the treasurer or the secretary.
There is material missing during certain years throughout the collection. There is a particularly large gap in the general correspondence between 1863 and 1874. Published annual committee reports, which may be found at the MHS, attest to the continued existence of the Society since 1787.
Deposited by the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America in 1957.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. General records, 1752-1922digital content
These records pre-date the official founding of the Society in 1787. Includes: Letter of Archbishop Becker to Reverend Dr. Johnson, October 1768, concerning the founding of a missionary society in Boston. An inquiry letter by Dr. Hale into the Society's history, May 1898. A newspaper article on the origins of the Society's history as discussed at the annual meeting, 2 June 1899, and a series of letters from missionary Gideon Hawley to Edward Wigglesworth from various spots in Maine and Massachusetts spreading the gospel among the Indians, 1752-1756. "The Commission by The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge to the Gentlemen within named as a corresponding Board at Boston, North America, March 1787."
B. Missionary diaries/journals, 1787-1832, 1910digital content
Diaries kept by missionaries in the field as documentaries of their daily work. Includes: Five diaries of Reverend Samuel Kirkland, missionary sponsored by the Society in Scotland and Corporation of Harvard College to the Oneida Indians and Others of the Six Nations, June 1787-October 1791; two journals of John Sergeant with the Oneida in Massachusetts, 1791; and an extract from a journal of John Strickland in Hancock and Washington counties, Maine, 1796; Also included are William Maclean's journal during his time in Cambden, Maine and the surrounding areas, 1800; two journals of John Sawyer in Brewer and Bangor, Maine, 1828-1832; and one long report of Reverend George F. Kenngott from his travels out west, July-August 1910. The latter's report includes typewritten documentation of his visits to missions, as well as photographs of the missions and their inhabitants.
C. Missionary and Society correspondence, 1782-1922
Primarily contains letters from missionaries to Society members describing their work up to 1838, living and traveling among the Indians in New England and New York. The bulk of this period, until the middle of the century, consists of correspondence to Abiel Holmes, secretary of the Society, and head of the Select Committee. Holmes was a noted Congregationalist and the father of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Notable among the other correspondents are Elijah Kellogg, working among the Passanaquaddy Indians in Perry Point, Maine, and Frederick Baylies, missionary to the Narragansetts in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
There is some overlapping of subject and style between these personal letters and the missionary diaries from the 1787-1832 period, as well as some brief diaries included in the general correspondence. There is documentation of daily activities, i.e. preaching, performing baptisms, description of lifestyle and prevalence of health problems. However, there is a dearth of description concerning the Indian point of view. More of that aspect may be located in the journals or diaries.
Around the mid-1840s, the correspondence becomes more business-oriented and of a less personal nature. The missionary correspondence is more sparse and focuses more on requests for payment of salary and the need of resources for the missions, rather than descriptions of their lives among the Indians. Correspondence from Abraham Plumer, missionary at Damariscotta and other parts of Maine, provides good insight into the thoughts of a Society missionary.
The correspondence from 1851-1857 is very sparse, while the 1858-1861 period is non-existent. There are only two letters representing the 1858-1862 period and another gap from 1862-1874. Since the Society was alive during that time period and continued to sponsor missionary work, it suggests that the correspondence from this period was lost or separated from the rest of the collection. The bulk of the letters from this early middle period is between the Society officers concerning business matters. Noteworthy among the officers of this period are the treasurer James Savage and the secretary Francis Parkman. Letters between these two concern payment of missionaries and recommendations of new missionaries. What separates these brief notes from the financial papers is that they are letter format rather than simply vouchers or notes of receipt. Some material of these types may overlap between the financial and the general correspondence.
The 1874-1922 period is characterized by correspondence from industrial school officers describing in depth the beneficial work of their institutions and requesting that financial assistance from the Society be continued. These institutions vary from schools for black students in the south such as Claflin University and Calhoun Colored School in Alabama, to Scandinavian missions in the north and midwest. Some are Indian schools like the White River Indian Agency in Colorado and Twinsburgh Seminary for Indian Youth in Ohio. The main recipients of this correspondence are secretary Rufus Ellis and treasurer Thornton K. Lothrop.
At this time, there were still individual missions in New England sponsored solely by the Society, among them the Isle of Shoals mission, the Gay Head mission, and Samuel May's mission for the Onondaga. These reports are similar to the earlier correspondence. In particular the letters of Mrs. L. M. Wight from her mission in Versailles, New York, give good insight into Indian mission life. Other correspondence of interest is a series of nine letters from the Indian students of Siletz Indian Agency in Oregon to their missionary Thomas Eliot in March 1882. During the 1880s and 1890s, there are also letters between Indian missionaries and government officials concerning reservations and assimilation policies.
All missionaries and organizations receiving appropriations from the Society write detailed annual reports of how the money is spent and the progress being made propagating the gospel. Particularly significant among these correspondents is Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Normal School. His letters are numerous and lengthy descriptions of this type of agricultural university for blacks in the 1890s and early 20th century.
While there is correspondence after 1922, it is more business-oriented and doesn't describe missionary or student life. Therefore, it has been placed with the business section.
II. Business records, 1783-1948
A. General business, 1828-1924
Arranged chronologically within type of record.
The general business records contain the records central to the organization and running of the Society, other than the financial records. These include the 1924 by-laws; annual meeting minutes and announcements; certificates and appointments of missionaries and officers; lists of officers; and miscellaneous reports.
Also included are the reports of the Select Committee, loose and bound annual reports, and minutes written by the secretary to document how the Society spends its money and to describe what progress is being made propagating the gospel. The secretary lists the organizations receiving appropriations and describes the reports that these schools or missionaries have sent to him. These school reports often write of particular pupils and what they are learning.
B. Financial, 1783-1948
Accounts of stock and income for each year. Lists of appropriations and incoming money received from stock investments. Particularly notable is the Society stock in railroads, such as the Western Railroad, the Missouri Railroad, and the Pacific Railroad.
Annual auditor's reports for 1923, 1947, 1929, 1934-1935, and 1937-1947.
Four bank account balance books, 1838-1850.
4. Treasurers' correspondence, receipts, and vouchers, 1783-1948
Includes treasurers' correspondence related to allocation of funds, requests for money from outside institutions, and contributions to the Society. Also lists of appropriations to missionaries, including the person and amount allocated; receipts of salary from missionaries; and statements of missionary and mission expenses. Cheques, insurance forms, and bills from missionary expenditures and nine statements of property, 1894-1901, under Arthur Lincoln, treasurer, are also included.
During the 1920s, there is a large amount of business correspondence between treasurer Henry Ware and the Society attorney, Stephen Phillips, concerning financial investments. The sole missionary correspondent from this period is G. E. E. Lindquist of the Lawrence, Kansas, mission. All of this correspondence concerns payment of his salary and other financial matters. On 1 November 1934, there is a letter from Lina Ware to her father Henry Ware regarding the questionable worth of the Society's missionary work, in reference to Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Industrial School. Also a series of letters between Conveyancers Title Insurance and Mortgage Company and the Society.
III. Bound volumes, 1787-1936
A. Reports of the Select Committee, 1787-1903
B. Account reports, 1788-1936
IV. Oversize materials, 1807-1909
A. Annual treasury reports, 1807-1909
Treasurer's list of yearly expenses and income.
B. Miscellaneous materials, 1849-1880
Blueprint of plans for a mission school in 1880 and miscellaneous deeds, 1849, 1857.
V. Printed materials
A. Society for Propagating the Gospel
Refers to materials by or about the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, hereafter abbreviated as SPGAIONA.
B. Missionary, training school, and industrial school publications
The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America records, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.