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Published: April 28, 2011

Company for the Propagacion of the Gospell in New England

A charitable group formed in 1649 by the Puritan Parliament and London merchants to raise funds to convert New England Indians to Christianity. The Puritans in New England had been less than successful in proselytizing Indians. Conversion not only meant baptism and acceptance of Puritan Christian beliefs and behavior, it meant the experience of “saving grace,” which required a knowledge of the Scriptures at a depth not possible without fluency in English.
By 1640, there were few Indian converts, and agents of the (Massachusetts) Bay Colony, led by the Reverend JOHN ELIOT of Roxbury, petitioned Puritan leaders and merchants in England to raise funds to bolster efforts in the colonies to convert Indians. Eliot arrived in New England in 1631 and, for the next 56 years, served as teacher-minister of a new church in Roxbury. During that time, he learned Algonquian, preached to the Algonquians in their own language and, in 1663, translated the Bible into Algonquian.
For nearly 30 years, throughout Puritan rule and well after the Restoration, the society raised hundreds of pounds annually to support Eliot’s work, which consisted of buying clothing, building materials and tools for Indians; paying salaries of ministers, teachers and missionaries who worked among the Indians; and paying for the printing of an Indian Library in Algonquian.
By 1675, about 2,500 New England Indians, or about 20% of the native population, had converted to Christianity, and the society decided to finance an Indian College at Harvard. A lack of qualified and committed students, however, doomed the Indian college and Eliot’s and the society’s efforts. Eliot died in 1690, and the society’s work ended.