Housed in the Chapter Library is a very unusual volume, written entirely in Massachusetts Indian. This volume is a translation of The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly, Bishop of Bangor, translated by John Eliot, “The Apostle to the Indians”.
John Eliot was born in Hertfordshire in 1604 but, compelled by his puritan beliefs, he left England for America, arriving in Boston on 3 November 1631, one of the earliest settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He brought with him 23 barrels of books and became pastor for the local congregation at Roxbury. The Pequotyo War of 1634–38 had highlighted the troubled relationship between the settlers and the natives, and coupled with the encouragement of officials in Boston for the conversion of the local Indians, Eliot began his missionary work in September 1646.
Initially preaching in English, he worked hard to learn the local language, eventually becoming proficient in the Massachusetts dialect of coastal Algonquian. He worked out the grammar of the language, enabling it to be written down for the first time. He then translated large numbers of Christian texts into the native language, and his ‘Indian Library’ of tracts and huge volumes in Massachusetts ultimately included twenty separate titles and thousands of copies, all printed in the colony between 1654 and 1688. One of the first books to be worked into the Algonquin language was the Bible. This mammoth task was eventually published in 1663, nearly 120 years before the first English language Bible was printed in America.
Manitowompae pomantamoonk: sampwshanau Christianoh utoh woh an pomantog wussikkitteahonat God was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1685. Bayly’s book, written in English in 1611, was a well-known, practical guide to Christian living. It was hugely influential on Puritan faith, reaching its 71st English edition in 1792. It seems that it was popular amongst the Massachusetts Indian population as well, with three editions of the work being published in the Indian language. There are very few surviving copies of this edition of Eliot’s translation of this work, making it one of the rarest books in the Chapter Library.
Eleanor Cracknell, Assistant Archivist