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Puritan ideas on religion and Native Americans

The Puritan belief structure was built around the idea of treating one another as brothers, loving one another and having compassion. The Puritans also believed everyone should be virtuous to one another. The Puritans themselves did not treat the Native Americans this way. The Puritans look at themselves as the better group of people. It did not matter who someone was or what type of skin color one had, if one did not have the same beliefs as the Puritans he or she was considered an outcast in their society. The Puritans saw the Native Americans as savages and beasts. The Puritans’ relationship with the Native Americans was contrary to Puritan Christian doctrine.
To understand how the Puritans viewed religion, one needs to look at how they understood their Christian God. The Puritans knew God though the bible and what their ministers preached. They did not believe that God would speak directly to mortals. The Puritan Minister Robert Cushman once stated, “Whereas God of the old [Testament] did call and summon our fathers by predictions, dreams, visions, and certain illuminations…. Now there is no such calling to be expected for any matter whatsoever.” In the Puritan’s time, if God was to speak directly with a mortal, it was thought to be the devil in disguise. One Puritan woman, Anne Hutchinson, was believed to have predictions from God. This infuriated the Puritans because they did not believe in the idea of God giving her visions and thoughts. They believed that Satan was the one giving her these visions and thoughts. Consequently, the Puritans then banished her into the wilderness outside of Massachusetts Bay. This shows that the Puritans treated anyone who did not totally agree with them as an outcast to their society.
The religious beliefs and the rituals of the Indians of southern New England were in many ways how the Puritans thought the devil and witches to act. English observers Edward Winslow, Roger Williams, and other Puritans found out that the Indians believed that spirits would speak directly to mortals though dreams and visions.
William Simmons stated, “A powerful spirit known as Hobbamock was said to enter certain persons and to remain in their bodies as a guardian and familiar.” Hobbamock was the Native American creator. The spirit Hobbamock was the “souls of the dead” that would take the shape of the human body and animals.

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The Indians called these powwows. The powwow was a spirit that gave a mortal a talent to heal, tell the future, attract game, and change the weather. The Puritans thought of the Indian Creator as a false god. The Puritans thought that Hobbamock was the devil in disguise; they believed powwows were witches, and saw the witches’ familiars as demons. Familiars were the ones that would unite with the witches. It was for this reason that the Puritans severely judged the Native Americans.
     The Puritans viewed the Native Americans as divided, self-satisfied, and undisciplined. They were savages and beasts to Puritan society. On the other hand, Puritans viewed themselves as unified, visionary, disciplined, and dynamic. They thought it was their job to tell the Native Americans about the Bible and the Christian God. The Native Americans never viewed the relations with the Puritans as a racial or cultural conflict, but the Puritans did. The Puritans came to America to become full-fledged racists. They were influence greatly by the Portuguese experiences with the Native Americans in South America and in Mexico. Philip L. Berg stated in the article “Racism and the Puritan Mind” that, “Oveido, the official historian of the Spanish conquest, described the Indians as naturally lazy and vicious, their chief desires being to eat, drink, and worship heathen gods and commit bestial acts.” Many historians believe that, because the Native Americans were labeled as lazy and vicious, it created many stereotypes about the Indians. Usually, if some one tells you something about a person most will stereotype that individual before ever meeting the individual, even though the person may be nothing like he or she was stereotyped to be.
In the book The Sovereignty and the Goodness of God, Mary Rowlandson viewed the Native Americans as savage beasts. She wrote, “Now away we must go with those Barbarous Creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies.” In the Bible it says not to judge another person, but she judged the Native Americans because they do not have the same religious view that she does or the same skin. Racism is a lack of knowledge about someone or something. If one gets to know a person, one will understand the reasons for his or her actions. The Native Americans showed a lot of respect to Mary Rowlandson. Many nights, she got to sleep in the houses that they built along their journey, while the other Native Americans slept outside in the rain. When Mary Rowlandson started to understand the way of their culture, she began to see the Native Americans as individuals instead of heathens. On the other hand, when the Native Americas were treating Mary Rowlandson with respect she thought it was just God showing kindness. She believed that God is responsible for the Native Americans good doing and she does not give any credit to the Indians for treating her well.
The Puritans believed that Satan was involved with the Native Americans. The Puritans had certain fantasies of how Satan and witches were involved with one another. The Puritans were very narrow-minded when it came to religion. If you did not believe what they did, then you were wrong. That was why they came to America, to believe what they wanted to believe. G. E. Thomas of The New England Quarterly states, “One of the main reasons that the puritans came to New England was to convert the Indians to Christianity.” This is why the Puritans tried to colonize the Natives. However, in the Article “Racism and the Puritan Mind”, Philip L. Berg said that a decade had passed before the Puritans made an official effort to reach the Indians with their gospel. This would tell someone that the Puritans really had no intent on coming to America for this purpose. It seems that the Puritans were the ones who were selfish. They went to America to get away from their king and practice the beliefs that they had. The Puritans tried to use religion as a way to attain the land of the Native Americans. From the teachings in class, it seems that the more land that the English country had, the better their chances of making money and having more power. If the Puritans were able to convert the Native Americans to their Christian religion, the Puritans would better their chances of taking the Native Americans’ land.
     The Puritans were supposed to be a model for the entire world to see. John Winthrop said that they were a city upon a hill; by this he meant that all of the other people of America should look to them because they should set a perfect example of how a city should be. However, the Puritans were hypocrites. They could see themselves only in their own eyes not through the eyes of the Native Americans. The Native Americans land was being stolen. The Puritans saw themselves as the superior group of people. They thought the Indians were ignorant. All the other religions were inferior to what they believed.
     The Puritans’ relationship with the Native Americans was totally contrary to Puritan Christian doctrine. The Puritans believed that they were better group of people than the Native Americans. The Puritans were hypocrites. The Puritans preached of how they should be compassion toward one another, but in all reality they themselves were the ones who were not keeping up to their Christian structure.


Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997

Dawson, Jan. Puritanism in American and Society. The New England Quarterly 53 No. 4 (1980): 508-526

Simmons, William. “Cultural Bias in the New England Puritans’ Perception of Indians.” The William and Mary Quarterly 38 No. 1 (1981): 56-72

Thomas, G. E.. “Puritans, Indians, and the Concept of Race.” The New England Quarterly 48 No. 1 (1975) 3-27

Berg, Phillip. “Racism and the Puritan Mind.” Phylon 36 No. 1 (1975) 1-7
Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm, 1834-1913, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life. London, England: Smith, Elder & Co., 1868, pp. 317.
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Easton, John, fl. 1675, Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1675-1699. Lincoln, Charles Henry, ed.. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913, pp. 316.

Charlevoix, Pierre François Xavier de, 1682-1761, History and General Description of New France, vol. 3. Shea, John Gilmary, tr. and ed.. New York, NY: Francis P. Harper, 1900, pp. 310

James, Edwin, 1797-1861, Early Western Travels, vol. 14: Part I of James's Account of S.H. Long's Expedition, 1819-1820. Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed.. Cleveland, OH: A.H. Clark Co., 1905, pp. 321

Buttrick, Tilly, 1783-, Early Western Travels, vol. 8: Buttrick's Voyages, 1812-1819, Evan's Pedestrious tour, 1818. Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed.. Cleveland, OH: A.H. Clark Co., 1904, pp. 364

Early Narratives of the Northwest. Kellogg, Louise Phelps, ed.. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917, pp. 382.
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