In recent years, historians have turned their attention to the continued presence of Native Americans living ““behind the frontier”” in eighteenth-century New England. Where a previous generation of scholars once wrangled over the benignity of seventeenth-century Puritan ““praying towns”” and equated conversion with cultural suicide, current studies of Native religion in the decades preceding the American Revolution suggest that Indians preserved traditional culture by grafting Christianity onto a preexisting grid of beliefs and practices. A case study based on the writings of a lay missionary and civil magistrate named Josiah Cotton, this essay contributes to revisionist scholarship by examining Native American spirituality under the broader and more inclusive category of popular religion. Most Wampanoag families in New England's ““Old Colony”” lived between cultures——neither fully integrated into English society nor fully traditional in their identities or worldview. The ambiguities of their colonial situation, in turn, facilitated the emergence of a diverse spectrum of religious beliefs and practices that, at times, transcended racial categories. English settlers consulted Native American shamans and cunning folk; rumors of witchcraft, ghosts, and spirits permeated all ranks of society; and Indians and their white neighbors shared a preoccupation with spiritual healing. A few core families aspired to all the trappings of English life; they internalized Puritan doctrine, engaged in sophisticated devotional routines, and joined local Indian churches. Others continued to live in traditional ways and simply ignored the pastoral labors of regional missionaries. But for the majority of Native Christians who lived and worked side-by-side with their English neighbors, religion remained an eclectic affair as they deployed a variety of spiritual resources to combat the vicissitudes and uncertainties of everyday life.
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