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Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records

Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, (1787-circa 1965)
Title:Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records
Quantity:6 linear feet (9 boxes)
Abstract:The records of the Society for Propagating the Gospel to the Indians and Others in North America range from 1791 to 1875, and consist of the official records of the organization collected and maintained by the secretaries.
Collection Number:MSS 48

Series List

SERIES I. Missionaries' Papers
SERIES II. Secretary's Incoming Correspondence
SERIES III. Organizational Records
A. Financial Records
B. Reports
C. Other

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Society for Propagating the Gospel to the Indians and Others in North America range from 1791 to 1875, and consist of the official records of the organization collected and maintained by the secretaries. Except for a gap between 1830 and 1850, the collection is full, and the records appear to be complete. The records have been arranged into three series.

Series I. Missionaries' Papers contains the journals and letters written to the Society from individual missionaries in the Society's employment. The series is arranged alphabetically and the inclusive dates of the materials contained can be found alongside the missionary's name. A chronological list of missionaries which was published by the Society can be found in the collection register, at the front of box one. For a list showing the locations where the individual missionaries served, see Appendix I.

Of all the missionaries, John Sergeant's journals and letters, 1792-1824, are the most complete and informative. John Sergeant served at the Stockbridge Indian Mission for over fifty years until his death in 1824, and his papers gave a minutely detailed account of his trials, accomplishments, and progressions working with the Stockbridge Native Americans. Other missionaries who served Native American communities whose reports may be of particular interest are: Curtis Coe, who reported on the Native Americans in Rhode Island; Gideon Hawley, who served the Mashpees; Timothy Alden, who worked with the Native Americans in Pennsylvania and western New York between 1817 and 1820; Frederick Baylies, who directed a Native American school and mission on Martha's Vineyard from 1818 to 1823; Samuel May, who served the Onondagas and Oneidas at Syracuse, New York from 1847 to 1864; Nettie Stray, Sylvia Joslin, and Hattie Clark who worked with the Seneca Native American school on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York. Also of note are the letters of Eleazar Williams, a mixed-race, Native American minister who served the Oneida Indians at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the St. Regis Native Americans in New York and who was ultimately replaced by Rufus King, because his work was found to be unsatisfactory to the Society.

Most of the missionaries employed during the early years of the Society served in poor, sparsely populated white settlements in Maine. Of these, the journals of John Sawyer, Nathaniel Porter, Stetson Raymond, Freeman Parker, Josiah Peet, Daniel Oliver, Elijah Kellogg, Nathan Douglas, and Jonathan Calif seem to be the most informative and representative. Many of the reports from the Maine missionaries discuss not merely the state of religion in the area, but they also detail some of the conflicts with other missionary groups, particularly the Baptists and Methodists. Also of interest are those missionaries who served the Isles of Shoals off the Maine coast; Josiah Steven, Daniel Lovejoy, and Enoch Whipple each spent brief periods on the islands before 1810, and each complained of the lack of "religious zeal" found among the inhabitants. Stevens even comments that much of his time was spent acting as a judge, sentencing several people to sit in the "publick stocks." No missionary was sent to the Isles for the next twenty years, but those who followed after 1840, namely Abraham Plumer, and his son John Plumer, Leavitt Thaxter, George Beebe, and William Hewes, found conditions more acceptable, and their comments are quite revealing concerning the state of life on the islands. Other missionaries who might be of interest are D. W. Stevens, who operated a Seaman's Free Reading Room and Library on Martha's Vineyard; and Hiram Wilson, who operated a mission along the Welland Ship Canal, and who assisted runaway slaves, and slave refugees prior to, and during the Civil War.

Series II. Secretary's Incoming Correspondence contains inquiries from small communities seeking aid, suggestions concerning placement of missionaries, and letters of gratitude from areas receiving missionary aid. Also included are letters of recommendation for ministers being considered for appointments and letters from ministers declining appointments. Letters of acceptance from ministers and citizens elected to the Society can also be found here. Among these is a letter written by Daniel Webster, dated June 22, 1822 accepting a membership in the Society. Correspondence from other missionary societies such as the Maine Missionary Society (from 1810 to 1830), the Canadian Congregational Missionary Society (from 1850 to 1870), and the Scandinavian Mission (from 1850 to 1870) are also contained here. As mentioned earlier, materials for the period from 1830 to 1850 are almost entirely absent.

Series III. Organizational Records primarily contains the financial records of the Society. These include receipts for books and supplies, records concerning distribution of funds, and charts showing locations of missionaries and distribution of materials. The reports of Select Committees are scattered but informative, dealing with issues such as the state of the Alford fund (the Society's original endowment), election of members, and minutes of annual meetings. The miscellaneous materials contain printed flyers, circulars, and notices distributed by the Society and by other missionary groups.

Historical Sketch

On November 19, 1787, twenty-one Congregationalist clergymen and laymen were incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as "The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America" (hereafter referred to as the Society). The Society was established to administer "Christian knowledge" to the Native American population and an endowment was set up, receiving its primary impetus from a donation of over $10,000 from the estate of Colonel John Alford, to promote this end. According to the constitution of the Society, membership was restricted to fifty members who were to have "perpetual succession"; new members could be nominated and elected into the Society by current members.

It is apparent that although small Native American missions were funded during the early years of the Society, the majority of the Society's resources were directed toward the "spiritually destitute" areas of the New England frontiers which were occupied by poor white settlers. The missionaries who served in these areas during the first half-century of the Society, served on missions, which normally ran from two to four months. In return for their labor, they were paid fifty dollars per month, half of which was delivered upon their setting out, and other half was remitted upon exhibition of their journals, which, by requirements of the Society, detailed the accounts of their mission. Several missionaries served for only one term; others renewed their mission and served for several consecutive years. These missionaries, for the most part, did not settle permanently in towns or missions, but rather travelled in a given district, visiting as many villages and families as possible, distributing Bibles, books, tracts, and pamphlets. "During the first century of its existence, the Society employed 166 missionaries in more than eighty outposts which reaches from Maine to the state of Washington and along the southern Canadian border" (Weis 6).

More permanent missions were established for the Native Americans at Martha's Vineyard, Mashpee, and Herring Pond, Massachusetts and at Stockbridge and Oneida, New York. Among the Native Americans who received aid were the Stockbridge Indians, the Oneidas, the Narrangansetts, Wyandots, Senecas, Munsees, Penobscots, Pasamaquoides, and the Nantucket Indians. After 1837, assistance was also provided for the Cherokees, the Ojibways, the Onondagas, the Gay Head Indians, and the St. Regis Indians. "At various times its missionaries…ministered to Indians of every tribe in the United States" (Weis, 6).

In addition to serving individual communities and tribes, the Society also contributed financial and advisory aid to other missionary societies and religious institutions. The Society coordinated their activities with those of the Maine Missionary Society during the early part of the nineteenth century. From 1857 to 1889, the Society worked with the Scandinavian missions in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and from 1861 to 1873, the Society maintained close ties with the Canada Indian Missionary Society. The Society also helped support a small number of Native American and black students at a variety of educational institutions including Wilberforce University (Ohio), Hampton Institute (Virginia), Lawrence University (Wisconsin), Wesleyan Seminary (Michigan), Albion Seminary (Michigan), and Twinsburg Seminary (Ohio).

The Society received most of its funding through private donations, and through collections obtained at various meetings where discourses on missionary work were preached. In 1936, the year before the semi-centennial, the funds had grown to $34,300, with an annual income of $1,874. These funds were invested in bonds, mortgages, and railroad stock in order to raise the level of the endowment. By 1855, the treasury had increased to nearly $53,000. This period, from 1836 to 1855, seems to be the peak period of the Society; after 1855 the range of activity gradually declined until by 1900 the scope of the Society's affairs had reached a low point. The Society remained in existence through the early 1950s, and by mid-1960, after the publication of its Handbook, edited by Richard D. Pierce, it appears to have disbanded.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Alden, Timothy, 1736-1828
Baylies, Frederic
Calif, Jonathan
Clark, Hattie
Coe, Curtis, 1750-1829
Douglas, Nathan
Hawley, Gideon, 1727-1807
Hewes, William
Kellogg, Elijah, 1761-1842
Lovejoy, Daniel
May, Samuel
Oliver, Daniel
Parker, Freeman, 1776-1854
Peet, Josiah, 1780-1852
Plumer, Abraham
Plumer, John
Porter, Nathaniel, 1745-1836
Raymond, Stetson
Sawyer, John, 1755-1858
Sergeant, John, 1747-1824
Stevens, D. W.
Stray, Nettie
Thaxter, Leavitt, 1789-1863
Whipple, Enoch, 1755-1840
Williams, Eleazer, 1787-1858
Wilson, Hiram, 1803-1864
Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and Others in North America
Indians of North America


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records, MSS 48, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was acquired in 1903 and transferred into thirteen scrapbooks. The source of the collection is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by William E. Marion, March 1982. Updated by Hilary Streifer, October 2014.

Related Material


Holmes, Abiel. "Historical Sketch of the Society for Propagating the Gospel." Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, Series 2. 2 (1814): 45-48.

Pierce, Richard E., ed. Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America: Handbook 1787-1964. Boston: The Society, 1964.

Schermerhorn, J. F. Report to the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. U. S.: The Society, 1814.

The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. MA: University Press, 1887.

Weis, Frederick Lewis. The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. Dublin, NH: 1953.

Related Collections

Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North American, 1752-1948. Massachusetts Historical Society, Ms N-176

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