The Poor Indians: British Missionaries, Native Americans, and Colonial Sensibility

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University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 - History - 264 pages
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Missionary work, arising from a sense of pity, helped convince the British that they were a benevolent people. Stevens relates this to the rise of the cult of sensibility, when philosophers argued that humans were inherently good because they felt sorrow at the sign of suffering. "Stevens has written a thoughtful study of British missionary culture. Most important, she reveals how philanthropy shaped the identity of a transatlantic British public and the ways that identity has resonated from the seventeenth century all the way up to our time."--"The New England Quarterly" Between the English Civil War of 1642 and the American Revolution, countless British missionaries announced their intention to "spread the gospel" among the native North American population. Despite the scope of their endeavors, they converted only a handful of American Indians to Christianity. Their attempts to secure moral and financial support at home proved much more successful. In "The Poor Indians," Laura Stevens delves deeply into the language and ideology British missionaries used to gain support, and she examines their wider cultural significance. Invoking pity and compassion for "the poor Indian"--a purely fictional construct--British missionaries used the Black Legend of cruelties perpetrated by Spanish conquistadors to contrast their own projects with those of Catholic missionaries, whose methods were often brutal and deceitful. They also tapped into a remarkably effective means of swaying British Christians by connecting the latter's feelings of religious superiority with moral obligation. Describing mission work through metaphors of commerce, missionaries asked their readers in England to invest, financially and emotionally, in the cultivation of Indian souls. As they saved Indians from afar, supporters renewed their own faith, strengthened the empire against the corrosive effects of paganism, and invested in British Christianity with philanthropic fervor. "The Poor Indians" thus uncovers the importance of religious feeling and commercial metaphor in strengthening imperial identity and colonial ties, and it shows how missionary writings helped fashion British subjects who were self-consciously transatlantic and imperial because they were religious, sentimental, and actively charitable. Laura M. Stevens teaches English at the University of Tulsa.
  

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Contents

The Common Bowels of Pity to the Miserable
1
Gold for Glass Seeds to Fruit Husbandry and Trade in Missionary Writings
34
I Have Received Your Christian and Very Loving Letter Epistolarity and Transatlantic Community
62
The Reservoir of National Charity The Role of the Missionary Society
84
Indians Deists and the Anglican Quest for Compassion The Sermons of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
111
The Sacrifice of Self Emotional Expenditure and Transatlantic Ties in Brainerds and Sergeants Biographies
138
Like Snow Against the Sun The Christian Origins of the Vanishing Indian
160
Conclusion
195
Notes
203
Index
249
Acknowledgments
261
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About the author (2004)

Laura M. Stevens teaches English at the University of Tulsa.

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