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Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume Two
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SECT. V.

A third difficulty in converting the Indians, viz. Their inconvenient situations, savage manners, and unhappy method of living.

Their “inconvenient situations, savage manners, and unhappy method of living,” have been an unspeakable difficulty and discouragement to me in my work. They generally live in the wilderness, and some that I have visited, at great distances from the English settlements. This has obliged me to travel much, oftentimes over hideous rocks, mountains, and swamps, and frequently to lie out in the open woods, which deprived me of the common comforts of life, and greatly impaired my health.

When I have got among them in the wilderness, I have often met with great difficulty in my attempts to discourse to them. I have sometimes spent hours with them in attempting to answer their objections, and remove their jealousies, before I could prevail upon them to give me a hearing upon Christianity. I have been often obliged to preach in their houses in cold and windy weather, when they have been full of smoke and cinders, as well as unspeakably filthy; which has many times thrown me into violent sick head-aches.

While I have been preaching, their children have frequently cried to such a degree, that I could scarcely be heard, and their pagan mothers would take no manner of care to quiet them. At the same time, perhaps, some have been laughing and mocking at divine truths. Others playing with their dogs, whittleing sticks, and the like. And this, in many of them, not from spite and prejudice, but for want of better manners.

A view of these things has been not a little sinking and discouraging to me. It has sometimes so far prevailed upon me as to render me entirely dispirited, and wholly unable to go on with my work; and given me such a melancholy turn of mind, that I have many times thought I could never more address an Indian upon religious matters.

The solitary manner in which I have generally been obliged to live, on account of their inconvenient situation, has been not a little pressing. I have spent the greater part of my time, for more than three years past, entirely alone, as to any agreeable society; and a very considerable part of it in houses by myself, without having the company of any human creature. Sometimes I have scarcely seen an Englishman for a month or six weeks together; and have had my spirits so depressed with melancholy views of the tempers and conduct of pagans, when I have been for some time confined with them, that I have felt as if banished from all the people of God.

I have likewise been wholly alone in my work, there being no other missionary among the Indians in either of these provinces. And other ministers neither knowing the peculiar difficulties, nor most advantageous methods of performing my work, have been capable to afford me little assistance or support in any respect. A feeling of the great disadvantages of being alone in this work, has discovered to me the wisdom and goodness of the great Head of the church, in sending forth his disciples two and two, in order to proclaim the sacred mysteries of his kingdom; and has made me long for a colleague to be a partner of my cares, hopes, and fears, as well as labours amongst the Indians; and excited to use some means in order to procure such an assistant, although I have not as yet been so happy as to meet with success in that respect.

I have not only met with great difficulty in travelling to, and for some time residing among, the Indians far remote in the wilderness, but also in living with them, in one place and another, more statedly. I have been obliged to remove my residence from place to place; having procured, and after some poor fashion, furnished, three houses for living among them, in the space of about three years past. One at Kaunaumeek, about twenty miles distant from the city of Albany; one at the Forks of Delaware, in Pennsylvania; and one at Crossweeksung, in New Jersey. And the Indians in the latter of these provinces, with whom I have lately spent most of my time, being not long since removed from the place where they lived last winter, (the reason of which I mentioned in my Journal of March 24, and May 4,) I have now no house at all of my own, but am obliged to lodge with an English family at a considerable distance from them, to the great disadvantage of my work among them; they being like children that continually need advice and direction, as well as incitement to their worldly business. The houses I have formerly lived in are at great distances from each other; the two nearest of them being more than seventy miles apart, and neither of them within fifteen miles of the place where the Indians now live.

The Indians are a very poor and indigent people, and so destitute of the comforts of life, at some seasons of the year especially, that it is impossible for a person who has any pity to them, and concern for the Christian interest, to live among them without considerable expense, especially in time of sickness. If any thing be bestowed on one, (as in some cases it is peculiarly necessary, in order to remove their pagan jealousies, and engage their friendship to Christianity,) others, be there never so many of them, expect the same treatment. And while they retain their pagan tempers, they discover little gratitude, amidst all the kindnesses they receive. If they make any presents, they expect double satisfaction. And Christianity itself does not at once cure them of these ungrateful tempers.

They are in general unspeakably indolent and slothful. They have been bred up in idleness, and know little about cultivating land, or indeed of engaging vigorously in any other business. So that I am obliged to instruct them in, as well as press them to, the performance of their work, and take the oversight of all their secular business. They have little or no ambition or resolution. Not one in a thousand of them has the spirit of a man. And it is next to impossible to make them sensible of the duty and importance of being active, diligent, and industrious in the management of their worldly business; and to excite in them any spirit and promptitude of that nature. When I have laboured to the utmost of my ability to show them of what importance it would be to the Christian interest among them, as well as to their worldly comfort, for them to be laborious and prudent in their business, and to furnish themselves with the comforts of life; how this would incline the pagans to come among them, and so put them under the means of salvation how it would encourage religious persons of the white people to help them, as well as stop the mouths of others that were disposed to cavil against them; how they might by this means pay others their just dues, and so prevent trouble from coming upon themselves, and reproach upon their Christian profession they have indeed assented to all I said, but been little moved, and consequently have acted like themselves, or at least too much so. Though it must be acknowledged, that those who appear to have a sense of divine things, are considerably amended in this respect, and it is to be hoped, that time will make a yet greater alteration upon them for the better.

The concern I have had for the settling of these Indians in New Jersey in a compact form, in order to their being a Christian congregation, in a capacity of enjoying the means of grace; the care of managing their worldly business in order to this end, and to their having a comfortable livelihood; have been more pressing to my mind, and cost me more labour and fatigue, for several months past, than all my other work among them.

Their “wandering to and fro in order to procure the necessaries of life,” is another difficulty that attends my work. This has often deprived me of opportunities to discourse to them; and it has thrown them in the way of temptation; either among pagans further remote where they have gone to hunt, who have laughed at them for hearkening to Christianity; or, among white people more horribly wicked, who have often made them drunk, and then got their commodities such as skins, baskets, brooms, shovels, and the like, with which they designed to have bought corn, and other necessaries of life, for themselves and families for, it may be, nothing but a little strong liquor, and then sent them home empty. So that for the labour perhaps of several weeks, they have got nothing but the satisfaction of being drunk once; and have not only lost their labour, but, which is infinitely worse, the impressions of some divine subjects that were made upon their minds before. But I forbear enlarging upon this head. The few hints I have given may be sufficient to give thinking persons some apprehensions of the difficulties attending my work, on account of the inconvenient situations and savage manners of the Indians, as well as of their unhappy method of living.

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