Gideon’s People: Being a Chronicle of an American Indian Community in Colonial Connecticut and the Moravian Missionaries Who Served There

by Corinna Dally-Starna and William A. Starna, trans. and eds.

Gideon’s People is an impressive achievement by the authors who took over a decade to translate and edit the diaries left behind by the German Moravian missionaries serving an American Indian community at Pachgatgoch in the Housatonic Valley of northwestern Connecticut.

Vols. 1 & 2. University of Nebraska Press, 1111 Lincoln Mall Ste. 400, Lincoln, NE 68588, 2009, 1,376 pages, $170.00.

—Reviewed by Robert L. Gallagher, associate professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.

Gideon’s People is an impressive achievement by the authors who took over a decade to translate and edit the diaries left behind by the German Moravian missionaries serving an American Indian community at Pachgatgoch in the Housatonic Valley of northwestern Connecticut. Named after “Gideon, Martha’s husband, Captain of Pachgatgoch” of the Wompanoos nation and the first Indian baptized (by Johann Martin Mack), the translation of the diaries (May 18, 1747 to July 31, 1763) provides a unique window into the life of the indigenous people in the region of Kent, Connecticut, together with revealing insights of the Moravians.

The physical challenges of the Pietist missionaries seep through the diaries as they engage with local Indian warriors and harassing colonial administrators in the midst of struggling to produce food and shelter separated from their Bethlehem Church. Yet the Moravians’ compassion for the indigenous people in their poverty, sickness, and death was clearly evident: “We were at a loss, and wept over the poor people’s misery, and that they permit neither advice nor help” (April 18, 1759). Also peppered throughout the account is the Moravian message of the love of the Lamb with the joys and toils of conversions and inevitable temptations, complete with its emotional spiritual bias.

During much of the 1740s, the Moravian Church underwent the “Sifting Period” whereby the founder, Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, led the movement into extremes of devotion and sentimentality connected to the suffering of Christ. It is this religious language that appears in the meticulously edited dairies (all names and designations are as they appeared in the original, including mistakes and corrections)—for instance, “they had felt the dear Savior and His blood in their hearts” (May 29, 1747) and “the Lamb…was near me with his wounds” (March 26, 1749).

In addition, the two-volume set has a 73-page introduction describing the socio-cultural context of the Moravians, Indians, and the colonies with location maps and original sketches throughout, as well as extensive explanatory notes (for example, “Spangenberg’s comments in the margin:…”) and appendices with a list of names compiled by August Gottlieb Spangenberg during his visit to the region, comprehensive baptismal records of the Indian congregation of Pachgatgoch (February 13, 1743 to December 25, 1751), and a catalogue of the baptized and unbaptized Indians in Pachgatgoch. A comprehensive glossary, bibliography, and index supplement this imposing work that deserves close scrutiny by influencers desiring to learn from history about the fascinating intersection of missionaries, indigenous people, and colonialists.

….

EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 500-502. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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