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

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Collection Summary


The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America records include historical materials, correspondence, general business records, diaries, and financial records of the first Protestant missionary society of its kind in North America

Historical Sketch

The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America was the first Protestant missionary organization of its type in North America. It existed in concept prior to its 1787 charter as a group of Boston individuals sponsoring missionary work in New England.

The Society was officially founded in 1787 by a group of Massachusetts citizens concerned with converting the Indians from their native polytheistic religions to Christianity. Inspired by The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, a group of twenty-one prominent Massachusetts citizens petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a charter. These men shared certain characteristics, among them were political views and educational backgrounds (several were Harvard graduates).

The Society's object was "the dissemination of Christian knowledge, and the means of religious instruction among all those, in their country, who were destitute of them." It was quite a struggle for the missionaries to convert the Indians. Christianity was alien to the Native Americans. The early missionaries, such as John Eliot, Gideon Hawley, the Mayhews, and John Cotton, mastered the Indian language, formed alphabets and grammar books and learned to preach in the native tongue. Conducting sermons and visiting Indian homes were the early ways of propagating the gospel.

Around the first decade of the nineteenth century education in missionary schools became the focus. The outcome of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves added to the shift toward industrial education, as white society tried to "civilize and Christianize" the blacks as well as the Indians. During the mid-nineteenth century industrial schools for blacks sprung up in the southeast, such as Claflin University, Tuskegee Normal School, and Hampton Institute in Virginia. Inspired by reform groups such as the Temperance Society, white America began to shift the focus of education for Indians and Blacks away from reading and writing and more toward assimilating these two groups with white habits and trades to make them useful in society.

Collection Description

The records of the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, housed in twenty-three boxes, contain missionary diaries, missionary and Society correspondence, the Society's commission, annual Select Committee reports documenting missionary work, annual accounts of stock and income, auditor's reports, business correspondence, receipts and vouchers, as well as some 1910 photographs of missions.

The contents may be broken down into two large series: a general category and a business category. The General section, the bulk of the collection, is made up of a general correspondence section of missionary and Society member correspondence between 1756 and 1922, primarily written to the Society's secretary and treasurer. Included are letters from New England missionaries such as Elijah Kellogg and Abraham Plumer. There are letters from the presidents of Industrial schools for Indians and blacks beginning around 1850 and 1870, respectively. Of particular note are the letters from Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Normal School. The general section also includes some New England missionary diaries documenting their daily work.

Due to the policy of assimilation of Indians and Blacks through industrial education, which developed toward the second half of the nineteenth century, there is a noticeable change in the style and content of the general correspondence by this period. The letters shift from daily missionary documentaries of their field work, sometimes in diary form to letters to the heads of the industrial schools describing the set-up at their schools.

The diaries of six missionaries all date between 1791-1828, with the exception of George Kenngott's. The diaries reveal missionary thought with an emphasis on family or health problems. They usually have daily entries covering a several month period. The Indian point of view is very under represented in the diaries as well as in the general correspondence. A better account of Indian life may be found in George Kenngott's 1910 report of his travels among the western tribes. Photos are included.

Finally, the General section also includes the historical papers which pertain to the founding of the Society, as well as any material which predates its founding in March, 1787. The collection of letters between Gideon Hawley and Edward Wigglesworth is an example of the work conducted under the Society leadership prior to 1787 which inspired its founding. The Business Section consists of annual Select Committee reports, 1828-1913; annual treasury reports, 1807-1909; auditor's reports, 1921-1947; four bank books, 1841-1850; Select Committee meeting minutes; receipts; vouchers; and some correspondence of a business nature.

It is not unusual to find an overlapping of some materials in the General and Business sections, for example both contain correspondence, albeit of a different content. All of the materials after 1922 are filed in the Business section because the bulk of it is business correspondence concerning the treasurer or the secretary.

There is material missing during certain years throughout the collection. There is a particularly large gap in the General Correspondence between 1863 and 1874. Published annual committee reports, which may be found at MHS, attest to the continued existence of the Society since 1787.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America in 1957.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. General Records, 1752-1922

A. Historical Materials, 1752-1756

Arranged chronologically.

These records pre-date the official founding of the Society in 1787. Includes: Letter of Archbishop Becker to Reverend Dr. Johnson, October, 1768 concerning the founding of a missionary society in Boston. An inquiry letter by Dr. Hale into the Society's history, May, 1898. A newspaper article on the origins of the Society's history as discussed at the annual meeting, June 2, 1899, and a series of letters from missionary Gideon Hawley to Edward Wigglesworth from various spots in Maine and Massachusetts spreading the gospel among the Indians, 1752-1756. "The Commission by The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge to the Gentlemen within named as a corresponding Board at Boston, North America, March, 1787."

Box 1Folders 1-5

B. Missionary Diaries/Journals, 1787-1832, 1910

Arranged chronologically.

Diaries kept by missionaries in the field as documentaries of their daily work. Includes: Five diaries of Reverend Samual Kirkland, missionary sponsored by the Society in Scotland and Corporation of Harvard College to the Oneida Indians and Others of the Six Nations, June, 1787-October, 1791; two journals of John Sergeant with the Oneida in Massachusetts, 1791; and an extract from a journal of John Strickland in Hancock and Washington counties, Maine, 1796; Also included are William Maclean's journal during his time in Cambden, Maine and the surrounding areas, 1800; two journals of John Sawyer in Brewer and Bangor, Maine, 1828-1832; and one long report of Reverend George F. Kenngott from his travels out west July-August, 1910. The latter's report includes typewritten documentation of his visits to missions as well as photos of the missions and their inhabitants.

Box 1Folders 6-7
Samuel Kirkland, 1787-1791.
Box 1Folder 8
John Sergeant, 1791.
Box 1Folder 9
John Strickland, 1796.
Box 1Folder 10
William McClean, 1800.
Box 1Folder 11
John Sawyer, 1828, 1832.
Box 1Folders 12-19
George Kennegott, 1910.

C. Missionary and Society Correspondence, 1782-1922

Arranged chronologically.

Primarily contains letters from missionaries to Society members describing their work up to 1838, living and traveling among the Indians in New England and New York. The bulk of this period, until the middle of the century, consists of correspondence to Abiel Holmes, secretary of the Society, and head of the Select Committee. Holmes was a noted Congregationalist, and the father of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Notable among the other correspondents are Elijah Kellogg, working among the Passanaquaddy Indians in Perry Point, Maine and Frederick Baylies, missionary to the Narragansetts in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

There is some overlapping of subject and style between these personal letters and the missionary diaries from the 1787-1832 period, as well as some brief diaries included in the general correspondence. There is documentation of daily activities, i.e. preaching, performing baptisms, description of lifestyle and prevalence of health problems. However, there is a dearth of description concerning the Indian point of view. More of that aspect may be located in the journals or diaries.

Around the mid-1840s the correspondence becomes more business oriented and of a less personal nature. The missionary correspondence is more sparse and focuses more on requests for payment of salary and of need of resources for the missions, rather than descriptions of their lives among the Indians. Correspondence from Abraham Plumer, missionary at Damariscotta and other parts of Maine, provides good insight into the thoughts of a Society missionary.

The correspondence from 1851-1857 is very sparse; while the 1858-1861 period is non-existent. There are only two letters representing the 1858-1862 period and another gap from 1862-1874. Since the Society was alive during that time period and continued to sponsor missionary work, it suggests that the correspondence from this period was lost or separated from the rest of the collection. The bulk of the letters from this early middle period is between the Society officers concerning business matters. Noteworthy among the officers of this period are the treasurer James Savage and Francis Parkman, the secretary. Letters between these two concern payment of missionaries and recommendations of new missionaries. What separates these brief notes from the financial papers is that they are letter format rather than simply vouchers or notes of receipt. Some material of these types may overlap between the financial and the general correspondence.

The 1874-1922 period is characterized by correspondence from Industrial school officers describing in depth the beneficial work of their institutions and requesting that financial assistance from the Society be continued. These institutions vary from schools for black students in the south such as Claflin University and Calhoun Colored School in Alabama, to Scandinavian missions in the north and midwest. Some are Indian schools like the White River Indian Agency in Colorado and Twinsburgh Seminary for Indian Youth in Ohio. The main recipients of this correspondence are secretary Rufus Ellis and treasurer Thornton K. Lothrop.

At this time there were still individual missions in New England sponsored solely by the Society, among them the Isle of Shoals mission, the Gay Head mission, and Samuel May's mission for the Onondaga. These reports are similar to the earlier correspondence. In particular the letters of Mrs. L.M. Wight from her mission in Versailles, New York give good insight into Indian mission life. Other correspondence of interest is a series of nine letters from the Indian students of Siletz Indian Agency in Oregon to their missionary Thomas Eliot in March, 1882. During the 1880's and 1890's there are also letters between Indian missionaries and government officials concerning reservations and assimilation policies.

All missionaries and organizations receiving appropriations from the Society write detailed annual reports of how the money is spent and the progress being made propagating the gospel. Particularly significant among these correspondents is Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Normal School. His letters are numerous and lengthy descriptions of this type of agricultural university for blacks in the 1890's and early twentieth century.

While there is correspondence after 1922, it is more business oriented and doesn't describe missionary or student life. Therefore, it has been placed with the business section.

Box 2
Box 3
Box 4
Box 5
Box 6
Box 7
1839-1857, 1861-1862
Box 8
Box 9
Box 10
Box 11
1900-1911, 1914-1922

II. Business Records, 1783-1948

A. General Business, 1828-1924

Arranged chronologically within type of record.

The General Business Records contain the records central to the organization and running of the Society, other than the financial records. These include the 1924 By-laws; annual meeting minutes and announcements; certificates and appointments of missionaries and officers; lists of officers; and miscellaneous reports.

Also included are the reports of the Select Committee, loose and bound annual reports and minutes written by the secretary to document how the Society spends it's money and to describe what progress is being made propagating the gospel. The secretary lists the organizations receiving appropriations and describes the reports that these schools or missionaries have sent to him. These school reports often write of particular pupils and what they are learning.

The loose reports are filed chronologically in Box 12 and the Bound Volumes in Box 19. See also Box 22 for oversize deeds.

Box 12Folder 1
By-laws, 1924.
Box 12Folders 2-8
Reports of the Select Committee; 1828, 1839, 1871-1875, 1878-1913.

B. Financial, 1783-1948

Arranged chronologically.

Boxes 13Folders 1-5
1. Annual Treasury Reports, 1807-1947

Accounts of stock and income for each year. Lists of appropriations and incoming money received from stock investments. Particularly notable is the Society stock in railroads, such as the Western Railroad, the Missouri Railroad, and the Pacific Railroad.

The oversize accounts are filed in Box 22. See also Boxes 20-21 for bound account reports.

Box 13Folders 6-8
2. Auditor's Reports, 1923-1947

Annual Auditor's Reports for 1923, 1947, 1929, 1934-1935, and 1937-1947.

Box 13Folder 9
3. Bank Account Balance Books, 1838-1850

Four bank account balance books, 1838-1850

4. Treasurers' Correspondence, Receipts, and Vouchers, 1783-1948

Includes treasurers' correspondence related to allocation of funds, requests for money from outside institutions, and contributions to the Society. Also lists of appropriations to missionaries, including the person and amount allocated; receipts of salary from missionaries; and statements of missionary and mission expenses. Cheques, insurance forms, and bills from missionary expenditures and nine statements of Property, 1894-1901 under Arthur Lincoln, treasurer, are also included.

During the 1920's there is a large amount of business correspondence between treasurer Henry Ware and the Society attorney, Stephen Phillips, concerning financial investments. The sole missionary correspondent from this period is G.E.E. Lindquist of the Lawrence, Kansas mission. All of this correspondence concerns payment of his salary and other financial matters. On November 1, 1934 there is a letter from Lina Ware to her father Henry Ware regarding the questionable worth of the Society's missionary work, in reference to Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Industrial School. Also a series of letters between Conveyancers Title Insurance and Mortgage Company and The Society.

Box 14
Box 15
Box 16
Box 17
Box 18

III. Bound Volumes, 1787-1936

Arranged chronologically.

A. Reports of the Select Committee, 1787-1903

Box 19Vol. 1
Box 19Vol. 2
Box 19Vol. 3
Box 19Vol. 4

B. Account Reports, 1788-1936

Box 20Vol. 1
Box 20Vol. 2
Box 20Vol. 3
Box 20Vol. 4
Box 20Vol. 5

See also Box 13

Box 21Vol. 1
Box 21Vol. 2
Box 21Vol. 3

See also Boxes 13 and 22.

IV. Oversize, 1807-1909

A. Annual Treasury Reports, 1807-1909

Treasurer's list of yearly expenses and income.

See also Boxes 13 and 22.

Oversize BoxFolders 1-3

B. Miscellaneous Materials, 1849-1880

Blueprint of plans for a mission school in 1880 and miscellaneous deeds 1849, 1857.

Oversize boxFolder 4
Box 22
V. Printed materials

A. Society for Propagating the Gospel

Refers to materials by or about the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, hereafter abbreviated as SPGAIONA.

An Act to Incorporate Certain Persons, by the Name of the SPGAIONA. n.d.

Bates, Joshua. A Sermons Delivered Before the SPGAIONA at their Anniversary, Nov. 4, 1813. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard, for the Society, 1813.

Brief Account of the SPGAIONA. (Inside title reads Historical Sketch of the Institution, Design, &c. of the SPGAIONA) n.p., [1798].

2 copies

By-laws. n.p., n.d. -- [Approved, at the last semi-annual meeting of the Society, in November. . .], n.d.

2 copies

Hinman, Rev. George W. Christian Activities Among American Indians: A Field Study Undertaken for the SPGAIONA. Published by the Society, dated October 15, 1932.

Lindquist, G.E.E. "Early Work Among the Indians: One Hundred and Fifty Years Among Native Americans." Missionary Review of the, World. Reprint.

Massachusetts. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the Year of Our Lord. one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven. An act to Incorporate certain Persons, by the Name of the SPGAIONA. Boston, November 23, 1787. Broadside.

Parish, Elijah. A Sermon, Preached at Boston, November 3, 1814, Before the SPGAIONA. Boston: Printed by Nathaniel Willis, for S.T. Armstrong, 1814.

Porter, Ebenezer. The Duty of Christians to Pray for the Missionary Cause: A Sermon Preached in Boston, November 1, 1897 Before the SPGAIONA. Andover: Printed by Flagg and Gould, 1827.

Report of a Special Committee of the SPGAIONA, submitted March 21, 1911, with the Report of George F. Kenngott, Travelling Agent, July 4 = August 29, 1910. n.p., [1911?]

The SPGAIONA, 1787-1887. University Press, printed for the Society, 1887.

B. Missionary, Training School, and Industrial School publications

Hampton Institute. The Southern Workman. 66, no. 5 (May 1937).

Lincoln Institute. Centennial Review of the Rise, Progress, and Condition of the Lincoln Institute, near Jefferson City, Missouri. n.p., [1876?].

Principals of the Calhoun Colored School. Fifteenth Annual Report of the Principals of the Calhoun Colored School of Calhoun, Lowndes County, Alabama with the Reports of the Heads, of the Departments. Boston: Geo. E. Ellis Co., Printers, 1907.

Propagation of the Gospel: To All Who Love the Prosperity of Zion, and are Disposed to Aid in Propagatinq the Gospel among the Heathen, Philadelphia, Feb. 4th 1806. Boston: Printed by Belcher and Armstrong, n.d.

Society for Promoting Religious Instruction at the Isles of Shoals. Sixth Annual Report. Newburyport: n.p., 1827.

Ten Years Amon the Freedmen of South Carolina: Work of a Volunteer Missionary and Its Result. n.d.

Santee Normal Training School. What Does the Indian Worship? Santee, Nebraska: Santee Normal Training School Press, n.d.

Woonspe Wankantu. Santee Normal Traininq School, Santee Nebraska, for the Year, endinq June 1, 1916. Santee: Santee Normal Training School Press, 1916.

C. Miscellaneous

Eliot, Samuel A. Report upon the Conditions and Needs of the Indians of the Northwest Coast. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1915.

Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. Indian Notes. 7, no. 3 (July 1930).

D. Newspapers

Every Other Sunday: A Paper for the Sunday School and the Home 10, no. 6 (Nov. 18, 1894).

Ganado News Bulletin, Ganado, Arizona. 5, no. 5 (December, 1934).

Iapi Oaye, Santee, Nebraska. 44, no. 10 (December, 1915).

Iapi Oaye, Santee, Nebraska 45, no. 6 (June-July, 1916).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 36, no. 3 (May-June 1907).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 44, no. 1 (January-February, 1915).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 44, no. 6 (November-December, 1915).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 45, no. 1 (January-February, 1916).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 45, no. 2, (March-April, 1916).

The Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. 45, no. 3, (May-June 1916).

E. Map

Map showinq Indian Reservations in the United States, West of the 84th Meridian and Number of Indians Belong There. n.p., 1882

Preferred Citation

The Society for Propogating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Baylies, Frederick.
Hawley, Gideon, 1727-1807.
Holmes, Abiel, 1763-1837.
Kellogg, Elijah, 1761-1842.
Kenngott, George Frederick.
Kirkland, Samuel, 1741-1808.
Lindquist, G. E. E., b. 1886
Maclean, William.
Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893.
Plumer, Abraham.
Savage, James.
Sawyer, John.
Sergeant, John, 1747-1824
Strickland, John.
Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915.
Wigglesworth, Edward, 1732-1794.
Wight, L. M., Mrs.


Claflin University.
Hampton Institute.
Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge.
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.


African Americans--Education.
Indians of North America--Education.
Indians of North America--Missions.
Missionaries--United States.
Missions--Societies, etc.