Praying Indians of Natick & Ponkapoag

What we believe…  He that knows the good he ought to do and does it not sins. James 4:17

His Story is Our Story

In 1631 the Reverend John Eliot left England and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts where he preached at the Roxbury Church.  Eliot learned the language of the local Native Americans and then began to preach to them. 
The Reverend Eliot first suffered an unsuccessful attempt to preach to the Neponsets, a tribe of the Ponkapoag region.   Ironically, the Royalty of Natick would one day live at Ponkapoag as its second Praying Indian Village.  However, on October 28, 1646, Eliot preached to the Massachusett Tribal Sachem Waban at Nonantum (Newton/Wellesley, MA).  Waban was immediately converted and his people became followers of this path.  The Massachusett are people of “The Great Hill.”


In 1651 by order of the Massachusetts General Court, Natick was established as the first praying Indian village/town.  The place was set apart for Waban and the Praying Indians so that Waban’s Massachusett people could worship in peace unmolested by the colonists and the surrounding disagreeable Native tribes.  In the beginning there were 51 inhabitants of the Natick Praying Indian Village which would be the first Christian town in the country.  Natick means “Place of Searching” though often referred to as the “Place of Many Hills” or “My Home.  Natick is the  “Mother Village” of the seven original or “Old Praying Towns” and the seven villages that would follow for a total of 14 Praying Indian Towns. 

The Reverend John Eliot was loved by the new Christian native people and became known to all men as the “Apostle to the Indians.”  Natick is home of the first Praying Indian Church (present day Eliot Church of South Natick, MA).   It was the only church to call its members to prayer service by its drum.  Thus begins one of the greatest linguistic feats in history… the translation of the Bible.


The first Bible printed in America would be in the Massachusett-Natick language.  In 1661, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Eliot aided by three members of the Massachusett Indian Tribe translated the New Testament.  The Bible was completed in 1663.  It must be understood that the Indian language was completely oral.  Eliot did not have a key and worked alone on this task with the Native brethren.  Eliot needed to understand Native words and their meanings.  The Natives needed to understand him.   This would be the first Bible printed in America.  The Reverend John Eliot translated the Bible into the original language of his beloved Natick Praying Indians, the Massachusett tribal language. 

Three years later, Eliot published “The Indian Grammar Begun” to aide new ministers in their understanding of the complexity and ability to preach the Native language.  (Book designer Roger Gordy has restored the text though Applewood Books, Bedford, MA publishers).

Later the people of the Massachusett-Natick Bible would be nearly destroyed on Deer Island as would be their beloved Bibles.  Following the King Phillips War Eliot would produce a second printing.

Note:   Today, because of the linguistic assimilation of this Algonkian language, Eliot's Massachusetts-Natick Bible is referred to as Wampanoag by that nation.

Above, from the Massachusett-Natick Bible is a "cleaned" (a restored clarity) introductory page from the New Testament and an original cleaned page from Matthew Chapter 1.  Also, there is an original and cleaned cover page of Eliot's English Grammar Begun, (Applewood Books) these pages are courtesy of book designer Roger Gordy.

The Lord's Prayer in our language written in a tree bark...fulfillment of a vision.


In the winter of 1675, fueled by fears of King Phillip (Metacom), mighty Wampanoag Chief, the colonist removed the Natick Praying Indians to Deer Island.  At midnight in the month of October, holding their Bibles and with Eliot seeking to comfort them, they were taken to Deer Island in Boston Harbor where they were confined.  The first Praying Indian Village of Natick suffered severely. Abandoned by their colonial Christian brethren, the Natick Praying Indians were left unprotected on the frigid Island. A month later the Praying Indian Villages of Ponkapoag (Stoughton, MA) and Nashoba (Littleton, MA) were added to the tragic confinement from 1675-1676.    By this time the other villages received news of the imprisonment and either fled or joined Metacom, Wompanoag Chief known as King Phillip by the colonist for is military prowess.  Natives captured were also placed on Long Island in Boston Harbor.  However through little clothing, starvation and enforced deprivation such as being forbidden to light fires, hunt game or build shelters, most lives were lost.  The young, the old, the pregnant and the weak could not survive.  Most of the Indians died of cold and starvation.  The sad story is documented of the elderly Eliot going by boat to bring supplies to the Natives and being capsized by angered colonists.  During the Island imprisonment some of the praying Indians were coerced into spying and fighting for the colonist.  History would eventually misconstrue this bid for the freedom of death and suffering to their families made during their stages of starvation as weakness and dishonorable betrayal to their Native heritage. 

Following the death of King Phillip the Indian’s release was orchestrated by the Reverend John Eliot and Daniel Gookin who was to became the first Commissioner on Indian Affairs.  The men both bore the financial cost to themselves personally remove the Indians from the Island.  Tragically, the Indians returned to loss of homes, property, tools and means of survival.   Daniel Gookin’s “Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England 1675, 1676, 1677” meticulously records these events.  (Current author Jean M. O’Brien “Dispossession By Degrees,” University of Nebraska Press, accurately records the loss to the Natick Praying Indian remnant.)

Eliot Church

The Natick Praying Indian Church was burned down several times.
Today it stands in the same spot as The Eliot Church of South Natick
and is housed by a church of the Unitarian denomination. (2009)


“It is a good day to dream.”  Natick Praying Indian Strong Bear welcomes the Creator at the doorway of the Eliot Church, So. Natick, MA.  The Tribe continues to pray for the day when
it will be allowed to worship here once again and that the sound of our drum will call to the people awakening the heartbeat of the church and first cause of honor to the Creator. (2006)

THE GREAT REALIZATION - The fulfillment of Waban's Dream occurred on August 11, 2012 with the First public Natick Praying Indian worship service held at the Eliot Church,
So. Natick in over 300 years. Natick Praying Indian Strong Bull thanks the Creator and welcomes the ancestors home. The heartbeat of the drum is heard once again. (2012)

 In the aftermath of the King Phillip’s War and nearly eliminated through the devastation of Deer Island, the Massachusett Natick Praying Indian people maintained a presence in Natick.  They welcomed others dispossessd of their praying Indian Villages.  The Indian Church, Peletiah’s Tavern (Peletiah’s Tavern, Natick, MA), the Indian burial grounds (within Natick, MA) Lake Cochituate (Wayland/Natick) and Waban remained central to the existing Natick Indian community and to the ancestral memory of the indigenous people of God.  This is where we continue… the Natick Praying Indian today.  (see from our wigwam to yours click here)

Following the winter of 1675-76  tragic interment of Native Americans during the King Phillip War Deer Island would become an immigrant port of landing for refugees of the Irish Potato Famine, a hospital for treating these unfortunate people, a house for paupers, county jail and prison.  Today it is a sewage treatment plant.  Today there is an open walk for the remembering of the Native and Irish that have gone before.


Song on the Wind

The finest portrayal of this period events of the Praying Indian History is presented in the New Life Fine Arts musical production “Song on the Wind” written and directed by David MacAdam. Learn more at: New Life Fine Arts and see video clips on YouTube


Although we are not the only descendants, we are the only existing Praying Indian Tribe.   The blood of a praying Indian is both physical and spiritual.  Our lineage of both is unbroken.  We have seen our brothers and sisters, descendants of shared heritage deviate from the path and acknowledge the weight of an overwhelming history.  In suffering the loss of family and brethren we recognize the difficulty of the walk of our praying Indian ancestors.   We have understood that boundaries are spiritual as well as physical.  Shunned for years by the Native community, we are rewarded in now witnessing resurgence of our praying Indian brethren.  “As the earth reclines under the grass, so too does the earth recline under the Great Spirit of God.  Therefore the chosen habitations thereof are a principle of God understood by all indigenous people (moskhet kutoo).  We are mindful of our past, of all our native brothers and sisters suffering and the wish of all non-natives of good hearts to reconcile.  This can be done only through the people wronged, forgotten and holding out the scepter of reconciliation.  True restoration is more than a word.  As a chief honored in the spiritual lineage of Waban, first indigenous minister of light and a remnant surviving the physical and spiritual holocaust of a blessed people, the Praying Indians stand as first ambassadors of this country to the world.  In an inordinate display of reconciliation we extend our hand to our captors.  As we hold out the scepter understand that restoration is more than a word. 

I am proud to be Chief of the Mother Village of all Praying Indians.  I am proud of the tribe which has stood by my leadership and against the tide of suffering and misunderstanding.  We do not apologize for our belief in love of The Father God and His Son First Spoken Word of Light.  Even those who do not agree must honor the strength of standing for one’s beliefs.  As a chief watching her people suffer the isolation of a social Deer Island, I see as Waban saw in facing his people on Deer Island.   Waban, can you see me?  In an echo from the past do we stand alongside all our ancestors and welcome our brethren in the name of Word Faithful and True.   We are who we are.  We stand where we stand.  We are the Massachusett Praying Indians.  In thoughts ever toward peace I say Aho.  I have spoken.  I am Naticksqw Chief Caring Hands, she who speaks for her people.”   

Naticksqw Chief Caring Hands
 Looking into the past…  “Waban, can you see me…”

The Answer...

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