The Word Among the Early Six Nations
The Word, or scripture, has always been a cornerstone of sincere Christian believers and it was no exception among the early Six Nations Indians. Aboriginal Chiefs, leaders in the Indian Department and Government officials all wanted to teach the Christian values contained in the scriptures to the Iroquois Nation and in the process introduce them to eternal salvation. In 1715, when the Six Nations were still living in New York, the first edition of the Anglican Prayer Book was published entirely in the Mohawk language, except for the title and prayer headings. This first edition was translated by Lawrence Claesse, the Interpreter of Reverend William Andrews a minister for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). The work was overseen by Rev. Andrews and revised by Daniel Claus, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. This translation contained the Morning and Evening Prayer Service, the Litany and the Catechisms. To this were added select passages from the Old and New Testaments and some family prayers. The SPG was originally called the New England Company. It was organized in 1649 to minister to the spiritual needs of the aboriginal communities in North America. At different times in its history, it was known under variations of the two names. The SPG was closely associated with the translations of the prayer books, as many were financed and the translators employed by the society. After the Revolutionary War, its attention shifted from the United States, to Canada.
The second edition of the Mohawk Prayer Book was published in 1769. It contained the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer, Communion Office, Baptism, Marriage and Burial Services with more passages of Scripture, Prayers and Psalms added. Reverends William Andrews and Henry Barclay, who had served for many years among the Six Nations in New York, translated this edition. Rev. John Ogilvie, who succeeded Barclay in his ministry, reviewed their work. It was said that errors existed in the translation but this is understandable, as Rev. Ogilvie was not fluent in the language. He was able to read the church service in Mohawk, but when he preached he used an interpreter.
During the upheaval of the Revolutionary War, most of the earlier translations were destroyed. Therefore, in 1780, one thousand copies of a third edition of the Mohawk Prayer Book were published. This was done at the urging of Daniel Claus and individual Iroquois, who had already experienced Christian conversion and wanted instruction in the Word. Another reason was that a Roman Catholic priest in Quebec had published an Indian Mass Book and adherents to the Anglican Church did not want what Claus called, ‘Popish Priests,’ to gain a foothold among the Six Nations. Daniel Claus revised it with corrections made by Paulus Sabonwádi, a Mohawk clerk and schoolmaster. Only sixteen letters of the English alphabet, A, C, D, E, G, H, I, K, N, O, R, S, T, U, W, and Y were used in writing it. Some errors existed, due to the printers not being familiar with the language and Claus not always being available to correct the errors, but they said they were of little consequence. They believed that it was more important to print it with the errors than allow the prayer book to go out of print. In 1782, after the Six Nations had left the U.S. and were temporarily living at Niagara, Aaron Hill (Kanonraron) wrote to Daniel Claus, thanking him for sending 75 Primers for the children and 40 Prayer Books. The Primers mentioned were translated by Claus and were for the use of Six Nations children. It began with instruction in the alphabet and vocabulary. The remainder was devoted to Christian doctrine and prayers, with the English and Mohawk languages on opposite pages. As the number of Prayer books printed in the previous edition was small and some of the copies were lost, another printing was required. So, in 1786, Claus arranged for a fourth edition of the Anglican Mohawk Prayer Book. This edition was published in 1787, with St. Mark’s Gospel appended to it. This was the first Gospel to appear in print entirely in the Mohawk language. The Gospel was the work of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) and Rev. John Stuart who translated it at Fort Hunter in the early 1770s. Rev. Stuart had been directed to publish it by the SPG, but the Revolutionary War prevented this. He therefore brought the manuscripts to Canada in 1781 and gave them to Daniel Claus. Claus took them to England and Joseph Brant supervised work on this edition, during his visit there. It was printed with alternate pages of English and Mohawk. It also contained eighteen engravings and a frontispiece showing Indians receiving copies of the book from the Queen and King. Chief Joseph Brant was a Six Nations Mohawk Pine Tree Chief of the Wolf Clan. Though only a Pine Tree Chief, Joseph served in the capacity of a Sachem and aboriginal statesman. His most difficult task was trying to bring unity among the diverse Indian nations. In 1804, John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen) translated the Gospel of St. John. With the financial support of the British and Foreign Bible Society, two thousand copies were eventually printed in English and Mohawk. Norton brought 500 copies when he returned to Canada. John Norton first arrived in Canada around 1787 and became a schoolteacher among the Six Nations at the Bay of Quinte. He then moved west and worked as a fur trader then Interpreter for the Indian Department. Joseph Brant took Norton into his service as an Interpreter and gave him the status of his protégé and successor. Despite some adverse comments, Norton continued to translate the Gospels, enlisting the help of Henry Aaron Hill (Kenwendeshon). Hill was a Six Nations Mohawk of the wolf clan. He was also a veteran of the War of 1812, an educated man, a lay reader in the Anglican Church and eldest son of Chief David Hill. His father David was second only in status to Joseph Brant. His farm was located on the land that became the east end of the Town of Brantford. Rev. John Stuart and Joseph Brant had been collaborating on translating all the Gospels, but when Brant died in 1807, the project was put on hold. John Norton eventually continued the work of Stuart and Brant and translated the Gospel of St. Matthew. After Norton, Hill continued translating after being encouraged by Methodist missionaries. In 1823, the American Bible Society discovered that Hill and John Brant (Ahyouwaeghs) were working on a translation of the Gospel of St. Luke and suggested that they complete the four Gospels. Copies of this translation of Luke were published in 1828 and three hundred and fifty copies were sent to the Methodist mission on the Grand River. John was Joseph Brant’s son. He eventually became the hereditary chief of the Iroquois (Tekarihoga) and Indian Department Superintendent of the Six Nations along the Grand River. He also continued his fathers work trying to unite the aboriginal tribes. In 1829 books of Hymns were being translated by men like Henry Aaron Hill and printed for the use of Six Nations worshipers and children in the Sabbath Schools. Between 1831 and 1836 the Young Men’s Bible Society of New York, that was associated with the American Bible Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, sponsored the translation of the remaining New Testament books, with the exception of 2nd Corinthians. They were printed in individual publications throughout this period. Much of the translation was done by Hill, with corrections by John A. Wilkes, Jr., an early Brantford merchant and William Hess a Mohawk schoolteacher. In 1837, the Domestic Committee of the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church published a Prayer Book in New York. It contained the Litany, Catechisms, and some Collects compiled from various translations. In 1839, a translation of Isaiah, which was started by Hill and finished by Hess, was published by the American Bible Society. Also in 1839, an 80 page Hymnbook of 6 Psalms, 68 Hymns printed in both languages and 13 Hymns in Mohawk, was published at the expense of the SPG. The Rev. Robert Lugger had initially translated it. Further translation changes were completed by Rev. Abraham Nelles (Shadekareenhes) assisted by Henry Aaron Hill. Rev. Lugger had been sent to the Grand River by the SPG in 1827 and served there until his death. Rev. Nelles began his ministry amongst the Six Nations in 1831. He became an Archdeacon in 1875 and served at the Grand River until his death. In 1842, a 456 page fifth edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was published at the expense of the SPG. It contained the regular Anglican rituals, several Orders of Service and in the rear of the book, a short collection of Psalms and Hymns. The decision to publish a new version of the Prayer Book had been made in 1838, and Rev. Lugger had done the initial translation. It was eventually completed by Rev. Nelles and a Bay of Quinte Mohawk named John Hill, Jr. The arrangement of placing the English on one page and the Mohawk translation on the opposite page was continued. Most of the Anglican scriptural publications would have been used in the Mohawk Chapel at one time or another during the early period the Six Nations lived in the Brant area. It might have been a scripture reading by Joseph Brant or Henry Aaron Hill, or the melodic sound of songs from the hymnbooks, sung in the Mohawk tongue. In the same way, Mohawk Chief Thomas Davis, (Tehowagherengaraghkwen), of the wolf clan, used to read parts of the liturgy in Mohawk to Six Nations believers. Davis was a unique individual. A veteran of the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812, he believed alcohol was destroying his people. In response to this, around 1820 he began to hold prayer meetings at his home. Each day he would blow a horn that called his Mohawk neighbours to prayer. Then he would read to them from the scripture and Church of England Prayer Book. One day a passing Methodist heard the horn and inquired what it was for. When he discovered its meaning, he asked if they would like a preacher to come and give them instruction. Davis answered yes, and beginning in the spring of 1823, local Methodist lay preacher Edmund Stoney and an ordained Episcopal Methodist minister Alvin Torry began to preach at the meetings. Chief Davis eventually donated land for a Methodist schoolhouse, and for a time before it was built, actually gave up his home and moved to a cabin in the woods, so it could be used as a day school and place of worship. A small Methodist Indian community eventually settled around his home, which became known as Davisville or Davis’ Hamlet. Davisville was located on the Grand River, north of Brantford toward Paris, and a cornerstone of this community was the Word, printed and spoken in the Mohawk tongue. In those early years, which were so marred by wars and rebellion, one of the stable and civilizing influences was the Word. During those times, English was not even a second language among the Iroquois Nation, so concerned workers expended considerable time and expense to bring the Word to the Six Nations in a way that would have meaning to them. The Brant museum has a collection of Mohawk books of scripture, including the 1787 prayer book, if you are interested in viewing them.
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ‘Kenwendeshon’ Pgs. 373-374; ‘Abram Nelles,’ Pg. 640; ‘Ogilvie’ Pg. 586 and ’John Norton,’ Pgs. 551-552, University of Toronto Press and Les Presses de l’Universite Laval, 1991.
- Johnston, Charles M., The Valley of the Six Nations, Pgs. 232, 252, 253, 352, lxxviv, lxxxiii and lxxxix, The Champlain Society, University of Toronto Press, 1964.
- Reville, F. Douglas, History of Brant County, Vol. 1, Pg. 62, Hurley Printing, Brantford, 1920. - Clark, A. J., Two Rare Translations into the Mohawk Language, Pgs. 4 & 7, Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records, Vol. XXIX, (1933).
-1769, 2nd edition, The order for morning and evening prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and some other offices of the church together with a collection of prayers, and some sentences of the Holy Scriptures, necessary forknowledge practice = Ne niyadewighniserage yonderaenayendaghkwa orghoongene neoni yogaraskha yoghseragwegough. Neoni yagawagh sakramenthogoon, neoni oya addereanaiyent ne onoghsadogeaghtige. Oni ne watkeanissaghtough odd'yage addereansiyent, neoni siniyoghthare ne kaghyadoghseradogeaghti, ne wahooni ayagoderieandaragge neoni ayondadderighhoenie.
-1780, 3rd edition, The order for morning and evening prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and some other offices of the Church of England [microform] : together with a collection of prayers, and some sentences of the Holy Scriptures, necessary for knowledge and Practice = Ne yakawea Niyadewighniserage Yondereanayendakhkwa Orhoenkéne, neoni Yogarask-ha Oghseragwégouh.
- 1787, 4th edition, Ne Yakawa Yondereanayendaghkwa Oghseragwegouh, Karistodarho.
- 1842, The Book of Common Prayer, according to the use of the Church of England.