‘Indian Brethren in English Clothes’: The Praying Indian Figure in the Eliot Tracts, 1643–1675


  • Lea Kröner Freie Universität Berlin / Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin




This article focuses on the Eliot Tracts, a collection of eleven documents published in London between 1643 and 1671 that describe missionary work by the British among the natives in New England. Written by John Eliot, Thomas Shepard, and other missionaries, these tracts constitute the most detailed and sustained record of early British missionary work in the New World and serve as an important counterpart to earlier accounts by French and Spanish missionaries. Drawing on methods of discourse analysis, this article examines how Puritan missionaries described the converted natives of New England—the so-called Praying Indians—in the Eliot Tracts. It shows that the figure of the Praying Indian was constructed as a response to economic, theological, and political pressures within a transatlantic colonial context: New England’s mission rhetoric generated not only support from observers in England and was essential in order to stimulate donations, but also provided a necessary redefinition of the colony’s purpose in the context of the English civil wars. In addition, it allowed the Puritans to redefine their relations with the natives in terms of Christian benevolence and countered accusation about a lack of missionary zeal among the British settlers.

Author Biography

Lea Kröner, Freie Universität Berlin / Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Lea Kröner received her B.A. in History from Freie Universität Berlin and is currently enrolled in the Master’s program Global History at Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2016, she spent a semester at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she focused on Indigenous history. Her main research interests include the history of early and modern North America, as well as colonial and missionary history.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Seal, 1629.