Decision Activity: Rev. John Brainerd, Cumberland County 1751-1781

Decision Activity: Rev. John Brainerd

Exploring Native American Sources Over a 30 Year Period

John Brainerd was born on February 28, 1720 in Haddam, CT. He had a vision to educate Native Americans in the colonies of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, including New Jersey. He graduated from Yale College in 1746 and received a Masters Degree from The College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1749. He was a Presbyterian minister in Newark and New York before the French and Indian War. Her served as a chaplain in the Colonial Army during the French and Indian War, possibly between 1756 and 1759. He ministered to Christian Indian villages in Cranbury, Bridgetown, Mount Holly, Newark, and Deerfield in New Jersey. He also ministered to Native American communities in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. His brother David also ministered to Native Americans but died before John graduated from Yale.  John Brainerd was married twice. His first wife, Experience Lyon died in 1757, while John Brainerd was with the Colonial Army. The two children she gave birth to, died in their first year. He remarried Hannah Spencer from Lynn, MA (also Haddam, MA) in 1664.

These were the years of the Great Awakening and prominent clergy such as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards preached the Bible, wrote songs, started schools, and ministered to colonial populations.

The French and Indian War, tough economic times after the French and Indian War, and the separation from England following the Declaration of Independence had a significant impact on the clergy who were supported by the Anglican Church of England, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. Most clergy returned to England after the Declaration of Independence. John Brainerd, Samson Occum, and Francis Asbury are prominent clergy who ministered to people in New Jersey.

“IN the year1777, at fifty-seven years of age, Mr.-Brainerd removed from Brotherton to Deerfield, in Cumberland County, N.J., and took charge of the church there. He still seems to have retained some oversight of the mission. In 1778, 1779, and1780, up to the year of his death, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia voted that ”the interest on the Indian fund be paid to Mr. Brainerd for his services among the Indians. “To the last of life he seems to have clung to his little flock, his first love, and his brethren did their best in a time of war to sustain him. Brotherton, the Indian settlement which he had aided to build up, and where for fifteen years he had resided, was situated in what is now a prosperous and pleasant rural neighborhood, near the present Shamong station, on the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad, about forty miles from Philadelphia. The “Historical Collections of New Jersey “give the following description:

“Edgepelick (or Indian Mills) is the name of a locality about three miles north of Atsion, where was the last Indian settlement in the State. The remnant of the tribe, consisting of about one hundred souls, emigrated to the West nearly half a century since. There is, however, a single family, but of mixed breed, residing in the vicinity ,in a log hut. Brainerd, the missionary, for a time resided among the Indians at this place. His dwelling-house stood about eight rods south of the saw-mill of Godfrey Hancock, on rising ground,  the site of which is still marked by depression, showing the precise spot where the cellar was. Within a few rods is the spring from which the family obtained water. The natives had a saw-mill on the site of Nicholas. Thompson’s mill, a quarter of a mile northeast of Brainerd’s house. Their burying-ground was on the edge of the pond about forty rods northwest of the same dwelling. In the vicinity stood their church, built of logs, and destroyed about thirty-five years since. After the Indians left, it was used by the whites for public worship.” (pp. 413, 14)

Use the sources below to discuss the following and debate the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed decision.

  1. What motivated young men from notable families to serve rural and Native American populations?  Was this the result of their college education, financial incentives, or personal motivation?
  2. How did conflict and war present barriers to the clergy who wanted to minister to people in a congregation or community?
  3. Was their motivation to preach the Word of God, educate Native American populations, or develop a larger church organization similar to what was established in Europe?
  4. Discuss the barriers John Brainerd faced in his travels, family life, with decisions of colonial governments, livelihood, and in ministering to people in need.

Decision: If you were John Brainerd, would you continue your ministry to Native Americans in New Jersey, or accept a position at an established congregation in a populated New Jersey community? (i.e. Newark, Princeton, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, etc.)

Journal of John Brainerd (January 1761 – October 1762)

The Life of John Brainerd (1720-1781)  (Read pp. 409-420)

All related documents

Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to Mr. Whitefield, 1759 November 3

Manuscript Number 759603

Date 3 November 1759

Abstract: Eleazar Wheelock writes of the progress at his school, and of the conditions under which he looks for more Indian pupils as well as public charity. He also mentions the ordination of Occom.

Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to George Whitefield, 1761 July 4

Manuscript Number 761404

Date 4 July 1761

Abstract: Eleazar Wheelock writes to George Whitefield about first Occom’s mission to the Oneidas, and about the difficulties of teaching Indian students. He mentions the idea of appealing to the Earl of Dartmouth for charity.

Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to John Brainerd, 1765 January 14

Manuscript Number 765114.3

Date 14 January 1765

Abstract: Wheelock writes to Brainerd about setting up a meeting with the Connecticut Board of Commissioners, and the proposed fundraising trip to England, which is complicated by a renewal of the Mason Land Case.

John Brainerd, letter, to Eleazar Wheelock, 1766 September 16

Manuscript Number 766516.1

Date 16 September 1766

Abstract: Brainerd writes about the apprehension of the murderers of two Indian women, includes letters from Francis Alison and John Ewing recommending John G. Kals as a teacher and missionary, and gives his own recommendation of Kals, with reservations.

Eleazar Wheelock, letter, to Samson Occom, 1772 May 26

Manuscript Number 772326.2

Date 26 May 1772

Abstract: Wheelock asks Occom to join the mission of McClure and Frisbie to Muskingum.