N is for Nimrod, the Indian who made it into the Essex Court Records a few times. At first, he was like most of the other Native Americans from the area and hoped that the Puritans would help to defend his tribe against their more aggressive enemies. Eventually, Nimrod began more antagonistic actions towards the Puritan community. The delicate and controversial topic of the Puritans and the Native Americans needs to be reviewed before Nimrod’s actions can be understood.
The Puritan’s initial contacts with the Indians were mostly for trade and diplomacy. In the earliest colonial decades, Puritans were vastly outnumbered by the Native Americans and were attempting to establish themselves in the area. Missionary attempts to convert the native populations were still considered too much of a risk.
After the Pequot Indian War, the Puritans gained confidence in their military abilities and then began to make plans to convert the Indians. The Puritans viewed the Indians as an idolatrous race that needed to be shown the One True Faith who needed guidance. They dismissed the Indian religious practices as inferior to their own.
The Massachusetts Bay leaders were reminded of their mission to spread the word to the natives which motivated John Eliot, a quintessential Puritan. Eliot was frugal in all his habits but cared deeply for the Indians who populated New England. He began learning Algonkian and by 1647 was preaching in the native tongue. In 1663, Eliot translated and published the entire Algonkian Bible—the first Bible printed in America.
Unfortunately, Eliot was a typical Puritan: he confused Christianity with English culture. He delayed many Indian baptisms “until they were come up unto civil cohabitation, government, and labor, which a fixed condition of life will put them upon.” He believed that the Indians had to adopt English thinking as “they were not so capable to be trusted with that treasure of Christ.”
Eliot insisted upon English style clothing for all, haircuts for the men, and moving Indians into villages patterned after English towns. By 1674, there were 1,100 “praying Indians” living in fourteen towns. This environment gave the praying Indians understanding of the Christian faith and some training for the ministry. Unfortunately, they were isolated from other Native Americans but weren’t allowed to join Puritan churches.
The bloody King Philip’s War (1675–76) placed the praying Indians in a difficult and precarious situation. The English colonists distrusted their loyalty, rounded them up, and confined them to camps. The war destroyed the trust of the Indians and nearly all copies of Eliot’s Algonkian Bible. Only four of the Indian villages remained after the wars. Eliot refused to be discouraged, and he continued to minister to the Indians until his death. Villages of “praying Indians” continued into the early eighteenth century.
Back to Nimrod whose story is told in my historical novel The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke. He evidently became skeptical of the Puritans in the decades after his first trading encounter. In 1651, Nimrod willfully killed some swine of one of the settlers, Richard Butler.
Nimrod, whose name means “mighty hunter,” continued to taunt the Puritan population. In 1670, he walked into the home of Goody James (without knocking) with three other Indian braves carrying guns and hatchets. The Indians sat by the fire and asked if Goody James had a husband and asked where he was. When she replied that he was nearby, they said she was lying and started looking for food. Goody James reported that Nimrod spoke to her in a “baudy way” and so she sat with her back to him, knitting. The Indians laughed and then left. The next morning, they attempted to enter again but were brought before the magistrates for the second encounter. Nimrod and his braves admitted in court that they were attempting abuse and intended to kill her will a naked knife if she would not be quiet. The Indians all received a sentence twenty days in prison for this act against Goody James.