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"Turned Their Minds to Religion": Oquaga and the First Iroquois Church, 1748-1776
Abstract

Abstract:

In the mid-eighteenth century a cluster of Oneida-Tuscarora villages along the upper Susquehanna River formed a Protestant congregation directed by local leaders, who took the names Isaac and Peter, which had close ties to New England missionaries. Like other Native groups in the region, Oquaga embraced Protestantism in response to wars and other terrible disruptions. But this Iroquois church was distinctive. It preceded Samuel Kirkland's more famous effort by two decades; was driven and directed largely from within by Oneida leaders and needs; reflected Iroquoian norms of decorous ritual; initially shared the powerful spirituality of contemporary Native "prophets"; but showed little interest in the radical "New Light" pietism embraced by Natives in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Long Island. After the French and Indian War, the community faced land-hungry colonists, newly arrived Tuscaroras who scorned Christianity, and a large influx of Mohawks loyal to the Church of England—whose leader, Joseph Brant, married Isaac's daughter. In 1773 Kirkland visited and roiled the church with his insistence on Calvinist reforms. The subsequent division and dissolution of the Oquaga church highlights how local, regional, and international politics—particularly those of the American Revolution—shaped religious identity in America.



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