- Gideon’s People: Being a Chronicle of an American Indian Community in Colonial Connecticut and the Moravian Missionaries Who Served There
In recent years a number of new secondary works and document editions concerning German Moravian Indian missions in eighteenth century British North America have enriched our understanding of native perspectives on this era of Euroamerican expansion and conflict, as well as on the missionary enterprise itself. This new collection translated and edited by Corinna Dally-Starna and William Starna contributes significantly to this historiographical development. This edition focuses on the mission at Pachgatgoch, an Indian community on the Housatonic River in Connecticut led by a convert named Gideon, and the Moravian missionaries who began working to convert natives there in 1743 and remained until 1770. The two volumes contain 22 diaries totaling 982 pages written by eleven missionaries between the years 1747 and 1763. Two of the missionaries were English, while the rest were [End Page 371] German-speakers, and all were men. Authorities at the Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania sent and supported the missionaries. In addition to the missionary diaries, these volumes contain appendixes with correspondence (some written by Indians at Pachgatgoch), petitions, a gazateer of place names, lists of Indian participants in the mission, biographical information on Europeans connected to the mission, and a glossary of Latin and peculiar Moravian religious terms. The edition is well translated and edited, with voluminous end notes that explain and cross reference names, places, terms, and ideas in the text and refer to other documents and secondary literature in German and English. The bibliography contains primary and secondary sources, and is followed by separate name and subject indexes.
In the 73-page introduction the editors describe the settlement, growth, and decline of Pachgatgoch, the Moravian missionary effort, and the native response. Mahicans, Esopus, Highland Indians, Wompanoos, Minisinks, and perhaps others living near New Milford, Connecticut began the Pachgatgoch community, which lay just east of Shekomeko and Wechquadnach in New York, where Moravian missionaries also worked. They spoke several languages, including English and Dutch, and when the German Moravians arrived, they spoke with them in English, although the diaries contain native language transliterations that will interest linguists. In 1743 and 1744 rumors that the Moravians were arming Indians against the colonists and other concerns led the Connecticut and New York governments to expel the missionaries, but the Moravians in Bethlehem maintained contact and returned to Pachgatgoch in 1749. In 1746 converts and others in all three communities began moving to the Moravian praying town in Gnadenhütten, Pennsylvania and in some cases to their community at Nazareth. But about one hundred inhabitants of Pachgatgoch held on, led by Gideon until his death in 1760, after which the mission and the community declined.
Dally-Starna and Starna stress that Pachgatgoch remained an Indian community, with the Moravians more or less attached to it. The Indians built their own dwellings, and Gideon shared power with the missionaries in order to help unify the community and to survive in an increasingly hostile environment. Gideon essentially “recruited” the Moravians, whom he and others tolerated. Unlike in Gnadenhütten and other Moravian missions, in Pachgatgoch the missionaries realized that they could not push European religion and culture too hard or they would be asked to leave. And so they lived there, attempted to learn Indian languages (with only modest success), conducted their religious services, and achieved some success with conversion. [End Page 372]
What this means is that we have a detailed record of a community that was much more “Indian” than “European,” and Dally-Starna and Starna describe the potential for scholarly investigation. Unlike some other Moravian mission diaries, these unfortunately do not provide good material for ethnographic study, as they contain little about native kinship, medicine and curing, death and mourning, dress, hair styles, ornamentation, tattooing, physical appearance...