In the wake of King Philip's War (1675-76), Wampanoags throughout the "Old Colony" - Plymouth, Bristol, and Barnstable Counties in southeastern Massachusetts - struggled to pick up the pieces of a culture shattered by violence and warfare, riven with internal dissension, and plagued by economic exploitation and English racism. As several revisionist studies have shown, Indians like Ned turned to Christianity to combat the social and economic challenges confronting their communities during the first half of the eighteenth century, but they did so in complex and at times contradictory ways. The tenant families at Plain Dealing, for example, consigned their families to a life of servitude and debt peonage in exchange for steady employment opportunities and enhanced access to the charitable contributions of the New England Company. In the larger and more established Indian communities at nearby Manomet and Herring Ponds, however, other Native Christian clans may have listened politely to Cotton's paternalistic efforts to deal "plainly" with the Indians in his impolitic sermons, but they clung tenaciously to their right to determine their own religious institutions, and they staunchly resisted any efforts to integrate their congregations with neighboring English churches. Although they often employed different strategies as they attempted to navigate the oppressive world of provincial New England, nearly all Native Christians in the region envisioned Christianity not as a wellspring of moral reform, as Cotton wished, but as a resource for promoting economic security and social autonomy.

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Copyright © 2004, Northeastern University. This article first appeared in New England Quarterly: 77:3 (2004), 368-413.

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