Original Document
Original Document
David Brainerd Describes the Difficulty of Converting Indians, circa 1746.

At the time of his death, Brainerd was engaged to Jerusha Edwards, the daughter of the famous Great Awakening preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards. His would-be father-in-law edited a version of Brainerd's journal and published it as a devotional tract after Brainerd's death. In the passage below, Brainerd describes the major obstacles to converting Indians. Read another way, the same passage helps explain why most Indians preferred their own religious beliefs.

There are also many difficulties that attend the christianizing of these poor pagans.

In the first place, their minds are filled with prejudices against Christianity, on account of the vicious lives and unchristian behavior of some that are called Christians [i.e. fur traders]. These not only set before them the worst examples, but some of them take pains, expressly in words, to dissuade them from becoming Christians, foreseeing that if these should be converted to God, "the hope of their unlawful gain" would thereby be lost.

Again: these poor heathens are extremely attached to the customs, traditions, and fabulous notions of their fathers. And this one seems to be the foundation of all their other notions, viz. that "it was not the same God made them, who made the white people," but another, who commanded them to live by hunting etc., and not to conform to the customs of the white people. Hence, when they are desired to become Christians, they frequently reply, that "they will live as their fathers lived, and go to their fathers when they die." And if the miracles of Christ and his apostles be mentioned to prove the truth of Christianity, they also mentioned sundry miracles which their fathers have told them were anciently wrought among Indians, and which satan makes them believe were so. They are much attached to idolatry, frequently making feasts, which they eat in honor to some unknown beings, who, they suppose, speak to them in dreams; promising them success in hunting, and other affairs, in case they will sacrifice to them. They oftentimes also offer their sacrifices to the spirits of the dead, who, they suppose, stand in need of favors from the living, and yet are in such a state as they can well reward all the offices of kindness that are shown them. And they impute all their calamities to the neglect of these sacrifices.

Credit: Jonathan Edwards, The Life of Rev. David Brainerd, Chiefly Extracted from His Diary, (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 108-09.
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