Historical Markers
David Brainerd Historical Marker
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David Brainerd

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 611 S of Martins Creek, Easton

Dedication Date:
August 5, 1947

Behind the Marker

"These poor heathens are extremely attached to the customs, traditions, and fabulous notions of their fathers."
                                                                         -David Brainerd

On some days, David Brainerd's heart soared as he preached the gospel to Indians. Even though his physical health was never strong and he lacked familiarity with the Indians" language, he occasionally witnessed a breakthrough and could count another soul saved in Christ. One such day occurred on July 21, 1745, when Brainerd's Delaware interpreter markerTunda Tatamy and his wife made a public profession of faith in front of a large crowd of Indians at the Forks of the Delaware. These were the first indisputable converts won by Brainerd, and, according to his journal, tears of joy flowed freely all around at this "saving change."
Oil on canvas of David Brainerd.
David Brainerd

On other days, Brainard's task seemed marker just plain hopeless. For every Indian who listened attentively to his message, there was always another who dismissed him rudely or ridiculed his converts. Less than two months after recording the joy of Tatamy's conversion, Brainerd wrote in his journal that the Indians "always refused to hear me preach, and have been enraged against those who have attended on my preaching. But of late they are more bitter than ever; scoffing at Christianity." He could not understand why so many Indians, when given the opportunity to hear the gospel and recognize their sinfulness, insisted on remaining in the spiritual darkness of their pagan ways.

Born in 1718 in Connecticut, Brainerd grew up in a family with deep roots in the religious culture of colonial New England. At age twenty-one, he underwent his own conversion experience and then became swept up in the evangelical revival known as the Great Awakening. He entered Yale College intending on a career in the ministry, but his plans were abruptly derailed during his third year, when he was expelled for questioning the spiritual fitness of one of his teachers. Despite this setback, Brainerd found employment with the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, a missionary organization associated with the Presbyterian Church. He started his career preaching to Indians in western Massachusetts and shortly thereafter was ordained a Presbyterian minister.
"Brainerd Preaching to the Indians" In this wildly inaccurate illustration from the mid-1800s, the artist depicted eighteenth-century Delaware Indians in the costume and culture of Plains Indians, placing them in teepees rather than bark houses, and dressing them with Plains-style headdresses.
"Brainerd Preaching to the Indians," book illustration, mid-1800s.

During the mid-1740s, Brainerd preached in the Hudson, Delaware, and Susquehanna Valleys, but he devoted the bulk of his spiritual energies to Indian communities on either side of the Delaware River near modern Easton, Pennsylvania. Like many Great Awakening preachers, he felt his work was divinely inspired. God, not the preacher or the listener, ultimately stirred the soul of the convert, usually through the words of Holy Scripture.

Conversions and public professions of faith offered clear evidence of God's favor, but what was a missionary to make of Indians who rebuked him or openly mocked the word of God? Such instances caused crises of doubt and frustration. Brainerd, who was prone to self-examination to begin with, did not develop the thick skin necessary to handle such rejection, and it took a toll on his mental and physical health. He was engaged to be married to Jerusha Edwards, the daughter of the famous Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards, but he died at the age of twenty-nine. The senior Edwards published Brainerd's journal as a devotional tract, and it was widely read by American missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Brainerd was succeeded in his mission by his brother John. The Moravians, a German sect that established Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the 1740s, also continued missionary work among the Delaware in northeastern Pennsylvania, eventually carrying the enterprise into the Ohio Country and beyond.
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