The Life of John Papoonung – Part 2

In the year 1757, the Christian Indians under the care of the Moravians, made a settlement about a mile from Bethlehem and called it Nain. Brother John Rothe was their teacher and minister. The village rapidly increased, and by 1759 had become quite a pleasant place. In the fall of that year, Papoonung paid the settlement a visit, and for the first time heard the doctrines of Christianity preached. Jesus Christ, and him crucified, presented no unpleasant views to his mind. The same Spirit which had been his teacher and leader out of his old heathen habits, now testified within him the truth of the doctrines he heard preached. He said to this effect, “I have always believed in a Supreme Being, yet I never knew that from love of man, God himself became a man, and died to save sinners. But I now believe that this is the saving doctrine I wanted.” He then, bursting into tears exclaimed : “O God! have mercy upon me, and grant that the death of my Savior may be made manifest unto me.” He remained some time near Nain, visiting Bethlehem, and conversing with the brethren. He told one of the Moravians that on one occasion he had felt something in his heart to say, but that he could find no words in the Indian language to express his feelings in. But that his fervent prayer was that the God their minister had described might reveal himself unto his spirit.

On his return to Machwihilusing, he collected his people together, and with great tenderness and pathos described to them what he had heard and felt. He told them that although he had made known to them many good things, and pointed out a good way, yet that there was one still better—concluding his discourse with these words: ” If we wish to be saved, we must look to that Jesus whom the brethren preach.”

Early in the summer of 1760, Papoonung, with his wife, and thirty-three of his followers, visited Nain on their way to Philadelphia. Some Friends in this city, hearing that there were Indians religiously disposed who refused to join their brethren in warlike proceedings, had said they should like to see them. This remark was reported to Papoonung, and after thoughtful consideration about it, he deemed it would be right for him to accept the invitation thus implied. When he stopped at Nain, the Moravians were glad to find that the doctrine he had heard among them had found ready entrance into his heart, and they rejoiced over him as over a convert from heathenism. Not sufficiently understanding that he who is under the government of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and acknowledges its divinity, cannot properly be called a heathen, although he may not have an historical knowledge of the mighty manifestations of the love of God for his creature man in the land of Judea and on the mount of Calvary.

Papoonung and his followers had redeemed three white prisoners that they found captive among the other Indians at their place of residence, and some horses stolen from the whites. These they brought with them, and on their arrival at Philadelphia, requested a conference with the governor, to show their respect to him, and officially to deliver up the prisoners and horses. A conference was accordingly held in the council chamber, early in the Seventh month.

Papooning, being the acknowledged chief of that tribe, addressed the governor to the following effect, viz.:

That Tedyuscung called at their town, and had held a council with them, and had applied for their assistance in a matter which he had much at heart,—the redemption of the prisoners, captives among the Indians. They had willingly complied with this request as far as was in their power, by giving up the only three which had been among them, and that they now delivered them to the governor. By a string of wampum he further declared,—

“Now we have delivered all the captives that were in the hands of the Indians belonging to our town, for we desire to do justice, and love God, and wish it were in our power to assist, so that all the prisoners scattered in the woods every where, might be brought back.”

By another string of wampum he spoke again:

“Brother, I am well pleased to hear of that good peace that is so well established. I heartily join in it, and desire to live in it. Hearken, brother! I pray you would have some pity on us, and let us who live at the place called Machwihilusing have no strong liquor whilst here. And if any of our young men come down, ask them where they come from, and when they say from Machwihilusing, I pray you not to give them a drop of liquor: I hope you will hear us.”

“Brother, though we are poor, we want no recompense for the prisoners, or for the horses. We do not return them to you from a desire of gain. You are welcome to them, and we are glad of the opportunity of obliging you.”

Papoonung then sat down, and the governor returned a kind answer, and concluded with saying he had prepared a few things for them of which he desired their acceptance.

Papoonung arose—

“Brother, I don’t come here to do any public business with the governor. 1 am not in that character. I came on a religious account, on an invitation sent me by some religious people about twelve months ago; therefore it frightens me to hear what you have just now spoken, ‘ That you have provided some goods for me, and mean to make us a present of them.’ I thank you for your kindness, but I cannot allow myself to take them, since this would look as if I was come, as other great ones, to receive presents. No, brother, I am perfectly satisfied with the many good things I have heard in the religious conferences we have held, since we came here, with the Quakers.

“Brother, I will tell you the reason why I say I am frightened. Should I lay my hands on your presents, it would raise a jealousy in the breasts of those round about me, who transact the public business, and are used to receive presents on such occasions. It would moreover be apt to corrupt my own heart, and make me proud, and others would think I wanted to be a great man, which is not the case. I think on God who made us: I want to be instructed in his service and worship; I am a great lover of peace, and have never been concerned in war affairs. I have a sincere remembrance of the old friendship which subsisted between the Indians and your forefathers, and shall always observe it. I love my brethren the English, and they shall ever find me faithful. I was invited to come down, and for these reasons did come, and not to receive presents, which spoil and corrupt the receivers of them. Many have misbehaved after they have received them, and many I fear come only to receive them.”

(To be continued.)

“Relics of the Past No. 37 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII Oct. 19, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758