The Life of John Papoonung – Part 1

In my search for genealogy information, I stumbled upon a remarkable account of a Native American leader from the 1700’s by the name of John Papoonung. I’m working to type the articles that document his life. This is the first part of his biography:

The life of John Papoonung furnishes a remarkable illustration of the universality of the love of God to the children of men, and that the saving visitations of his Holy Spirit are not confined to any class or condition of the human family. It also clearly manifests that in the truly-awakened mind the historical truths and essential doctrines of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ find ready belief.

John Papoonung was an Indian of the Delaware nation, and during his younger years was a drunken, dissolute man. About the year 1756 his father died; and this proved the first step towards the reformation of the son, who was at this providence overwhelmed with sorrow. A deep melancholy took hold of his mind, to which the thoughts of his own former wickedness added anguish and bitterness. He looked around on the world, and wherever he was acquainted, sin and folly abounded. As he considered these things, still deeper despair seemed to settle on all his prospects. Whilst in this state, he believed that there was a Great Spirit who had created this world, and all things in it, and a strong desire was quickened in his mind to come to a further knowledge of him and his will. His soul learned to thirst after God earnestly and intensely; and although his almighty Parent was pleased to veil himself from him, yet he gave him still further to feel the desperate wickedness and hardness of his heart. He believed he should live after these earthly scenes were over, and the inquiry was raised in his mind, what would then become of his soul. In the agony and anguish that was upon him, he had no enjoyment of life, and no desire to be with his fellow mortals. He wished acquaintance with the God of his life, and earthly communion was no object to him. He longed after a softer and better heart; and until such a change might be wrought, he could see no prospect of comfort, or even of patient endurance. In this condition of mind he forsook the Indian settlement, and wandered off into the wilderness, where he remained for five days, during which time his heart in strong desire was crying after the knowledge of God. At the end of that period, he found a change wrought in him; and was satisfied that the Great Spirit was revealing himself to him. He found his heart softened, the hardness of which he had complained was taken away, the evil desires were removed, and love to all mankind seemed to be its constant covering. He now, through the mercy of his heavenly Father, became acquainted in measure with his own heart, and he felt that man ‘ stood in the nearest relation to God of any part of the creation.’

Missing John from the village, his friends became alarmed, and made an extensive search after him, but were not able to find him, until having received the knowledge he had longed after, he came home rejoicing. Now he believed it right to endeavor to practice according to that which had been made known to him. He felt his heart filled with love to all, and he was enabled to bear reviling and abuse without anger. Nay, he felt compassion towards such as abused him, knowing that the ill-usage he received from them was because their hearts were still hard, and under the dominion of that evil nature, which had so long borne rule in himself. A sense of the corruption of human nature, with a constant aspiration to the Good Spirit to take away the sinfulness and hardness of the natural heart, was what he called religion. This he soon became concerned to exhort his brethren to seek after for themselves. He was made sensible that the spirit of religion is a spirit of love, and that those who are really religious will feel love towards all, and desire and seek the good of all. As he contemplated the actions of men, he became convinced that the evils that abound in the world, the wars, contentions, and wicked practices, all arose from mankind having departed from this spirit of religion and love.

He felt there was an evil spirit still striving within him to control his actions, and to oppose the spirit of purity and peace, but he was made to believe that those who were obedient to what they knew to be right, would be strengthened by their Heavenly Father more and more to walk in that light and that love which characterizes true religion. He was now fully convinced of the necessity of every one passing through a season of trouble and sorrow inwardly, a state such as is termed in Scripture a baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, that self might be slain, and the root of sin destroyed. In describing this trying probation of spirit, he represented it as a fire through which it was necessary to pass, to obtain purification. He said there was a narrow path beside it, in which some walked who did not go into the fire, but wished to obtain a name among men as having passed through it. These were esteemed wise, but had not been inwardly purified.

Papoonung resided at Machwihilusing (Wyalusing), and preached among the Indians there. He soon had many followers. One of them soon after entered on the work of the ministry, but Papoonung finding this fellow laborer was not redeemed from the corruptions of fallen nature, desired him to be silent, saying, ” You will spoil the people by speaking from a bad heart. Go get your own heart made clean first, and then come and speak to the people.”

“Relics of the Past No. 37 – Life of John Papoonung” fromĀ 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