The Life of John Papoonung – Part 7

Beside Papoonung and his followers, several other sober and well-disposed Indians came to Philadelphia after the treaty. Among them was Samuel Curtis, of the Nanticoke tribe. His residence was on the Susquehanna, about fifty miles above Machwihilusing. He had been an intemperate man, but having been aroused to a sense of his evil conduct through the ministry of Papoonung, he had become entirely reformed. As he had given up to the religious impressions made upon his mind, he had become a preacher of righteousness among his own people. He had attended the treaty at Easton in hopes some way would open for the recovery of his daughter, who, fourteen years before, had been taken prisoner by the whites in Maryland, and was still detained in servitude there. During the time he continued in Philadelphia, he attended the meetings of Friends, in which he appeared to sit in a remarkably quiet, retired frame of mind. One First-day afternoon, he arose, and after speaking a few words with his face towards the gallery, he turned round towards the congregation, and spoke for about fifteen minutes with great earnestness. His manner of delivery, is represented to have been very similar to that of Friends, when exercised in the ministry. He spoke in the Indian language, and as there was no interpreter present, Friends had no means of knowing what he delivered, except from himself. To one who kindly inquired of him what he had spoken, he said to this effect. Whilst he was sitting in a retired state of mind, a sense of love arose in his heart, with a desire to communicate his feeling thereof to the people. He was not willing to intrude himself upon the meeting, and so put it by; but it returned, with greater pressure to speak, until he was like a bottle ready to burst. He then stood up, and spoke of the love which God had put in his heart, and which he felt at that time, saying, that as God had made us partakers of his love, it ought to be a strong inducement to us likewise to love one another. He then concluded with an exhortation to the people to tenderness and an affectionate love to one another.

A time was fixed for the Indians’ departure from Philadelphia, but it being the day on which Friends held a mid-week meeting, Samuel desired his brethren to delay starting, saying he must go to the meeting before setting out. He accordingly went, and again appeared in the ministry, in a decent, becoming manner, speaking for ten or fifteen minutes; It was the opinion of Friends generally, that his appearance produced no ill effect on the meeting, but that it rather brought a religious awe over it, and particularly among the younger people.

Several Friends, who accompanied the Indians part way towards their homes, when about to part with them, inquired if they had any thing on their minds to say, or any word to send to Friends in Philadelphia. A short pause ensued; and then Papoonung answered to the following effect. All I have to say is this. If you and Friends keep near the love which God has given you in your hearts, and if I keep to that degree of the same love which has been communicated to me, we shall have an increase of the same love, and thereby our love and fellowship one towards another will grow stronger and stronger.’

Papoonung, on his return home, stopped awhile at Bethlehem and Nain. The Moravians were much displeased with him, because professing to believe, and to be sound in the faith, he yet continued to preach to his people. It would appear, that they deemed, if he were really a Christian convert, he would have ceased teaching, and became a learner with them. Another stumbling-block to them was, that he had not requested to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus, nor desired the outward communion of bread and wine. The Moravian preacher, Schmick, told him the objections they had to him, and expressed a desire that the Holy Ghost would impart to him a true sense of his unbelief, and of the great depravity of his soul, and that he might have an earnest desire for the pardon and remission of his sins, in the blood of Jesus; adding, “then you will soon learn to know your God and Savior Jesus Christ, as your Creator and Redeemer, and experience the saving power of his precious blood, to deliver you from the fetters of sin.” Whilst Schmick was thus speaking, Joachim, an assistant teacher, entered the room, and hearing Papoonung expressing his faith in Jesus Christ, he was impatient that one not dipped in water by a recognized minister of Christ, or acknowledged as a member of any Christian community should talk so, and he thus reprovingly spoke: ” Papoonung, you speak much of your faith, but you have not a grain. Your faith is much the same as mine would be, if I should now pretend to believe that I had a pair of stockings on, when my legs are bare and cold. What kind of faith would that be ?”

In the year 1763, the inhabitants of Machwihilusing began to desire to have some one amongst them who had a perfect knowledge of Christian history and doctrine. The Moravians at Bethlehem hearing that the Indians were desirous of some one of more experience than Papoonung, in the Fifth month sent Zeisberger, and a Christian Indian by the name of Anthony, to visit them. When they arrived at Machwihilusing, Job Chilloway, one of the Indians, informed them that their council had been sitting for six days successively to consider how they should obtain a teacher of the truth. They had become fearful of Papoonung’s knowledge, but had not as yet concluded what they should do. Zeisberger was kindly received by Papoonung, who gave him lodging in his house. The Indians met that evening to hear what the missionary had to say, and gave him a joyful welcome. Zeisberger addressed them extemporaneously, unfolding the primary doctrines of Christianity, and concluding his discourse with these words:

—”This, this alone is the pure and genuine doctrine of salvation. Thus it is written in the Bible, thus I have experienced it in my own soul, and therefore am assured, and assure you, that there is no other way to obtain salvation, but alone through the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a man, died, and is risen again for us.” Anthony, the Christian Indian, then addressed his red brethren, confirming the words of the missionary, and extolling the name of Jesus, until after midnight.

The next morning at 5 o’clock the people again assembled, that their women might hear the preaching, before they went out into the fields to work. Thus, morning and evening, they gathered together, as long as Zeisberger remained among them, and Indians for twenty miles above Machwihilusing occasionally came down and attended with them. It seemed as though the labors of Papoonung and his fellow preachers had prepared the whole settlement for the acknowledgment of Christian truths, and Zeisberger was conscious that the Spirit of God was working in their hearts. He found their hearts open to seek after and acknowledge a Savior and deliverer from sin. They had been endeavoring, in conformity with the teachings of the Holy Spirit, to live godly lives, expecting thereby to merit heaven, and future happiness. Zeisberger pointed them to Jesus as the all-sufficient Savior, who could alone cleanse their hearts, and enable them to do works pleasing and acceptable to God. Although all the deliverance they had heretofore known from the power of sin had been through the aid of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, yet now that their hearts were opened to feel and acknowledge his matchless love and goodness in dying for them, and in offering to purge and prepare them for eternal glory, they were overcome and wept aloud. Papoonung himself was moved to cry aloud in their meetings for mercy in and through the Lord Jesus.

A council of the Indians was held, and they agreed to request the brethren at Bethlehem to send them a teacher to reside among them. This message was carried by Zeisberger and the Indian Anthony, who returned after a few weeks sojourn at Machwihilusing. After deep consideration, the Moravians consented to grant the Indians’ desire, and appointed Zeisberger resident missionary at Machwihilusing. Early in the Sixth month, accompanied by an Indian assistant named Nathaniel, he started for his new station. After encountering some difficulties and trials by the way, they arrived safely at their journey’s end, where they were in a very kind manner received by Papoonung and his followers.

(To be continued.)

“Relics of the Past No. 40 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII No.7 Nov. 9, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758