The untold history of praying towns presented in Natick

(Above) Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag and Kristen Wyman of the Natick Nipmuc People appeared at the Morse Institute Library in Natick, MA, on May 30, 2019 for a conversation about the development of praying towns in 17th-century New England and how missionary work influenced national Indian policy and continues to perpetuate a myth of Indian extinction today.


(Above) Natick Historical Society Director Niki Lefebvre welcomes over fifty people to the event, part of the “Crossing Borders” series, supported by the Wellesley Bank Charitable Foundation.


(Above) Elizabeth Solomon showed with an illustration of Rev. John Eliot preaching to Native women while contrasting the colonial world-view of “living on” the land that they own and control while Native cultures’ see themselves as “living with” the land which they must take care of. She then described the colonial attitude that women are seen as subservient to men, who they see as in charge, whereas indigenous people see women as equal partners and holders of the land. Lack of access to the ocean due to colonial settlements along the coast made it impossible for Indigenous People to continue seasonal movements and led to difficulty in maintaining traditional lifeways and livelihoods.


Kristen Wyman talked about how Native people would travel widely by canoe on the many rivers in Massachusetts and practice diplomacy among different tribes. “Women were landholders and caretakers of the plants” but were also in positions of authority and decision-making power, she stated. She concluded by sharing her criticism of the methods which Rev. John Eliot used to convert Native children to Christianity and her belief that the people moved to the praying towns primarily as a strategy for protection and survival.


(Above) Audience member Jim Luedke of East Boston poses a question during the Q&A portion of the event, following which several local members of Caring Hands in the audience presented a different point of view about Rev. Eliot’s work than that of the speakers.

Listen to a short video of Elizabeth and an audio recording of Kristen at other venues:

  • Elizabeth Solomon, Assistant Director of Academic Affairs and Fellowship Programs for Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, who gave the 2018 convocation address, and

  • Kristen Wyman in her 2010 interview about the Deer Island Memorial with Indigenous Politics of New England and Beyond.