Three Indian Catechisms by American Presbyterian Ministers

The Reformed Faith has long been a missional faith, and America’s early Presbyterians had an interest in propagating the Gospel among the Native Americans. The first Presbyterian minister America sent as a missionary to Indians on Long Island was Rev. Azariah Horton (1715-1777).

Another early Presbyterian minister, Rev. Abraham Pierson (c. 1611-1678), composed a catechism for Algonquian Native Americans, in the Quiripi language of Connecticut and Long Island, under the title Some Helps For the Indians. The catechism was designed to show them that there was one God, and then to teach them about Gospel of Christ. It is an interesting piece, and a helpful one in understanding how Catechisms have been used to help people of every tribe and tongue to understand the Gospel of Christ. Like John Eliot’s A Primer or Catechism in the Massachusetts Indian Language (1654), Pierson’s catechism borrows much material from William Perkins’ The Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered Into Six Principles (1558).

In the 19th century, Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883) served as a missionary to the Sioux or Dakota Indians of the Great Plains. He did much to translate the Scriptures into their language, and published a Dakota Catechism as well. His autobiography — Mary and I, or Forty Years with the Sioux — is a fascinating account of his missionary endeavors.

Additionally, Amory Nelson Chamberlin (1824-1894) is worthy of mention. In the War Between the States, Chamberlin served as a scout and quartermaster for Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader who fought for the Confederacy (together with his brother Buck Watie, later known as Elias Boudinot, Stand Watie had earlier written articles for The Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper). After the War, Chamberlin followed in his father’s and grandfather’s steps to become a Presbyterian missionary to the Cherokee Indians, who typically preached his sermons bilingually. After persistent requests, he received a press which used the Cherokee font (the written alphabet was developed by Sequoyah only in 1821) and he used that to publish such valuable works as The Shorter Catechism With Proofs in Cherokee (1892), and the Cherokee Pictorial Book: With Catechism and Hymns (1888), a partial PDF of which may be found at Log College Press.

Catechisms have long been a useful tool to inculcate knowledge, and these Quiripi, Dakota and Cherokee catechisms provide a window into the lengths to which American Presbyterian missionaries have gone historically to help Native Americans to better understand Scriptural truths in their own languages. For further study on 19th century American Presbyterian missionary labors on behalf of the Indians, see Michael C. Coleman, Presbyterian Missionary Attitudes toward American Indians, 1837-1893.

Debate in Detroit

Presbyterian minister George Duffield IV (1794-1868) in Detroit, Michigan, at the behest of his congregation, confronted the local Episcopal Bishop over a sermon that he had preached arguing for Episcopal Government and Apostolic Succession. In 1842, Duffield, in a series of letters, addressed the Bishop, and challenged him on Episcopal Government. For students of polity, or those with an interest in Presbyterian church government, Rev. George Duffield’s work against Episcopacy showcases a debate in an American context and would prove helpful to anyone studying the subject.

Samuel Davies Alexander

Bearing the name of the Princeton’s fourth President, and being a son of her first Seminary Professor and alumni of the University and Seminary, Samuel Davies Alexander was in a unique position to write about the institution’s history. He produced two books on the subject Princeton College Illustrated and Princeton College during the Eighteenth Century. Alexander also catalogued all the writings of his father and brothers (so if you love Archibald Alexander and J.W. Alexander check out the Catalogue).

Another interesting and helpful work by this lesser known but most erudite historian is his History of the Presbytery of New York which includes a list of ministers in the Presbytery as well a wonderful account of Presbyterianism in the City and State of New York. Though perhaps one of the lesser known of the Alexander family, yet Samuel Davies Alexander still made valuable contributions.

Samuel Wylie Crawford on Creeds and Confessions

Samuel Wylie Crawford was born on October 14, 1792, in the Chester District of South Carolina. He was born of good Scottish stock, but was orphaned at a young age, and was looked after by his uncle Dr. Samuel Wylie. Crawford initially studied medicine, but then settled on the study of theology. He was ordained by the Northern Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and was installed as a pastor in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. This sermon comes to us from that congregation. It is a remarkably helpful sermon today just as it was in yesteryear. Crawford opens with the text Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together lest they be agreed?” He uses this as the touchstone for a wonderful doctrinal sermon. He explored the basis of Ecclesiastical relations, the significance of having creeds and confessions, as well as the problems with fellowships that do not have them. Overall this sermon is as helpful today as it was the day it was preached.