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In 1634 William Wood said that Roxbury was "a fair and handsome country town, the inhabitants of it being all very rich. The town lay upon the main, so that it was well wooded and watered, having a clear, fresh brook running through the town, called Smelt brook. A quarter of a mile to the north side of the town was another river called Stony river, upon which was built a water mill. Here was good ground for corn and meadow for cattle. Up westward from the town it was somewhat rocky, whence it had the name of Roxbury. The inhabitants had fair houses, store of cattle, impaled corn fields and fruitful gardens. Here was no harbor for ships because the town was seated in the bottom of a shallow bay which was made by the neck of land on which Boston was built, so that they were forced to transport all their goods from the ships in boats from Boston, which was the nearest harbor."

The town was locally famous for its fruit trees, and noted varieties were developed on local farms-including the Roxbury Russet apple, particularly prized for cider.

-- Roxbury History, Boston Landmarks Commission

No people enjoyed greater religious advantages than those under the enlightened ministrations of John Eliot the pastor, and Thomas Weld the teacher of the Roxbury church. Their defense of the principles of popular freedom was an inspiration which in after years must have encouraged Pynchon in his crusade against the interference of the church in secular affairs.

- from At Home in Roxbury

Wm. Pynchon

Here is an account of an early tax revolt:

"The soil of Roxbury proving true to its name, he (Pynchon) contended that it should not be taxed on the same basis as the fertile meadows of other towns, and in 1635 he flatly refused to pay his assessment and invited the authorities to proceed against him. Notice of his defiance being brought to the attention of the Court, he was fined 5 pounds, which in turn he refused to pay. In the end his contentions were sustained by a majority of the Court and the fine was remitted."

- from At Home in Roxbury

The first church gathered in 1632...John Eliot, now known as the apostle became their teacher in November of the same year. The first church, and all that was connected with it, was to the people, the object of love and affection. They were so identified with it, that it would be unpardonable to omit some details which might, otherwise, seem trifling. Its complete history for a hundred years, would be the history of the town.

The Christian Commonwealth was a form of government, which Eliot proposed to have adopted by the English Commonwealth. It was based on what he found in the Scriptures, and he thought that no one could deny it without derogating from their "sufficiency and perfection"

John Eliot was also known as "The Apostle to the Indians." He preached to the Indians in their native tongue and helped organize "praying towns" for those who listened. He translated the Bible into Algonquin. The first Bible to be printed in North America was in the Algonquin language. The Indians in the "praying towns" made their own laws after hearing the scriptures. One law warned: "If any shall kill their lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings."

There was great personal danger and hardship. On one occasion, the life of Mr. Eliot was threatened if he dared to visit a certain tribe, but he did not hesitate, saying, "It is God's work and I fear not," and he went, under the guard of his friends and some christian Indians." - from the History of Roxbury

Distressed by wanton disregard for human beings, convinced that their mission was peacefully to carry the good news of Christ to their Indian neighbors, there were others like John Eliot, who was ordained as a pastor so that he might pastor and teach Indians. His concern for Indian neighbors was not only for their conversion to Christianity, but to raise their standard of living to a level enjoyed by the settlers. For 30 years, Job Nesutan, a Massachusetts Indian, was employed by Eliot as a language tutor and chief assistant in the ministry to Indians. With his help, the Bible was translated into the Indian language and Indians were taught to read.

By 1646, John Eliot drew increasingly large congregations each time he spoke. Churches in the colony were encouraged to support Eliot's work and Oliver Cromwell urged Parliament to help the movement financially. The "Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England" was the result. A sum of 5000 pounds was sent to the colonies, much of this given to John Eliot for his work. Many Indian converts returned to the practices of their indigenous faiths, but others were filled with Christian missionary zeal and prepared the way for Eliot with the New England tribes. The chiefs and councils tried to discourage the spread of the gospel, and his aides used underhanded tactics to retain "converts". As a result, Eliot's work suffered. Finally, the Massachusetts General Court passed a law prohibiting the use of threats or force to ensure Indians' conversion to Christianity.

- From United Church Press 1991

Eliot, (who graduated from Cambridge in 1622, and taught school for awhile before coming under Puritan influence), planned towns for Indian converts, away from the white towns, in areas where they could preserve their own language and culture and live by their own laws. He prepared Indians to be missionaries to their own people. Daniel Takawambpait was the first Indian minister in New England, being ordained at Natick, Massachusetts, in 1681. Eliot’s Indian towns grew to fourteen in number, with thousands of inhabitants, but they were scattered in King Philip’s War in 1675. (King Philip was an Indian leader who undertook to drive the English out of New England), and although four communities were restored, they did not continue long.

- From a biographical sketch of John Eliot by James E. Keifer

The importance of this work is underscored by T. H. Darlow and F. H. Moule in their encyclopedic work of printed editions of the Bible in which they state, "This book constitutes the earliest example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible in a new language as a means of evangelization."

The evidence indicates that Eliot was already contemplating evangelizing the local tribes. When the Puritans came to the New World they had two goals. One was to form a pure church by separating themselves from the perceived corruptions of the English Church. The other was to bring the Gospel to the native inhabitants. On the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the figure of a Native American ringed by the words "Come over and help us" (Acts 16:9). [After (the Apostle) Paul had seen the vision, he got ready at once to leave…concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them. Acts 16:10] Thus from its very foundation the Massachusetts Bay Colony articulated the desire to meet the spiritual needs of the native inhabitants of the New World, and there is no doubt that Eliot possessed the desire to carry out this objective.

How difficult was the task to which Eliot had dedicated himself? At that time, Algonquin was considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. In his book Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), Cotton Mather expressed his opinion that the demons of the invisible world who had mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew were utterly baffled by the Algonquin language! - Dr. Herbert Samworth

One linguist, Peter du Ponceau, wrote, in 1832, that Eliot ‘did not foresee, when he wrote his Indian grammar, that it would be sought after and studied by the learned of all nations, as a powerful help towards the improvement of a science not then in existence; I mean the Comparative Science of Languages’

October 1646
From the Journal of John Winthrop

"Mention was made before of some beginning to interest the Indians, etc. Mr. John Eliot, teacher of the Church of Roxbury, found much encouragement as he took great pains to get their language and in a few months could speak of the things of God to their understanding, and God prospered his endeavors so as he kept a constant lecture to them in two places, one week at the wigwam of one Wabon, a mere sachem, near Watertown Mill, and the other the next week in the wigwam of Cutshamekin near Dorchester Mill. And for the furtherance of the work of God, divers of the English resorted to his lecture, and the governor and other of the magistrates and elders sometimes, and the Indians began to repair thither from other parts. His manner of proceeding was thus: he would persuade one of the other elders or some magistrate to begin the exercise with prayer in English. Then he took a text and read it first in the Indian language and after in English. Then he preached to them in Indian about an hour (but first I should have spoke of the catechizing their children, who were soon brought to answer him some short questions, whereupon he gave every of them an apple or a cake). Then he demanded of every of some of the chiefs if they understood him. If they answered yea, then he asked of them if they had any questions to propound, and they had usually two or three or more questions which he did resolve.

At one time, (when the governor was there and about 200 people, Indian and English, in one wigwam of Cutshamekin's) an old man asked him if God would receive such and old man as he was; to whom he answered by opening the parable of the workmen that were hired into the vineyard (72.Matt.20:1to16) and when he had opened it he asked the old man if he did believe it, who answered he did and was ready to weep.

A second question was, what was the reason that when all Englishmen did know God, yet some of them were poor. His answer was: 1. That God knows it is better for his children to be good than to be rich; he knows withal that if some of them had riches they would abuse them and wax proud and wanton, etc; therefore he gives them no more riches than may be needful for them that they may be kept from pride, etc., depended upon him. 2. He would hereby have men know that he hath better blessings to bestow upon good men than riches, etc., and that their best portion is in heaven, etc.

A third question was: if a man had two wives (which was ordinary for them), seeing he must put away one, which should be put away. To this it was answered that by the law of God the first is the true wife and the other is no wife, but if such a case fell out they should then repair to the magistrates and they would direct them what to do, for it might be that the first wife might be an adulteress, etc., and then she was to be put away. When all their questions were resolved, he concluded with prayer in the Indian language.

"The Indians were usually very attentive and kept their children so quiet as caused no disturbance. Some of them began to be seriously affected and to understand the things of God and they were generally ready to reform whatsoever they were told to be against the word of God, as their sorcery (which they call pawwawing), their whoredoms, etc., idleness, etc. The Indians grew very inquisitive after knowledge both in things divine and also human, so as one of them meeting with an honest plain Englishman would needs know of him what were the first beginnings, which we call principles, of a commonwealth?

The Englishman being far short in the knowledge of such matters, yet ashamed that an Indian should find an Englishman ignorant of anything, bethought himself what answer to give him, at last resolved upon this, viz. that the principle of a commonwealth was salt, for (saith he) by means of salt we can keep our flesh and fish to have it ready when we need it, whereas you lose much for want of it and are sometimes ready to starve. A principle is iron, for therewith we fell trees, build houses, till our land, etc. A third principle is ships, by which we carry forth such commodities as we have to spare and fetch in such as we need, as cloth, wine, etc. Alas (saith the Indian) then I fear we shall never be a commonwealth, for we can neither make salt, nor iron, nor ships..."


Another matter which enters largely into the history of the First Church is the great interest taken by the Apostle Eliot and members of the congregation in education. In a small manuscript roll covered with dark, time-stained vellum and tied with a cord of skin is preserved one of the most valuable documents in the early history of New England. It contains the covenant for the establishment of "The Free Schoole in Roxburie," afterwards known as "The Grammar School in the Easterly part of the town of Roxbury," and still later as the Roxbury Latin School. It is dated the last day of August in the year of our Lord 1645. The book is rich in signatures of Eliot, Weld, the Dudleys, Seavers, Williamses, Hemingways, Ruggleses, Mays, Dorrs, Summers, Heaths, and many who were prominent in the plantation of Roxbury. The method and earnestness with which they entered into the matter, and their determination to sustain the school at whatever sacrifice is shown by another paper the next year wherein, "it is agreed by all those inhabitants of Roxbury as have or shall subscribe their names or marks to this book for themselves severally and for their respective heirs and executors that not only their houses, but their fields, orchards, gardens, outhouses and homesteads, shall be and hereby are bound and made liable to and for the several sums and rents before and hereafter in the book mentioned to be paid by every of them." I do not know where one can find earlier, more constant, more generous, or more consecrated efforts in the interests of education.


Founded in 1645, Roxbury Latin School is the oldest school in continuous existence in North America. John Eliot founded the school. Ralph Hemenway, who was an original donor, helped support it. Eliot believed the purpose of education was to teach godly citizenship and that whatever a man’s profession, the thrust of his life should be public service. The founders made provision for boys whose parents could not pay the tuition, to attend the school free of charge. John Eliot’s hope, expressed in his deed of gift of 75 acres, was that Blacks, Whites, and Indians would be educated together. He worked tirelessly for the welfare of the indigenous people, amidst the tumultuous changes the European invasion brought to their way of life. He scandalized the Puritan Protestant establishment by inviting the Jesuit missionary Father Gabriel Druillette to stay in his home. He died tutoring the child of a Negroe slave. In the end, the huge differences in background between the English settlers, African slaves, and the Indigenous people prevented his dream from being realized in his lifetime.

The following quotes are taken from the History of the School by Charles Dillaway

“Whereas, the inhabitants of Roxburie, in consideration of their religious care of posterity, have taken into consideration how necessary the education of their children in Literature will be to fit them for public service, both in Church and Commonwealth, in succeeding ages. They therefore have unanimously consented and agreed to erect a free school in the said Towne of Roxburie, and to allow Twenty pounds per annum to the Schoolmaster, to be raised out of the Messuages and part of the Lands of the several donors (Inhabitants of the said Town), in several proportions as hereafter followeth under their hands. And for the well ordering thereof they have chosen and elected, Seven Feoffees (Trustees) who shall have power to put in or remove the Schoolmaster, to see to the well ordering of the school and scholars, to receive and pay the twenty pounds per annum to the Schoolmaster, and to dispose of any other gift or gifts which hereafter may or shall be given for the advancement of learning and education of children….”

“ God so blessed his [John Eliot’s] endeavors, that Roxbury could not live quietly without a free school in the town; and the issue of it has been one thing which has almost made me put the title of Schola illustris upon that little nursery, that is, that Roxbury has afforded more scholars, first for the college, and then for the public, than any town of its bigness, or, if I mistake not, of twice its bigness in all of New England.”

-- Cotton Mather

The Roxbury Latin School today


"The Dead Teach the Living"


And, O thou Saviour, and Shepherd of Thy New-English Israel: Be Entreated Mercifully to look down upon they Flocks in the Wilderness. Oh, give us not up to the Blindness and Madness of neglecting the Lambs in the Flocks. Inspire thy People, and all Orders of men among thy People with a just care for the Education of Posterity. Let Well-Ordered and well-instructed and well-maintained Schools, be the Honour and the Defence of our Land. Let Learning, and all the Helps and Means of it, be precious in our Esteem and by Learning, let the Interests of thy Gospel so prevail, that we may be made wise unto Salvation. Save us, O our Lord JESUS CHRIST. Save us from the Mischiefs and Scandals of an Uncultivated Offspring; Let this be a Land of Light, unto Thou, O Sun of Righteousness, do Thyself arise unto the World with Healing in thy Wings. Amen.

It is impossible to include in this volume these old-time records of what was the heroic age of New England. They are not such records as we write today, but at heart the humanity of these worshipers was of the same type as our own. Here is a long and faithful list of those who for generations have worshiped on the same spot, and thousands of their descendants now scattered throughout this vast land will find their names with a touch of grateful memory and emotion. ...this church has been the abode of the highest and most helpful ideals to which the human heart can be consecrated, and the fire has not been suffered to die out upon the altar, nor has the altar been removed. We are not like the Fathers by wearing the Puritan dress, nor by subscribing to their doctrines, but by sacrifices for a new land; by their interest in education; by their efforts to walk together as the truth might be revealed to them; by a deeper faith in those few great spiritual verities which ever have been, and ever must be, the refuge, support, and inspiration of the human soul.

- James De Normandie 1908

Meeting House Hill in 1790

“The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

- Matthew 13:31

Play: I Am Remembering

I am remembering who I am

I am remembering who I am

I am remembering…

I am remembering...

-by Melissa Phillippe

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