Brainerd, David

last name (variants): Brainard; Braynerd; Brinerd
honorific(s): Reverend
Birth: April 20, 1718 in Haddam, CT
Death: October 9, 1747 in Northhampton, MA

Yale College


Expelled from Yale in 1741; studied for his ordination with Aaron Burr.


Ordained by Newark Presbytery (June 11 & 12 1744).


English Colonist


Missionary to the Lenape Indians


David Brainerd was a Presbyterian missionary who became a New Light martyr and inspired Wheelock to work for Native American education. He was the older brother of the longer-lived but lesser-known John Brainerd, who provided Wheelock with his first Native students. In the early 1740s, David got caught up in the New Light tide at Yale, and was subsequently expelled for describing men in positions of authority as unsaved. Because ministers to English congregations had to have a degree from Harvard or Yale, David became a missionary to Native Americans instead. His missions attracted substantial attention, and in 1744 the Newark Presbytery ordained him so that he could receive funding from the Society in Scotland for Propagating Chrisitian Knowledge (SSPCK). Between April 1743 and November 1746, when he became too ill to serve, David conducted missionary efforts among various tribes in the mid-Atlantic region, most notably in New Jersey. After his death from tuberculosis in 1747, David became something of a martyr. New Light Congregationalists, especially, saw David's expulsion from Yale as unjust and his commitment to Native Americans as divine. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards published a biography of David together with David's diary, and the text quickly became part of the New Light canon. Education was central to David Brainerd's ministry, and he was among Wheelock's several inspirations. In 1745, Brainerd sent Wheelock a copy of his journal.


Grigg, John A. The Lives of David Brainerd: The Making of an American Evangelical Icon. Oxford 2009. McCallum, James. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians. Dartmouth College Press 1932.