Brainerd, John

last name (variants): Brainard; Braynerd; Brinerd
honorific(s): Reverend
Birth: February 28, 1720 in Haddam, CT
Death: 1781 in Deerfield, NJ

Yale College (graduated 1746); Presbytery of New York (1751); Trustees of the College of New Jersey (1754); Presbytery of Newark (1755-1758); Synod of New York (1757); Colonial Army (possibly 1756, 1759); New York Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (1762); Synod of New York and Philadelphia (reunited in 1758); Presbytery of Philadelphia (1762)


Yale College (1742-1746), Masters from the College of New Jersey (1749)






Minister and missionary to Natives and English colonists

  • New Haven, CT (from 1742 to 1746)
  • Mid-Atlantic Christian Indian Villages, especially Cranburry and Bethel (from 1747-04-14 to 1755-05-07)
  • Newark, NJ (from 1755 to 1759)
  • Brothertown (now Indian Mills, PA) (from 1759 to 1767)
  • Mount Holly, also called Bridgetown (from 1768 to 1775)
  • Brothertown (now Indian Mills, PA) (from 1775 to 1777)
  • Deerfield, NJ (from 1777 to 1781)

1754: Sent Eleazar Wheelock his first Indian students from his missions in New Jersey.

Marital status

Married twice. His first wife, Experience Lyon, bore him two children, both of whom died. She herself died in 1757, and he remarried. His only child from his second marriage survived him.


John Brainerd was an ardent missionary with an important role in Wheelock's design. He was the younger brother of the famous missionary David Brainerd, who died as a young man after being expelled from Yale and serving as a missionary to New Jersey tribes. John completed his Yale degree and was immediately commissioned to replace David. Even in his own time, he was seen as a man as pious as, but less talented than, his brother, though Brainerd missioned to Indians during a more volatile period, and saw his congregation forcibly removed from their lands in 1755 and relocated at Brothertown in 1758 (this Brothertown should not be confused with the one founded in New York after the Revolution by many Moor's alumni). Brainerd was extremely devoted to the Indian cause. He often had the opportunity to serve wealthy English congregations, but preferred to remain an Indian missionary. He invested signficant sums of his own money into his missions, for which he was never reimbursed. Brainerd was a very prominent Presbyterian figure, active in the Presbytery and Synod of New York, holding several elected positions, and in the Presbtery and Synod of New York and Philadelphia once the two reunified in 1758. He was a Trustee of the College of New Jersey from 1754 until his death, and a member of the New York Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Occom had planned to work with Brainerd in 1750, but political upheaval prevented it. Brainerd was one of several men nominated to accompany Occom to England, but the New York Board refused to let him go. While Brainerd and Wheelock were not close personal friends, the two had a similar interests and a long-lasting correspondence. John Brainerd sent Wheelock his first Indian boys, and also recruited female students in the 1760s. Throughout their lives, Brainerd and Wheelock updated one another on Indian missions, and Brainerd seems to have been one of Wheelock's "point people" in the Presbyterian Church.


Brainerd, Thomas. The Life of John Brainerd, the Brother of David Brainerd, and his Successor as Missionary to the Indians of New Jersey. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Publication Committee, 1865. Love, Deloss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. Pilgrim Press 1899. McCallum, James. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock’s Indians. Dartmouth College Press 1932.