Eliot, John

Birth: 1604 in Widford, Hertfordshire, England
Death: 1690-05-21 in Roxbury, Massachusetts

Massachusetts Bay Colony


Jesus College, Cambridge, 1622






minister; missionary to Indians

  • Roxbury, Massachusetts (from 1632 to 1690)
Marital status

married Hannah Mulford


John Eliot was a Puritan minister who became known as "the Apostle to the Indians." He was born in England in 1604, the son of Bennett Eliot, a middle-class farmer, and graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge in 1622. Coming under the influence of Thomas Hooker, he became a Puritan dissenter and emigrated to the fledgling colony of Massachusetts in 1631. In 1632, he became a teacher at the church of Roxbury, near Boston, where he remained until his death in 1690. Interested in converting Indians, he learned their dialects with the assistance of a young Indian and gave his first sermon in the Massachusetts tongue in October 1646. Thereafter, he helped establish 14 "praying towns" for 4,000 converted Native peoples, which were destroyed during King Philip's (Metacom's) war in 1674. Eliot's work was funded from England and inspired the creation of the Company for Propagating the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in North America in 1649, the first missionary society in England. After 1770, it became known as the New England Company, a group with whom Wheelock had very rocky relations. Still, Eliot's methods, his belief that "civilization" of Indians was necessary for conversion, and his training and use of Native teachers and evangelists, set the pattern for missionary work for the next two centuries and influenced Wheelock's approach. Eliot is best known for his production of a translation of the Bible into the Massachusetts dialect of Algonquian, published in 1661-1663. It was the first Bible printed in North America. Both Wheelock and the white missionaries he trained saw themselves as walking in Eliot's footsteps.


Cogley, Richard W. John Eliot's Mission to the Indians Before King Philip's War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. "John Eliot." Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.search.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/184698/John-Eliot.

Further reading

Eliot, John. "Brief Narrative" (1670) [a report on the progress of Christianity among the Indians]. American Historical Documents, 1000-1904: The Harvard Classics. 1909-14. www.bartleby.com/43/12.html.