John Lathrop and the Christian Strategy of Colonization

Early in my studies, I did work with the various Christian efforts to colonize Oregon. Some of that appears in my dissertation. Lately I have begun to think that the United States policy of treaty making is part and parcel following the same pattern as that devised by Christian Missionaries to the tribes. This all begins with the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christianity(approximate title). They send hundreds of missionaries to the world, and especially to the New World, and utilize tribal languages in their efforts. Lathrop is presenting below some of their problems and presents their “scorched earth” policy to civilize the tribes. It may not be at all a fact that the North practiced the world’s first scorched earth campaign on the South, but the colonizing and missionization of the tribes was its own scorched earth campaign.     The treaties propose a very similar policy, promotion of agriculture and education as a normal part of what they were about.

John Lathrop, A Discourse Before the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians

(17)- Although the Society has given all the aid in its power, towards the support of Missionaries among the Indians, it cannot say, that much good hath resulted from that part of its labours. Experience hath taught this Society, and others of a similar nature, that attempts to propagate the Gospel among the native of the wilderness, in their wild and savage state, will be to little purpose. The forests must be cleared away, and the ground must be prepared, before the feed is to be sowed, or a harvest is to be expected. This doctrine, which every husbandman understands, is equally true in spiritual things as in temporal. The parable, which our Lord delivered to “the multitude, gathered together unto him,” as we read in the 13th chapter of Matthew, may be applied, with great propriety, to the subject, which we are considering…

(18) Some of the most promising children were taken from distant tribes, and at great expense prepared to give useful instruction to their brethren. But when they had finished their education, and were sent back to their native tribes, the knowledge which that has acquired, and the manners which they brought back with them, were subjects of contempt and ridicule. Either from inclination, or a desire to live peaceably with their Pagan connections, the greatest part of them, soon abandoned what work on which they were sent, and became Indians again.

(18-19) The first thing attempted by those missionaries (to Paraguay), was to convince the Indians, to whom they were sent, that comforts of a temporal nature, are to be found in the state of civilization, far more numerous and certain, than can be found in a savage condition. This conviction they gave by cultivating the land. In this way, the natives had the opportunity to see, what labour will produce.

This is exactly the policy followed by the federal government, the Dawes act did exactly this. What is interesting is that the tribes were alright without a material based society. It was not necessary to value possessions, over the community. Yet this is exactly what Christianity and later the United States assimilated to tribes to philosophically and literally.


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