ELIOT, JOHN: Early Life and Emigration to America. The Apostle to the North American Indians; b. either at Widford (20 m. n. of London), Hertfordshire, or at Nazing (15 m. n.n.e. of London), Essex, 1604 (baptized Aug. 5); d. at Roxbury, Mass., May 20, 1690. He studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, taking his degree in 1622; then for some years was usher in the grammar-school of the Rev. Thomas Hooker (q.v.), at Little Baddow, near Chelmsford in Essex. Eliot's connection with this rigid Puritan formed a turning- point in his spiritual history. "When I came to this blessed family," said he, "I then saw, and never before, the power of godliness in its lively vigor and efficacy." He resolved to devote himself to the ministry of the Gospel; and as his non-conformist principles hindered his advancement under Archbishop Laud, he sought America, arriving at Boston Nov. 4, 1631. In Nov., 1632, he was settled as teacher of the Church of Christ in Roxbury and continued in that office until his death, a period of nearly sixty years. He married in the same year. With his colleague Thomas Weld, and Richard Mather of Dorchester, he prepared for the press a new metrical version of the Psalms, which was the first book printed in the English colonies in America, being issued at Cambridge by Stephen Daye in 1640, and known as The Bay Psalm Book (see BAY PSALM BOOK).
Ministry to the Indians. Soon after his settlement in Roxbury, Eliot became deeply interested in the Indians, and at length resolved to preach the Gospel to them. Having prepared himself by two years' study of their language, he preached for the first time to an assembly of Indians at Nonantum, in the present town of Newton, Oct. 28, 1646. He was opposed by the sachems and powwows, or juggling priests, but prosecuted his mission with apostolic energy, until villages of "praying Indians" began to appear in different parts of the colony. In 1660, at Natick, the first Indian church was organized; it existed till the death of the last native pastor in 1716. Eliot tried also to civilize as well as convert the Indians, thinking it "absolutely necessary to carry on civility with religion." In time he came to be regarded by them as their best friend. His influence over them was strong, and he exerted it for their temporal and spiritual good with rare wisdom and sagacity.
Translations into the Indian Language. In 1653 he published a catechism in the Indian language, and by Sept., 1661, the entire New Testament was printed at Cambridge; the whole Bible was completed two years later, and Cotton Mather wrote of it: "Behold, ye Americans, the greatest honor that ever ye were partakers of, the Bible printed here at our Cambridge; and it is the only Bible that ever was printed in all America, from the very foundation of the world." Seventeen years later, with the help of Rev. John Cotton (q.v.) of Plymouth, Eliot prepared a second edition, which was printed at Cambridge between 1680 and 1685. Both editions are now rare and valuable, and no one is living who understands their language. Baxter's Call to the Unconverted and other religious treatises were also translated, and, assisted by his sons, John and Joseph, Eliot prepared The Indian Grammar Begun, or an Essay to bring the Indian Language into Rules (1666; ed. P. S. du Ponceau,Boston, 1822). In his last years, when weighed down by bodily infirmities, and unable longer to preach or to visit the Indians, he induced several families to send their negro servants to him once a week, that he might instruct them in the truths of the Gospel. His old age was adorned with the simplicity and artlessness of a little child, with wonderful humility, and a charity that never failed.
Other Publications. Eliot's work excited much interest in England, and funds for carrying it on were supplied by a "Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel among the Indians of New England," instituted by ordinance of parliament in July, 1649, and reestablished after the Restoration by the exertions of Robert Boyle (q.v.). He also had support in the colonies and gave liberally of his own property. In 1674 the number of "praying Indians" was estimated at 3,600; they fought with the English during King Philip's War (1675-76), but received a blow at this time from which they never recovered; after Eliot's death their extinction proceeded rapidly.
Eliot kept his friends in England informed of the progress of his work by letters (cf. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Nov., 1879), and a detailed history of his labors and those of his assistants is given in a series of "Indian tracts," issued between 1624 and 1705. A list of these tracts may be found in the article "Eliot, John," by H. R. Tedder in DNB, xvii. 189-194, where Eliot's publications are also enumerated. The more important not already mentioned were The Christian Commonwealth (London, 1659), which the authorities in New England found "full of seditious principles and notions"; Eliot recanted and the book was suppressed; Communion of Churches, or the divine Management of Gospel Churches by the Ordinance of Councils, constituted in order according to the Scriptures (Cambridge, 1665) the first book privately printed in America; The harmony of the Gospels (Boston, 1678).
Bibliography: A number of the publications of Eliot have been republished in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, 1792, sqq. The most complete life is by Convers Francis in Sparks's Library of American Biography, vol. v., Boston, 1836; there are later sketches by H. A. S. Dearborn, Roxbury, 1850, J. S. Stevens, Cheshunt, 1874, R. B. Caverly, Boston, 1882. Consult also G. Fritschel, Geschichte der christlichen Mission unter den Indianern Nord Amerikas, Nuremberg, 1870; J. Winsor's Memorial History of Boston, vol. i., Boston, 1880; W. Eames, Bibliographic Notes on Eliot's Indian Bible and on his other Translations and Works in the Indian Language of Massachusetts, Washington, 1890.