Piety, politics, and profit : American Indian missions in the colonial colleges

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


The royal charters which sanctioned the settlement of the American colonies invariably expressed as their primary purpose the propagation of Christianity among the American Indians. Throughout the colonial period, the English viewed education as a primary means to accomplish this pious mission. The purpose of this study was to examine critically the educational Indian missions in the colonial colleges. In doing so, this investigation employed ethnohistorical perspectives and methodology in examining the institutional experiments at Henrico, Virginia, Harvard College, the College of William and Mary, and Dartmouth College, spanning a period from the early seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries. The study found that, while the colonial educators professed their own piety as if this were their singular motivation, they capitalized on the charitable impulses of the pious English and on the opportunities which the charity presented in furthering other political and economic interests. This investigation also established that mixed motives led to diversions from the purposes for which money had been collected and further that this was a primary cause of the ultimate failure of these/ educational experiments. In revealing that missions in the colonial colleges were not expressions of unblemished piety, this study has confronted the declarations espoused in the early records and much of the later historical literature, thus enhancing the growing body of ethnohistorical scholarship on Indian-white relations during the colonial period, while simultaneously offering a fresh insight into the origins of higher education in America.




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