A Native American Provenance Enigma

A Philadelphia-area collector recently contacted curators in the Kislak Center about acquiring an unusual work in his collection, namely a copy of 1842 edition of the Book of Common Prayer in Mohawk and English, including, according to the Preface, “the Collects and some of the offices of the Church which were never before printed in Mohawk.” They were translated by “Mr. John Hill, Junr., a Mohawk Catechist, who has devoted much time and attention in assisting to prepare the present work for publication.” However, this copy is interesting not only because of its contents, but also because its provenance remains something of an enigma.

Brief History of the Mohawk Book of Common Prayer

The Mohawks are the most easterly of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquoian) tribes. Due in part to their location on the eastern frontier of the confederation, they were among the first that missionaries hoped to convert to Christianity. In 1712, Reverend William Andrews, who had some knowledge of the Mohawk language, opened a mission. Shortly thereafter, portions of the Book of Common Prayer were translated into the Mohawk language for use in instructing and converting the Indians, and printed, with both an Indian and an English title, in 1715 in New York by William Bradford, Philadelphia’s very first printer.

Richard and Samuel Draper reprinted part of the first edition in Boston in 1763, while waiting for the completion of the second edition, which didn’t appear until 1769.

1780 edition, Book of Common Prayer, Mohawk (Rare Book Collection PM1884 .C6 1780)

The Kislak Center has copies of both the 1780 and the 1787 editions in its collection. The third edition (1780), with a print run of 1,000 copies, was printed in Quebec, by its first printer, William Brown.  According to the Advertisement in the 1780 edition,

The Edition of Indian Prayer-books published in the Year 1769 consisting of a small number were soon delivered out to the Indians except a few which were … seized and made away with by the Rebels in 1776. It brings besides an Edition replete with mistakes, owing to the disadvantage of no one inspecting the Correction who understood the Mohawk Language in any degree tolerable, and the Indians could make no Sense of several passages in the Book.

The improvement of the text, both with respect to the translation and the orthography, was due in large part to the work of “Paulus Sahonwádi, the Mohawk Clerk and School-master, being present at the correction of every proof-sheet to approve of their being properly placed, &c.”

The copies were quickly dispersed, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts resolved to have a new edition printed without delay, with the British Government assuming all expenses.

1787 edition, Book of Common Prayer, Mohawk and English (Rare Book Collection BX5145.A6 M6 1787)

This fourth edition (London, 1787) was significantly better than its predecessors for a variety of reasons, including pointing, accentuation, and spelling.  

Title and attribution to Joseph Thayendanegea of the 1774 translation of St. Mark’s Gospel in the 1787 edition

It also contained additional material, namely a translation of the Gospel according to St. Mark by Joseph Thayendanegea, also known as Captain Joseph Brant, who we are told was “a Mohawk by birth, and a man of good abilities, who was educated at one of the American Colleges.”

The Preface to the 1787 edition speaks positively of the Mohawks, which should be noted is here attributed to their conversion to Christianity.

The Mohawks are a respectable nation. They entered into an alliance with the English immediately after the latter became possessed of the province of New York in the last century. To that alliance they have faithfully and uniformly adhered, without any deviation, from that time to the present date, which may in a good measure be attributed to their Conversion, and to the principles which were inculcated by the Missionaries who resided among them.

The 1842 Mohawk Book of Common Prayer

The Penn copy, printed in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1842, is the edition translated by John Hill “into the Mohawk language, compiled from various translations, revised, corrected, and prepared for the press, under the direction of the Rev. Abraham Nelles, Chief Missionary in the service of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent in America.”

The Mohawk title page reads as follows:

Ne Kaghyadouhsera ne Yoedereanayeadagwha, tsiniyouht ne yontstha ne Skanyadaratiha Onouhsadokeaghty, tekaweanatenyouh kanyeakehaka kaweanoetaghkouh, watkeanisaaghtouh ne tekaweanatenyoehokouh, watkease, skagwada- gwea; neoni kaweyeaneatase ne tsiteyeristoghraraktha, ne raoteweyeanoenyaghtshera ne Ratsi, Abraham Nelles, Rarighwawakhouhtsheragweniyoh ne shakonatsteristase ne Tsikeatyogh- gwayea ne Tehadirighwarenyatha ne Orighwadokeaghty ne Ase Skanyadaratiha neoni aktatyeshouh ne America. Ne Adereanayeathokouh, ne Yoedatnekosseraghtha ne Yakaoseragwea, ne Yoedaderighwahniratstagweanitha, Yoedadenadarenawitha ne Yakonouhwaktany, Yoedouhradaghgwha Tyakothoewisea, &c. Ne Tehaweanatenyouh John Hill, Junr., Nene toetyereaghte waokeatane ne Kanyeakehakake ne keaiekea Kaghya- douhserakouh ne Yoedereanayeadagwha. (Oghroewakouh: Tekaristoghrarakouh Ruthven Tsite haristoghraraktha ne Kaghya- douhsera, &c., Koraghkowah Tsitekanatokea, 1842)

It was considered by those responsible for its creation to be the best for teaching purposes because, as in the 1787 edition, the Mohawk and English texts were printed on opposite pages, encouraging a cross-cultural exchange, despite objections by some English speakers to the very notion of translating such a work into Native American languages.

The mystery surrounding Penn’s copy

1842 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, Mohawk and English (Dechert Collection PM1884 .C6 1842)

This particular copy, which is bound in green leather, tooled and gold-stamped, is missing the English title page. It was a presentation copy, and the front cover reads:  “Presented to John S. Martin by Tharackatha Chief of the Mohawk Indians in Camp near Tyendinaga Canada West July 4th, 1857.” Within, pasted to the front free endpaper and a blank leaf are newspaper clippings from 19th century Canadian and American newspapers (Boston Saturday Evening Gazette, Montreal Gazette, etc.), all of which record events relative to First Nations peoples. These include a report of a descendant of Joseph Brant’s drowning and a poem about Wollonopauge, the native name of Wrentham, Massachusetts.

According to the collector,

[t]he most interesting of these clippings is a photograph from an 1869 issue of the Montreal Gazette showing a group of Mohawk men and women in traditional costume. The photo is undoubtedly by the Montreal photographer James Inglis, whose contemporary photograph of the same group of Mohawks posing with William Workman, Mayor of Montreal, and other Montreal dignitaries after a lacrosse match played in the presence of the Prince of Wales on his 1869 tour of Canada, is well-recorded. This is a singular image of the same gathering, sans caucasians.

Of John S. Martin and Tharackatha little can be determined: Martin is a relatively common surname among the Six Nations Mohawk Band (Oronhyatekha, the famous physician, businessman and benefactor of Six Nations was the son of Peter Martin, Sr., himself baptized “Peter Martin.”). However there is no contemporary census record of a John S. Martin nor of a “Tharackatha.”

The collector’s consultation with the lead historian of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks indicates no chief of that name at that time, but the moniker “chief’ was widely used by headmen of different levels of authority and dignity within the Mohawk nations at this time and there is no reason to think the inscription a fabrication. Rather, the inscription is more likely the only historical record of this particular Mohawk ‘chief’ in existence and, as such, fills an otherwise unknown lacuna in 19th century Mohawk history.”

The only potential clue comes from page 5 of the January 9, 1866, number of the Utica Weekly Herald, where the following is announced:

In Mohawk, January 1st, by the same, Mr. JOHN S. MARTIN, of Michigan, and Mrs. ELIZABETH E. RUNYEN, of Utica, daughter of John Golden, Esq., of Mohawk.

 If John S. Martin was a youth when he was presented with this book, he may well be the same person whose marriage is here noted. So, if anyone reading this piece knows anything about either Martin or Tharackatha, please contact us and help us solve this mystery.


Land Acknowledgment: Penn Libraries respectfully acknowledges that it is situated on Lenapehoking, the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Unami Lenape.

For more information on the various editions of the Mohawk Book of Common Prayer, see The Book of Common Prayer among the Nations of the World.

See additional works on the larger topic of Mohawk language and religion:

William B. Hart, “Mohawk Schoolmasters and Catechists in Mid-Eighteenth Century Iroquoia: An Experiment in Fostering Literacy and Religious Change” in The Language Encounter in the Americas 1492-1800, edited by Edward G. Gray  & Norman Fiering (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008), 230-257.

Daniel K. Richter, “’Some of Them … Would Always Have a Minister with Them’: Mohawk Protestantism, 1683-1719” in American Indian Quarterly, v. 16, no 4, Special Issue: Shamans and Preachers, Color Symbolism and Commercial Evangelism: Reflections on Early Mid-Atlantic religious Encounter in Light of the Columbian Quincentennial (Autumn 1992), 471-484.

Scott Manning Stevens, “The Path of the King James Version of the Bible in Iroquoia,” Prose Studies, 34:1, 5-17.

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