From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

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Thomas & Experience Mayhew

Thomas Mayhew Jr. (1618-57) & Experience Mayhew (1673-1758)

The Mayhew family is largely responsible for the colonization and Christianization of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. An English settlement had been established there by 1642, and relations between the native Wampanoag tribe and settlers on the island were peaceful, especially compared to relations between the English and Native Americans on the mainland.

Thomas Mayhew learned the native language from Wampanoags on the island, specifically Hiacoomes, who was said to be the first Christian convert in the colonies. Mayhew detailed his missionary work amongst the natives in several of the tracts he authored for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England. His work in converting hundreds of Wampanoags was thus financially supported by the organization, and Mayhew established an Indian School on the island in 1652, only a few years before his untimely death at sea.

Thomas Mayhew’s grandson Experience continued the family’s missionary work on the island through the mid-eighteenth century. Experience Mayhew learned to speak the language of the Wampanoag from Hiacoomes and other English-speaking natives on the island, and accordingly continued to preach to natives in their own language. In 1709, Bartholomew Green and James Printer printed Mayhew’s Massachuset Psalter in Boston.