From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations



Hiacoomes (1610?-1690)

The first native person to convert to Christianity in New England was Hiacoomes, a Wampanoag from the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Hiacoomes’s life became intertwined with the lives of English settlers by 1642 at the time of the first European settlement on the island. Through his interactions with the Mayhew family and other English colonists, Hiacoomes learned to read, write, and speak the English language; he therefore became integral to the progress of the colonists’ evangelical work.

An Indian church was established in Martha’s Vineyard circa 1670. Upon its completion, Reverends John Eliot and Cotton Mather ordained Hiacoomes and his contemporary Tackanash as ministers of the church. Experience Mayhew’s Indian Converts (1727) recalls Hiacoomes as a translator and “teacher of others” who assisted Thomas Mayhew Jr. in his Christian conversions of natives across Martha’s Vineyard. Experience Mayhew, who went on to translate and publish the Massachuset Psalter (1709), learned to speak the Wampanoag language at a young age in part through his interactions with Hiacoomes. Mayhew writes: “I saw [Hiacoomes] frequently when I was a Youth, and still remember him, the Gravity of his Countenance, Speech and Deportment: He seemed always to speak with much Thought and Deliberation, and I think very rarely smiled.”