From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

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James Printer

Wowaus, or James Printer (d. 1717)

Nipmuc Indian Wowaus spent much of his life at Hassanamesit in present-day Grafton, Massachusetts. Having attended an Indian charity school, Wowaus was fluent in English from a young age. By 1648, Wowaus was working as an apprentice to Samuel Green at the Cambridge Press. It was there that Wowaus would become known by his English name, James Printer.

Through his work at the press, Printer played an important role in producing the Algonquian-language texts that were intended as a vehicle for the cultural assimilation of Native Americans. As John Eliot worked with his interpreters to translate tracts, catechisms, and the Bible, Printer was at work at the press, setting the type and making sure Eliot got his translations right. In a letter to Robert Boyle in 1683, Eliot writes, “We have but one man viz. the Indian printer that is able to compose the sheets, and correct the press, with understanding.”

Printer aided Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson in printing the vast majority of the Algonquian-language texts circulating in the colonies between 1658 and 1710. Despite his influence, Printer’s name appears on a title page only once: he is credited with printing the Massachuset Psalter in 1709.