From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

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John Sassamon

John Sassamon (ca. 1620-75)

During the Pequot War, John Sassamon, a Massachuset Indian, served as an interpreter for the English.  Sassamon interpreted for the colonists on the battlefield, and his language skills would prove essential to the spread of Puritanism in New England. In 1651, Sassamon became a schoolmaster in the praying town of Natick and in 1653 attended Harvard College at the behest of John Eliot.

Sassamon worked closely with Eliot for decades. While Eliot helped Sassamon improve his English language skills, Sassamon aided Eliot in his understanding of the Algonquian language. Sassamon, like Cockenoe before him, essentially enabled Eliot to preach to Native Americans in their own language and to start translating the text of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

John Sassamon lived between two worlds as a native among the English. In the winter of 1674/75, aware of increasing native tensions, Sassamon warned the English of an impending attack led by Metacom, the Wampanoag sachem. However, the English did not heed the warning. Days later, Sassamon’s body was found under the ice of Assawompset Pond. His death and the subsequent execution of several Wampanoags for the crime are considered to be the most immediate causes of King Philip’s War.