John Eliot & the Praying Indians

Natick was established in 1651 by the Puritan missionary, John Eliot, who settled a group of "Praying Indians" here on land granted by the General Court. To the Indians it was a "Place of Hills".In the area now called South Natick, the Indians settled on both sides of the Charles River. Over the river they built a wooden bridge with a stone foundation that was eighty feet long and eight feet high to withstand the high water during floods. Next, three streets were laid out. To the north Eliot and Union Streets, and to the south Pleasant Street, as they are now called. The Indians then built a meetinghouse with the help of an English carpenter. The two story building was used as church, school, and warehouse, and as a place for Eliot on his fortnightly visits. The building, which stood about where the present Eliot Church stands.

For more than twenty years Eliot instructed and preached to the Indians. A school was set up, a government established, and the Indians were encouraged to convert to Christianity. Eliot learned their language and with the help of the Indians, who had no written language, transcribed the Bible into the Algonquin language. A copy of the 1685 edition is on display at the Natick Historical Society Museum.

The prosperity of the village was destroyed when King Philip, son of the chief, Massasoit, attacked the white settlers causing such fear among them that in 1675 the Indians were restricted to their villages, which made it difficult for them to farm or to tend their livestock. In October of that year, over Eliot's protests, the General Court ordered the Natick Indians sent to Deer Island. Many Indians did not survive the lack of food and the cold and those who returned seven months later found their homes destroyed.

The Praying Indians did not flourish after their return to Natick and Eliot died in 1690. An Indian named Takawampbait had been ordained by Eliot and he carried on until his death in 1716. Two other Indians preached before the New England Company sent first Rev. Oliver Peabody and later Stephen Badger to fill the Indian church pulpit.

The land in the Natick Plantation was held in common by the Indians until 1719 when twenty men were named as Proprietors to oversee any division of land. By 1725 the Indians had sold most of their land to pay their debts and many drifted away or succumbed to disease. White settlers now outnumbered the Indians.