Last night (April 26, 2015) my wife and I accompanied our Waco family to a youth dinner theater and silent auction at Fellowship Bible Church, where they attend. Our main reason for attending was that our 15 year old granddaughter, Kirsten Hardin, was the narrator for the play. I was also interested in how they portrayed David Brainerd—they did a good job!

The title of the play was: “I will not loiter on my heavenly journey: The life of David Brainerd, missionary”, written and directed by Hilary Gill, a member of the church. She had adapted the title from an article about Brainerd by John Piper, called “May I never loiter on my heavenly journey!” published on-line in 2012.

I had read two books about Brainerd (Flagellant on horseback: The life story of David Brainerd by Richard Ellworth and The life and diary of David Brainerd, edited by Johnathan Edwards). I thought that Brainerd might have been one of the first missionaries to take the Gospel to the Native Americans near where I once lived in my home area of Pennsylvania.

There are still many “Indian” names in the area where I was born: Shickshinny, where my mother taught school for many years; Susquehanna, the river that runs north to south, but with other branches westward; Nanticoke, the name of a group of Delaware Indians who were famous (in my childhood reading) for the “Wyoming Massacre”; Wapwallopen, south of Schickshinny; Mehoopany; Tunkhannock; and many others; However, it seems unlikely that Brainerd visited my area, although he must have been close because he believed he was a failure in his work among the Iroquois Indians along the Susquehanna.

It is also possible that Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) and the Moravians were the first to contact some of the Native Americans along the Susquehanna River. He made visits to three different Indian groups and some, such as the Shawnees, were hostile. However, the six nations of the Iroquois Indians welcomed him when they came to Philadelphia to renew their treaties. While there he convinced them that he did not want to steal their land but had a genuine concern to preach to them. As a result they welcomed his visits.[1]

The play and narration gave many salient aspects of Brainerd’s life: his main and most “fruitful” ministry was with small groups of Delaware Indians in New Jersey (at the forks of the Delaware River); he rode several thousand miles by horseback (one account says 3,000, another 15,000), often alone and sleeping in forests; he needed an interpreter, as he was not able to live in one area long enough to learn one of the Indian languages, although he tried; he was ill from the time of his first journey and eventually died of TB; his sweetheart was the daughter of Johnathan Edwards, later the President of Yale College (now university). Brainerd had been expelled from the college, never married and died young, at the age of 29.

John Piper’s concise history of Brainerd relates that he was born of Puritan parents and his father was a Connecticut legislator. Brainerd became a Christian at the age of 21, following extended periods of depression and self-centered piety (all recorded in his diaries). His spiritual difficulties at Yale led to his expulsion. He has been motivated by George Whitefield, who was largely responsible for the Great Awakening at Yale, as well as by a commencement address by Johnathan Edwards. Brainerd felt called to the Indians, but was not allowed by law, because no minister could be of service in Connecticut unless the person had graduated from Harvard, Yale or a European University. (Today such a qualification would be a complete joke, reflecting the present total sectarian nature of the universities.)

Brainerd was appointed as a missionary to the Indians in 1742, using an interpreter and trying to learn some of the Housatonic Indian language. The language was of the Mohican family, of the Algonquin Indians. The six main tribes that migrated south were: the Weataugs, who settled in Salisbury; Weantinocks in New Milford; Paugassets in Derby; Potatucks in Shelton; Pequannocks in Bridgeport; and, Wepawaugs in Milford.[2]

In 1744 Brainerd settled east of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for one year, not far from where the Moravians established their center. From that point he began his first tour to the Indians at Crossweeksung, New Jersey and stayed with them until he was too sick to further minister. He returned to Boston and died of TB on October 9, 1747. Brainerd had suffered physically nearly all of his life and this contributed to his depression, introspection, guilt, and any real sense of compassion for the Indians, despite his great desire and calling to serve them. He was convinced that he was living in the “last days” and that they were unholy. He fasted regularly, read the Bible with zeal, and had a great desire to be “holy”.

Additional aspects of Brainerd’s life comes to us mainly through the publication of Edward’s book, which has never been out of print. Brainerd was also instrumental in the founding of Princeton and Dartmouth Colleges, as their founders had an interest in his problems at Yale. They were not satisfied with the somewhat negative outcome of the “Great Awakening” at Yale and resolved to start their own schools. In the following years, the Presbyterians founded Princeton, the Baptists Brown, the Dutch Reformed Rutgers, and the Congregationalists Dartmouth.

Brainerd devoted his short life to small bands of Indians that were destined for exploitation and warfare primarily and ultimately, by the Colonial powers of Britain and France. After 1776, as authentic Americans, we have followed the same pattern and took more land and lives of the Indians. But we can be thankful that Brainerd and others—such as John Eliot, who translated the Massachusett Bible—there was at least some compassion for the Indians at one stage in history.[3]

We also note that an interest in Bible translation for small language groups began early in American history, thanks largely to men such as Brainerd and Eliot.

Karl Franklin
April, 2015

[1] This short account is from

[2] From:

[3] “The Massachusett language is an Algonquian language of theAlgic language family, formerly spoken by several tribes inhabiting coastal regions of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands. It was also commonly referred to as the Natic,Wômpanâak (Wampanoag), Pokanoket.” See for additional information.