Date of Award

Spring 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga H Gould


This dissertation explores the hundreds of black and Native American preachers who worked as Christian missionaries in the early modern British Atlantic world. While scholars have generally accepted the convention that most missionaries were white Europeans who knew little about the native peoples they were trying to convert, there were practical and theological explanations for why native preachers not only became ubiquitous, but often outnumbered their white counterparts in Protestant missions. The language barrier, the opportunity to tap into extensive kinship networks, and early modern interpretations of black and Indian bodies all catalyzed the formation of an indigenous evangelical corps from Iroquoia to India. Protestant missionaries also looked back to early Christian history to explain how "gospelization" might advance alongside their own rapidly expanding world. They believed that the gentiles---or unconverted nations---were central to their own conversion during the initial spread of Christianity and they incorporated this model of early Christian evangelization into their own approach to missionary work among black slaves, Africans, and Native Americans. Situated as they were between British missionaries and unconverted natives, indigenous missionaries also found themselves at the center of transatlantic conversations about race, empire, spiritual authority, and the place of Native Americans and Africans in Western Christendom. The dissertation begins by shifting the focus away from English missionaries and instead exploring the native preachers who oversaw the religious development of Indian praying towns in Puritan New England. It then traces the debates concerning indigenous missionaries in the Anglican Atlantic---specifically over slavery and the recruitment of Indian "royalty" in North America---while simultaneously examining the rise of Anglican-backed native preachers in southern India during the first decades of the eighteenth century. While the problematics of slavery and racial tension discouraged the employment of black preachers in the early eighteenth century, by the 1740s a wave of transatlantic evangelical revivalism forced Protestant denominations to develop new ways to employ slaves as teachers and preachers in their missions. At the same time, this revivalism sparked the formation of separate nativist churches under Amerindian pastors, a prospect that white ministers found both socially destabilizing and theologically problematic. The last half of Prodigal Sons considers three distinct but interrelated events in the 1760s and 70s: Philip Quaque's mission to the Cape Coast, eastern Indians' mission to the Iroquois, and John Quamine's failed mission to Africa. These three chapters illuminate how native preachers used their unique identities to recast the relationship between missions and empire, narrate unconverted Africans and Native Americans into a sacred, expansive, and inclusive history of Christianity, wrestle with the problems of race, slavery, and dispossession, and foster direct connections between Native American missions and African ones. In sum, the centrality of indigenous preachers, teachers, and evangelists to British Atlantic missions demands that we reconceptualize the historical relationships between missionaries and neophytes, imperial colonization and Protestant evangelization, and Christian doctrines and indigenous spiritualities. Prodigal Sons thus enriches and complicates our understanding of cultural interaction between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans in the most formative period of those encounters.