301 | To the Earl of Halifax

    Boston, Aug 18 1764.

    My Lord

    I hereby inclose to your Lordship the Copy of a note I received from a chief of the Penobscot Indians being an answer to their request to Govr. Murray that they might have a priest from Canada, which they transmit to me with a prayer that I would give leave for such a priest to come among them. It is above a year ago since the Passimaquody Indians applied to me for a Romish Priest & near a year ago since the Penobscots made the like application.1 I could only  give them a general Answer, not having a priest at my command: and if I had had one of the Romish Communion, I should not have sent him thither without a greater authority than my own. And now the Question comes home to me, I must beg directions how I am to act.2

    These Indians are very religious & great Zealots for the Church of Rome. A Romish Priest would  immediately enter into full authority over them; and if he would confine himself to matters of religion, would be of great use in reforming their Manners & keeping them in order: But there are many things to be guarded against in such an appointment. A french Priest would probably be attached to french Policy as well as to the Romish Religion; & would endeavour to alienate them from the English Government as well as the protestant Religion: & perhaps might feed them with the hopes of a french Revolution in that Country: for such Notions the Indians are still continually receiving from Canada. So that if they were to have a Romish Priest. I had rather that he should come from Ireland than Canada.

    I will admit that with Indians, who are not capable of abstract reasoning, The Utility of their religion is rather to be consulted than the truth of it. Facility of Admission & Implicitness of obedience are all the Advantages of a Romish Priest. The latter forms a kind of objection, for the more absolute the power of the priest the more dangerous would he be to civil Government if he should be a latent Enemy to it. And this leads to another objection: I dont think that the dispersed Settlers in that Country where there is at present no public place of Worship (except the Chapple at Fort Pownall) for the lenght  of 60 or 80 miles, would be safe from perversion, if the Zeal of the Priest should exceed his discretion.

    On the other hand I don’t think that the difficulties of getting them to accept a protestant Minister are at all unsurmountable, provided they could have a Priest of the Church of England. They distinguish between the Church of England & the Independent Worship; and have too high an Opinion of the priestly Character to receive a self constituted Minister as an ordained priest . And as their Religion has consisted hitherto entirely of Ceremonies, It is too great a transition to pass to a Worship with no Ceremony at all. And therefore I am of Opinion that an Independent or a Presbyterian Minister would make but a slow progress among them. But I think otherwise of a Priest of the Church of England: By a judicious use of the habit & Ceremonials of the established Worship, He would probably very soon get the better of their prejudices. He must speak french, which they understand.

    As such a Missionary must come from the Society for propagating the Gospel if at all, I’ll mention another use that may be made of him. There are Eastward of Penobscot & Westward also, A number of Settlers, whose dispersed condition will make it difficult for them for some Years to establish any settled Ministry among them; many of whom would prefer the Church of England, & many others tho’ not professing the Church of England would be glad to have a Church to resort to. The proprietors of one township east of Penobscot have applied to me to recommend them to the Society for a Missionary: which I have promised to do, when they are capable & ready to receive one. Now if a Missionary was appointed for the double purpose of ministring to the Indians & also to such of the new settled Towns as shall desire him, He would be of great use not only as a Minister of Religion but also as a civil Mediator between the Indians & English.

    I have got to such a lenghth upon this Subject that I begin to wish that a proposal of this kind was made to the Society for propagating the Gospel. If your Lordship shall think this letter a ground for such a proposal I must beg leave to assure your Lordship that I will assist such appointment to the best of my Power. I will take care that he shall be well lodged and accommodated at Fort Pownall, & also at other convenient houses along the Coast. I will, if I can make it advisable, as I think it may easily be, recommend him to the London Society for propagating the Gospel in New England, for an additional Salary from them: as I have before done for a Catechist professing the Church of England now living among the Mohawks & Oneidas.3 And anything else, by which I can assist this undertaking I will readily engage in.

    All which is humbly submitted to your Lordships Decision: in expectation of which I shall postpone giving a positive Answer to the Indians, whom I shall see in their own Country in about a fourtnights time.4

    I am with great respect My Lord, Your Lordships most obedient & most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The Right Honble The Earl of Halifax

    ALS, RC CO 5/755, ff 107-110.