The History of Big Alum Lake

Chapter 10


John Eliot was born in Widford, Hertfordshire, England in 1604, the son of a wealthy landowner.  He was a bright student and at the age of fifteen entered Jesus College at Cambridge University where he excelled at linguistics.  In the 1630's he travelled to North America with a group of Puritans and settled in Boston, becoming pastor of the church in neighboring Roxbury, a post he held for nearly sixty years.

When the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter was issued in 1628, the English government expected that the colonists would convert the natives of North America to Christianity.  John Eliot took up this cause and succeeded where other missionaries had not because of his command of the native language, Algonquian.  Not only was he able to speak to the natives, but he devised a written form of Algonquian and translated both the Old and New Testaments into it.  He also encouraged his converts to settle into English-style villages which he called "Praying Indian" towns.  The first of these, Nonantum, was established in 1646 in an area that then was part of Cambridge.  It later was moved to a 3000-acre site in the present town of Natick.  

Between 1646 and 1674, Reverend Eliot converted nearly 1100 natives to the Christian religion and contributed to the establishment of fourteen "Praying Indian" communities in Massachusetts.  In 1655, he obtained title to a 1000-acre parcel of land at Pookookapog Ponds, a group of lakes in Sturbridge, the largest being Alum Pond.  The local Indians, probably lesser sachems, who gave the land along the western shoreline to Eliot, were Wattalloowekin (meaning: ”turn of the water near the hill”) and Nahan (meaning “island"). The plot was later surveyed and the General Court confirmed the grant to the heirs of John Eliot in 1715. The pond is called Pookookappog on the official survey map of 1715. The proper spelling probably should have been Poohookapaug, which means “pond where we smoked tobacco."  Eliot originally made the acquisition with the intention of creating a Praying Indian town among the natives of the area, but his plans were undermined by King Philip's War.  This violent conflict led to the abandonment of most of the Praying Indian towns that Eliot had settled. 

A copy of the original deed to the 1000-acre parcel
of land at Pookookapog Ponds
(Please click image to enlarge.)

A photograph of a painting above the walkway in
Memorial Hall at the State House in Boston.  The inscription below  it reads:

John Eliot preaching to the Indians
"I am about the work of the great God and my God is with me."

~ Reverend John Eliot

Robert Briere, Sturbridge Historical Society
Dr. William P. Marchione, Brighton Allston Historical Society,
Dr. Louis E. Roy, long-time Big Alum resident and local historian

Introduction, Chapters:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17