Established in 1995, the John Eliot scholarship is named for a 1622 graduate of Jesus College who became the minister of the First Church of Roxbury, founder of the Roxbury latin School, and a Harvard Overseer. Born in 1604, Eliot entered Jesus College in 1617 as a pensioner and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1622. A Puritan with nonconformist opinions, Eliot left for New England and arrived in Boston in 1931. Soon after he became the minister at First Church, a role in which he served for the next 60 years.
Through his ministerial work Eliot developed an interest in the language and customs of the native Massachusetts tribes. He learned the Algonquin language and began to preach to the native people in their own language in 1646. Eliot was instrumental in the development of planned towns for the native people where they could live under their own rule as a Christian society. Although Natick, Massachusetts is the best documented of these settlements, at one point there were fourteen such towns of “praying Indians.” The towns were later destroyed by English colonists during King Philip’s War of 1675.
Meanwhile, Eliot was at work translating the Bible into the Algonquin language. First, he translated short passages of Scripture, including some psalms and the Ten Commandments. By 1658, he wrote that "the whole book of God is translated into their own language; it wanteth but revising, transcribing, and printing." The complete Algonquin Bible was published in 1663 -- the first edition of the Bible to be published in America. Eliot also wrote a number of other books, including The Christian Commonwealth (1659), The Communion of Churches (1665), and the grammar of the Algonquin language called "The Indian Grammar Begun" (1666).
Eliot founded the Roxbury Latin School in 1645. The school was modeled on the English grammar school, with teachings of the classics and religious and spiritual instruction. Eliot's nine-year-old son was one of ten students who attended the school in its first year. Later, Eliot became the most significant donor of the Eliot School (founded in 1676) when he gave it 75 acres in Jamaica Plain in 1689. Eliot specified that the school educate local children including "such negroes or Indians as may or shall come to said school," according to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. The purpose of the school, wrote Eliot, was "to remove the inconvenience of ignorance." Eliot died in 1690 at the age of 85.
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