The astonishing story of a unique missionary project—and theAmerica it embodied—from award-winning historian John Demos
Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newlyestablished United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminentProtestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind intothe redemptive fold of Christianity and “civilization.” Its core element was aspecial school for “heathen youth” drawn from all parts of the earth, includingthe Pacific Islands, China, India, and increasingly, the native nations ofNorth America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similarprojects in their respective homelands. For some years the school prospered and became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted andmarried local women, public resolve—and fundamental ideals—were put to a severetest.
The Heathen School follows the progress—and thedemise—of this first true melting pot through the lives of individualstudents: among them, Henry Obookiah, a young Hawaiian who ran away from homeand worked as a seaman in the China Trade before ending up in New England; JohnRidge, son of a powerful Cherokee chief and subsequently a leader in theprocess of Indian “removal”; and Elias Boudinot, editor of the firstnewspaper published by and for Native Americans. From its birth as a beacon ofhope for universal “salvation,” the heathen school descends into bittercontroversy as American racial attitudes harden and intensify. Instead ofencouraging reconciliation, the school exposes the limits of tolerance andsets off a chain of events that will culminate tragically in the Trail ofTears.
In The Heathen School, John Demos marshals his deepempathy and feel for the textures of history to tell a moving story of familiesand communities—and to probe the very roots of American identity.