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November 08, 2021

Andrew White in Maryland

Tucked away in the archives of Georgetown University is a unique five-page manuscript from the 1600s. It’s the only known writing in an extinct language used by Native Americans along the Atlantic coast. Scholars have identified the author as Andrew White, a Jesuit priest. The manuscript contains four prayers, the Ten Commandments, and some of the basic Catholic teachings known as The Precepts. When we think of migration from England to North America in the 1600s, we usually think of Protestant groups like the Puritans. But the same century also saw the arrival of many Catholics. In the early 1630s, an English aristocrat and Catholic convert named George Calvert was seeking a charter to colonize land along the North American coast. In 1632, the charter was granted and a select group of 200 Catholics and Protestants crossed the ocean and took up residence in what would become Maryland. The Catholic colonists, including Father White, were seeking to better their lives in the new colony and escape from religious persecution in England. While they built farms and settlements, many of the colonists also wanted to spread Christianity among Native American tribes. As part of that effort, Father White translated the Ten Commandments and other material into the Native American language. White was one of the first to create a grammar book and dictionary of a Native American language. Father White’s work illustrates how the desire to spread the Bible advanced the development of written languages around the globe.

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