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FC 85 The Heathen School with John Demos

This week on Fieldstone Common our featured guest is Dr. John Demos, the author of the book The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic.

Bio – Dr. John Demos

The Heathen School with John Demos on Fieldstone Common
Photo: Michael Lionstar

John Demos is the Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University. He was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College, and received his graduate training at Oxford, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard. Some of his books include A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, for which he received the Bancroft Prize, and The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America which won the Francis Parkman Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Book Summary

The astonishing story of a unique missionary project—and the America it embodied—from award-winning historian John Demos.

Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newly established United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the redemptive fold of Christianity and “civilization.” Its core element was a special school for “heathen youth” drawn from all parts of the earth, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, increasingly, the native nations of North America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similar projects in their respective homelands. For some years, the school prospered, indeed became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve—and fundamental ideals—were put to a severe test.

The Heathen School follows the progress, and the demise, of this first true melting pot through the lives of individual students: among them, Henry Obookiah, a young Hawaiian who ran away from home and worked as a seaman in the China Trade before ending up in New England; John Ridge, son of a powerful Cherokee chief and subsequently a leader in the process of Indian “removal”; and Elias Boudinot, editor of the first newspaper published by and for Native Americans. From its birth as a beacon of hope for universal “salvation,” the heathen school descends into bitter controversy, as American racial attitudes harden and intensify. Instead of encouraging reconciliation, the school exposes the limits of tolerance and sets off a chain of events that will culminate tragically in the Trail of Tears.

In The Heathen School, John Demos marshals his deep empathy and feel for the textures of history to tell a moving story of families and communities—and to probe the very roots of American identity.

Publication Info The Heathen School with John Demos on Fieldstone Common

Title: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic

Publisher: Knopf (2014)

Hard cover; 337 pages with with end notes, an index and eight pages of photographs.

The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic is available for purchase from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

The Interview

John Demos and I dive into the details of this unusual tale of Christianity and Mission schools in the early 19th century. The twist to the story is that the Mission was located in the small town of Cornwall, Connecticut not half way around the world. We talk about the motivations and goals of the Christians and the fate of the students. Of course, we talk about how this local story has national prominence with the connection to Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. A truly fascinating story.

Links mentioned during the interview:

Prize Winner

One copy of The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic was given out to the Fieldstone Common audience courtesy of Knopf.

The winner is:

  • Jack Vietas of Taiwan

Congratulations to our winner and thanks to Knopf for their generosity in donating the book!

Make sure you qualify to win the giveaway next week by signing up for the Bonus List! Once you sign up your are in the running each week!

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