Takawambpait: First Ordained Minister of the Natick Church

Rev. Daniel Takawambpait (c. 1654-1716) was a central figure in the religious life of South Natick, a village founded in 1651 as the first “Praying Indian Town” in Massachusetts. He led the Christian fellowship and the Natick church in the years after the death of the town’s colonial benefactor, Rev. John Eliot (1604-1690). However, by the end of the 17th century, Natick’s “Praying Indian” community was in decline, with only about 180 residents and only 10 recognized members of the church. After Takawambpait’s death, both the church and the community steadily lost their vitality over a stretch of years in the early 18th century.

Takawambpait’s life and his ministry are not well documented, although he was a community leader, a prestigious teacher and later a preacher who embodied the hopes and mission of the Natick Indians who adopted the Christian faith. He may have attended the Indian College that was established at Harvard University soon after it was founded in 1636. In the 1680s Takawambpait was ordained by Eliot as the first Christian Indian minister in America. Takawambpait was honored during his life by the “Praying Indians” and by the English colonial government.

One mark of his stature in the community was his unusual burial in the colonial English fashion, with a headstone and foot stone at his grave. Takawambpait was interred in the traditional Natick burial ground that was near the intersection of today’s Eliot and Pleasant streets. The relocated foot stone is embedded in the foundation of the Bacon Free Library building, and the headstone is displayed on the lawn of the Eliot Church in South Natick.

The Takawambpait desk on display in the Natick History Museum.

In his early life, Takawambpait was not as prominent as Thomas Waban Sr., who was Eliot’s first convert to the Christian religion and who helped the Puritan minister in establishing the first “Praying Town” along the banks of the Charles River in 1651. When the deadly violence of King Philip’s War (1675-1678) disrupted half of the English towns in colonial New England, all 14 of the “Praying Indian” towns were assailed by fearful colonists. Natick was hard hit, although its inhabitants did not actively support the conflict’s Wampanoag leader, Metacomet (aka King Philip). The people of Natick and other “Praying Indians” were interned on Deer Island in Boston Harbor through a harsh winter, and many of them died despite Eliot’s efforts to assist them. When spring arrived, the Massachusetts General Court freed them. Waban initially led about 50 survivors back to Natick, and later Takawambpait shepherded another group of 50 to the “Praying Indian” plantation.

Takawambpait also had ties to several other “old Praying towns,” including Chabanakongkomum, Nashoba, and Okommakamesit. There is no surviving documentation of Takawambpait’s ministry. Obviously he was held in high regard by his Natick congregation. Church members built for him the “Takawambpait desk,” a finely worked hand-carved lectern that is now prominently displayed in the Natick History Museum. It may be the oldest surviving specimen of Indian-made furniture in America.

Selected sources and additional reading:

Natick Historical Society collections.

Bacon, Oliver N. A History of Natick, From Its First Settlement in 1651 to the Present Time; With Notices of the First White Families. Boston: Damrell & Moore, Printers, 16 Devonshire Street, 1856.

Crawford, Michael J. Natick: A History of Natick, Massachusetts. Natick, MA: Natick Historical Commission, 1978.

Morley, James W. From Many Backgrounds: The Heritage of the Eliot Church of South Natick. South Natick, MA: The Natick Historical Society, 2007.