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On the Road with the Haddam Historical Society: David & John Brainerd Marker

Submitted by Elizabeth Malloy, Exec. Dir., HHS. 

David and John Brainerd Marker: Located along the western side of Walkley Hill Road near the northern intersection of Route 154, this granite stone with marker honors brothers, David Brainerd and John Brainerd, Native American missionaries.

The marker reads “Opposite this spot was born, April 20, 1718 David Brainerd, A servant of God, wise in knowledge of men; self-forgetful in his devotion; of single-hearted humility; careless of the dangers of the frontier, undismayed before failing health; he gave his brief manhood to the material and spiritual upbuilding of the Indians. He died at Northampton, Mass., Oct. 9, 1747. Here also was born, February 28, 1720 his brother and chosen successor, John Brainerd. A missionary of life-long zeal and unswerving fidelity; a chaplain in the French and Indian War; an honored trustee of Princeton College. He died at Deerfield, N.J., March 1781.”

David Brainerd is remembered as a man of character and strength despite the hardships he faced as a child. He was born in 1718 to a large religious family and was a sickly child with symptoms of tuberculosis. David’s parents, Hezekiah and Dorothy (Hobart) Brainerd both died when he was young and he and his two younger brothers (John and Israel) were raised by older siblings.

David entered Yale in 1739 but his studies were cut short when he was expelled in 1741. According to written accounts, Brainerd was dismissed because he had made disparaging remarks about a tutor, which was considered a serious offense in those tense religious times. He apologized but the school wanted to make an example of him, so he was removed.

Despite his disgrace, Brainerd was encouraged to become a missionary and was supported by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. In 1743, he started working with the Mohicans in upstate New York where he started a school for Native American children and translating the Psalms. A year later he was reassigned to work with the Delaware Indians in Pennsylvania and ultimately ordained by the Newark Presbytery. He spent the next two years working with Native Americans in New Jersey before his illness prevented him from continuing. He died in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1747 at the age of 29. He is remembered as sacrificing his life to spread the gospel to the Native Americans which is recorded in his own journals and The Life of David Brainerd by Reverend Jonathan Edwards

John Brainerd was David’s younger brother. He entered Yale University in 1742 and graduated in 1746. At his brother’s request, John continued David’s missionary work in the New York and New Jersey areas and did so for the remainder of his career.

Both men are remembered as being devoted missionaries who have motivated, inspired and encouraged Christians to this day.

Photo: Historic post card from archives of Haddam Historical Society.

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