NORTON, JOHN (Teyoninhokarawen), (1770 – 1831?) Army officer, school teacher, author, Interpreter, Pine Chief to the Mohawk Nation, trader, Scripture Translator.
In the Cherokee Campaign of 1760 a child was saved from a burning longhouse near Kuwoki, South Carolina, and taken back to Scotland by the soldier who rescued him. This child grew and married a Scottish woman who would give birth to John Norton (Tyoninhokarawen), John was baptised in Crail, a small fishing village just south of St. Andrews on Dec 17, 1770.
In 1784 Norton joined the 65th Foot, and was stationed first in Quebec (1785), then Fort Niagara (1787). He deserted in 1787 but received a belated discharge in 1788.
Norton took a teaching position in 1790 with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1793 he worked as a trader which brought him into contact with Joseph Brant who recommended him for appointment as official interpreter for the Indian Department of Niagara in 1796.
Hearing that Norton planned to return to England to get a military commission, Brant invested him with power to act on behalf of Six Nations, and get confirmation of their ownership of the Haldimand Tract of land. He failed and this dispute is still unresolved today.
Norton arrived in England, in May, just three months after the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society. His letters of introduction brought him into contact with the famed Clapham Sect, whose members were instrumental in the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He became friends with such notables as Rev. John Owen, Lord Teignmouth (1st BFBS President), Robert Barclay, Henry Thornton and William Wilberforce. It was the encouragement of Rev. John Owen that sparked a passion in Norton to begin translating the Gospel of John into Mohawk. On March 26, 1805, the decision was made by the Sub-Committee for the Welsh Bible to publish it.
One question that arises is why Mohawk and not Welsh. The minutes of March 19, 1805, reveals there was a conformity act of Queen Elizabeth that gave the five Bishops of Wales the power to approve any translation of Welsh scripture. There had been concerns raised about “Improper alternations” in the orthography of the new edition and so it was halted until the Bishops could agree on the text.
Another significant decision the Welsh Sub-committee made, established clearly the principal, “without note or comment”. An address by Norton to his people had been bound with the sample bindings. The committee, “Resolved that the said address be wholly separated from the Gospel and not in any instance bound up with it, it being incompatible with a fundamental principal of this institution to attach to the Scripture any additional matter whatever.” (April 1, 1805)
When Norton returned to Canada Nov 12, 1805, he carried with him 500 copies of the Mohawk Gospel of John. He represents a number of significant firsts for the Bible Society: first translator, first expenditure of funds, first published foreign language, first distribution of scripture in a foreign land, and the first definitive action to prohibit “Note and Comment” from being part of the text.
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