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James and Jean Hunter

James Hunter was born in England in 1817. He worked as a schoolmaster, and then joined the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), to train as a medical missionary. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1844, and then sailed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and settled at The Pas, Manitoba on the River Saskatchewan where he farmed and became friendly with the local Cree Indians. Hunter was energetic in converting Indians to Christianity, and each year reported many baptisms. In 1850 a church building, with a 70 foot high spire, was completed and consecrated by the Bishop of Rupert’s Land.

Hunter studied and learnt the local Cree language. He advocated Roman characters rather than the syllabic script developed for the Crees by the Reverend James Evans. In 1848 James Hunter married Jean (also called Jane) Ross. She had been born in Canada and had spoken English and Cree since childhood. She worked with James on the translation work. She translated many hymns and also 1 John (Nistum Oo Mamowe Mussinahmakawin) herself. In 1854 James Hunter was made Archdeacon of Cumberland, with responsibility for missions.

In summer 1865 the Hunters returned to England. Jean continued to publish hymns in Cree, and James continued to work for the CMS until 1867, when he became vicar of St Matthew’s Church, Bayswater, London, where he was very popular and a new church had to be built to accommodate the worshippers. In 1875 SPCK published his study on the grammar of Cree.

James Hunter died in London in 1882. After her husband’s death, Jean moved to West Hartlepool, in County Durham, England to live with her son Charles, who had also arrived from Canada. She died in 1910. Their tombstone in Highgate Cemetery, London, bears this tribute: “By their joint labours they gave the Bible and the Prayer Book in their native tongue to the Cree Indians of Northwest America.”

Scripture Portions

Portions of the Bible were translated into Plains Cree by James and Jean Hunter. The first publication in Roman characters, was the Gospel of Matthew by James Hunter. This was published on the mission press in 1853. This was followed by the First Epistle of John (Nistum Oo Mamowe Mussina̔humakāwin John) translated by Jean Hunter in 1855. Most of these were reprinted by the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) in London whilst James Hunter was vicar of Bayswater: the Book of Psalms (David Oo Nikumoona), the Gospel of Mark (Oo Meyo Achimoowin St Mark) and the Gospel of John (Oo Meyo Achimoowin St John) were published in 1876. Matthew (Oo Meyo Achimoowin St Matthew) was published in 1877. Further selections of Scripture, including the Psalms, were published in the Prayer Book which was published in 1877.

Digital Edition

The Plains Cree portions published by BFBS and the selections from the Prayer Book were digitised with the help of MissionAssist for the Canadian Bible Society in 2021. 

British & Foreign Bible Society


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