The First Hindu in America? Maybe…

From the diary of Rev. William Bentley of Salem, Mass. December 29, 1799:

Had the pleasure of seeing for the first time a native of the Indies from Madras. He is of very dark complection, long black hair, soft countenance, tall, & well proportioned. He is said to be darker than Indians in general of his own cast, being much darker than any native Indians of America. I had no opportunity to judge of his abilities, but his countenance was not expressive. He came to Salem with Capt. J. Gibaut, and has been in Europe.
It’s unclear what this man’s religious culture was. Still, that’s almost a century before Vivekananda. Just sayin’.

2 thoughts on “The First Hindu in America? Maybe…

  1. It is very likely that he was a Hindu, but probably not a practising one.Even today the population of Chennai (called Madras under British and Muslim rule) is over 80% Hindu. The life of a sailor crossing oceans at that time would have made following the daily rituals that a practising Hindu should follow impossible, so it would not have been an occupation of choice for a practising Hindu.


  2. Thanks for the great comment! I think you are spot on. Hind practice would have been very difficult while sailing around. Later in the 1820s and 1830s many Americans hoped Rammohun Roy would make the trip to the U.S. as “the first Hindu in America” and were saddened when he died in Great Britain. It’s intriguing to think of the difference between this anonymous man from Madras and the international fame of Rammohun and, later, Vivekananda.


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