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Indian Missions of the Middle Atlantic States

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The earliest mission establishment within this territory was that founded by a company of 8 Spanish Jesuits and lay brothers with a number of educated Indian boys, under Father Juan Bautista Segura, at “Axacan,” in Virginia, in 1570. The exact location is uncertain, but. it seems to have been on or near the lower James or Pamunkey River. It was of brief existence. Hardly had the bark chapel been erected when the party was attacked by the Indians, led by a treacherous native interpreter, and the entire company massacred, with the exception of a single boy. The massacre was avenged by Menendez two years later, but the mission effort was not renewed.

The next undertaking was that of the English Jesuits who accompanied the Maryland colony in 1633. The work was chiefly among the Conoy and Patuxent of Maryland, with incidental attention to the Virginia tribes. Several stations were established and their work, with the exception of a short period of warfare in 1639, was very successful, the principal chiefs being numbered among the converts, until the proscription of the Catholic religion by the Cromwell party in 1649. The leader of the Maryland mission was Father Andrew White, author of the often quoted “Relatio” and of a grammar and dictionary of the Piscataway (?) language.

The New York mission began in 1642, among the Mohawk, with the ministration of the heroic Jesuit captive, Father Isaac Jogues, who met a cruel death at the hands of the same savages 4 years later. During a temporary peace between the French and the Iroquois in 1653 a regular post and mission church were built at Onondaga, the capital of the confederacy, by permission of the league. The Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca invited and received missionaries. Much of their welcome was undoubtedly due to the presence in the Iroquois villages of large numbers of incorporated Christian captives from the destroyed Huron nation. The truce lasted but a short time, however, and before the summer of 1658 the missionaries had withdrawn and the war was again on. In 1666 peace was renewed and within a short time missions were again founded among all the tribes. In 1669 a few Christian Iroquois, sojourning at the Huron mission of Lorette, near Quebec, Canada, withdrew and formed a new mission settlement near Montreal, at a place on the St Lawrence known as La Prairie, or under its mission name, St Francois Xavier des Tres, the precursor of the later St Francois Xavier du Sault and the modern Caughnawaga. The new town soon became the rallying point for all the Christian Iroquois, who removed to it in large numbers from all the tribes of the confederacy, particularly from the Mohawk towns. There also gathered the Huron and other Christian captives from among the Iroquois, as also many converts from all the various eastern Algonquian tribes in the French alliance. To this period belongs the noted Jesuit scholar, Etienne de Carheil, who, arriving in 1666, devoted the remaining 60 years of his lift to work among the Cayuga, Huron, and Ottawa, mastering all three languages; and leaving behind him a manuscript dictionary of Huron radices in Latin and French.

In 1668 also a considerable body of Christian Cayuga and other Iroquois, together with some adopted Hurons, crossed Lake Ontario from New York and settled on the north shore in the neighborhood of Quinté Bay. At their request Sulpician priests were sent to minister to them, but within a few years the immigrant Indians had either returned to their original country or scattered among the other Canadian missions. In 1676 the Catholic Iroquois mission town of The Mountain was founded by the Sulpician fathers on the island of Montreal, with a well organized industrial school in charge of the Congregation sisters. In consequence of these removals from the Iroquois country and the breaking out of a new war with the Five Tribes in 1687, the Jesuit missions in New York were brought to a close. In the seven years’ war that followed, Christian Iroquois of the missions and heathen Iroquois of the Five Nations fought against each other as allies of French or English, respectively. The Mountain was abandoned in 1704, and the mission transferred to a new site at the Sault au Recollet, north of Montreal. In 1720 this was again removed to the Lake of Two Mountains (Oka, or Canasadaga) on the same island of Montreal, where the Iroquois were joined by the Nipissing and Algonkin, of the former Sulpician mission town of Isle aux Tourtes. Among the noted workers identified with it, all of the scholarly Sulpician order, may be named Revs. Déperét, Güen, Mathevet, 1746-81; De Terlaye, 1754-77; Guichart, Dufresne, and Jean Andre Cuoq, 1843-90. Several of these gave attention also to the Algonkin connected with the same mission, and to the Iroquois of St Regis and other stations. All of them were fluent masters of the Iroquois language, and have left important contributions to philology, particularly Cuoq, whose “Etudes philologiques” and Iroquois dictionary remain our standard authorities.

All effort among the villages of the confederacy was finally abandoned, in consequence of the mutual hostility of France and England. In 1748 the Sulpician Father Francois Picquet founded the new mission settlement of Presentation on the St Lawrence at Oswegatchie, the present Ogdensburg, N. Y., which within three years had a prosperous population of nearly 400 families, drawn chiefly from the Onondaga and Cayuga tribes. About 1756 the still existing mission town of St Francis Regis (St Regis), on the south side of the St Lawrence where the Canada New York boundary intersects it, was founded under Jesuit auspices by Iroquois emigrants front Caughnawaga mission. The Oswegatchie settlement declined alter the Revolution until its abandonment, in 1807. Caughnawaga, St Regis, and Lake of Two Mountains still exist as Catholic Iroquois mission towns, the two first named being the largest Indian settlements North of Mexico.

About the year 1755 the first mission in west Pennsylvania was established among the Delawares at Sawcunk, on Beaver River, by the Jesuit Virot, but was soon discontinued, probably on account of the breaking out of the French and Indian war.

Philology owes much .to the labor of these missionaries, particularly to the earlier Jesuit, Jacques Bruyas, and the later secular priest, Father Joseph Marcoux (St Regis and Caughnawaga, 1813, until his death in 1855), whose monumental Iroquois grammar and dictionary is the fruit of forty years’ residence with the tribe. Of Father Bruyas, connected with the Sault Ste Louis (Caughnawaga) and other Iroquois missions from 1667 until his death in 1712, during a part of which period he was superior of all the Canadian missions, it was said that he was a master of the Mohawk language, speaking it as fluently as his native French, his dictionary of Mohawk root words being still a standard. Father Antoine Rinfret, 1796-1814, has left a body of more than 2,000 quarto pages of manuscript sermons in the Mohawk language; while Rev. Nicolas Burtin, of Caughnawaga (1855- ), is an even more voluminous author.

The Lutheran minister, John Campanius Holm (commonly known as Campnius), chaplain of the Swedish colony in Delaware in 1643-48, gave much attention to missionary work among the neighboring Indians and translated a catechism into the Delaware language. This seems to have been the only missionary work in the Atlantic states by that denomination.

Under the encouragement of the English colonial government the Episcopalians, constituting the established Church of England, undertook work among the Iroquois tribes of New York as early as the beginning of the 18th century. In 1700 a Dutch Calvinist minister at Schenectady,. Rev. Bernardus Freeman, who had already, given sufficient attention to the Mohawk to acquire the language, was employed to prepare some Gospel and ritual translations, which formed the basis of the first booklet in the language, published in Boston in 1707. In 1712 the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent out Rev. William Andrews, who, with the assistance of a Dutch interpreter, Lawrence Claesse, and of Rev. Bernardus Freeman, translated and published a great part of the liturgy and some parts of the Bible 3 years later. The work grew and ex-tended to other tribes of the Iroquois confederacy, being especially fostered at a later period by Sir William Johnson, superintendent for Indian affairs, who had published at his own expense, in 1769, a new edition of the Episcopalian liturgy in the Mohawk language, the joint work of several missionaries, principal of whom was Rev. Henry Barclay. From this tune until 1777 the principal worker in the tribe was Rev. John Stuart, who translated the New Testament into Iroquois. On the removal of the Mohawk and others of the Iroquois to Canada, in consequence of the Revolutionary War, a new edition was prepared by Daniel Claus, official interpreter, and published under the auspices of the Canadian provincial government. In 1787 a new translation of the Book of Common Prayer, prepared by the noted chief, Joseph Brant (see Theyandanega), who had been a pupil of Wheelock’s school, in Connecticut, was published at the expense of the English Government. In 1816 another edition appeared, prepared by the Rev. Eleazer Williams, a mixed-blood Caughnawaga, sometimes claimed as the “Lost Dauphin.” Mr. Williams labored chiefly among the Oneida in New York. He was succeeded, about 1821, by Solomon Davis, who followed the tribe in the emigration to Wisconsin. The latter was the author of several religious books in the Oneida dialect, including another edition of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1837. In 1822 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, already noted, definitely transferred its operations to the Iroquois res., on Grand River, Ontario, where it still continues, its principal establishment being the Mohawk Institute, near Brantford. For this later period the most distinguished name is that of Rev. Abraham Nelles, chief missionary to the Six Nations of Canada for more than 50 years, almost up to his death in 1884. He was also the author of a translation of the Common Prayer, in which he was aided by an educated native, Aaron Hill.

Of less historic importance was the Munsee mission of Crossweeksung, near the present Freehold, N. J., conducted by Rev. David Brainerd for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in 1746-47.

In Virginia a school for the education of Indians was established in connection with William and Mary College, Williamsburg, about 1697, chiefly through the effort of Mr. Robert Boyle, and some Indians were still under instruction there as late as 1760. Some earlier plans to the same end had been frustrated by the out-break of the Indian war of 1622 (Stith). Under Gov. Spotswood a school was established among the Saponi about. 1712, but had only a brief existence. Both of these may be considered as under Episcopalian auspices.

In 1766, the Congregational minister Rev. Samuel Kirkland began among the Oneida of New York the work which he conducted with success for a period of nearly 40 years. The Stockbridge and Brotherton missions in New York and Wisconsin by the same denomination are properly a continuation of New England history, and are so treated in this article. To a later period belongs the Congregational mission among the Seneca of New York, maintained by Rev. Asher Wright from his first appointment in 1831 until his death in 1875. A fluent master of Seneca, he was the author of a number of religious and educational works in the language, besides for some years publishing a journal of miscellany in the same dialect.

The Friends, or Quakers, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, from their first coming among the Indians, had uniformly cultivated kindly relations with them, and had taken every opportunity to enforce the teachings of Christianity by word and example, but seem not to have engaged in any regular mission work or established any mission schools in either of these colonies.

As early as 1791 the noted Seneca chief, Cornplanter, impressed by the efforts of the Quakers to bring about a friendly feeling between the two races, requested the Philadelphia yearly meeting to take charge of three boys of his tribe for education, one of them being his own son. In 1796 the meeting began regular work among the Iroquois in New York by establishing three workers among the Oneida and the Tuscarora. These teachers gave first attention to the building of a mill and a blacksmith shop, the introduction of farm tools, and the instruction of the Indians in their use. The women were instructed in household duties, including spinning and weaving. A school was also commenced, and the work progressed until 1799, when, in consequence of the suspicions of the Indians as to the ultimate purpose, the Quakers withdrew, leaving all their working plant behind. In 1798, on invitation of the Seneca, they established a similar working mission on the Allegany res., and later at Cattaraugus and Tunesassah, with the good result that in a few years most of the bark cabins had given place to log houses, and drunkenness was almost unknown. They remained undisturbed through the war of 1812, at one time forestalling a smallpox epidemic by the vaccination of about 1,000 Indians, but were soon afterward called on to champion the cause of their wards against. the efforts at, removal to the west. In the meantime the New York meeting, about 1807, had started schools among the Stockbridge and Brotherton tribes from New England, then living in the Oneida country. Owing to the drinking habits of the Indians, but little result was accomplished. The removal of the Oneida and Stockbridge, about 1822, and the subsequent disturbed condition of the tribes brought about, first, the curtailment of the work, and afterward its abandonment, about 1843.

In 1740 the Moravian missionary, Christian Rauch, began a mission among the Mahican at Shecomeco, near the present Pine Plains, Dutchess County, N. Y., which attained a considerable measure of success until the hostility of the colonial government, instigated by the jealousy of those who had traded on the vices of the Indians, compelled its abandonment about 5 years later. During its continuance the work had been extended, in 1742, to the Scaticook, a mixed band of Mahican and remnant tribes settled just across the line, about the present Kent, Conn. Here a flourishing church was soon built up, with every prospect of a prosperous future, when the blow came. Some of the converts followed their teachers to the west; the rest, left without help, relapsed into barbarism. The Shecomeco colony removed to Pennsylvania, where, after a a brief stay at Bethlehem, the Moravian central station, a new mission, including both Mahican and Delawares, was established in 1746 at Gnadenhuetten, on Mahoning River, near its junction with the Lehigh. A chief agent in the arrangements was the noted philanthropist, Count Zinzendorf. Gnadenhuetten grew rapidly, soon having a Christian Indian congregation of 500. Missions were founded at Shamokin and other villages in east Pennsylvania, which were attended also by Shawnee and Nanticoke, besides one in charge of Rev. David Zeisberger among the Onondaga, in New York. The missionaries, as a rule, if not always, served without salary and supported themselves by their own labors. All went well until the beginning of the French and Indian war, when, on Nov. 24, 1755, Gnadenhuetten was attacked by the hostile savages, the missionaries and their families massacred, and the mission destroyed. The converts were scattered, but after some period of wandering were again gathered Into a new mission at Nain, near Bethlehem, Pa. On the breaking out of Pontiac’s war in 1763 an order was issued by the Pennsylvania government for the conveyance of the converts to Philadelphia. This was accordingly done, and they were detained there under guard, but attended by their missionary, Bernhard Grube, until the close of the war, suffering every hardship and in constant danger of massacre by the excited borderers.

On the conclusion of peace they established themselves on the Susquehanna at a new town, which was named Friedenshuetten, near the Delaware village of Wyalusing. In 1770 they again removed to Friedensstadt, on Beaver Creek, in west Pennsylvania, under charge of Zeisberger, and two years later made another removal to the Muskingum River, in Ohio, by permission of the western Delawares. By the labor of the missionaries, David Zeisberger, Bishop John Ettwein, Johannes Roth, and the noted John Heckewelder, who accompanied them to the west, the villages of Schoenbrunn and Gnadenhuetten were established in the midst of the wild tribes within the present limits of Tuscarawas County, the first named being occupied chiefly by Delawares, the other by Mahican. The Freidensstadt settlement was now abandoned. In 1776 a third village, Lichtenau (afterward Salem), was founded, and the Moravian work reached its highest point of prosperity, the whole convert population including about 500 souls. Then came the Revolution, by which the missions were utterly demoralized until the culminating tragedy of Gnadenhuetten, Mar. 8, 1782, when nearly 100 Christian Indians, after having been bound together in pairs, were barbarously massacred by a party of Virginia borderers. Once more the missionaries, Zeisberger and Heckewelder, gathered their scattered flock, and after another period of wandering, settled in 1787 at New Salem, at the mouth of Huron River, Lake Erie, north Ohio. A part of them settled, by invitation of the British Government, at Fairfield, or Moraviantown, on Thames River, Ontario, in 1790, under the leadership of Rev. Christian Dencke, while the rest were reestablished in 1798 on lands granted by the United States at their former towns on the Muskingum. Here Zeisberger died in 1808, after more than 60 years of faithful ministry without salary. He is known to philologists as the author of a grammar and dictionary of the Onondaga, besides several smaller works in the Delaware language.

The mission, by this time known as Goshen, was much disturbed by the War of 1812, and the subsequent settlement of the country by the whites so far demoralized it that in 1823 those then in charge brought it to a close, a small, part of the Indians removing to the west, constituting the present Munsee Christians in Kansas, while the remainder joined their brethren in Ontario, Canada. The latter, whose own settlement also had been broken up by the events of the same war, had been gathered a few years before into a new town called New Fairfield, by Rev. Mr. Dencke, already mentioned, who had also done work among the Chippewa. Dencke died in retirement in 1839, after more than 40 years of missionary service, leaving as his monument a manuscript dictionary of the Delaware language and minor printed works, including one in Chippewa. The Moravian mission at New Fairfield was kept up for a number of years after his death, but was at last discontinued, and both the “Moravians” and the “Munsees” of the Thames are now credited officially either to the Methodist or to the Episcopal (Anglican) church.

The Munsee who had removed with the Delawares to Kansas were followed a few years later by Moravian workers from Canada, who, before 1840, had a successful mission among them, which continued until the diminishing band ceased to be of importance. Among the workers of this later period may be named Rev. Abraham Luckenbach, “the last of the Moravian Lenapists,” who ministered to his flock during a 3 years’ sojourn in Indiana, and later in Canada, from 1800 to his death in 1854, and was the author of several religious works in the language. Dencke, founder of the Thames River colony, was also the author of a considerable manuscript religious work in the language and probably also of a grammar and dictionary.

Another Moravian missionary, Rev. John C. Pyrlaeus, labored among the Mohawk from 1744 to 1751, and has left several manuscript grammatical and devotional works in that and the cognate dialects, as also in Mahican and Delaware. For several years he acted as instructor in languages to the candidates for the mission service. Rev. Johannes Roth, who accompanied the removal to Ohio in 1772, before that time had devoted a number of years to the work in Pennsylvania, and is the author of a unique and important religions treatise in the Unami dialect of the Delaware.

A remarkable testimony to the value of the simple life consistently followed by the Moravians is afforded in the age attained by many of their missionaries in spite of all the privations of the wilder-ness, and almost without impairment of their mental faculties, viz: Pyrleus, 72 years; Heckewelder, 80; Ettwein, 82; Zeisberger, 87, and Grebe, 92.


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