Miss Mary Thayer Labors as a Missionary Teacher

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In the year of 1850 there was another school house built by the natives under the proposition of Miss Mary J. F. Thayer. I have here a brief history of her labors among the Tuscarora, from her own writings, which is very interesting, to wit:

At the invitation of Rev. G. Rockwood (then the ordained missionary at Tuscarora) Miss M. J. F. Thayer commenced her labors among the Tuscarora as teacher on April 30, 1849, in the old school-house opposite Mr. Rockwood’s house, receiving from the American Board one dollar and fifty cents per week, besides her board. There were but few scholars, and these were very irregular in their attendance. Miss T. visited the parents and tried to get them interested. She finally came to the conclusion that time and money were thrown away on that little day school, and drew up a paper, which was read to the Tuscarora at their New Year’s feast, January 1, 1850, in which she detailed her plans and wishes, asking their aid in executing them. Their response was cordial and hearty. They resolved to build a new school-house; the site was selected on a corner near Isaac Miller’s, and the people, as one man, went to work with great alacrity, under the leadership of one of their chiefs, Wm. Mt. Pleasant, and had, before the next New Year’s, a snug house, 18 x 24 feet, well finished, furnished with two stoves, and a large pile of wood prepared. Miss Thayer commenced teaching at the new station (which she was pleased to call Mt. Hope) Jan. 14, 1851, having forty scholars the first day. On Saturday, Jan. 12, before school began, a church meeting was held at the new station. There were thirty persons present, and they voted to hold prayer meetings there every Wednesday evening.

Feb. 20 Miss T. wrote “Fifty is the average attendance at school.

Scholars happy and bright and very eager to learn Nearly every one has bought a new spelling book. The prayer meetings are well attended; Sabbath evenings there are fifty present, Wednesdays, thirty. They conduct these meetings without their pastor, usually. Christians are being revived; there is an increasing spirit of prayer: the women have begun to pray; we had a precious meeting last Sabbath evening.”

In March there was a great deal of sickness (typhoid fever), of which several died. The school was interrupted for a few days.

May 2, she wrote “My school flourishes. It is difficult to say which seem the happier, the children or their teacher. I have five little girls boarding with me. As the ‘boarding school fund’ is exhausted, I am obliged to meet all the expenses from my own allowance” It might be stated that Miss Thayer never received a “formal appointment” from the American Board, because her health was so poor, but she was employed and paid by them. After she went to the new schoolhouse they paid her one hundred and fifty dollars a year, and she found everything. By “boarding school fund” is meant money received by Miss Thayer from friends of hers who were interested in her work and sent her, from time to time, small sums of money and sometimes articles of food and clothing for the children, deficiencies she met from her own allowance.

Thus the work went on. Several children were anxious to become inmates of the teacher’s family. Celia Green, Elizabeth Cusick, Ann and Mary Henry, Susan Patterson and Sarah Mt. Pleasant were the favored ones.

Sept. 10, 1851, Miss T. wrote “My school is small now, owing to the prevalence of the measles. The little girls living with me being attacked, their mothers have taken them home.” Under the same date adds “Two weeks ago I passed a sleepless night, contemplating the deplorable condition of the young people here, agonizing and with tears wrestling in prayer for them. Last week I learned that three young women had decided to forsake there evil ways, repenting of their sins, and looking to Jesus for salvation. Two of them came forward at the church meeting last Saturday, and offered themselves as candidates for admission to the church. One of the young women stayed with me last Sabbath night (this was Louisa Henry). She gave evidence of a change of heart. May many more be led to a saving knowledge of the truth.”

Writing again to her father, (these extracts are all from letters to her father), Dec. 8, 1851 “It would do your heart good to look in upon my little family my little ones so confiding affectionate and happy. My heart has again been made glad by the conversion of one of my older pupils, an interesting youth of seventeen. He and the two young women mentioned in a former letter united with the Church at our last communion. I wept for joy at these tokens of the presence of a prayer- answering God.”

Jan. 1, 1852 “Attended the New Years’ feast to-day. Told the people of my plans for building an addition to the schoolhouse, so that I might take more children into my family. They adjourned to the Council-house, and will talk over my propositions there this evening.”

Jan. 3 “The church meeting to-day was very interesting. Five young women offered themselves to the church, were examined and accepted. Most of them state that they found the Savior last summer. As near as I can learn from their statements it was at the very time when I was so exercised in their behalf. For some time I agonized in prayer; then I became calm, and felt assured that my prayer was heard and would be granted.”

Jan. 4, Sabbath “An interesting day. Never saw so many of the Tuscarora present at a religious meeting. Some one who counted them stated that there were nearly one hundred and forty, and all seemed serious and attentive. Bro. B’s discourse in the forenoon was full of instruction to the young converts. In the afternoon the young women examined yesterday were received into the Church. Eight children were baptized, and the sacrament administered. In the evening I repaired to the council house, where the sacrament was again administered, on account of an aged sister, nearly one hundred years old, too infirm to go to the meeting-house.”

Jan. 5 “Commenced school to-day with twenty-five scholars; have seven girls boarding with me; my little house is too small, but I hope soon to enlarge it, as the Tuscaroras give encouragement that they will take hold and help about building. They hold another council to-day to make necessary arrangements.”

Jan. 6 “A committee of chiefs called on me this morning, and advised me to accept the thirty dollars offered by Mr. E. S. Ely, of Checktowga; it would be needed to purchase the fine lumber, which they can buy cheaper in Canada than in the States. Tomorrow they will turn out with their teams and draw logs to mill for the coarse lumber, and next week they will go to Canada for the fine lumber, which Mr. Mt. Pleasant will prepare. When all things are ready they will frame the building, enclose and shingle it.”

Jan. 12, 1852 “Louisa Henry, who seems to be in the last stages of consumption, has been with me since New Year’s; is failing fast; told me when she came that she expected to die soon, and wished to spend her last days with me; does not fear death; takes great delight in prayer and reading the Bible; the 23d Psalm is her favorite portion.”

Jan. 14 “At an inquiry meeting this evening, as Bro. R was absent, I conversed with those who came; explained the parable of ‘The Prodigal Son’ making personal application; three young persons requested prayers; one was only ‘almost persuaded;’ the other two expressed their determination to begin a new life at once; invited Elias Johnson and his brother James to stop after school for a season of prayer: they were both rejoicing in their newly-found Savior, and poured out their souls in fervent prayer; my soul is filled with joy.”

Jan. 19 “Feel quite worn out; thought Louisa dying; watched with her all night; sent for her aunt, who will watch with her to-night.”

Jan. 21 “Bro. R. called; decided to send the little ones home; close school for a few days, and take Louisa to the mission house.”

Jan. 25 “Louisa’s aunt took her home at the instance of the Chiefs, who did not like to have the school interrupted.”

Jan. 26 “Louisa died to-day; her sufferings are over; her happy spirit is doubtless with the ransomed above.”

Jan. 27 “Attended L’s funeral.”

Jan. 28 “Returned to the school-house, where we had an inquiry meeting in the evening; about fifty present, of whom one-half seem seriously inquiring the way to be saved; I conversed with the females; found five indulging a hope; others greatly distressed on account of their sins. Within a few months there have been twenty hopeful conversions.”

Jan. 31 “Met the sisters according to appointment; there was some earnest wrestling with God; had conversation with one who, for many years, has been a backslider, but thinks she has now returned to God.”

Feb. 4 “At the inquiry meeting many were present; several indulging a hope; deep feeling, but no excitement.”

Feb. 7 “At the church meeting thirty-two candidates were examined for admission to the church.”

Feb. 8 “Sabbath; ninety Tuscarora in attendance upon divine services; a most solemn assembly.”

Feb. 12 “An interesting young converts’ prayer-meeting.”

Feb. 13 “My children all have the whooping cough.”

Feb. 14 “Detained from church meeting by the sick children.”

Feb. 15 “Sabbath; detained from church; though I am much confined by home duties, the work of the Lord prospers; Bro. R. is very faithful, and the Lord crowns his labors with great success. He now numbers fifty new converts; has united several couple in lawful marriage; many drunkards seem to be reclaimed; twelve of my Bible-class have found the Savior; so have three of the little girls that have boarded with me and ten of my day scholars.”

Feb. 17 “I was afraid that I should have to stop teaching and devote myself to the care of my sick children, but their friends took them home last Saturday; it seemed lonesome without them, but little Elizabeth, who seems to love me with all her little heart, cried so much to come back that they could not keep her at home; she is with me now and seems quite happy. Have written to Secretary Treat, urging that Bro. Rockwaod be permitted to remain here; none could be more active and efficient than he now is.”

Feb. 24 “So many children have the whooping-cough that but few attend school. I, also, have a most troublesome cough, and find it difficult to teach; should have to give up if my school was very large, as I have fits of coughing just like the whooping-cough.”

March 4 “My brother in Buffalo sent the sash and doors for my boarding-house; the building is going forward. Miss Howe writes that she will come to my assistance if I need her.”

March 7 “Communion season forty additions to the church. The old man of seventy and the youth of fourteen bowed together to receive the ordinance of baptism. A scene that angels might rejoice to behold.”

March 8 “Have written to Miss Howe to come on, my health being very poor. Have obtained leave of absence for a few weeks, or months, if I should find it expedient to go on to New York to Dr. Nichols’ Medical Institute.”

March 11 “Several calls from my Tuscarora friends. They are very loath to have me leave, even for a short time, and it is a sore trial for me.”

March 13 “Arrived at my father’s in Lancaster, N. Y.”

March 18 “Wrote in my journal, ‘still at my father’s,’ but thinking continually of my dear Tuscarora children. May I soon be restored to them, invigorated both in body and mind.”

March 23 “Quite unwell; cannot tell how long I shall have to stay away from my school.”

April 26 “Left Lancaster for Tuscarora.”

Mt. Hope, Tuscarora, April 28, 1852 “Once more in my own sweet home, greeted by the sparkling eyes and smiling faces of my dear children. Found Miss Howe nearly worn out and glad to be relieved. “There have been several deaths during my absence some among my scholars. Several calls this evening from my adopted people, who seem so glad to see me.”

April 29 “Resumed my duties in the school-room.”

May 1 Sabbath “Rising early went on foot with my little girls, though the road was muddy, reached the meeting house before 9 A. M., in time for Sunday-school, sacrament in the afternoon. Five received into the church three of them my scholars. So thankful to be once more with my beloved Tuscarora.”

May 18 “Have had to relinquish my school again to Miss Howe, I am too feeble for school duties.”

June 22 “A week ago yesterday almost the whole nation turned out to help at the “raising.” The excitement of the day was so great that I could sleep but little that night; so happy! The Lord be praised. How mountains of difficulties have vanished. The Tuscarora are doing nobly; but, besides their work, to finish and furnish all will require about four hundred dollars; this will take all my funds, but when I need more, I know that the Lord will provide. Have already expended nearly one hundred dollars, yet, I trust there will be no lack. Donations are coming in from various quarters.”

July 23 “How different my labors this summer from those of last winter. Unable to teach, have given my school to another; nor, am I able to visit much among the people. Occupy my time chiefly in taking care of my little girls, teaching them to sew, and preparing bedding for my contemplated boarding school; thankful that I may do a little, though I long to do more.”

Sept. 3 “Being unable to teach, and thinking that I might do more good here, if ever, to study medicine, having consulted my friends and Mr. Treat, I shall go to Philadelphia to attend medical lectures. Have bade adieu to my humble home, not to return before next February.”

Miss Thayer returned from Philadelphia in February, 1853. Miss Mary Walker had taught the school during her absence. Shortly after her return to Mt. Hope, Miss Abigail Peck and Miss Cinderella Britto arrived, the former to teach school, the latter to assist in housework, Miss Thayer to have general supervision as matron of the boarding school. The American Board doubled their appropriation, so that each one of the ladies were to receive one hundred dollars a year, and find their own board. Miss Thayer taking it upon herself to meet the other expenses of the school. Timely donations in money were received from Philadelphia, Brooklyn and New York, and various small sums; also boxes of clothing and some provision from friends in neighboring towns.

March 23 Miss Thayer writes: “Have received one hundred dollars from the Sunday school in Mr. Barnes’ church, for my building; have hired two carpenters to do the inside work, it having been framed, shingled, enclosed, and most of the lathing done, by the Tuscarora. My health is failing again and my mind much racked with planning, as my associates each want a separate room for their own private use, I have been obliged to vary from my original plan so as to secure pleasant rooms for them with chimneys for stoves.”

May 7 “The building goes forward rather slowly, and my associates are becoming somewhat impatient on account of the delay; yet we shall have a better finished and more commodious house than I had at first planned. Though very much worn both in body and mind, I do not regret having undertaken the work. Am more and more convinced that the only hope for the moral and physical well-being of the Tuscarora is to train up the children in the way they should go. The work is begun, and the Lord is able to carry it forward, either with or without me.”

Miss Thayer’s health continued poor and she took a vacation of four weeks, in the summer, leaving her associates in charge. Then wrote to Mr. Treat that she should be obliged to give up the management of financial affairs, and asking them to assume the responsibility.

To confer with him on the subject, Mr. Treat requested Mr. Rockwood, Miss Thayer and her associates to meet him in Buffalo, where he would stop on his way to the meeting of the American Board at Cincinnati. The result of the conference: The boarding school was transferred to the immediate care of the Board, with Mr. Rockwood as Superintendent; the ladies to retain their respective positions teacher, house-keeper and matron. From this time Miss Thayer felt greatly fettered, and the impression grew upon her that her presence was not desired at Mt. Hope; that her usefulness there was at an end. Long and prayerfully did she weigh the matter, and at last, though it nearly broke her heart, she asked to be dismissed from the field. Her request was granted, and Miss Thayer closed her labors at Mt. Hope, December 31, 1853, and longed to die . It was the saddest day of her life, the bitterest trial she ever experienced, this giving up all her hopes of usefulness among her beloved Tuscarora. She knew not whither to go; could not tell the people what she had done.

Samuel Jacobs was going to Cattaraugus, and Miss Thayer went with him, hoping the Lord would give her work to do there. Engaged temporarily in teaching, was there until the latter part of July, 1854; in August applied to the Presbyterian Board for an appointment as missionary teacher for one of their schools among the Southwestern Indians, which was granted, and she was sent to the Chickasaws, in the Indian Territory; arrived there in November, 1854; labored among the Chickasaws, Creeks and Choctaws until September, 1865, when again broken down in health, she reluctantly gave up the work of a missionary teacher, and returned to her father’s house in Bristol, Wis., accompanied by her husband, (Theodore Jones), and her three young children (two sons and a daughter). She has since resided in Bristol, Wis., on the farm given to her by her father and brothers, a quiet, pleasant home. Her children are growing up in the fear of the Lord, having all of them, five years ago, (in April, 1873), united with the Congregational church in Bristol. Although she has not the means to give them a liberal education, she hopes that they will be useful workers in the Lord’s vineyard.

Mrs. Jones often thinks of her beloved Tuscarora, and would gladly visit them if it were not for the expense of such a journey.

Mrs. Jones has culled the material for the foregoing pages from numerous letters written to her father, from Tuscarora, and also made extracts from her private journal, kept whilst at Tuscarora, and she gives Elias Johnson leave to embody such portions of it in his history of the Tuscarora as shall best suit his purpose. She sends herewith Mr. Treat’s reply to her request to be released from the work at Mt. Hope; also a letter written by the Tuscarora chiefs, representing her departure from their people.”

“Mrs. Mary J. E, Jones, “February 22, 1878. “Bristol, Wis.”

To Elias Johnson, Tuscarora.



MLA Source Citation:

Johnson, Elias. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, New York: Union Printing and Publishing Co. 1881. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 22 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/miss-mary-thayer-labors-as-a-missionary-teacher.htm - Last updated on Jun 4th, 2013


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