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Narrative of Stephen Morse’s 1822 Trip
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In fulfillment of the foregoing commission, I left New Haven on the 10th of May 1820, with my youngest son, Mr. Richard C. Morse, for my companion, and travelled to the northwest, as far as Green Bay, in the N. W. Territory; a distance, the way we travelled, of 1500 miles. We passed in Steamboats to New York and Albany; thence to Utica in the stage; to Montezuma, ninety-six miles, on the new Canal; thence to Buffalo by stage; thence across Lake Erie to Detroit, and thence to Mackinaw, in the Steam-Boat Walk-in- the-water; thence to L’Arbre Croche, thirty-six miles, in birch canoes; thence to Green Bay, in the U. S. Cutter Dallas, Capt. Knapp; and returned home to New Haven on nearly the same route, where we arrived on the 30th of August, after an absence of nearly four months. To the Great Preserver of men, we would devoutly render the tribute of praise due to Him, for his goodness manifested in our preservation and prosperity.
In New York, we remained four days, making preparations for the journey; in Albany two days, for the same purpose; in Canandaigua one day, where I had an interview with J. Parrish, Esq. Indian agent. A council of the Six Nations had been appointed the 1st of June, which I was expected to attend. As, however, the Steam-Boat for Detroit was to depart the 31st May, and the omission to take that opportunity, would delay us a fortnight, deranging all my plans for the west, I left a hasty speech with the Agent, and Rev. Mr. Hyde, to be communicated to the Council,1 and embarked in the Steam-Boat.
At Detroit we spent twelve days. Here is concentered a variety and abundance of valuable information concerning the Indians, out of which I endeavored to collect whatever related to the various topics specified in my commission.
At Mackinaw, at the military establishment of that Island, we spent sixteen days: from the 17th of June, to the 3d of July, in the family of the Commandant of this post, Capt. Pierce, where we received the kindest attention. Probably there is no situation of more importance to the government of the United States, in promoting the civilization of the Indians, than Mackinaw.2
The contemplated removal of this Military Post, or the principal part of the establishment, to the Saut of St. Mary’s, near Lake Superior, to prepare the way for which a purchase has been made of a proper site for such an establishment,3 will furnish another very advantageous station for planting an Education Family, whose influence, in connexion with that of Mackinaw, through the medium of the thousands of Indians, and that of the Traders, who annually resort to these stations, may be extended over the whole of the wide territories, bordering on the largest of our Lakes.
At L’Arbre Croche, to which place we were accompanied by Col. George Boyd, the Indian agent at Mackinaw, with his interpreter, Mr. Graverod, we spent a day and a night, in which time Col. Boyd held a Treaty in behalf of the Government of the United States, with the Chiefs of that part of the Ottawa Indians, who reside here, for the purchase of the Martin Islands,4 which are in the vicinity of Mackinaw. Afterwards I held a conference with them on the subjects of my mission.5
At Green Bay we remained fifteen days, from the 7th, to the 23d of July, in the hospitable family of Col. J. Smith, Commandant at the military post in this place. Green Bay may vie with Mackinaw in its importance, as a place adapted to carry into effect the benevolent plans of the Government in reference to the Indians. This place, and Prairie du Chien, will probably be the future capitals of the N. W. Territory, which is now without any white population, except the garrisons of the U. States, and a few families of mingled French and Indian blood, settled around them. This, therefore, is a country well adapted for the development of a project to be submitted in its place in this Report. An Education Family, in connexion with the military posts, at each of these two stations, would have a commanding influence on many populous and powerful Indian Tribes, whose influence again would be great, if not controlling, over other large tribes inhabiting along the northern border of the United States, westward, even to the Pacific Ocean. The information which was collected at Green Bay, and the other places above mentioned, will be detailed in the Appendix to this Report.6
We found the Winebagoes and Menominees, who live on Winebago Lake, Fox River, and near Green Bay, in a state of considerable agitation; the former in consequence of the recent murder of two of our men, at Fort Armstrong, by two of their young warriors; the latter, on account of an unauthorized treaty, professedly in behalf of the Government of the United States, which the Indian agent had just concluded with the Menominees, for the purchase of a large tract of their most valued land, on both sides of Fox River.7 Nearly all the real, acknowledged, chiefs of the nation were strongly opposed to the sale of this land, which they very justly considered, as the most valuable part of their territory. Divisions and contentions immediately succeeded this sale, between those who signed, and those who were opposed to the treaty, one immediate consequence of which was, the murder, while we were at Green Bay, of one of the signers of the treaty. Happily, and for the honor of the Government, and for the union and peace of this tribe, this treaty, after a statement of the facts in the case to the President, was not submitted by him to the Senate, and has not been ratified. The joy expressed by these poor Indians, on receiving intelligence that this treaty was not to go into effect, was correspondent to the extreme grief and depression, which they had previously felt.8
From all the officers at the several military posts, Superintendants of Indian affairs, Indian agents, Factors, and their interpreters, and the Missionaries and teachers among the tribes we visited; from the Clergy and respectable officers of Government and citizens, in the places in which lay our rout and principal business, we received every desirable civility, kindness and prompt assistance in accomplishing the objects of the Government. The Indians, also, treated us, without a single exception, with much respect and attention, and listened, with their usual politeness, to my communications, as the representative of their great father, the President. Were it not that they are too numerous to be recited, and that it would be invidious to omit any, it would be gratifying to our feelings, to give the names of those who, for the government’s sake, from regard to the cause in which we were embarked, as well as for our own sakes, showed us this respect and kindness.
It is a circumstance of regret, that Governor Cass, Superintendant of Indians in the Michigan Territory, from whom I had expected to receive much assistance and information, had, just before our arrival at Detroit, departed on his N. W. Expedition. The disappointment, however, was rendered as little inconvenient to us as possible, by the politeness and ready assistance of Lieut. Gov. Woodbridge, Major General Macomb, and many other respectable gentlemen of this city.
We were favored on our way with the company of gentlemen of high consideration and intelligence, from whom was derived, not only the usual social gratifications, but much information relative to the object of my mission. We were so fortunate as to be on our way, when Governor Clinton, General S. Van Rensselaer, and other gentlemen, Commissioners, were going to visit the Grand Erie Canal9 and enjoyed their company for three or four days, during our ride from Albany to Utica, and on the Canal, from Utica to MontezumaJudge Platt, also, was our fellow passenger to Utica – gentlemen, than whom none could do more, or could be more ready to do what they were able, to promote the views “of the Government; particularly in regard to the remnants of the Six Nations residing in the State of New-York.
In crossing Lake Erie, among other respectable passengers, we were gratified in finding the commissioners for settling the Northern boundary of the U. States; Maj. Gen. Peter B. Porter, and the Hon. Anthony Barclay, and the gentlemen associated with them; also Charles Stuart, Esq. of Malden, Upper Canada, who took a deep interest in the objects of my mission, and manifested an ardent desire that the British Government would co-operate with our own, in some general plan, that might he formed for the benefit of the Indians within the jurisdiction of both Governments. On this subject, of much importance, as will be shown hereafter, I conversed, at Detroit and Mackinaw, with several intelligent gentlemen, British subjects, who coincided with Mr. Stuart in their feelings and opinions. These conversations suggested the idea of the visit to Canada, which was made in the summer of 1821.
In the feeble state of my health, I felt it to be a peculiar smile of Providence, to be favored, as we were, from Canandaigua to Mackinaw, and during our stay at the latter place with the company of Dr. Beaumont, Post Surgeon of the 3d Regiment of the U. S. Army, a gentleman of much skill in his profession, and of most amiable and kind dispositions. To him, by means of his medical prescriptions and attentions, I feel indebted, under Providence, for the degree of health, which enabled me to fulfill my duties to the Government, probably even for my life.
On our passage from Detroit to Mackinaw, we had the pleasure of the company of Gen. Macomb, Col. Wool, (who, in his office of Inspector General, for. which he seemed peculiarly well fitted, was on his rout to visit and inspect the northern military posts) Capt. Crooks, and Mr. Stewart, and many other gentlemen of respectability. The two gentlemen_ last named, are intelligent members of the American S. W. Fur Company, conversant with Indians, and had both of them visited Columbia river, and travelled over land, one of them twice, through the wide region inhabited by the Aborigines on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, and on the head waters of the rivers, which pass into the Missouri, and of those which pass directly into the Mississippi. Probably no men have had opportunity to acquire so extensive and accurate a knowledge of this terra incognita of our country, as these two gentlemen; and what they had acquired, that was valuable to my object, they have communicated with great readiness and politeness, and also made me acquainted with several of their most intelligent agents, who had resided a number of winters among the interior tribes. From these sources, beside much information of other kinds, I received for my statistical table, the names, numbers, and places of residence, of many tribes, and of not a few. who had never before been visited by white people, and whose names, even, were not before known to us.
We endeavored to be useful on our way, when there was opportunity, without injury to the main object of my mission, by preaching to the troops of the U. States, at the several military posts which we visited, and at other destitute places, administering the ordinances of religion, and dispensing moral and religious instruction by the distribution of bibles and tracts, establishing Sabbath and other schools, Bible and Tract Societies, and laying foundations for a stated ministry of the Gospel, and the permanent support of schools for the education of the rising generation. Our efforts of this kind, I have reason to hope, have been crowned with the blessing of God, and will issue, at no distant period, in measures beneficial to many of the destitute, who otherwise would have been left to grow up in ignorance and vice.
I considered improvements of this kind, in these destitute places, as having an important bearing and influence on the benevolent project of the Government, in regard to the Indians; whose intercourse with these military posts, and with the inhabitants of these villages, is frequent and extensive. In these circumstances, good examples in the soldiers and citizens will be of much advantage to their Indian visitants. To make these soldiers and citizens good, of course, is doing good to the Indians. These observations apply with peculiar force to the inhabitants of Mackinaw and Green Bay, which places are regularly frequented by large numbers of the Indians, and in these places the establishments mentioned above were made.
I add, that the season was remarkably fine. We suffered no hindrance in our journey from unfavorable weather or any disaster. By the aid which I received, under a kind Providence, though my health was extremely feeble for a tour so extensive and of so much fatigue and responsibility, I was enabled to collect much information on the several topics specified in my commission. This will be found in as much order, as the nature of the several topics will admit, in the Appendix to this Report.
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