William Sahgucheway was born on the Indian Reserve of Walpole Island about the year 1862, the exact date is not known. His father and mother both died eight or ten years ago, and since then he had lived with an uncle and aunt, of both of whom he was very fond. He had two younger brothers, but no sisters. One of the brothers, Elijah, was a pupil with William at the Shingwauk Home for two or three years. He left when the Home was temporarily closed in the spring of 1880, and before it had re-opened he had been called home to his Saviour. William felt the death of his little brother very deeply. In a letter dated June 4th he says, “Last Sunday my brother Elijah died: but now he is with Jesus and the angels. This text he had in his Bible. ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’ (Rev. xiv. 13); and also the Bible was dated May 30th, 1879. This is important to me, like if it were telling me how he died and when he died.”
William Sahgucheway came first to the Shingwauk Home on the 17th of June, 1875. I had paid a visit to Walpole Island that summer, and William was one who, in company with five or six other children, came back with me to Sault Ste. Marie. He was at that time a bright, intelligent looking lad of twelve or thirteen years of age, and being an orphan, he was made rather a special favourite from the first; the attachment grew, and soon the boy learned to look upon me as his father, and always commenced his letters “My dear Noosa” (father) when writing to me. William like the other boys in the Institution, was supported by the contributions of Sunday school children, and it was quite hoped that he would at no distant day have become a student at Huron Theological College.
William’s Indian name was “Wahsashkung”–shining light. A most appropriate name, for his presence always seemed to bring light and happiness; he was always so cheerful, so ready to help, so self-denying; grown people and little children were equally his friends. We always regarded that verse in Matt. v. as specially his verse,–”Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
William accompanied me on many of my travels. He was with me on the shores of Lake Neepigon in 1878, when that pagan tribe was discovered, who for thirty years had been waiting for a Missionary to come to them. He befriended the pagan boy, Ningwinnena, and taught him to pray and love his Saviour. And when the poor boy died at Christian, six months after entering the Institution, William was among those who knelt at his bedside and watched his last expiring breath. In 1879 William accompanied me to England, and while there wrote a little journal of his travels, extracts from which were published. Wherever he went he made friends, and many white people on both sides of the Atlantic will long remember his bright, intelligent face, his gentle voice, and kind obliging manner.
In the spring of 1880, when I was dangerously ill and my life despaired of, William was one of the few Indian boys who were privileged to come to my bedside, and the only one who was allowed to take turn in watching beside me at night; for whenever there was anything to be done requiring special effort or care, it was always William who was wanted, and William who was ready.
About three years before this time the dear boy became truly in earnest about religion, and dedicated his life to the Saviour. From his earliest boyhood he would appear to have been a child of grace, avoiding what was bad, with a desire to follow what was pure and good; but with nearly all followers of Christ there is probably some period in life which may be looked back to when the seeds of truth began more distinctly to germinate in the soul, and that blessed union with the Saviour, which is the joy of all true believers, was for the first time perhaps fully realized and felt. It was on the 23rd March, 1877, that this dear boy, William, after a long earnest talk, knelt down beside me and yielded his heart to the Saviour: “Tabaningayun Jesus, kemeenin ninda noongoom suh tebekuk, kuhnuhga kayahhe che tebanindezosewaun keen dush chetebanemeyun”–”Lord Jesus, I give my heart to Thee this night, no longer to belong to myself, but to belong to Thee.” I gave him a Bible the same evening, and it became his most valued treasure; on the first leaf is the verse, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out,” and on the last leaf, “God is love.”
I always tried to impress on those who had dedicated themselves to the Saviour’s service, that they should prove the fact of their union with Christ by working for Him and bearing fruit to the glory of His name. William seemed to be especially impressed with this, and rarely a week passed without his trying to exercise some influence for good among his companions. Many are the boys now in the Institution who can trace their first serious thoughts on their spiritual condition to his intercourse with them. In January, 1878, a boys’ prayer meeting was commenced weekly, and continued almost without interruption, except during holidays. The boys met on Wednesday evenings after prayers–quite by themselves–one read a portion of Scripture in his own language, and others offered a few words of simple prayer. It was due to William and one or two like-minded companions that these little gatherings were kept together, and there can be little doubt that much blessing resulted.
William used latterly to take notes of the sermons which he heard on Sundays.
And now we come to the last scenes of the dear boy’s life here on earth.
I had been away on a tour through the other dioceses, and William, as captain of the school, had additional duties devolving upon him during the principal’s absence. He had charge of the clothing store and had to give out clothing each week to the boys, and perform other duties requiring care and attention. The bodies of the late Bishop Fauquier and Mrs. Fauquier were expected shortly to arrive for interment in the Shingwauk cemetery, and preparations had to be made for this; the road to the cemetery, which was blocked in places by large boulders and old pine stumps, had to be cleared and levelled. William, of course, was called into service for this–no one could clear a road through a rough tract of land better than he. He was busy preparing for the spring examinations, and very anxious to be victor; but books were laid aside without a murmur, and he shouldered his pickaxe and shovel, and in company with two or three other big boys set cheerfully and heartily to work. It seemed strange that his last work on earth should be preparing this road to the cemetery along which his own body would be carried before those of the Bishop and Mrs. Fauquier arrived. That hard work, with taking a chill, was probably in some measure the cause of his death. He seemed very well on the Friday, the day on which I returned home, and joined the boys in offering a hearty welcome, but the following Sunday he seemed to be ailing, and on Monday, although he had come down to lessons, and was setting to work, he was trembling and scarcely able to stand. I recommended him to return to his room to bed, which he at once did, but it was very soon evident that a serious illness was setting in. An Indian woman was engaged to nurse him, and the doctor from the Sault attended him. For the first few days no great alarm was felt, and the pain seemed to in some measure subdued. No one would allow himself to imagine that death was so near. It was not until Friday evening, the 12th, that a decided change for the worse set in. He became very low and weak, with a slight tendency to delirium. We were all very anxious, and the Indian boys took turns watching at his bedside. On Sunday afternoon ten or twelve of the boys came up to his room for prayer. William, though very weak, and only able to say a few words at a time, asked permission to speak to them, and he spoke very earnestly for six or seven minutes in his own language; then we knelt and prayed–prayed with great earnestness that God, if it were His holy will, would permit our dear boy to recover. All Monday he was very ill. Our hopes were sinking. It scarcely seemed possible that the dear boy could live more than another day or two. We had much earnest prayer at his bedside, and the faintest signs of improvement were eagerly looked for. He was quite resigned to God’s will, wishing to recover if it were his Father’s will, or ready to die if the call had come. In the afternoon he seemed to realize that his end was drawing near. To one who visited him and remained a short time alone with him he said, “I should like to meet my little brother Elijah again; I do so love Elijah.” And after a pause he said, “I don’t think I shall live long, I am getting very weak.” “We all love you very much,” was replied, “we indeed wish to keep you with us, but God’s will must be done.” “Yes.” he said, “God’s will must be done. May be God will revive me, but I have no wish whether to live or die. I wish for what is God’s will.” “Is there anything you want?” was asked. “No–thank you,” he replied with great effort, then put his hand to his heart and slowly waved it upwards. “I shall soon be singing on the golden shore,” he said. To one of our little girls who came in he said, “Do you like to see me like this, Winnie?” “No,” said the little child, the tears trickling down her cheeks. “Perhaps I will get well again if it is God’s will,” he said, “but I don’t know.” To the carpenter, who had lost his wife only a few months before, he spoke very earnestly: “You see,” he said, “there is nothing to trouble me, nothing at all; God is love, this is all God’s love to me; may be God will take me away.” “Poor boy, poor, boy,” ejaculated the carpenter, with tears in his eyes, “how you are changed; how much you must have suffered.” “Oh, it is just nothing,” said William; “God is love, I can trust in Him: ‘the blood–of Jesus Christ–cleanseth us–from all sin.’”
I could hardly bear to speak to him of death,–it seemed to me as though he must live, that a change for the better would set in, and that the dear boy would revive. I repeated some passages of Scripture to him and knelt often for prayer. Many, indeed, were the earnest prayers that went up to the throne of grace for the boy’s recovery.
Between eleven and half-past he was left for the night in charge of two Indian boys, Kahgaug and Willis. They were to keep hot bricks to his hands and feet, and administer a stimulating mixture and nourishment, and at two o’clock their place would be taken by two other boys. Having been up a great part of the preceding night, I then retired to rest, to be called if there was any change for the worse.
Just at half-past two there came a knock at the door,–”William is worse; please come at once.”
I hurried up to the sick room as quickly as possible, but it was a moment too late–the dear boy had breathed his last. His hands were clasped on his breast, his eyes lifted to heaven, a smile just fading on his lips, and thus he had left the earth and gone to meet his Saviour. Three boys only were with him when he died–Wigwaus, Benjamin, and Davidans. We knelt together, and I offered up prayer, humbly commending the soul of the dear brother departed into the hands of Almighty God, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and most merciful Saviour.
A feeling of awe seemed to pervade the whole household when, at early dawn, the tolling of the school-bell told only too plainly that the beloved spirit had departed. Never was a boy more loved by his play-mates or more honoured and respected by his teachers. As he lived he died, trusting in the merits of an Almighty Saviour for his salvation.
On the evening of his death his dear form was laid by loving hands in the coffin, and some white flowers placed on his breast; the lid was drawn back a little, and on it were placed his Prayer-book, his Bible (open at I John iv.), a photograph of him in a frame, and a single wax taper. Then the folding doors leading into the back school-room were opened and the boys gathered around and sang the hymn he loved, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” Scarcely an eye was dry, and many a sigh was heaved, and many a sob broke the silence of the apartment as they came up one by one to look on the marble face of their dead companion, and to imprint a kiss on his cold brow. Many of the boys would not be satisfied with coming once; they came again and again, and some laid their faces down on his and sobbed. Several hymns were sung: “Here we suffer grief and pain,” “There is a happy land,” and “My God, my Father, while I stray,” and prayer also was offered.
The funeral was on Thursday, Ascension day, at nine o’clock in the morning. The coffin was brought into the school-room by six boys, who had been appointed pall-bearers, and I read the opening sentences of the burial service and special psalms and lessons; then, after a hymn, was the sermon, from I John iii. 2, “We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” and I read some extracts from William’s diary, which he had commenced keeping four years before; they show what the boy’s thoughts were and how near he lived to his Saviour.
_Jan_. 27, 1878.–”O Lord Jesus Christ, I have given my heart to Thee. I belong to Thee, and I want to work for Thee as long as I live. Give me Thy Holy Spirit in mine heart. May I not get cold and careless, but may I always be full of love to Thee. May I not be a dead branch, but may I bear much fruit to the glory of Thy name. Amen.”
_March_ 5.–”O Lord Jesus Christ, give me Thy Holy Spirit that I may be able to fight the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
_Oct_. 1.–”O God, I give my body unto Thee, and wherever you want me to go, I will go, and whatever you want me to do as long as I live, I shall do this for the name of Christ.”
_March_ 21, 1879.–”O Lord. I am trying to work for Thee. Am I trying to walk in the light every day? Am I going to serve God or serve the devil? Let me not think too much of the things of this world. Let me more think about the things of heaven. This is all,–for Christ’s sake.”
After another hymn had been sung, a procession was formed to the cemetery, and the dear boy’s body was laid in the grave, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection to eternal life.
There was one more duty to be performed on the return of the funeral party to the school-room, and that was to distribute some of the dear boy’s books and treasures to those who would specially value them. I took for my share the Bible which I had given him four years before, and an ancient arrow head, which he had dug up while making the road to the cemetery, and had laughingly remarked that he would keep it till he died. The rest of the things were packed in a box and sent home to his aunt.
Who shall estimate the amount of good done by this earnest whole-souled Indian boy during his short career? He sowed good seed, and we trust there may be an abundant harvest in the hearts and lives of the other boys. When asked how many of them had received special benefit by their intercourse with William, twenty boys rose to their feet. Many testified that they had been spoken to by him of the Saviour, others that they had been checked by him in doing something sinful, others, that he had talked or read or offered prayer with them. What a blessed testimony, that in a school of fifty-four boys, twenty should have been benefited by the example and teaching of one boy who loved the Saviour! May God the Holy Spirit bless this simple recital to the hearts of those who read it, and may other boys, whether white or Indian, be stirred in their souls to follow the example of this young soldier of the cross, and let their light shine before men as did this young Indian boy–Wahsashkung–Shining light–William Sahgucheway.