Location: Fort Coffee

Fort Coffee Academy for Boys

On the first day of October, 1844, the second session of the Academy opened with about thirty students in attendance, a few not having yet returned. Mr. Brigham was employed as an assistant teacher. He was an Irishman, having been born and educated in the city of Dublin, and was, by profession, a druggist. His education was good; he was intelligent and gentlemanly and had once been a member of the Presbyterian Church. Our school was full, not one of the old pupils failing to return. They manifested very great pleasure at meeting us and in getting back to the regular round of school duties. A few of the lads were accompanied by friends, fathers or brothers, mounted on their ponies, while not a few had walked, carrying their provisions and camping by the roadside at night. The friends who came as visitors all remained several days, resting themselves and horses, and witnessing the mysteries of the school-room. Indians are seldom in haste, and never in a hurry to quit a place where grazing is abundant and provisions ample and free. We encouraged them to remain sufficiently long to become favorably impressed with the Academy and so carry back a good report of the institution. Every man who came into the recitation room took occasion to make a speech to the lads; they, no doubt, gave much sage counsel,...

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New School System

It will be remembered that at the session of the General conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in the month of May, 1840, four Secretaries, or agents, were appointed to serve under the direction of the Missionary Board of our Church, Rev. E. R. Ames was appointed to the western portion of the work. The Secretaries were expected to travel extensively, to address the Churches on the subject of missions, to labor to arouse the people to a sense of their duty, to learn the wants of the destiĀ­tute, and to devise means for the support of such new missions as the parent Board should feel authorized to establish. The office involved immense responsibilities, no less than herculean labor. The western Secretary, after carefully consulting the map of his field, determined to explore the entire western frontier from the northern lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. A faithful history of that prospecting tour would of itself be a volume of intense and thrilling interest. Mr. Ames left his family at his residence, in Greencastle, Indiana, and, traveling by coach to St. Louis, he took passage on a steamboat bound for the upper Mississippi. He ascended the river to the head of steam navigation, visiting the frontier settlements and all the Indian tribes on the tributaries of the Mississippi. As there were Indians located further up, and near the sources...

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Settlement with Superintendent

On the tenth day of May I had a final settlement with Rev. L. B. Stateler, the acting Superintendent of our mission, with the intention of quitting the territory as soon as a steamboat should ascend the river as high as Fort Coffee. We could not conscientiously remain in the south after the division of the Church. Before the separation, while the Methodist Episcopal Church was a unit, with a Scriptural and conservative platform, bearing an emphatic testimony against the “great evil of slavery,” and looking forward to its “extirpation,” we could labor heartily and conscientiously in fellowship with our southern brethren. But when required to abandon the old landmarks, and stand upon a new platform, or return to the north, the path of duty was clear. We determined to remain in the Methodist Episcopal Church; for it was impossible for us to pronounce the Shibboleth which was the only password that could gain access to the public sentiment of the south. We durst not remain in communion with a Church which claims that ” slavery is right per se;” that it is an “Abrahamic institution.” We felt that we must withdraw from a communion which will not, or dares not say a word in condemnation of an institution which utterly ignores the marriage relation, and, per sequence, tolerates and sanctions polygamy, bigamy, adultery, and promiscuous concubinage. After closing...

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Death in the Mission

On the twenty-fifth day of March, James Wathin, a lad of about ten years of age, died of pneumonia. The disease had prevailed in our family for a number of weeks, and James had suffered severely with it, but had partially recovered from his attack, and we thought him out of danger. But owing perhaps to imprudence he suffered a relapse, from which we could not raise him; the physician did all that he could, but without success. When we saw that the lad must die, we sent for his father, whose name was Beelah, and who resided near the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, thirty, miles distant. But James had died, was in his coffin, and we were ready to bury him when Beelah arrived. We were waiting that the father might be present when the son was buried. But Beelah came prepared to take the corpse home, to perform the funeral rites according to the ancient custom of his fathers. We did all in our power to change his purpose, but without effect; he remained firm in his determination to take the remains to his home and perform the burial services according to the customs of the tribe in their earlier and more palmy days. Finding that arguments and entreaties would avail nothing, we assembled the students in the chapel, read a portion of Scripture, sung and prayed, gave a...

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Choctaw Wedding

Mrs. H., a Choctaw woman, has just sent a servant to ask if we would be willing to attend a wedding at her house; her youngest daughter was about to be united in wedlock to a fine young Indian, who was serving as a clerk in a dry-goods store at the Agency. As we expressed our pleasure at being her guests on the eventful occasion, Mrs. H. sent us horses and saddles, and a servant to conduct us to her residence. We found a multitude of people assembled to witness the ceremonies. Mrs. H’s dwelling consisted of two square rooms, built of logs, and standing separate, leaving a space of ten or twelve feet between them, which served as a hall or court. There were porches in front and rear of the buildings. The invited guests occupied the hall and porches, while the lower class of natives, who were prompted by curiosity to be present, were scattered about the yards, seated upon the ground, and smoking their pipes in silence; they had never witnessed the marriage ceremonies solemnized by a minister. At nine o’clock the bridal party were marshaled upon the front porch; friends held lighted candles, the natives swarmed about the yard, and then, in duo form, according to the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the nuptials were celebrated. It was probably the first instance in which...

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Life Among the Choctaw Indians

Henry Benson worked as a missionary amongst the Choctaw at the Fort Coffee Academy for Boys in the mid 1800’s. In this manuscript he depicts the formation of the Academy and missionary amongst the Indians, providing valuable insight into the tribal customs of the Choctaw after they had been forcibly moved to the Indian Territory. He also provides glimpses into the lives of westerners before the Civil War in the south-west.

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