The First Quarterly Meeting at Fort Coffee Academy
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Near the close of December our first quarterly meeting was held at Fort Coffee. Revs. J. C. Parker, J. Harrel, and Andrew Hunter were present. At the recent session of the conference they had been appointed a committee to audit the books and accounts of our mission during the preceding year.
J. C. Parker was the presiding elder, but left on Monday morning without having held a quarterly conference; but in the evening we met in an upper room to organize and hold the first quarterly conference ever held in the northern district of the nation. The members present were W. H. Goode, preacher in charge, and H. C. Benson and John Page, assistant preachers. Mr. Goode took the chair as President, and H. C. Benson was appointed Secretary. We had neither stewards nor class-leaders; the usual questions were asked and answered, and the regular minutes were made and recorded.
Our goods had not yet arrived. Mr. Goode had written repeatedly to the merchant with whom they were stored, but had received no answer. It was finally determined that I should go in search and not return without them.
Accordingly, on the morning of the twenty-seventh of December, I set out on horseback for Fort Smith There I left my horse, to be returned to Fort Coffee, and took the coach for Little Rock, a distance of three hundred miles, and over a rough, rocky, and mountainous region of country. The coach halted to spend the night at the house of Dr. Williams, on Little Mulberry creek. The Doctor lived on a farm, and made an honest penny by keeping “private entertainment.” His family were intelligent members of the Presbyterian Church.
Passing through Ozark and Clarksville, the coach halted to spend the second night at the residence of the Honorable Samuel Adams. Mr. Adams was the Lieutenant-Governor of the state at the time, and soon after, upon the resignation of Governor Yell, became the acting Governor, and continued to fill the office up to the period of his death, which occurred about two years after that time.
Mr. Adams was a plain farmer, a man of irreproachable character, and with a sufficiency of good common sense to qualify him for the responsible post to which he had been called. It is doubtful whether Arkansas ever had a more honest or faithful officer than Samuel Adams.
Mrs. Adams was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. By the kindness of Governor Adams we were introduced to his family, and worshiped with them before retiring to our beds for the night; but just before retiring we accidentally learned that a small steamboat had been seen that day on the river,
near Pittsburg, and, from the description, it seemed quite probable that it was the Pulaski, a small boat, upon which we expected our goods to be shipped. Mr. Adams kindly offered the use of a negro servants and horses to take me to the river and ascertain whether or not the information was correct. The distance was not more than six or seven miles. The horses were saddled, and, with my faithful pilot, I soon galloped across the country to Pittsburg, and learned that the Pulaski had gone up with a considerable amount of furniture on board, and it was probably ours. So, returning to the Governor’s, I procured a fresh horse to ride across the country to Ozark, a distance of thirty miles. As the river was very low and the boat scarcely able to make any progress, and besides there was a bend which amounted almost to a semicircle, it was believed that I could reach Ozark before the arrival of the boat.
Mr. Adams resolutely declined accepting any compensation for the services of his boy and horses; but ” Sam,” nothing loth, accepted a gratuity, which fully indemnified him for the loss of a night’s sleep. Traveling at a brisk gait I reached Ozark several hours in advance of the Pulaski. She came, at length, with our goods on board, but the captain was not able to proceed any further. Two or three days were spent in fruitless efforts to pass over shoal-water just above Ozark, where the current was very rapid. Our goods were finally stored, and I was doomed to remain for a rise of the river; how long it would be none knew.
I dare not return without the goods; my instructions, at least, were to that effect. Suspense by the riverside waiting for a boat is always horrible, but to wait for rains and floods to swell a stream so as to render it navigable, amounts to agony. There were no indications of a rain, not even a cloud as big as a man’s hand; like “hope deferred it made the heart sick.”
Ozark was a little village on the north bank of the river, containing, perhaps, a hundred souls. It was the seat of justice for Franklin county; the little frame courthouse was one story, high and about sixteen feet square. It was all in one room, but there were dense thickets of brushwood to which juries might retire for deliberation while making up a verdict. The log jail was much more substantial, and altogether a better institution; it was well patronized. There was one hotel, kept by the sheriff, who was, also, keeper of the jail. There was a dry-goods store, kept by Mr. S., who had been a minister and once a member of the Memphis conference, but he had fallen. The little school was taught by a brother of an ex-governor of Tennessee. There was one law office, the proprietor of which was afterward honored with a seat in Congress. There were a few mechanic shops and an ample supply of groceries, at which liquors were dealt out with a liberal hand. There were very few families in the town; the men were mostly bachelors; a few had families in Mississippi and Tennessee. Not a few, I was told, had fine colored housekeepers, whose little ones were much brighter than their mothers, and yet, I believe, there were no abolitionists in the place.
Every night witnessed a tumultuous gathering and carousal on the public square. With a camp-fire, to give light, the assembled crowds would drink, wrestle, sing, dance, box, and shout in the wildest fashion till a late hour of the night. For six days and nights I was doomed to endure such society.
On Sunday arrangement was made for me to preach in the court-house. At the ring of the hand-bell, which a servant from the hotel carried over and rung most vigorously on the occasion, the room was soon filled. One lady only was seen in the congregation ; she was the wife of the sheriff. There was excellent attention; not a few joined in the singing with an energy which was praiseworthy indeed. And yet, perhaps, every man in the room was armed with deadly weapons; each, no doubt, had one of the far famed “Arkansas tooth-picks “–Bowie–knives–in his pocket. The benediction being pronounced a number of the sturdy fellows came forward to give the “pas’n”–parson–a vigorous shake of the hand; they had a profound respect for parsons, and did not fail to give them a cordial greeting on proper occasions. On the following day I learned that the schoolmaster, who is supposed to know, pronounced the discourse the most logical and orthodox that he had heard since he had left Tennessee; it was probably the only sermon he had heard in the state.
But as all things earthly must have an end, so the period of trial in that village finally came to a termination. On the fifth day of January, 1844, the steamboat Eveline came along, with a cargo destined for Fort Gibson. She was a light-draught steamer, designed especially for low water or small rivers. In a short time I had our goods on board, and with emotions of sincere gratitude we bid adieu to Ozark, with a devout prayer that we might never again be doomed to endure another week of such unmitigated social wretchedness. On Sunday, the seventh, the boat reached Fort Coffee, and we then felt that we were ready to open the Academy.
The chiefs and trustees were immediately notified of our readiness to receive pupils, and to engage at once in teaching.
We were only prepared to open the male department of the Academy; the buildings of the female branch of the school had to be erected entire.
On the sixteenth day of January we had a visit from an intelligent Cherokee Indian, who had come a distance of forty miles, to make an arrangement for the education of his two sons; he was anxious to place them in the Academy. He wished them taught morality and the principles of the Christian religion, as well as a knowledge of science and literature.
We sympathized with him in his disappointment, but we had no discretionary power the school was the property of the Choctaws, and its halls were open to none others. At that time the Cherokees had no boarding-school for male pupils; they had, indeed, no high-school in their nation, established and sustained by themselves.
There were three or four boarding-schools wholly sustained by missionaries, at which females were admitted, and well educated.
The district common school system was the only national school system in the tribe; and though it was excellent for the more advanced in civilization, yet it was not adapted to the wants of the illiterate masses.