Monday, December 28, 2009

The Role of the Lost Tribes Theory in Promoting Missions

Right: the Pilgrims make a treaty with Massasoit of the Wampanoags.

As you may recall, many whites and at least some Indians once believed that Algonkian Indians were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Something that James De Jong's As the Waters Cover the Sea does well is to explain what that "lost tribes theory" did for missions to those Indians. One might say that it motivated whites to support mission work. Many believed that the conversion of Native Americans would lead to the Chilead, or Millennium (a one-thousand-year period in which Christ would reign over a peaceful earth).

"...many leading Puritans in England and America wrote and endorsed missionary propaganda in the 1640's and 1650's. Their support was predicated on the belief that through missions, the glorious gospel day would dawn. It should be noted that this faith was based on many Old and New Testament passages of hope and not on a few select verses" De Jong, page 55.
Those verses included Psalm 72:8, Isaiah 49:6, Matthew 24:14, Mark 16:15, and Revelations 21:21.

However, as you may recall, things went downhill with King Philip's War in 1676. By that time, the lost tribes theory was not as widely believed. De Jong says (page 64) that scholars had a variety of ideas about the origin of the American Indians at that time.

I know of at least one person who believes in the Lost Tribes Theory to this very day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Peak of Christianity Among Indians in New England

In an article posted to the website of The New Yorker magazine, Jill Lepore named the "Massachusetts Psalter" (see its title page above) as one of "The Top Ten Books of 1709." Lepore explains that the psalter is a "book of psalms, translated into Algonquian, and set into type by a Nipmuck Indian named James Printer."

Daniel Gookin was a missionary in the 1600's. According to his reports, there were over 1400 "praying Indians" on Martha's Vineyard and another 1100 Native Christians in Massachusetts Bay in 1674 (Historical Collections of Indians in New England, 1792, cited on page 46 of De Jong's As the Waters Cover the Sea).

Gookin somehow estimated a total of 3600 Christian Indians in Massachusetts at that time. However, historian Alden Vaughan reviewed a number of documents, including Gookin's, and estimated that 2500 was a more accurate number. Furthermore, according to Vaughan, one out of every five Indians in New England in 1674 was a Christian.

De Jong explains why Algonkian Christianity never reached higher numbers than that:

Early in the summer of 1675, for motives still being debated by historians, the Wampanoag sachem known as King Philip and his allies from three other Indian tribes attacked the colonists and their Indian allies. In a savage, year-long war in which an estimated five thousand Indians and ten percent of colonial forces were killed. Over thirty years of mission work was damaged irreparably..... Hundreds of Christian Indians were killed in the war and countless others died from hunger and exposure suffered on Deer Island in Boston Bay, onto which they had been herded by apprehensive colonists. Only four of the fourteen towns survived the conflict (pages 46-47).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: "Come Over and Help Us"

As James De Jong and other authors have observed, the official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (see above) depicted an Indian who was saying "come over and help us." I will not bother to repeat what others have observed that that statement may represent in terms of ethnocentricity. Instead, I want to point out, as De Jong does (on page 32 of As the Waters Cover the Sea), that "come over and help us" is a Biblically inspired statement. It comes from Acts 16:9:

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia and prayed him, saying 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'
The point is not whether or not the American Indians ever asked for missionaries, instead, the point is that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was incorporated under the pretense of helping the native Algonkian-speaking people, or at least it was founded under the pretense of converting those natives to the Christian religion.

Although there were exceptions (notably John Eliot's work and the towns of "praying Indians"), the tone that was set in colonial New England was more about improving the whites' standard of living than about mission work. Here's what Patrick Frazier said about this topic:

Converting the American natives to Christianity had ostensibly been the principal aim of the Massachusetts Bay settlement, according to the charter of 1628. A century later some believed that this aim had been forgotten. Solomon Stoddard, a respected clergyman, suggested in 1723 that recent epidemics, Indian wars, and Indian alliances with the French might be signs of God's anger with the English for failing to spread the gospel among the natives (The Mohicans of Stockbridge, page 18).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

James De Jong's "As the Waters Cover the Sea"

One aspect of Algonkian church history that we've largely neglected so far is called missiology. Missiology is the study of church missions. I consider missiology to be a problematic area of study for two reasons: 1)things that were written about Christian missions in early America were almost always written by whites who had certain biases or prejudices and 2)on the other hand, the current conventional wisdom (not discouraged by academic historians) is to dismiss the early American missionaries as ethnocentric if not downright pernicious.

Unfortunately, there were pernicious missionaries, but let us not forget that many of the explorers, traders, and government officials were also pernicious. White culture as a whole, not the Christian church specifically, is what American Indian nations crumbled under. And if you've been reading this blog regularly, you're probably aware that missionaries did do things for Indians that benefited them in this world.

Fortunately I've been able to find an excellent book which addresses some aspects of early American missiology, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millenial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions, 1640-1810, by James De Jong. As the title suggests, the book is about how the world view of American whites motivated their mission work. In one of my earliest posts, I briefly discussed millenialism and its role in the first Algonkian missions. De Jong's book takes that into much greater depth and we'll consider it thoroughly in the coming posts.

Reformation Heritage Books has this to say about As the Waters Cover the Sea:

James De Jong’s dissertation sure-footedly guides us through the complex relation of millennial expectations and Anglo-American missiology from the Puritan age to the beginning of the nineteenth century. He shows how millennial hopes varied throughout this period from an Adventist type of premillennialism to a low-keyed postmillennialism. Nevertheless, De Jong concludes that these anticipations often balance themselves out somewhere between other-worldly and secularized hopes and between the temporal and eternal aspects of salvation. This balance enabled believers to engage in mission work confidently yet realistically, setting a viable pattern for us to follow today as we continue to look to Christ in hope, drawing our vision of humanity and missiology from His word.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Keeping the Faith

Conclusion of the Death of the Tribal Church Series
A series of posts about the church history of the Stockbridge Mohicans

I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"
IV. Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?
V. Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?
VI. The ABCFM Pulls out of Stockbridge
VII. The Citizen Party Makes a Request
VII. Jeremiah Slingerland Keeps on Preaching

Today's post: Keeping the Faith

This 1878 map shows the Stockbridge Reservation shrunk to 1/4 its original size. Contrary to what some say, the shrinking of this reservation cannot entirely be blamed on the Congressman/Lumber Barron Philetus Sawyer. The Indian party leaders who made closed-room deals with Sawyer (Jeremiah Slingerland as much as anybody) are also responsible.

Reverend Slingerland's death appears to have devastated his Presbyterian congregation. The three Presbyterian ministers sent to serve the tribe between 1884 and 1907 stayed for an average of only about a year. But even before Slingerland's death, the era of a unified tribal church for the Stockbridge Mohicans had already passed. Led by Stephen Gardner, some of Slingerland's political opponents (citizen party families) already had a preference for Roman Catholicism. While their neighbors, the Menominees had a long association with the Catholics, many of the Stockbridges would insist on remaining Protestant. Among them were leaders like William C. Davids and Ed Sprague who sought out Lutheran ministers in the area in 1892, giving rise not only to Immanuel Mohican Lutheran Church, but also to a Lutheran boarding school. Nevertheless, for better or for worse, there was no going back to having one church for all of the Stockbridge Mohicans.

One hundred and twenty-five years after Jeremiah Slingerland's death, there is still a Presbyterian church on the reservation. While Presbyterianism has survived, Christianity as a whole has done better. Now over one hundred and sixty years after the ABCFM withdrew its support of the Stockbridge Mohicans' mission, my estimate is that church attendance on the reservation is comparable to national averages.


This is the last of a series of seven posts.



Some serious issues have been covered in this series of posts.
One is the issue of white mission societies being unwilling to promote or encourage independence from Indian churches.

I made it a point to stick to the facts:
But in this case much of what we know is "He said, she said" material. Many of the facts we have are rather subjective statements, the perceptions of Cutting Marsh and Jeremiah Slingerland. I don't think either was dishonest. What Marsh saw as a "riot," Slingerland saw as an event where "excitement prevailed" but there was "no fighting, save one."

Race, religion, culture, politics, personal ownership and thrift... these are just some of the controversial issues that this series of posts has touched on. Your comments are appreciated.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Jeremiah Slingerland Keeps on Preaching

Death of the Tribal Church Series
A series of posts about the church history of the Stockbridge Mohicans
I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"
IV. Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?
V. Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?
VI. The ABCFM Pulls out of Stockbridge
VII. The Citizen Party Makes a Request

VIII. Today's post:
Jeremiah Slingerland Keeps on Preaching

The Winnebago Presbytery today covers this area (northeast Wisconsin and adjoining counties). Meetings that had an impact on the church history of the Stockbridge Mohicans were held at Neenah and Weyauwega. Also highlighted in purple is the location of the Stockbridge's Shawano County reservation.

The tribe had kept the faith without missionaries before and they would again in Shawano County. Informal worship services were held at the Slingerlands' home until Methodists came into the area and organized the first church on the new reservation in 1863 or 1864. Ironically, Jeremiah Slingerland, an unordained Indian preacher, essentially served as a missionary to whites in the frontier town of Shawano for four years. As of the summer of 1859 he was preaching either on the reservation or in Shawano every Sunday (letter from Slingerland to Electa Candy, 7/21/1859, John C. Adams Papers). The first white minister didn't arrive in Shawano until 1863 (booklet celebrating the 125th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church in Shawano, page 1).

The Stockbridge Mohicans had a long history of Calvinist Christianity. All their missionaries right up to Cutting Marsh and Jeremiah Slingerland had been either Presbyterians or Congregationalists (and during these times there weren't major doctrinal differences between the two denominations). In his heart, Slingerland never was a Methodist, but because Methodists cooperated with Calvinists, he became licensed as a preacher of the Methodist Episcoal Church.

Then on January 31st, 1866, Slingerland traveled to the annual meeting of the Presbytery of Winnebago in Neenah. After being examined in "Experimental Religion, ancient languages, church history, and natural sciences," he was finally ordained a Presbyterian minister - more than twenty years after he graduated from the seminary (minutes of the Presbytery of Winnebago).

On August 28th, 1867, at a presbytery meeting in Weyauwega, Reverend Slingerland proposed that a Presbyterian church be organized for the Stockbridge Mohicans. The new Presbyterian church was given $200 in financial aid from the Presbyterian "Board of Domestic Missions" (minutes of the Presbytery of Winnebago). However, due to the continued partisan tribal politics and the lack of farmable land on the reservation, this new congregation was considerably smaller than previous congregations had been.

When Reverend Slingerland died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 1884, the Presbytery of Winnebago eulogized him as

an intelligent , able, and devoted minister of Christ. The faithful servant of his tribe... watchful and efficient in their behalf.. [who] identified himself with their poverty and their wrongs, he has stood among them as a true shepherd leading them in the way of life (minutes of the Presbytery of Winnebago, 7/9/1884).

The series will continue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: the Citizen Party Makes a Request

Death of the Tribal Church Series
A series of blogposts about the Stockbridge Mohicans and their relationship with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"
IV. Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?
V. Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?
VI. The ABCFM Pulls out of Stockbridge

VII: Today's post:
The Citizen Party Makes a Request

This modern-day Lenape elder is doing a switch dance. This isn't necessarily the same kind of dancing that the Munsees that came to the new Shawano County reservation were doing at that time.

A new treaty made in 1856 was intended to bring together the Indian Party, the citizen Party, and other Indians, including Munsees, on some land purchased for them from the Menominees in what is now Shawano County, Wisconsin. Since the new reservation was purchased entirely with Indian party funds, much of the Indian party refused to move to the new reservation. However, Jeremiah and Sarah Slingerland made the move in February of 1857, while other Indian party leaders were still protesting (letter from Sarah Slingerland to J.N. Davidson, 9/19/1890, quoted in Davidson, page 55).

The citizen party was in power on the Shawano County reservation and within three weeks of Slingerland's arrival they sent a letter to the ABCFM in which they claimed their political troubles had finally been settled. They proceeded to ask that another missionary be sent.

The Munsee Indians still remain in darkness and ignorance - they worship the great Spirit by dancing. Our people here have had no regular teacher [of the gospel] for some time... and as their former missionaries have heretofore been sent by good white people of the east, they are led to look again that way, and...respectfully inquire [whether they will] again be favored by a minister or not (quoted from a 3/3/1857 letter from the Stockbridge Indians to the ABCFM, ABCFM Papers).

The letter itself, of course, tells us that the citizen party leaders wanted a minister. But some parts of the quote above, as well as the timing of the letter, suggests that the citizen party leaders didn't want Slingerland, a leader of the Indian party, to be their minister.

The ABCFM did not send a new missionary.

Additional sources used:
*John C. Adams Papers (State Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin)
*Schafer's Domesday Book
*Oberly's A Nation of Statesmen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: The ABCFM Pulls out of Stockbridge

The ABCFM Papers are kept here at Harvard University's Houghton Library. The Papers are available in microfilm via interlibrary loan. Refer to the ABCFM Papers finding aid for a list of reels of microfilm covering missions to many nations.

The Death of the Tribal Church Series:
I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"
IV. Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?
V. Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?

Today's post:
The ABCFM Pulls out of Stockbridge

Situated in Boston, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions didn't have the luxury of closely overseeing its missionaries in the field. In making decisions, it seems they had to rely heavily on the views of their missionaries. Several months before he left the Stockbridge Mohicans, Reverend Cutting Marsh was already advising the ABCFM about what he felt should be done after his departure. During Marsh's lame duck period the ABCFM also took the opportunity to have Marsh reconsider some of his recommendations.

Asked by the ABCFM "Ought [Jeremiah Slingerland] not be encouraged to go on preaching and keep the church together?" Marsh replied that he felt Slingerland should not be ordained for a number of reasons, one being that he continued to lack confidence in Slingerland's work and another being that Slingerland had been investigated by the Green Bay Indian Agent for asking to be paid for teaching "two schools at the same time" (letter from Marsh to Greene, 9/21/1848, ABCFM Papers).

Marsh was also asked about the mission property. He made it clear that his position had not changed since 1845 when he wrote that the ABCFM was "under no obligation whatever to the tribe for any of [the mission] property excepting fifteen acres of the soil" (letter from Marsh to Greene, 7/28/1845, ABCFM Papers).

And so the ABCFM decided to withdraw from the Stockbridge mission. Cutting Marsh and his family moved out of the mission house but Jeremiah Slingerland didn't move in. Nor was he ordained.

A modern satellite photo of Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago. The village of Stockbridge is on the east shore.

The treaty made on November 24th, 1848 promised the Indian party a number of payments for lost lands as well as money to start over and a new seventy-two section reservation (a section is equal to 640 acres, or one square mile). However, exactly where the Indian party would move was not specified. The Indian party never did come to an agreement with the federal government over where they would go. As years went by, many members of both the citizen party and the Indian party remained at Stockbridge on Lake Winnebago.

Jeremiah Slingerland continued his work as a schoolteacher - paid by government funds - and on the side he preached, farmed, and attended to Indian party politics. In 1853 he married a white woman named Sarah who was also a teacher. Town records show that white ministers O.P. Clinton and J.P. Jones as well as Slingerland were paid to preach between 1850 and 1857.

This series will continue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lion Miles Weighs in on the Language Issue

Lion Gardiner (pictured right) was a commander in the Pequot War. One of his descendants, Lion Miles, has been researching the history, culture, and language of Mohican Indians for at least the last seventeen years.

In response to recent contributions of Shawn Stevens and Jeremy Mohawk, Lion Miles of Stockbridge, Massachusetts contributed an article to the current (November 15, 2009) issue of Mohican News. Most importantly, Miles announced that his Mohican dictionary is "nearly finished and I have sent a draft to the Arvid Miller Library, hoping that it will be examined by the Language and Culture board." He reported using written material from the following Indians: Hendrick Aupaumut, John Metoxen, John Konkapot, Jr., and the Moravian convert known as Tschoop, or Johannes. Miles also used material from the following whites: John Sergeant (which one he does not say), and Jonathan Edwards, representing the Stockbridges as well as the following whites who represent other Mohicans, perhaps all but the last one are Moravians: John Ettwein, John Jacob Schmick, Benjamin Smith Barton, John Heckewelder, and Thomas Jefferson.

Miles made it clear that in his opinion reviving the Mohican language would be a good thing, or at least "a worthy goal." Miles points out that the Munsees and the Mohicans really didn't live together until 1835 so common ancestors don't go back far enough for those who consider themselves Mohicans to be satisfied to call Munsee their own language.

Munsee words found themselves into Mohican later and many of them were quite different. For example, the word "anushiik" is Munsee for "thank you," but the Mohican word was "onewe." "Eagle" was "migisso" in Mohican but "wapalonna" in Munsee.
In Lion Miles' opinion, there is not enough evidence out there to re-create the Mohican language exactly but "there is material to come reasonably close."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?

Death of The Tribal Church Series
A Series of Blogposts about the Stockbridge Mohicans and their relationship to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM)
I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"
IV. Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?

Today's post:
Was Jeremiah Slingerland a Big Spender?

Although Jeremiah Slingerland was a Stockbridge Mohican, Cutting Marsh described him as the kind of man who might wear the same kind of clothes as the Englishmen in this drawing.

One of Cutting Marsh's biggest charges against Jeremiah Slingerland regarded his handling of money. Marsh felt that "if an Indian has money he will lay it out for anything he may fancy he needs....[and] I find Mr. S an Indian still in this respect"(letter from Marsh to Greene, 11/18/1847, ABCFM Papers). Slingerland had asked the ABCFM for money more than once and he had explained that he needed it to buy clothes. When asked about the matter Marsh opined

His complaint about clothes would appear strange to one who should have seen...his wardrobe, the genteel manner in which he dressed daily and on the Sabbath and especially the pile of clothes he would furnish Monday morning for the wash. Mrs. M[arsh] repeatedly remarked whilst he lived with us [that] she would rather do the washing and ironing of two common men than Mr. S[lingerland] (quoted from Marsh's letter to Greene of 11/11/1847, ABCFM Papers).

Given the opportunity to defend himself, Slingerland wrote,

Respecting my economical habits, I suppose I have not shown them to that degree I might have done. But Sir, I ask who does? Who is not conscious of greater indulgences than what he ought to have allowed upon himself? (quoted from Slingerland's letter to Greene of 2/9/1848, ABCFM Papers).

Although we know that racism prevented Native ministers of earlier generations from making a decent living, there is really no way for us to determine whether or not Slingerland received enough pay for his work or whether or not he was disciplined enough to budget it properly. From our modern perspective it is nobody's business how one spends one's own money, but Marsh believed that the repairs on the mission property that Slingerland would make "would amount to five times as much as they would under a white man's direction." Furthermore, Marsh predicted that the mission property, if turned over to Slingerland, would be mortgaged within five years in order to pay debts. Marsh went into further detail explaining why he felt this way, bout, once again, it is impossible for us to know with any certainty how fair or unfair his opinion of Slingerland's spending habits were (letter from Marsh to Greene, apparently undated, ABCFM Papers).

But when it came to budgeting, it wasn't just Slingerland that Marsh complained about to the ABCFM, it was the tribe as a whole:

I have long felt and others have said the same that the Stockbridges ought to do something themselves towards [financially] supporting he gospel. when they want to send a delegation to Washington[,] which has been often since I resided amongst them[,] they will always find a way to get the means. When they want to employ a lawyer[,] which they often do[,] they will raise enough money to pay him. And it has appeared to me that the gospel ought to be considered as being worth something as well as the services of lawyers (quoted from Marsh's letter to Greene of 10/18/1847, ABCFM Papers).

Marsh acknowledged that the Indians were poor. but he noted that the neighboring Brothertown Indians provided some of the financial support for their missionary (letter from Marsh to Greene, 4/12/1848, ABCFM Papers).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?

The Death of the Tribal Church Series:
I. Introduction
II. Summary of Tribal Church History 1734 - 1844
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"

Today's post:
Was Jeremiah Slingerland "a Man of too much Consequence"?

After the act of 1843 was passed, frontier businessman Daniel Whitney and other whites eagerly bought up pieces of what had been the Stockbridge Reservation from Indians who had "acquired the rights of citizenship."

The Stockbridge Mohicans' bitter inter-tribal politics alienated Cutting Marsh and Jeremiah Slingerland from each other. The partisanship went back at least as far as 1843 when the tribe's citizen party succeeded in getting the United States Congress to declare all Stockbridges citizens of the United States. This essentially dissolved the tribal government and turned the reservation into private allottments. While leaders of the Indian party worked to nullify the act of 1843, members of both parties went ahead and proceeded to sell land. In 1846 the Indian party - of which Jeremiah Slingerland became a member - succeeded in getting the act of 1843 overturned. Something about the act of 1846 (which overturned the act of 1843) disturbed Cutting Marsh.

Although the Indian Party sold land and gave warantee deeds unconditionally [under the] act of 1843[,] still in the act of 1846 they got a clause inserted declaring all land sales under the former act null and void. They now suppose that all the lands they have sold have come back without compensation to the purchasers of any kind; and the leading man in the party I understand is determined they shouldn't be paid anything in return... I am very much tried upon the subject. And Mr. S[lingerland,] speaking of the subject[,] called them in my presence 'the supposed claims of white men' (letter from Marsh to Treat, 6/21/1847, ABCFM Papers).

In addition to the fallout from Slingerland's political activities, Marsh had other concerns. According to Marsh's brand of Christianity, pride was a great sin and he didn't like the praise and attention that he believed was lavished upon Slingerland for being a well-educated Indian. Marsh complained to the ABCFM that "Good people of the East have flattered [Slingerland]" with the result that Slingerland had "become a man of too much consequence" (letter from Marsh to Greene 9/13/1847, ABCFM Papers). On the same day that Marsh wrote those words, the tribal government - members of Slingerland's Indian Party - wrote their own letter to the ABCFM, asking that Slingerland be appointed in Marsh's place. The tribal leaders were careful to praise both men, but in noting that Slingerland was "now thirty-one years old," they may have hoped to cast doubt on Marsh's claims that Slingerland needed more experience before he could exhibit good judgement (letter from tribal leaders to the ABCFM, 9/13/1847).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: A "Riot" with "no Fighting"

The Death of the Tribal Church Series:
I. Introduction
II: Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 - 1844

Today's post:
III. A "Riot" with "no Fighting"

Today's community of Stockbridge, Wisconsin is still a rural village of about 600 people. By 1845 some combination of the Stockbridge Mohicans' conflicts and struggles and Cutting Marsh's own stern stubbornness had greatly compromised his effectiveness as the missionary. However, a member of the tribe was studying to become a minister and Marsh mentioned him in a letter to the ABCFM. "Jeremiah Slingerland[,] now in the Theological Seminary in Bangor [Maine] will leave there this fall and he intends to visit his people. I have thought that it would be best to have him take my place here." Marsh added "perhaps he would do more good than a white man"(Letter from Marsh to David Greene, 7/28/1845, ABCFM Papers).

By the time Marsh wrote that letter, Jeremiah Slingerland had already served the ABCFM in mission work with the Penobscots at Old Town, Maine. Slingerland did return to the Wisconsin Territory in the fall of 1845. He moved in with Rev. Marsh and his family and began working as a schoolteacher and assistant minister. Marsh's first reports of Slingerland's labors to the ABCFM, were positive. Marsh observed that Slingerland "appears to take great interest in the welfare of his people, takes hold and labors harmoniously"(letter from Marsh to Greene, 2/17/1846, ABCFM Papers). However, by the summer of 1846, Slingerland had become involved in tribal politics and, in so doing, he alienated some members of the church and also Rev. Marsh (Marsh to Greene of 8/11/1846, ABCFM Papers). From that point on, Marsh was convinced that Slingerland didn't have good enough judgement to take over his post (see especially Marsh's letter to Greene of 4/1/1847, ABCFM Papers).

The first significant political activity Slingerland was involved in was described as a "riot" by Marsh. but in his own report to the ABCFM, Slingerland asserted that there had been "no fighting... save one." Nevertheless, Slingerland admitted that "excitement prevailed" and explained that his party, after seeking legal counsel, decided it was appropriate to use physical force to prevent a white tax collector from seizing their property. After describing his version of the event in question, Slingerland asked the ABCFM for a different assignment, noting that the "labor here is just enough to employ one." He felt members of the church preferred him to Marsh but his own preference was "I should wish Mr. Marsh remain and have me go some where" (letter from Slingerland to Greene, 4/6/1847). However, the ABCFM did not act and both men stayed put. Relations between them deteriorated to the point where Slingerland moved out of the Marsh household and the two men avoided each other. Slingerland continued his mission work but stopped reporting what he was doing to Marsh (letter from Slingerland to Greene, 2/9/1847). As a result, Marsh couldn't possibly have appreciated the work Slingerland was doing from that point on.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Summary of Tribal Church History, 1734 to 1844

Death of the Tribal Church:
The Stockbridge Mohicans and the ABCFM
I. Introduction
II. Today's post: Summary of Tribal Church History 1734-1844

As this crude map shows, what is now the state of Wisconsin was part of the Michigan Territory in 1830, the year that Cutting Marsh began his ministry to the Stockbridge Mohicans.

During Cutting Marsh's time as the missionary to the Stockbridge Indians, when people out east spoke of "Green Bay," they weren't referring to the modern city of Green Bay, but, rather, much of what we would now call eastern Wisconsin. The Stockbridges' first settlement was known as Statesburg and it was located within today's city of Kaukauna.

By the 1730's the once-mighty Mohican Indian nation was devastated by diseases, warfare, and other aspects of more than one-hundred years of white contact. Not only had their numbers decreased dramatically, but the Mohican hunting and gathering economy and their traditional religion were greatly weakened. In 1734 two Mohican chiefs were approached by two clergymen who represented the New England Company, a philanthropic mission society based in London. A Christian mission was proposed by the two ministers. This proposal was later debated in a local council and ultimately at a council of the Mohican nation. It was decided that the new religion "should be preached in one certain village and let every man and woman hear it and accept it if they think best" (Hendrick Aupaumut, "Extract From an Indian History," in Massachusetts Historical Collections, pages 99-102). A missionary and a schoolteacher were successful enough to attract Mohicans and other Indians and the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts was incorporated in 1739.

Aspects of white contact continued to cause more suffering among the Stockbridge Mohicans in the decades after the mission town was established. Many of their best men died while fighting for the British (against the French) and for the young United States in the Revolutionary War (See Frazier's The Mohicans of Stockbridge for more about this period of time). There is not space here to describe all of the tribe's struggles and losses except to note that they were pushed west, to New York State by the 1780's, and by the mid-1820's most of them had settled along the Fox River in what is now Kaukauna, Wisconsin.

Despite their hard times over the years, tribal leaders prided themselves on being "civilized" Christian Indians. However, they had left their missionary back in New Stockbridge, New York. They addressed the issue of being without a missionary in an undated draft of a letter they intended to send to a mission society.

We hold meetings for divine worship regularly every Sabbath, conferences on fridays, concerts for prayer every first monday in each month. The meetings are conducted by the members of the church by prayers and reading a chapter with the notes and observations in Scott's Bible.

And we would also inform you that here is an extensive country where the people are absolutely without any means whereby they might attain to the knowledge of a true God, a great field indeed where much improvement is wanting in all respects [the Ho-Chunk or Winnebago Indians and the Menominees] are all in a spiritual sense sitting in the regions [of the] shadow of death. May God in his allwise providence dispose the hearts of the heralds of the cross to come into this distant country to sound the glad tidings of the gospel not only to us but may it also reach our Menominee and Winnebago brethren who have no knowledge of our blessed redeemer (found in the John C. Adams Papers at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison).
While it is not clear exactly where that letter wound up, Rev. Jesse Miner who was serving the remnant of the tribe in New York State visited the Fox River settlement in 1827. A year later, Miner was instructed by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to move his ministry permanently. However, Miner died after serving the Stockbridge Mohicans on the Fox River for only several months.

Under the auspices of the ABCFM, Rev. Cutting Marsh began his ministry among the Stockbridge Mohicans in 1830. A few years later, Marsh moved along with the tribe to some good agricultural land on the east shore of Lake Winnebago. Their settlement there - as it was in Massachusetts - became known as "Stockbridge" in English and "Muhheconnuk" in their native language. While it appears that Marsh had something of a honeymoon period with the tribe, he was not as tolerant as some of his more successful predecessors had been. Marsh, of course, was also unfortunate to be serving the Stockbridges at a time when inter-tribal political tensions - largely resulting from federal Indian policy - were coming to a head.

This is part of a continuing series.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Introduction

As the Stockbridge Mohican's white missionary gets ready to leave them, the tribe is divided politically. Although a promising young member of the tribe has graduated from an eastern seminary, his political involvement alienates him from the missionary and others. To what extent is a unified tribal church possible amongst a politically divided tribe? Will a white mission society support Indians without the presence of a white missionary? This is what the present series of posts is about.

In my research on the conflict between Cutting Marsh and Jeremiah Slingerland, I was fortunate, not only to have a chance to look at microfilmed ABCFM records and other primary materials, but I also benefited from reading Roger Nichols' (pictured) thesis, Cutting Marsh: Missionary to the Stockbridges. At least some of the conclusions I've come to were first made by Roger Nichols back in 1959. Although Nichols is now a well-known historian, few people are aware that he ever studied the Stockbridge Mohicans. I'm grateful to be able to present material here which he addressed decades ago.

The young state of Wisconsin created this flag to reflect an economic future that didn't necessarily include Indians.

Death of the Tribal Church:
The Stockbridge Mohicans and the ABCFM
(American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions)


The year is 1848. Over the past fifteen years, what had been the Stockbridge Reservation on the east shore of Lake Winnebago has gone form having no white people to having three whites for every Indian. The brand new state of Wisconsin plans to flex its muscles and have the Stockbridge Mohicans move west of the Mississippi River. in fact, for a number of years the federal government has already been trying to push the tribe west. Treaties and acts of Congress over the past ten years which were purported to be "for the relief of the Stockbridge Indians" have only brought about a complicated and confusing situation and fostered bitterly partisan tribal politics.

One hundred and seventy-seven Stockbridge Mohicans are now recognized as members of the Indian party. The federal government will negotiate a treaty with Indian party leaders which will compensate them for lands lost and provide them with a new reservation in what will become Minnesota. Meanwhile, members of the citizen party have taken allotments of land. They can stay in Wisconsin, but neither the federal government nor the leaders of the Indian party recognize them as part of the tribe politically.

Cutting Marsh, whose effectiveness as the missionary has been compromised by the political turmoil and - at least to some extent - by his own rigidity, decides that it is time for him and his family to leave Stockbridge, Wisconsin. His feelings for the tribe having soured, Rev. Marsh has been advising the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), to withdraw their support for the mission. What will happen to the Stockbridge Mohicans church?

This is the first of a continuing series of posts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lecture on the Lenape (Delaware) Indians

If you are in or near Albany, New York on Sunday, November 8th, you'll want to read John Warren's post about a lecture presented there by Dr. David Oestreicher. The presentation is called "The Lenape: Lower New York's First Inhabitants."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Language Issues: A Minority Viewpoint is Published in Mohican News

The pre-contact distribution of Algonquian languages according to

"Mohawk" is not only the name of an Iroquois-speaking Indian nation, it is also a fairly common last name among the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (the tribe/nation usually referred to here as the Stockbridge Mohicans). A letter to the editor in the November 1, 2009 issue of Mohican News by Jeremy Mohawk is the subject of this post.

As you may know, today's Stockbridge Indians have been working on the Mohican language. Some of them like to assert that the Mohican language is not dead. Others speak of "reviving" the Mohican language. In fact, a revival of Mohican seems to me to be the best that can be hoped for. Meetings have gone on recently in which interested Stockbridges have guessed at pronunciations of Mohican words that were written by or under the supervision of the tribe's missionaries and they have also borrowed words and pronunciations from other groups of Indians. Proper grammar for the Mohican language is also a work in progress.

On the other hand, as Jeremy Mohawk writes, there is no need to revive the Munsee Delaware/Lenape language, since it never ceased being spoken at Moraviantown, Ontario, Canada.

The Munsee dialect of Lenape has been brought to our reservation and a lot of people are using it. The Language and Culture Board has adopted it as a language for our people. We have been using this language for our feasts, prayers at the feast, titles of our feasts and in our homes.

Mohawk added that the Munsee dialect of Lenape is the language that is taught at the Stockbridge Mohicans' language camps and the teachers are authentic Munsee speakers from Moraviantown in Canada. Learning from people who actually speak the language really is the best (or possibly only) way to ensure that you'll learn the correct pronunciations of a language.

As Jeremy Mohawk sees it, members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians have common ancestors, some spoke Mohican, and others spoke Munsee [Delaware] Lenape. For that reason wouldn't the whole tribe be better off to learn a language that is still living than to work hard on the Mohican language but never know if you're speaking it correctly?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Menominee Confessions to Sister Mary Ignace

A back view of St. Joseph's Boarding School, Keshena, Wisconsin. Parents didn't protest against the school overtly because they knew that if the school closed, their children would be sent farther away.

An anecdote relayed in Sarah Schillinger's book about St. Joseph's Boarding School in Keshena, Wisconsin, is about the Roman Catholic practice of confession. The anecdote requires no commentary, other than the disclaimer that it is not for me to comment on confession in a general sense, only that it proved to be a bad thing for many Indian children at St. Joseph's.

On page 65, Schillinger states that the students feared and disliked Sister Mary Ignace. A Menominee woman named Josephine Daniels recalled that "you.... [had] to go confess your sins every Friday, whether or not you had sins, you had to confess." But one Friday Josephine Daniels asserted that she had no sins to confess and the result was "a good licking" from sister Mary Ignace. The next week, Josephine Daniels told the priest that she had "killed about eleven people and committed adultery fifty times and told about seven hundred lies."

The priest was not so hard to deal with and Josephine Daniels' ridiculous confession resulted in an investigation. The children never knew for sure what kind of consequences Sister Mary Ignace faced or didn't face as a result of the beating she administered. In a 1994 interview, all that Josephine Daniels knew is that the nun was sent away and later came back.

[Schillinger's book leaves no clue as to when this confession/beating incident occurred, other than that St. Joseph's Dormitories were closed in 1952.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sarah Schillinger's Case Study of the Catholic Boarding School in Keshena, Wisconsin

Before multiculturalism caught on, the United States was known as a melting pot, meaning that people from many ethnic or national backgrounds came to America and then assimilated or gave up their backgrounds and became "Americans."

On pages 114 to 118 of her book, A Case Study of the American Indian Boarding School Movement: An Oral History of Saint Joseph's Indian Industrial School, Sarah Schillinger reviews the academic literature on this issue and tells us that it is more accurate to say that European immigrants had the opportunity to integrate into American culture instead of being forced to assimilate. Europeans that came to this country formed communities of other immigrants that spoke the same language. Often this revolved around membership in ethnic-based churches.

Schillinger's point, of course, is that forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools was not only harmful to Indians, but also that it was an abuse that families of European immigrants never had to take.

Are you wondering how Menominee children were forced to speak English?
On page 102, Schillinger reports that the Catholic boarding school placed Menominee children in dormatories with English-speaking Stockbridge and Oneida children.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Samson Occom's Last Days

While they lived in the Massachusetts mission town, all the Stockbridge Indians were members of a single congregation. Soon after their move to New York State, the falling out between their two legitimate ministers resulted in the tribe being split into two congregations.

After a few years of having two congregations, the Stockbridges held a council to discuss the situation. They decided that having their tribal church divided into two parties was a "stumbling block." Some felt that Rev. Occom (a Brothertown Indian) was "meddling too much with [their] civil government," and noted he had recently "fallen into the sin of intemperance[or drinking]" several times. They also felt he was "superannuated" or past his prime.

At that council, the Stockbridge Indians voted first to have one minister for the whole tribe and then chose John Sergeant [Jr.] to be that one minister by a twenty-two to eight margin. A committee was then formed to

inform Mr. Occom that it was not out of any ill will to him, that if he would leave us as minister of the Town...and as he had no support, if he would comply with our reasonable request and make us happy - we would unitedly do all we could to help him. But we are sorry to say he paid no regard to us. (Quoted from a letter from the Stockbridge Indians to Rev. Samuel Kirkland, June 22, 1792 in the Kirkland Papers at Hamilton College.)
Rev. Occom and his family had only moved to New Stockbridge a few months earlier. Politics may have been their reason for leaving Brothertown and the Stockbridges' letter suggests that politics had made the Occoms unwelcome at New Stockbridge. But they didn't leave.

Only a few weeks after the Stockbridge Indians wrote the letter referred to above, on July 14, 1792, Samson Occom suddenly died.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Split Between Occom and Sergeant

You may remember that both Samson Occom and John Sergeant [Jr.] received calls to minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans towards the end of 1787. In the short run, their plan was to engage in cooperative ministry. That plan seems to have worked for a little while, at least. Eventually, however, the two ministers came into conflict. Neither one of the ministers ever fully recorded what their falling out was about, but Occom did leave some clues.

In Samson Occom (1935), Harold Blodgett stated the conflict was over "doctrinal differences." In order to understand what he was getting at, we'll have to address the Calvinist context. One of the central tenets of Calvinism was the "depravity of man." In other words, sin and damnation were central aspects of American religion back then. It was believed that while everyone deserved to go to hell, Christ's atonement predestined some to be saved and enter heaven. It was also believed that outward manifestations (including a conversion experience), would somehow indicate who was predestined to receive God's grace. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion (page 103), it then became common for Puritan preachers to develop some kind of "complex morphology of conversion." As a result, there were controversies over who should be baptized and over what made a person worthy of church membership and communion. (Such a controversy over communion got Jonathan Edwards thrown out of the white congregation he served before ministering to the Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts.)

The question of who should be baptized is the only disagreement with John Sergeant that can be found in Samson Occom's journals. I would imagine they also had other disagreements in the months that they worked together, but no other disagreements were recorded.

On July 26, 1788, Occom wrote in his journal that he expected to have a debate with Sergeant, but instead Sergeant

"declin'd and finally Concluded that everyone should have full Liberty to Choose to act according to the Light and understanding he has in religious concerns, and so we parted in Friendship, Concluded to agree and disagree."

And so I believe that the falling out was over religious ideology and not over personality or race or cultural issues. Of course there really isn't enough evidence to know that for sure. But I've put what I know on the table and if anybody can add to that, you're welcome to do so.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Occom and Sergeant: Was their Conflict About Race?

We're up to the point where both Samson Occom and John Sergeant [Jr.] had received legitimate calls to minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans at New Stockbridge, New York. It is rather well known that the two ministers eventually clashed. For that reason, I made it a point in my previous post to emphasize that they got along well for many years. It should also be noted that the two men of the cloth co-led a number of worship services together when the Stockbridges were getting settled in New York State.

Some have said that Occom and Sergeant came into conflict over racial issues. It is possible that Occom resented Sergeant for the advantages he had. It is true that Sergeant was a white minister and was paid like a white minister and Occom was an Indian minister that was seldom paid at all by church bodies. Nowadays we wouldn't blame a minority for raising Cain over that kind of inequality.

But in my mind Samson Occom was too "big" a person to get dragged into the kind of jealousy that would hurt his ministry. I think that Occom was wise enough to choose his battles. And, given what I know about John Sergeant compared to the other white people of his time, I just don't buy the argument that the two ministers had a falling out over the issue of race.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Samson Occom and John Sergeant Jr

A photo of present-day Madison County, New York (courtesy of Carleen Vandezande).
While it could be said that the white Calvinist establishment was responsible for the betrayal of Samson Occom, I don't think of John Sergeant [Jr.] as being part of the Calvinist establishment. In fact, I read somewhere that he was not even ordained as a minister until late in his career. Sergeant just didn't have enough Calvinist orthodoxy in him to be an insider. On the other hand, Samson Occom, despite being an orthodox Presbyterian, was discriminated against for being an Indian.

For quite a few years, Rev. Occom was on good terms with John Sergeant. In his journal, Occom noted a number of times in which he ate with Sergeant, or stayed at Sergeant's house while traveling [see entries from July 15, 1774 to August 30, 1786]. In one 1774 entry, Occom even referred to the son of the first missionary on the Housatonic River as "good Mr. Sergeant." The Revolutionary War would later force Occom's people, the Brothertown Indians, to retreat to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which likely brought the two men into more frequent contact. They must have known each other quite well.

John Sergeant and his family didn't make the New York migration with the tribe. In the wake of the Revolutionary War, the philanthropists in London would no longer pay his salary and he knew the Indians couldn't pay it themselves. He just kept in touch with them well enough to make reports to other ministers in Boston. Some of those ministers eventually put together a mission society of their own. Meanwhile, beginning in 1785, Rev. Occom's Sunday worship services alternated in location between Brothertown and New Stockbridge, which were about six miles apart (Love, pages 279-280). On August 29, 1787, some Stockbridge leaders wrote to Rev. Samson Occom asking him to "settle with" them and minister to them on a more formal basis. They offered only twenty shillings, but it was something, at least. (A letter Occom wrote to clergy residing near Albany on December 26, 1791 tells us, however, that more than three years went by before he actually moved his family to New Stockbridge.)

Back in Massachusetts, the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America was incorporated, and on October 25, 1787 - just two months after Occom's call. They appointed John Sergeant to work and live among the Indians at New Stockbridge and to receive a salary of fifty pounds sterling.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bernd Peyer's "The Betrayal of Samson Occom"

Bernd Peyer is a German Historian who wrote a good article about Samson Occom which appeared in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 1998. Fortunately for us, the article is also online.

Peyer's article is largely about Occom's relationship with Eleazar Wheelock. To sum it up, after learning to read the Bible on his own, the nineteen-year-old Samson Occom became Wheelock's star student, around which a boarding school was established. As you may remember, Occom was the first Indian ordained as a Presbyterian minister and he raised a lot of money for Wheelock's school for Indians on a preaching tour in England and Scotland. A big part of Wheelock's betrayal of Occom occurred when he moved his school and gave up on educating Indians. Moor's Charity School remained - but only as a poor sister to Dartmouth College.

After he returned to the United States, Occom realized that Wheelock had used him and even looked upon him as something of a freak or "creature." You'll understand that better if you read Peyer's article.

The white Calvinst establishment should have done more to support Rev. Occom and his large family. Throughout most of his career, Rev. Occom was forced to support his family through fishing, hunting, gardening, picking ginseng, and with money earned from binding books, and making wooden items such as spoons and urns.

In upcoming posts, I'll address Rev. Samson Occom's relationship with Rev. John Sergeant, Jr.

New Book: The Munsee Indians

A new book about the Munsees is coming out next month.

Few people know that the Munsees were the Indians who sold the island of Manhattan to Dutch colonists.

In fact, it may be said few people know much about the Munsees at all. Being a refugee population by the time the United States came into existence, they were hard to keep track of.

As you may have read in one of my earlier posts, Munsee Indians moved in and out of what is now Wisconsin, and only a few permanently joined the tribe now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.

The Munsee Indians: A History by Robert S. Grumet, will be published by the prestigious University of Oklahoma Press. According to Library Journal, it is "illuminating and well-written."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Stockbridge Bible is Returned and Comes Home

My series of posts on the Stockbridge Bible is coming to an end.

Before we come to the final chapter, here's a brief summary of the series so far:

Introduction to the Stockbridge Bible

From Generation to Generation: Fundraising for the Massachusetts mission by a retired British sea captain, results in the gift of a two-volume Bible from the Prince of Wales' personal chaplain.

A Summary of 50 Years at the Massachusetts Mission Town

The Stockbridge Bible and the Lost Tribes Theory

Calvin Colton Reports on the Stockbridge Bible: Colton, a former minister from the east, visits the Stockbridge Mohicans in 1830 and reports on their acceptance of Christianity and white "civilization," and their "reverence" for their sacred Bible.

Jamison Quinney and the Stockbridge Bible: More than any other Indian, Jamison "Sote" Quinney is associated with the Stockbridge Bible. Read this post to find out why.

The Stockbridge Bible and the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church

The JSM Church, Fred Westfall, and My Research: This post offers a rare inside look at my research.

The Westfall - Choate Correspondence: Who is Mabel Choate and what do the letters between her and Rev. Westfall tell us about the Stockbridge Bible?

Photographic Evidence in the Story of the Stockbridge Bible: When was the Stockbridge Bible kept in the Sergeant Memorial Church?

Collectors and the Stockbridge Bible

Making an Offer for the Stockbridge Bible: How did the two volumes get from Wisconsin to Massachusetts?

How the Stockbridge Bible Made News in the 1920's: What do area whites say about Sote Quinney and the Stockbridge Bible?

The Stockbridge Bible is Sent Back to Massachusetts: This is a controversial topic, so I wanted certain things to be made clear.

Samuel Miller: Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth: A Lutheran Indian visits Stockbridge, Massachusetts and sees the Stockbridge Bible, within months of the time it left Shawano County, Wisconsin.

Gone but not Forgotten: The Stockbridge Bible, 1931-1975

Miller to the Trustees: You Have Our Bible

The Stockbridge Bible: The Fight is On

Kim Vele's Priorities as Tribal Attorney in the 1980's

Fight for the Stockbridge Bible: The Long Standoff: This post features a powerful letter from an anthropologist, explaining why the Bible should be returned to the Indians.

What Will it Take to get the Stockbridge Bible Back?

....And now we finally come to the point where The Trustees of Reservations take the necessary steps to return the Bible. Here is how I told it in the spring, 2007 issue of The Book Collector:

On December 19th, 1990, a judge in Massachusetts signed a document authorizing the Trustees of Reservations to return the Stockbridge Bible to the tribe. The judgement quoted Captain Thomas Coram's inscription: 'to the use of the Congregation of Indians... and is to remain to the use of the Successors of those Indians from Generation to Generation.'

Finally, in March of 1991, on a bright, chilly day, in a quiet but moving ceremony, the Stockbridge Bible was taken out of the museum established by Mabel Choate and handed over to ten tribal delegates.

[After they had been driving for a couple days and were almost home, the delegates] informed other Stockbridges of their arrival and were told to stop at a parking lot at the edge of Shawano. When the delegates arrived at the parking lot they found over fifty people waiting for them, including members of a confirmation class that had made huge, colorful banners to celebrate the return of the Stockbridge Bible. The impromptu celebration also included handshakes, hugs, hymns, and a big circle prayer. There was now a large convoy that headed to the reservation, passing what had been the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church and finally stopping at the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum where the Stockbridge Bible is still kept today.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Abenaki and Their Missionaries: Solidarity of Kin

The Stockbridges and Brothertowns are far from being the only Algonkians who had a positive experience with their missionaries. Here's one book I found that fits under the umbrella of Algonkian Church History:

The Solidarity of Kin: Ethnohistory, Relgious Studies, and the Algonkian-French Religious Encounter

*it was written by Kenneth Morrison, Professor of Religion at Arizona State University

*and published by State University of New York Press.

Solidarity of Kin is a good book for academics. However, when I read history I like it to be about "what happened next." I like to read history that is more about action and less about analysis so I have to admit to you that I did not finish reading this book.

Here's the bottom line: Jesuit (Roman Catholic) missionaries helped some Indians who were struggling to adjust to a greatly changed world. The missionaries didn't try to force the whole hook, line, and sinker of white culture on to the Abenaki people. Instead, they gave them pieces of Christianity that the Indians could integrate into what was left of the legends and other aspects of their traditional spiritual life. The result was not conversion, but rather syncretism.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Will it Take to get the Stockbridge Bible Back?

Years had gone by since the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians first asked The Trustees of Reservations to return their tribal Bible. What seems to have began as a polite disagreement deteriorated into a standoff in which the two sides either didn't communicate at all, or else did so only through their lawyers.

Legal avenues had been explored early on, but by the late 1980's, the tribe was seriously ready to take The Trustees of Reservations to court.

The church that began with John Sergeant Sr. and the Housatonic Mohicans still exists (in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) to this day. It is now known as the First Congregational Church of Stockbridge (their current building is pictured here). When the Stockbridge Indians were planning their historical trip in 1975 they asked the church if any of their members would be willing to let them stay in their homes. Bob Henderson and his wife stepped forward.

Bob Henderson was a businessman who respected the legal obstacles that the Trustees of Reservations faced, but believed that the Indians' moral claim to the Stockbridge Bible was of greater significance. Like the efforts of everybody else, Henderson's efforts to return the Stockbridge Bible back to the tribe in the mid-1980's were essentially of no consequence.

Reggie Miller was elected Tribal Chairman in 1987. On May 2, 1989 he wrote to Bob Henderson and informed him of the tribe's intent to take the case to court that summer if out-of-court action wasn't going anywhere. In that letter, Miller also asked Henderson if he could help get negotiations started with the Trustees of Reservations. Henderson's May 19th reply to "Chief R.C. Miller" stated that he had spoken with Rush Taggart and Stanley Piatczyc, requesting a meeting.

On June 23, 1989, three Stockbridge Mohican delegates, Chairman Reggie Miller, Tribal Historian Bernice Miller Pigeon, and her daughter, Linda Kroening, met with Stanley Piatczyc, Henry Flint and Davis Cherington of the Trustees of Reservations in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. To make a long story short, the three delegates came away from the meeting believing that the Trustees were "looking for a method to return the Bibles without creating for themselves a legal problem under their Trust responsibility."

From that point on, getting the Stockbridge Bible back was a matter of formalites and waiting.

* Telephone interview with Bob Henderson, January 25, 2004.
*Photocopies of the following documents kept at the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Museum: correspondence between Reggie Miller and Bob Henderson, and a summary of the June 2, 1989 meeting in Massachusetts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fight for the Stockbridge Bible: The Long Standoff

This photo of Mabel Choate's inscription in the Stockbridge Bible was taken by Jeff Siemers, in October, 2003, with the permission of the Arvid E. Miller Museum staff.

In recent posts I've portrayed individuals associated with The Trustees of Reservations between 1975 and the 1980's as stubborn and even insensitive, but the Trustees truly were legally bound to keep the contents of the Mission House Museum that was founded by Mabel Choate. The two-volume Stockbridge Bible, of course, was one of the contents of that museum. While it could be argued that Mabel Choate acquired the Bible illegally, the Stockbridge Mohicans don't appear to have done a sufficient job of making that point. In fairness to the Trustees of Reservations at that time, I should point out that in all the documents that I have read and re-read, the Stockbridge Mohicans didn't acknowledge the Trustees' legal obligation towards the Stockbridge Bible until 1989.

The Trustees of Reservations did offer members of the tribe an opportunity to visit them in Massachusetts for the purpose of presenting whatever evidence they had that the two-volume Bible should be sent back to the tribe. I have an undated photocopy of a list of evidence that tribal members apparently drew up in the early to mid-1980's. While the list gives many sources which verify that the Indians once owned the Stockbridge Bible, no part of the list addresses the question of the legality of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church's sale of the that Bible to Mabel Choate.

Members of the Bible Return Committee and the Trustees of Reservations each knew enough about the Stockbridge Bible to understand their own viewpoint. Both sides had essentially dug in their heels and the only communications between them for several years were conducted by lawyers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kim Vele's Priorities as Tribal Attorney in the 1980s

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians' Tribal Council, 2009:
Front row L to R: Greg Miller, Robert Chicks, Terrie Terrio

Back Row L to R: Doug Huck, Kimberly Vele, Jolene Bowman, Joe Miller

When Konkapot descendant, Kimberly Vele graduated from law school in 1984 it was almost unheard of for recent graduates to return to the reservation, but she and a few others set out to reverse that trend. "Indian Law was for hippies" back then, Vele told me. As tribal attorney in the mid 1980's she tried to make the return of the Stockbridge Bible a priority. In researching the case, Vele found The Trustees of Reservations to be aloof. "I wanted questions to specific answers and it seemed they hoped we would just go away" she recollected.

Ultimately Kim Vele was forced to put the return of the Stockbridge Bible on the back burner in order to deal with other issues. The Wolf River Batholith, a landform that encompasses the Stockbridge reservation, was one of twelve possible sites chosen by the National Nuclear Waste Repository Program when Vele was the tribal attorney. Batholiths were considered to be the safest landforms in regard to nuclear waste, and since many Indian reservations are located on batholiths, seven of the twelve sites that the federal government was looking at were located in Indian Country.

Until she left the tribal attorney job in 1987, Kim Vele focused her efforts on preventing the Wolf River Batholith from being selected as a nuclear waste repository site. One day she testified in Washington, D.C. before the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Power, explaining that if the Wolf River Batholith was chosen as a nuclear waste site, it would make the Stockbridge Mohicans' reservation useless, except possibly for grazing. While watching the news on television that night in her hotel room, Vele learned that "Chernobyl had blown up." A few weeks later, the tribe received a letter announcing there would be no more grant funds to study environmental impacts due to the fact that the entire Nuclear Waste Repository Program was being suspended indefinitely.

Kim Vele's efforts to bring the Stockbridge Bible back to the reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin resulted only in a terse 1986 letter from The Trustees of Reservations, saying that their position hadn't changed.

Sources: Telephone interviews with Kim Vele (6/2004 and 4/14/2006), and a photocopy of a letter from the Trustees of Reservations to Kim Vele.

The Stockbridge Bible: The Fight Is On

**This post is part of an ongoing series on the Stockbridge Bible***

The Trustees of Reservations explained to Tribal Chairman Leonard Miller in an October, 27, 1975 letter, that "because of questions of law and on the advice of its counsel," it could not and would not hand over the Stockbridge Bible.

Retired Episcopal Bishop Anson P. Stokes emerged as the leader of a Massachusetts group that advocated on the tribe's behalf. But ultimately the group realized it wouldn't win. The Bishop was told by a member of the Trustees that if his group tried to collect money for a lawyer, the trustees would "Hire the best lawyers in Boston to fight in court and ...spare no expense to crushingly defeat" those who were in favor of sending the Bible back to Wisconsin.

The Stockbridge Mohicans themselves eventually had their own meetings and formed a Bible Recovery Committee. The committee explored legal avenues they might use to get their tribal Bible back. But they were also looking at the issue from its moral and historical aspects. In 1981, Dorothy Davids self-published a booklet, The Stockbridge Bible: Documents Related to Their Recovery, which raised awareness on the controversy. In addition to exploring legal avenues, the tribe was now employing a new strategy: they asked sympathetic people and groups to speak out on their feelings about who should rightfully own the sacred volumes. They even hoped to embarrass the Trustees of Reservations into returning the Stockbridge Bible.

Ted Brasser was an anthropologist working at Canada's Museum of Man (now known as the Museum of Civilization, pictured right), when he became a pioneer in Mohican research. (One of my earliest posts was about his book, Riding the Frontier's Crest.) While Brasser was one of many, many people who wrote to the Trustees of Reservations, I found his letter to be particularly powerful and on-target:

In my training as an anthropologist, I have been admonished never to collect, or support the collecting of ethnographic objects that are still considered as important symbols of cultural identity and historical continuity by the ethnic group in question. This is particularly true where it involves the religious emotions of the people who own or use these objects. Working in a museum I am acquainted with the problems created by over-eager amateur collectors.
It may strike you as rather odd to treat an eighteenth-century Bible in an ethnographic context. However, it will be obvious to everybody learning the dramatic history of the Stockbridge Indians that this Bible was their Covenant's Ark during the many years of bitter hardship. Holding on to this Bible these people survived the brutalities of the old American frontiers as staunch Christians. In addition, and in spite of repeated betrayal by newcomers, the Stockbridges volunteered and fought for your ancestors in the American War of Independence, at a disastrous loss of human life to the tribe. It was around this Bible that the survivors gathered and moved west, to make way for your ancestors. Viewed in this perspective it is clear that this Bible to the Stockbridges is more than merely a valuable antique piece.

To my knowledge, Brasser's letter was never acknowledged by The Trustees of Reservations.

*Thanks to the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum for preserving and allowing me to photocopy many documents related to the Stockbridge Bible, including Ted Brasser's letter and the one sent to Chairman Miller by the Trustees of Reservations in 1975.
*Thanks to Rev. Richard Taylor, one of the members of Rev. Stokes' Massachusetts-based advocacy group for his letter to me, of June 4, 2004.