Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Westfall - Choate Correspondence

The woman on the left is Mabel Choate, the heiress who restored John Sergeant Sr.'s home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and purchased the two-volume Stockbridge Bible and the communion set that was associated with it. The restored Sergeant home became known as the Mission House Museum. Miss Choate's will left an organization called The Trustees of Reservations responsible for keeping and maintaining the museum and its contents, including the Stockbridge Bible.

The papers which I call the Westfall - Choate Correspondence might have a different official name. The originals are held in Stockbridge, Massachusetts by the Trustees of Reservations, proprietors of the Mission House Museum, the restored home of John Sergeant, Sr. The photocopies in my possession are third generation, copied from the copies at the Stockbridge Mohicans' museum in Shawano County, Wisconsin.

Just about all that I know about Rev. Fred Westfall comes from the letters sent back-and-forth between him and Mabel Choate and her associates. There should be no doubt that Westfall was a legitimately ordained Presbyterian minister, but he understandably broadened his role with the Stockbridge Mohicans, describing himself as "a sort of buffer between them and the wolves of want"(letter from Fred Westfall to Ruth Gaines, January 31st, 1930). He took an active role in helping the Indians earn money with their skills, including helping them to sell items they made.

According to Will Garrison, Historic Resources Manager for the Trustees of Reservations, Mabel Choate sent a scout to Wisconsin, looking for relics to put in the mission house that she had just finished moving and restoring.

A photo of Naumkeag, another Stockbridge, Massachusetts property managed by the Trustees of Reservations. Naumkeag was the 44-room summer
"cottage" of the Choate family.

Here's a few excerps from Choate's first letter to Rev. Westfall:

Dear Mr. Westfall:
Through Miss Baughman I have heard that you are now in charge of the John Sergeant Presbyterian Church, of Red Springs, where the remaining Stockbridge Indians live; and I am writing to tell you a little about what I am doing with the old Mission House in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, thinking it might interest you, and clarify the situation in your mind.

...It has taken a great deal of time and work in the last three years, and I have become so absorbed in it that anything in connection with the Indians and their history, interests me enormously.

I understand that the Indians are very poor, and have sold some of their papers and documents, to give them help during last year's winter months

If there is anything that I could do for them, perhaps you would let me know. I should like to keep in touch with them through you; and if there are any documents or other things of theirs which they would care to part with, I should be more than grateful if they would let me know. In doing so, I should like them to realize that these things would remain permanently in the Mission House, surrounded by the associations of the last two hundred years.

With many thanks again for all your interest, believe me,
Very sincerely yours,
[the original is signed] Mabel Choate

No comments :