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.