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.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, you might be interested to know, and you already, that there is a Lutheran church on the reservation. It's called The Church of the Wilderness.

Keep up the good work, Dan

Anonymous said...

That is "You MAY already know"

sorry about that.

Jeff Siemers said...

Where does the phrase "Church of the Wilderness" come from?
See this post: