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Indications of a Moral Revolution in the Place

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Indications of a moral revolution in the place--Political movements at Detroit--Review of the state of society at Michilimackinack, arising from its being the great central power of the north-west fur trade--A letter from Dr. Greene--Prerequisites of the missionary function--Discouragements--The state of the Mackinack Mission--Problem of employing native teachers and evangelists--Letter of Mr. Duponceau--Ethnological gossip--Translation of the Bible into Algonquin--Don M. Najera--Premium offered by the French Institute--Persistent Satanic influence among the Indian tribes--Boundary dispute with Ohio--Character of the State Convention.

1835. Jan. 10th. The year opened with some bright moral gleams. The members of the church had, early in the autumn, felt the necessity of a close union. Left by their esteemed pastor, who had been their "guide, philosopher, and friend" for twelve years, and by some of its leading members, they rested with more directness and simplicity of faith on God. They ordained a fast. Evening and lecture meetings were observed to be full of eager listeners. A marked attention was paid on the Sabbath when Mr. J.D. Stevens, who had come into the harbor late in the fall, bound westward, agreed to pass the winter and occupied Mr. Ferry's empty desk. The Sabbath schools in the village and at the mission were observed to be well attended. Indeed, it was not long in being noticed that we were in the midst of a quiet and deeply-spread revival. Never, it would seem, was there a truer exemplification of the maxim that "the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong," for we had supposed ourselves to be shorn of all strength by the loss of our pastor, by the failure of help from the Home Missionary Society, and by the withdrawal from the island of some of our most efficient members. This feeling of weakness and desertion was, in fact, the secret of our strength, which laid in the church's humility. Ere we were aware of it, a spirit of profound seriousness stole over the community like a soft and gentle wind.

28th. Maj. Whiting writes, from Detroit: "There is nothing new in the political world, excepting that Michigan has no governor yet, and that the council has authorized a convention to form a State Government next April. Some think the step premature; others that it is all a matter of course. The cold has been excessive on the Atlantic seaboard--down to about 40 deg. below zero in New England, and even 22 deg. below at Washington. Here we have had it hardly down to 0."

Feb. 3d. Mr. Robert Stuart writes, from Brooklyn, in relation to the revival in a portion of the inhabitants of this island, among whom he has so long lived, in terms of Christian sympathy. Mackinack is a point where, to amass "silver and gold," has been the great struggle of men from the earliest days of our history. Few places on the continent have been so celebrated a locality, for so long a period, of wild and unlicensed enjoyment, for both burgeois and voyageur engaged in the perilous and adventuresome business of the fur trade. Those who speak of its history during the last half of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, depict the periods of the annual return of the traders from their wintering stations in the great panorama of the wilderness, east, west, north, and south, as a perfect carnival, in which eating and drinking and wild carousals prevailed. The earnings of a year were often spent in a week or a day. As to practical morality, it was regarded by the higher order of "merchant-voyageurs" as something spoken of in books, but not worth the while of a bon vivant. The common hands, who paddled canoes and underwent the drudgery of the trade (who were exclusively of the lower order of Canadian peasantry), squared their moral accounts once a year with a well-conducted confessional interview and a crown, and felt as happy as the "Christian Pilgrim" when he had been relieved of his burden. It would, probably, be wrong to say that the lordly Highlander, the impetuous son of Erin, or the proud and independent Englishman, who vied with each other in feats of sumptuous hospitality during these periods of relaxation, did much better on the score of moral responsibilities. They broke, generally, nine out of the ten commandments without a wince, but kept the other very scrupulously, and would flash up and call their companions to a duel who doubted them on that point. But of the practical things of religion, as they are depicted by Paul and the Apostles, they lived in utter disregard; these things were laid aside, like the heavier parts of Dr. Drowsy's sermon, for "some more fitting opportunity," that is to say, till a fortune was secured from the avails of "skins and peltries," and they returned triumphantly to the precincts of civilized and Christian society. Of the wild and picturesque Indian, who was ever a man most scrupulous of rites and ceremonies, it was hardly deemed worth inquiry whether he had a soul, or whether the deity of the elements, whom he worshiped under the name of the Great Spirit, was not, in the language of the Universalist Poet, "Jehovah, Jove, or Lord."

A society which, like that of Michilimackinack, was based on such a state of affairs but a few years back, could hardly be regarded without strong solicitude, for my correspondent had been a witness, in the first revival under Mr. Ferry, in 1828, of which he was himself a subject, that there is a "POWER that breaketh the flinty heart in pieces, who also giveth freely and upbraideth not." Most, of the subjects of hope at this time were, however, of a younger growth and a more recent type of migration. "May the spirit of Lord Jesus Christ," is his pious remark, "be with, and direct you all in the great work of leading souls into the kingdom of his grace! It is a fearful responsibility, but if you look to him, and him alone, for guidance, he will bless and prosper your efforts."

19th. Rev. David Greene, Missionary Rooms, Boston, discusses in a letter of this date, some questions respecting the policy and high function of missionary labor--the present state of the Mackinack mission; and the character and fitness of educated persons of the native stocks for evangelists, which are of high importance. He remarks:--

"All you write respecting the impropriety of being disheartened--the demand of the Indians on our church, and candidates for missionary service--the necessity of withdrawing our dependence for success and the work of converting men, from any particular human instruments, and placing them on God alone; and the propriety of having missionaries released from secular cares and labors, as far as practicable, accords perfectly with my own views, and, so far as I know, with those entertained by our committee.

"But the difficulty, after all, remains, of obtaining suitable persons to carry forward our plans--of making our young men feel that they ought to turn away from the millions, in the populous nations of Asia, and go among our scattered tribes. Here is our whole ground of discouragement. So far as conversions are concerned (and these are the great objects of a missionary's labor), none of our missions have been more successful than those among the Indians; and if we had a hundred men of the spirit and activity of David Brainerd, or Eliot, I should have the strongest expectations that all our Indian tribes would be converted without great delay. But we have no prospect of obtaining them. I fear there are few such in our churches.

"I think that the mission of Mackinack has been a very successful one, especially in exerting an extensive religious influence, and being, as you justly remark, 'the nucleus of Christianity in the north-west.' How far the recent changes in the arrangements of the American Fur Company are going to affect its importance in these respects and others, I cannot say, but our Committee are by no means disposed to relinquish it, while there is a hope of doing sufficient good there to justify the keeping up of the requisite establishment. The farm we do not wish to retain, if we can sell it at a reasonable price. All the secular affairs we would be glad to reduce, and intend to do it as soon as it can be done without too great sacrifice of property. The family, we know, is too large, and we hope it may be reduced; but there are some impediments in the way of doing it at once, especially as the females there have been worn out in the service, and possess a genuine missionary spirit. We desire to obtain a missionary, and have made many inquiries for one, but hear of none with whom the church and other residents, together with the visitors at Mackinack, would be satisfied.

"As to a school for evangelists and teachers. Do you think, dear sir, that the persons of Indian descent could now be found, possessed of piety, talents, good character, and a disposition to take this course of life, in sufficient numbers to justify giving the school such a turn? Or, are there youths sufficiently promising, though not pious, with whose education you would think it advisable to proceed, hoping that, by the blessings of God, they would be converted and made heralds of mercy to their red brethren? I have supposed there were not, and that an attempt of this kind would almost certainly prove abortive. A more detailed knowledge of facts, which you are in a situation to possess, might change my opinion. There is nothing we more desire and labor for, at all our missions, than good native helpers. They are an invaluable acquisition, but our experience teaches us that they are exceedingly rare. Not one educated heathen youth in ten, even if pious when he commences his studies, has been found fit for an office requiring judgment, good common sense, and energy of character. Still we do not think that this ought to deter us from attempts to raise up native teachers and evangelists. Most of the work of converting the heathen nations must unquestionably be performed by them. If the opening should seem fair, we would try it at Mackinack."

28th. In a letter from Mr. Duponceau, respecting the publication of my lectures on the grammatical structure of the Chippewa language, he communicates the latest philological news in this and other parts of the world, respecting the Indian languages.

"You will not be a little astonished that a translation of the Bible is now making at Rome into the Algonquin (which I presume to be the same, or nearly the same as the Chippewa) language, under the auspices of the present Pope, Gregory XVI. The translator is a French missionary, who has long resided among those Indians in Canada. He has written a grammar and dictionary of that idiom, which he writes me he is shortly going to put to press. It will be curious to compare that grammar and that dictionary with your own, and to see how far the two languages, the Algonquin and the Chippewa, agree with or differ from each other. When I was in Canada I heard much of this Mr. Thavenet, the name of that missionary. He enjoys a great reputation in this country, and it seems he has obtained the favor of the Pope.

"We have in this city a Mexican gentleman, Don Manuel Najera, a man of letters, well skilled in the Mexican and other Indian languages of that country. He says they are all, as I call them, polysynthetic, and resemble in that respect those of the Indians of the United States. One only he excepts, the Othomi, and that, he says, is monosyllabic, like the Chinese. He has translated into it, from the Greek, the eleventh Ode of Anacreon, which I am going to present to the Philosophical Society. He has added grammatical notes, which are extremely curious. He has also written in Latin, several interesting dissertations on other Mexican idioms, also for the society, which I expect will be published in their transactions, either in the original or in a translation. He is greatly pleased with your specimen of a Chippewa grammar. He understands English very well, also French, Italian, and, of course, his native Spanish.

"The philosophy of our Indian languages has become very fashionable among the learned in Europe. The Institute of France has offered a premium of a gold medal, of the value of 1200 francs, for the best essay on the grammatical construction of the family of North American languages, of which the Chippewa, the Delaware and Mohegan are considered the principal branches, of course including the Iroquois, Wyandot, Naudowessie, &c. The premium is to be awarded on the 1st of May next. I would have informed you of it at the time, if it had not been made a sine qua non that the memoirs should be written in Latin or French. I have, therefore, ventured on sending one, in which I have availed myself of your excellent grammar, giving credit for it, as in duty bound. I have literally translated what you say at the beginning of your first and of your second lecture, which will be found the best part of my work, as it is impossible to describe the character of those languages with more clearness and elegance."

10th. A young gentleman (Mr. W. Fred. Williams) spent a few days at my house, at Michilimackinack, much to our gratification, and, it seems from a kind letter of this date, written from Buffalo, also to his own. He sends me a box of geological specimens, and a Chinese idol, and some sticks of frankincense--just received by him from a relative, who is a missionary in Canton, as an offering of remembrance. The heart is gratified with friendly little interchanges of respect, and it is a false sense of human dignity that prevents their instant acknowledgment. We study, read, investigate, compare, experiment, judge as philosophers, but we live as men--as common men. Facts move or startle the judgment; but such little things as the gift of even an apple, or a smiling friendly countenance, appeal to the heart.

13th. My article for the Theological Review was well received. "It was in time," says the editor, "for the March number, and you will receive it in a few days. I read it, and so did the committee, with the highest satisfaction. It contains much new information relating to the superstitions of the Indians, and is well calculated to have the effect you designed, of awakening the interest of the Christian community in behalf of our aborigines. I was particularly gratified with the coincidence of your judgment with the opinion I have entertained for some years, respecting the reality of Satanic influence at the present time. We intend shortly to publish on this point."

This is a point incidentally brought out, in the examination of the aged converted jossakeed, or prophet of the Ottawa nation, called Chusco. He insisted, and could not be made, to waver from the point, that Satanic influences alone helped him to perform his tricks of jugglery, particularly the often noted one of shaking and agitating the tight-wound pyramidal, oracular lodge. No cross-questioning could make him give up this explanation. He avowed, that, aside of his incantations, he had no part in the matter, and never put his hands to the poles. It resulted, as the only conclusion to be drawn from this instance of his art, that the Satanic influence, although invisible, was veritably present, adapting itself to the devices of the Indian priesthood, for the purpose of deceiving the tribe. I reported this to his pastor who had admitted his evidences of faith, who replied, on reflection, that this was the Gospel doctrine, which was everywhere disclosed by the New Testament, which depicts the "Prince of the Power of the Air" as really present and free to act in the deception of men and nations, the world over. If so, we should no longer wonder at human crime and folly. Murders and robberies of the blackest dye become intelligible. And every plan of false prophecy, from the Arabian, who has enslaved half Asia, to the simple performer of forest juggling on the banks of Lakes Huron and Michigan, is explained as with beams of light.

31st. A Mr. H. Howe, of Worcester, Mass., writes, wishing to be informed of same stream of the Upper Mississippi, having sufficient water power, with pine timber, and means of ready issue into the Mississippi, to furnish a suitable site for a saw-mill. The question is readily answered: there are many such, but it is entirely Indian country, and cannot be entered for such a purpose without violating the Indian intercourse act, which it is a part of my duty, as an Indian Agent, to enforce. It would be a trespass, subjecting him to a suit in the U.S. District Court. I replied to him, stating these views.

April 7th. The dispute with Ohio, respecting our southern boundary, grows warmer, and is fomented, on her part, by speculators in public lands on the western shores of Maumee Bay. Otherwise it could be easily settled. The mere historical and geographical question, as founded on the language of the Ordinance of 1787, would appear to leave the right with Michigan. Ohio legislation, or constitutional encroachment, could not surely overrule an act of Congress. "The difficulty with Ohio," says Major W., of Detroit, "is of a threatening character. It is not now, perhaps, any nearer adjustment that at any previous stage, although pacificators have been sent on by the President. But the 'million of freemen' State does not think it comports with her dignity to desist, or vacate Michigan, is prepared for war, and is determined to proceed to blood if need be. Gov. Cass will be here, it is said on good authority, in May or June. Political divisions here, unfortunately, run too high for a proper convention. Party feeling has governed exclusively, in a case where they, perhaps, can have no operation. Whoever goes into the convention will probably have nearly the same views, and it would have been well to have sent the best and most intelligent. But, on the whole, probably three-fourths of the members will find it as new business as if they were to undertake astronomy."

14th. Charles Fotheringay, of Toronto, U.C., issues and forwards a circular headed "Lyceum of Natural History and the Fine Arts." The object is to found, in that city, a cabinet which shall do justice to the claims of science and philosophical learning on this subject.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

Thirty Years with the Indians


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