Revival of St. Mary's--Rejection of Mr. Van Buren as Minister to
England--Botany and Natural History of the North-west--Project of a
new expedition to find the Sources of the Mississippi--Algie
Society--Consolidation of the Agencies of St. Mary's and
Michilimackinack--Good effects of the American Home Missionary
Society--Organization of a new inland exploring expedition committed
to me--Its objects and composition of the corps of observers.
1832, Jan. 31st. I was now to spend a winter to aid a
preacher in promoting the diffusion and understanding of the
detailed facts, which all go to establish a great truth--a truth
which was first brought to the world's notice eighteen hundred and
thirty-two years before, namely, that God, who was incarnate in the
Messiah, under the name of Jesus Christ, offered himself a public
sacrifice for human sins, amidst the most striking and imposing
circumstances of a Roman execution--a fact which, in an age of
extraordinary moral stolidity and ecclesiastical delusion, was
regarded as the behest of a mere human tribunal.
For this work the circumstances of our position and exclusion from
society was very favorable. The world, with all its political and
commercial care, was, in fact, shut out with the closing of the
river. Three hundred miles of a waste, howling wilderness separated
us south-easterly from the settlements at Detroit. Ninety miles in a
south-westerly direction lay the island and little settlement and
mission of Mackinack.
In addition to the exertions of Mr. Porter, who was our pastor, the
winter had enclosed, at that point, a zealous missionary of the
American Board, destined for a more northerly position, in the
person of Mr. Boutwell, who with the person, Mr. Bingham, in charge
of the Indian mission at the same point, maintained by the Baptist
Convention, constituted a moral force that was not likely to be
without its results. They derived mutual aid from each other in
various ways, and directed their entire efforts upon a limited
community, wholly excluded from open contact with the busy world,
and having, by their very isolation, much leisure.
The result was an awakened attention to the truth, to which I have
adverted, not as a mere historical event, but one personally
interesting and important to every person, without regard at all to
their circumstances or position. Severity of climate, deep snows,
the temperature often below zero, and frequently but little above,
blinding snow storms, and every inconvenience of the place or places
of meeting, appeared only to have the effect to give greater
efficacy to the inquiry, as the workings of unshackled mind and
will. Early in the season, a comparatively large number of persons
of every class deemed it their duty to profess a personal interest
in the atonement, the great truth dwelt on, and made eventually a
profession of faith by uniting with, and recording their names as
members of some branch of the church. Among these were several
natives. Mrs. Johnston, known to her people by the name of the
Sha-go-wash-co-da-wa-qua, being the most noted. Also four of her
daughters, and one of her sons, one or two Catholic soldiers,
several officers of Fort Brady, citizens, &c., &c.
This statement will tend to render many of the allusions in my
journal of this winter's transactions intelligible. Indeed some of
them would not be at all understood without it. Historically
considered, there was deep instruction "hid" in this event. It was
now precisely 222 years since the Puritans, with the principles of
the Scriptures for their guidance, in fleeing to lay the foundation
of a new government in the West, had landed at Plymouth. It had
required this time, leaving events to develop themselves, for the
circle of civilization to reach the foot of Lake Superior. Ten years
after the first landing at this remote spot in 1822, had been
sufficient to warm these ancient principles into life. John Eliot,
and the band of eminent saints who began the labor with him in 1632,
had been centuries in their tombs, but the great principles which
they upheld and enforced were invested with the sacred vitality
which they possessed at that day. Two truths are revealed by this
reminiscence. 1. That the Scriptures will be promulgated by human
means. 2. That time, in the Divine mind, is to be measured in a more
enlarged sense; but the propagation of truth goes on, as obstacle
after obstacle is withdrawn, surely, steadily, unalterably, and that
its spread over the entire globe is a mere question of time.
Jan. 31st. Mr. Wing, delegate in Congress, writes from
Washington, that the nomination of Mr. Van Buren as minister to
England has been rejected by the Senate, by a majority of one--and
that one the casting vote of the Vice-President. A letter from
Albany, Feb. 1, says: "Albany (and the State generally) is
considerably excited this morning in consequence of the rejection of
Mr. Van Buren. Nothing could have more promoted the interest of Mr.
Van Buren than this step of the Senate. New York city has resolved
to receive him, on his return from England, with all the 'pomp and
magnificence in its power, and to show that her 'favorite son' shall
be sustained.' I heard this read in public from a letter received by
a person in this city."
"A report reached this a few days ago, stating that the 'cholera'
had been brought to New Orleans in a Spanish vessel."
"Mr. Woolsey, the young gentleman of your tour last summer, died at
New York a short time since." In a letter which he wrote to me
(Sept. 27th), on the eve of his leaving Detroit, he says: "Permit me
now, sir, in closing this note, again to express my gratitude for
the opportunity you have afforded me of visiting a very interesting
portion of our country, and for the uniform kindness that I have
experienced at your hands, and for the friendly wishes, that
prosperity may crown my exertions in life."
Dr. Houghton says (Feb. 8) respecting this moral young man: "The
tears of regret might flow freely for the loss of such true
unsophisticated worth, even with those who knew him imperfectly, but
to me, who felt as a brother, the loss is doubly great. We have,
however, when reflecting upon his untimely death, the sweet
consolation that he died as he lived, a Christian."
Feb. 4th. Dr. Torrey expresses his interest in the botany and
natural history, generally, of the country visited by me last
summer. "Your kind offer to place in my hands the botanical rarities
which, from time to time, you may acquire, in your interesting
journeys, I fully appreciate. It will give me great pleasure to
examine the collections made by Dr. Houghton during your last
"My friend Mr. William Cooper, of the Lyceum, will be happy to lend
you all the assistance in his power in determining the shells you
have collected. He is decidedly our beat conchologist in New York,
and I would rather trust him than most men--for he is by no means
afflicted with the mania of desiring to multiply new species, which,
is, at present, the bane of natural history.
"You speak of having discovered some interesting minerals,
especially some good native copper. Above all the specimens which
you obtained, I should like to see the native magnesia which you
found in serpentine. I am desirous of analyzing the mineral, to
ascertain whether its composition agrees with that of Hoboken and
Unst (the only recorded localities in our mineralogical works)."
13th. Submitted, in a letter to the department at Washington,
A PROJECT of an expedition to the North-west, during the ensuing
season, in order to carry out the views expressed in the
instructions of last year, to preserve peace on the western
frontiers, inclosing the necessary estimates, &c.
16th. Mr. W. H. Sherman, of Vernon, N.Y., communicates
intelligence of the death of my mother, which took place about ten
o'clock on the morning of this day. She was seventy-five years of
age, and a Christian--and died as she had lived, in a full hope. I
had read the letters before breakfast, and while the family were
assembling for prayers. I had announced the fact with great
composure, and afterward proceeded to read in course the 42d Psalm,
and went on well, until I came to the verse--"Why art thou cast
down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in
God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my
countenance, and my God."
The emotions of this painful event, which I had striven to conceal,
swelled up in all their reality, my utterance was suddenly choked,
and I was obliged to close the book, and wait for calmness to go on.
28th. The initial steps were taken for forming an association
of persons interested in the cause of the reclamation of the
Indians, to be known under the name of the Algic Society. Connected
with this, one of its objects was to collect and disseminate
practical information respecting their language, history,
traditions, customs, and character; their numbers and condition; the
geographical features of the country they inhabit; and its natural
history and productions.
It proposes some definite means of action for furthering their moral
instruction, and reclamation from the evils of intemperance and the
principles of war, and to subserve the general purposes of a society
of moral inquiry. The place was deemed favorable both for the
collection of original information, and for offering a helping hand
to missionaries and teachers who should visit the frontiers in
carrying forward the great moral question of the exaltation of the
tribes from barbarism to civilization and Christianity.
28th. Instructions are issued at Washington, consolidating
the agencies of St. Mary's and Michilimackinack--and placing the
joint agency under my charge. By this arrangement, Col. Boyd, the
agent at the latter point, is transferred to Green Bay, and I am
left at liberty to reside at St. Mary's or Michilimackinack, placing
a sub-agent at the point where I do not reside.
This measure is announced to me in a private letter of this day,
from the Secretary of War, who says: "I think the time has arrived
when a just economy requires such a measure." By it the entire
expenses of one full agency are dispensed with--the duties of which
are devolved upon me, in addition to those I before had. By being
allowed the choice of selection, two hundred dollars are added to my
salary. Here is opened a new field, and certainly a very ample one,
April 8th. The object contemplated by invoking the aid of the
Home Missionary Society, in the establishment of a church at this
remote point on the frontiers--in connection with the means already
possessed, and the aid providentially present, have, it will have
been seen, had the effect to work quite a moral revolution. The
evils of a lax society have been rebuked in various ways.
Intemperance and disorder have been made to stand out as such, and
already a spirit of rendering the use, or rather misuse of
time, subservient to the general purposes of social dissipation, has
been shown to be unwise and immoral in every view. More than all,
the Sabbath-day has been vindicated as a part of time set apart as
holy. The claims and obligations of the decalogue have been
enforced; and the great truths of the Gospel thus prominently
brought forward. The result has been every way propitious.
The Rev. Wm. M. Ferry, of Mackinack, writes (Feb. 21): "The
intelligence we have received by your letters, Mr. Boutwell, &c., of
the Lord's doings among you, as a people, at the Sault, has rejoiced
our hearts much. Surely it is with you a time of the right hand of
the Most High." "All of us," writes Mr. Robert Stuart (March 29)
"who love the Lord, were much pleased at the indications of God's
goodness and presence among you."
The Rev. J. Porter, in subsequently referring to the results of
these additions to the church, observes, that they embraced five
officers and four ladies of the garrison; two gentlemen and seven
ladies of the settlement, and thirty soldiers and four women of Fort
Brady, numbering fifty-two in all. Of these, twenty-six were adults
added by baptism.
At Detroit a similar result was experienced. Mr. Trowbridge writes
(April 8th), that about seventy persons united themselves a few days
previous to Mr. Wells' church, to which the influence has been
principally, but not wholly confined. Among these were many who had,
unaffectedly, listened to the Gospel, if not all their lives,
certainly no small part of it.
May 3d. Public instructions are issued for my organizing and
taking command of an expedition to the country upon the sources of
the Mississippi River, to effect a pacification between the Indian
tribes, in order to carry out, with increased means, the efforts
made in 1831. Those efforts were confined to tribes living in
latitudes south of St. Anthony's Falls. It was now proposed to
extend them to the Indian population living north of that point,
reaching to the sources of that river. This opened the prospect of
settling a long contested point in the geography of that stream,
namely, its actual source--a question in which I had long felt the
The outbreak of Indian hostility, under Black Hawk, which
characterized the summer of 1832, was apprehended, and it became the
policy of the Indian Bureau, in the actual state of its information,
to prevent the northern tribes from joining in the Sac and Fox
league under that influential leader. I forwarded to the
Superintendent and Governor of the territory, a report of a message
and war-club sent to the Chippewas to join in the war, for which I
was indebted to the chief, Chingwauk, or Little Pine.
"Reports from various quarters of the Indian country," says the
Secretary of War, in a private letter so early as March 28th, "lead
to the belief that the Indians are in an unsettled state, and
prudence requires that we should advise and restrain them. I think
one more tour would be very useful in this respect, and would
complete our knowledge of the geography of that region."
"There is a prospect," says the official instructions (May 3d), "of
extensive hostilities among themselves. It is no less the dictate of
humanity than of policy to repress this feeling, and to establish
permanent peace among the tribe.
"It is also important to inspect the condition of the trade, and the
conduct of the traders. To ascertain whether the regulations and the
laws are complied with, and to suggest such alterations as may be
required. And, finally, to inquire into the number, standing,
disposition, and prospect of the Indians, and to report all the
statistical facts you can procure, and which will be useful to the
government in its operations, or to the community in the
investigation of these subjects."
Congress, during the session, passed an act for vaccinating the
Indians. This constituted a separate duty, and enabled me to take
along a physician and surgeon. I offered the situation to Dr.
Douglass Houghton, of Fredonia, who, in the discharge of it, was
prepared to take cognizance of the subjects of botany, geology, and
mineralogy. I offered to the American Board of Missions, at Boston,
to take a missionary agent, to observe the condition and prospects
of the Indian tribes in the north-west, as presenting a field for
their operations, and named the Rev. W.T. Boutwell, then at
Michilimackinack, for the post, which the Board confirmed, with a
formal vote of thanks. Lieut. James Allen, 5th U.S. Infantry, who
was assigned to the command of the detachment of troops, assumed the
duties of topographer and draughtsman. Mr. George Johnston, of St.
Mary's, was appointed interpreter and baggage-master. I retained
myself the topics of Indian history, archaeology, and language. The
party numbered about thirty souls. All this appeared strictly
compatible with the practical objects to be attained--keeping the
expenses within the sum appropriated for the object.
Some few weeks were required completely to organize the expedition,
to prepare the necessary supplies, and to permit the several persons
to reach the place of rendezvous. Meantime I visited
Michilimackinack to receive the agency from Col. Boyd; after which
it was left temporarily in charge of a sub-agent and interpreter,
with the supervision of the commanding officer of Fort Mackinack.
4th. The Secretary of War writes a private letter: "We have
allowed all it was possible, and you must on no account exceed the
sum, as the pressure upon our funds is very great."
Maj. W. writes from Detroit (May 7th): "I am glad to hear that you
are about going on another expedition, and that Mr. Houghton is to
accompany you. I hope you will find time to send us some specimens
collected on your former tour before you start."
Dr. Houghton writes from Fredonia (May 12th): "I shall leave here
immediately after the twenty-fourth, and hope to see you as early as
the second or third of June. I have heard from Torrey, and have sent
him a suit of plants."
The Secretary of War again writes (May 22d): "It has been impossible
before now, to make you a remittance of funds, and they cannot yet
all be sent for your expedition. Our annual appropriation has not
yet passed, and when it will I am sure I cannot tell. So you must
get along as well as you can. I trust, however, the amount now sent
will be sufficient to enable you to start upon your expedition. The
residue promised to you, as well as the funds for your ordinary
expenditures, shall be sent as soon as the appropriation is made."
The sub-agent, in charge of the agency at Mackinack, writes (May
22d): "Gen. Brook arrived yesterday from Green Bay, and has
concluded to make this post his head-quarters. I was up, yesterday,
in the garrison, and Capt. McCabe introduced me to him. I found him
a very pleasant, plain, unassuming man. Col. Boyd has handed me a
list of articles which you will find inclosed, &c."
"The committee," says the Rev. David Green, Boston, "wish me to
express to you the satisfaction they have in learning that your
views respecting the importance of making known the great truths of
the Gospel to the Indians, as the basis on which to build their
improvement, in all respects accords so perfectly with their own. It
is our earnest desire that our missionaries should act wisely in all
their labors for the benefit of the Indians, and that all the
measures which may be adopted by them, or by others who seek to
promote the present or future welfare of this unhappy and
long-abused people, may be under the Divine guidance, and crowned
with great success."
These triple claims, which have now been mentioned, of business, of
science, and of religion, on my attention created not the least
distraction on my mind, but, on the contrary, appeared to have
propitious and harmonizing influences.
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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the
Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851
Years with the Indians