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16: Woman as Missionary to the Indians

<< 15: Across the Continent—On the Plains || 17: Woman as a Missionary to the Indians—(Continued) >>

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings: that publisheth peace: that bringeth good tidings of good: that publisheth salvation."

Among the faithful messengers who have borne this Gospel of peace to the benighted red man, there have been many devoted and pious women. The story of woman as a missionary in all climes and countries contains in itself the elements of the moral-sublime. History has not recorded,—poetry itself has seldom portrayed more affecting exhibitions of Christian fortitude, of feminine heroism, and of all the noble and generous qualities which constitute the dignity and glory of woman, than when it spreads before the wondering eyes of the world the picture of her toils, her sacrifices, and even her martyrdom, in this field of her glory.

We see her in the pestilential jungles of India, or beneath the scorching sun on Africa's burning sands, or amid the rigors of an Arctic winter, in the midst of danger, disease, and every trial or hardship that can crush the human heart; and through all presenting a character equal to the sternest trial, and an address and fertility of resource which has often saved her co-workers and herself from what seemed an inevitable doom.

Such an exhibition of heroic qualities, such a picture of toils, sacrifices, sufferings, and dangers, is also presented to our eyes in the record of woman as a missionary among the fierce and almost untamable aboriginal tribes which roam over our American continent. The trials, hardships, and perils which always environ frontier life, were doubled and intensified in that mission. Taking her life in her hand, surrounded by alien and hostile influences, often entirely cut off from communication with the civilized world, armed not with carnal weapons, but trusting that other armor—the sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation—with her heart full of love and pity for her dark-browed brethren, woman as a missionary to the Indians is a crowning glory of her age and sex.

The influence of woman in this field has been poured out through two channels—one direct, the other indirect; and it is sometimes difficult to decide which of these two methods have produced the greatest results. As an indirect worker, she has lightened her husband's labors as a missionary, has softened the fierce temper of the pagan tribes, and by her kind and placid ministrations has prepared their minds for the reception of Gospel truth.

As an example of such a worker, Mrs. Ann Eliot, the wife of the Rev. John Eliot, surnamed the "Apostle," stands conspicuous among a host. It was the prudence and skill of this good woman, exercised in her sphere as a wife, a mother, a housekeeper, and a doctress, that enabled her husband to carry out his devout and extensive plans and perform his labors in Christianizing the Indian tribes of New England.

In estimating the great importance of those pious and far-reaching plans, we must bear in mind the precarious condition of the New England Colonies in the days of the "Apostle" John and his excellent wife. The slender and feeble settlements on Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay had hardly yet taken root, and were barely holding their own against the adverse blasts that swept over them. A combination between the different savage tribes, by which they were surrounded, might have extinguished, in a day, the Puritan Colonies, and have set back, for generations, the destinies of the American continent.

The primary and unselfish purpose of the "Apostle" John Eliot was to convert these wild tribes to the doctrine and belief of Christ. One of the results of his labors in that direction was also, we can hardly doubt, the political salvation of those feeble colonies. The mind and heart of the "Apostle" were so absorbed in the great work wherein he was engaged that a skillful and practical partner was absolutely necessary to enable him to prepare for and fully discharge many duties which might properly devolve upon him, but from which his wife in his preoccupation now relieved him.

In her appropriate sphere she also exercised an important influence, indirectly, in carrying out her husband's plans. Amidst her devoted attentions to the care and nurture of her six children she found time for those many duties that devolved on a New England housekeeper of the olden time, when it was difficult and almost impossible to command the constant aid of domestics. To provide fitting apparel and food for her family, and to make this care justly comport with a small income, a free hospitality, and a large charity, required both efficiency and wisdom.

This she accomplished without hurry of spirit, fretfulness, or misgiving. But she had in view more than this: she aimed so to perform her own part as to leave the mind of her husband free for the cares of his sacred profession, and in this she was peculiarly successful. Her understanding of the science of domestic comfort, and her prudence—the fruit of a correct judgment—so increased by daily experience, that she needed not to lay her burdens upon him, or divert to domestic cares and employments the time and energy which he would fain devote to God. "The heart of her husband did safely trust in her," and his tender appreciation of her policy and its details was her sweet reward.

It was graceful and generous for the wife thus to guard, as far as in her lay, her husband's time and thoughts from interruption. For, in addition to his pastoral labors, in which he never spared himself, were his missionary toils among the heathen. His poor Indian people regarded him as their father. He strove to uplift them from the debasing habits of savage life.

Groping amid their dark wigwams, he kneeled by the rude bed of skins where the dying lay, and pointed the dim eye of the savage to the Star of Bethlehem. They wept in very love for him, and grasped his skirts as one who was to lead them to heaven. The meekness of his Master dwelt with him, and day after day he was a student of their uncouth articulations, until he could talk with the half-clad Indian children, and see their eyes brighten, for they understood what he said. Then he had no rest until the whole of the Book of God, that "Word" which has regenerated the world, was translated into their language.

Not less remarkable was the assistance lent by Mrs. Eliot to her husband's labors in her capacity as a medical assistant. The difficulty of commanding the attendance of well educated physicians, by the sparse population of the colony, rendered it almost indispensable that a mother should be not unskillful in properly treating those childish ailments which beset the first years of life. Mrs. Eliot's skill and experience as a doctress soon caused her to be sought for by the sick and suffering. Among the poor, with a large charity, she dispensed safe and salutary medicines. Friends and strangers sought her in their sicknesses, and from such as were able she received some small remuneration, often forced upon her, and used to eke out the slender income of her husband.

The poor Indians, too, were among her patients. Often they would come to her house in pain and suffering, and she would cheerfully give them medicine and advice, and dismiss them healed and rejoicing. The red man in his wigwam, tossing on his couch of anguish, was visited by this angel of mercy, who bound up the aching brow, and cooled the sore fever. Who can question that many souls were won to Christ by these deeds of practical charity.

In the light of such acts and such a life, we ascribe to Mrs. Eliot no small share in the success of those heroic labors by which five thousand "praying Indians" in New England were brought to bear testimony to the truths of the Bible and the power of revealed religion.

While woman's work in the Indian missions has been often indirect, in many other cases she has cooperated directly in efforts looking to the conversion of the red man. Prominent among the earlier pioneers in the missionary cause was Jemima Bingham. She came of a devout and God-fearing race, being a niece of Eleazur Wheelock, D. D., himself a successful laborer in the Indian missionary work, and was reared amid the religious privileges of her Connecticut home. There, in 1769, she married the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, who had already commenced among the Oneida Indians those active and useful labors which only terminated with his life.

Entering with a sustained enthusiasm into the plans of her husband, she shortly after her marriage, accompanied him to his post of duty in the wilderness near Fort Stanwix—now Rome. This was literally on the frontier, in the midst of a dense forest which extended for hundreds of miles in every direction, and was the abode of numerous Indian tribes, some of which were hostile to the white settlers.

Their forest-home was near the "Council House" of the Oneidas—in the heart of the forest. There, surrounded by the dusky sons of the wilderness, the devoted couple, alone and unaided, commenced their joint missionary labors. The gentle manners and the indomitable courage and energy of Mr. Kirkland, were nobly supplemented by the admirable qualities of his wife. With the sweetness, gentleness, simplicity, and delicacy so becoming to woman under all circumstances, were blended in her character, energy that was unconquerable, courage that danger could not blench, and firmness that human power could not bend.

Faithfully too, in the midst of her missionary labors, did she discharge her duties as a mother. One of her sons rewarded her careful teaching by rising to eminence, and becoming President of Harvard College.

Prior to his marriage Mr. Kirkland made his home and pursued his missionary labors at the "Council House;" after a house had been prepared for Mrs. Kirkland, he still continued to preach and teach at the "Council House," addressing the Indians in their own language, which both he and his wife had acquired. Mrs. Kirkland visited the wigwams and instructed the squaws and children, who in turn flocked to her house where she ministered to their bodily and spiritual wants.

The women and children of the tribe were her chosen pupils. Seated in circles on the greensward beneath the spreading arches of giant oaks and maples, they listened to her teachings, and learned from her lips the wondrous story of Christ, who gave up his life on the cross that all tribes and races of mankind might live through Him. Then she prayed for them in the musical tongue of the Oneidas, and the "sounding aisles of the dim woods rang" with the psalms and hymns which she had taught those dusky children of the forest.

The change wrought by these ministrations of Mr. and Mrs. Kirkland was magical. A peaceful and well-ordered community, whose citizens were red men, rose in the wilderness, and many souls were gathered into the fold of Christ.

During the years of her residence and labors among the Oneidas, she won many hearts by her kind deeds as a nurse and medical benefactor to the red men and their wives and children. She was thus presented to them as a bright exemplar of the doctrines which she taught. Both she and her husband gained a wide influence among the Indians of the region, many of whom they were afterwards and during the Revolutionary contest, able to win over to the patriot cause.

The honor of having inaugurated Sunday schools on the frontier, must be awarded to woman. Truly this class of religious enterprises, in view of the circumstances by which they were surrounded, and the results produced, may be placed side by side with that missionary work which looks to the conversion of the pagan. The impressing of religious truth on the minds of the young, and preparing them to build up Christian communities in the wilderness, is in itself a great missionary work, the value of which is enhanced by the sacrifices and difficulties it involves. It was in Ohio that one of the first Sunday-schools in our country was kept, with which the name of Mrs. Lake must ever be identified.

In 1787, a year made memorable by the framing of the Constitution of the United States, the Ohio Company was organized in Boston, and soon after built a stockade fort at Marietta, Ohio, and named it Campus Martius. The year it was completed, the Rev. Daniel Storey, a preacher at Worcester, Massachusetts, was sent out as a chaplain. He acted as an evangelist till 1797, when he became the pastor of a Congregational church which he had been instrumental in collecting in Marietta and the adjoining towns, and which was organized the preceding year. He held that relation till the spring of 1804. Probably he was the first Protestant minister whose voice was heard in the vast wilderness lying to the northwest of the Ohio river.

In the garrison at Marietta, was witnessed the formation and successful operation of one of the first Sunday-schools in the United States. Its originator, superintendent, and sole teacher, was Mrs. Andrew Lake, an estimable lady from New York. Every Sabbath, after "Parson Storey had finished his public services," she collected as many of the children at her house as would attend, and heard them recite verses from the Scriptures, and taught them the Westminster catechism. Simple in her manner of teaching, and affable and kind in her disposition, she was able to interest her pupils—usually about twenty in number—and to win their affections to herself, to the school, and subsequently, in some instances, to the Saviour. A few, at least, of the little children that used to sit on rude benches, low stools, and the tops of meal bags, and listen to her sacred instructions and earnest admonitions, have doubtless ere this become pupils with her, in the "school of Christ" above.

Among the many names especially endeared to the friends of missions, there is another that we cannot forget—that of Sarah L. Smith. Like the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, she was a native of Norwich, Connecticut.

Her maiden name was Huntington. She was born in 1802; made a profession of religion in youth; became the wife of the Rev. Eli Smith in July, 1833; embarked with him for Palestine in the following September, and died at Boojah, near Smyrna, the last day of September, 1836.

Her work as a foreign missionary was quickly finished. She labored longer as a home missionary among the Mohegans, who lived in the neighborhood of Norwich, and there displayed most conspicuously the moral heroism of her nature. In conjunction with Sarah Breed, she commenced her philanthropic operations in the year 1827. "The first object that drew them from the sphere of their own church was the project of opening a Sunday-school for the poor Indian children of Mohegan. Satisfied that this was a work which would meet with the Divine approval, they marked out their plans and pursued them with untiring energy. Boldly they went forth, and, guided by the rising smoke or sounding axe, followed the Mohegans from field to field, and from hut to hut, till they had thoroughly informed themselves of their numbers, condition, and prospects. The opposition they encountered, the ridicule and opprobrium showered upon them from certain quarters, the sullenness of the natives, the bluster of the white tenants, the brushwood and dry branches thrown across their pathway, could not discourage them. They saw no 'lions in the way,' while mercy, with pleading looks, beckoned them forward."

The Mohegans then numbered a little more than one hundred, only one of whom was a professor of religion. She was ninety-seven years of age. In her hut the first prayer-meeting and the first Sunday-school gathered by these young ladies, was held.

Miss Breed soon removed from that part of the country, and Miss Huntington continued her labors for awhile alone. She was at that time very active in securing the formation of a society and the circulation of a subscription, having for their object the erection of a chapel. She found, ere long, a faithful co-worker in Miss Elizabeth Raymond. They taught a school in conjunction, and, aside from their duties as teachers, were, at times, "advisers, counsellors, law-givers, milliners, mantua-makers, tailoresses, and almoners."

The school was kept in a house on Fort Hill, leased to a respectable farmer, in whose family the young teachers boarded by alternate weeks, each going to the scene of labor every other Sunday morning, and remaining till the evening of the succeeding Sunday, so that both were present in the Sunday-school, which was twice as large as the other.

A single incident will serve to show the dauntless resolution which Miss Huntington carried into her pursuits. Just at the expiration of one of her terms of service, during the winter, a heavy and tempestuous snow blocked up the roads with such high drifts that a friend, who had been accustomed to go for her and convey her home in bad weather, had started for this purpose in his sleigh, but turned back, discouraged. No path had been broken, and the undertaking was so hazardous that he conceived no woman would venture forth at such a time. He therefore called at her father's house to say that he should delay going for her till the next day. What was his surprise to be met at the door by the young lady herself, who had reached home just before, having walked the whole distance on the hard crust of snow, alone, and some of the way over banks of snow that entirely obliterated the walls and fences by the roadside.

While at Mohegan, Miss Huntington corresponded with the Hon. Lewis Cass, then Secretary of War, and secured his influence and the aid of that department. In 1832, a grant of nine hundred dollars was made from the fund devoted to the Indian Department, five hundred being appropriated towards the erection of missionary buildings, and four for the support of a teacher.

Before leaving the Mohegan for a wider field, this devoted and courageous missionary had the happiness of seeing a chapel, parsonage, and school-house standing on "the sequestered land" of her forest friends, and had thus partially repaid the debt of social and moral obligation to a tribe who fed the first and famishing settlers in Connecticut, who strove to protect them against the tomahawk of inimical tribes, and whose whoop was friendly to freedom when British aggressors were overriding American rights.

In most of the missionary movements among the Indian tribes on our frontier, from the time of the Apostle, John Eliot, to the present, woman has taken, directly or indirectly, an active part. In the mission schools at Stockbridge and Hanover; among the Narragansetts, the Senecas, the Iroquois, the Cherokees, the Choctaws, the Creeks, and many other tribes, we see her, as a missionary's wife, with one hand sustaining her husband in his trying labors, while with the other she bears the blessed gospel—a light to the tawny Gentiles of our American wilderness. This passing tribute is due to these devout and zealous sisters. Their lives were passed far from their homes and kindred, amid an unceasing round of labors and trials, and not seldom they met a martyr's death at the hands of those whom they were seeking to benefit.

The following record of a passage in the life of a faithful minister and his wife, when about to leave a beloved people and enter on the missionary work, will show how hard it is for woman to sunder the ties that bind her to her home, and go she knows not where, and yet with what childlike trust she enters that perilous and difficult field of effort to which she is called.

"My dear good wife seems more than usually depressed at the thought of leaving the many friends who have endeared themselves to her by their kind offices. It is hard enough for me to break the bands of love that a year's tender intercourse with the people has thrown around my heart. But this I could bear, if other and gentler hearts than mine were not made to suffer; if other and dearer ties than those I have formed had not to be broken. My wife is warm in her attachments. She loves companionship. On every new field where our changing lot is cast, she forms intimate friendships with those who are of a like spirit with herself, if such are to be found. Sometimes she meets none to whom she can open her heart of hearts—none who can sympathize with her. But here it has been different. She has found companions and friends—lovers of the good, true, and beautiful, with whom she has often taken sweet counsel. To part with these and go, where and among whom she cannot tell, is indeed a hard trial. I passed through her room a little while ago, and saw her sitting by the bed, leaning her arm upon it, with her head upon her hand, and looking pensively out upon the beautiful landscape that stretches far away in varied woodland, meadow, glittering stream, and distant mountain. There was a tear upon her cheek. This little messenger from within, telling of a sad heart, touched my feelings.

"Mary," said I; sitting down by her side, and taking her hand in one of mine, while with the other I pointed upward, "He will go with us, and He is our best and kindest friend. If we would wear the crown, we must endure the cross. 'For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding weight of glory.' We are only pilgrims and sojourners here; but our mission is a high and holy one—ever to save the souls of our fellow-men. Think of that, Mary. Would you linger here when our Master calls us away, to labor somewhere else in His vineyard? Think of the Lord, when upon earth. Remember how He suffered for us. Hear Him say, 'The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.' And shall the servant be greater than his Master?"

"I know I am but a poor, weak, murmuring creature," she said, looking up into my face, with overflowing eyes. "But I ask daily for grace to make me resigned to His holy will. I do not wish to remain here when I know it is the Lord who calls me away. Still my weak heart cannot help feeling pain at the thought of parting from our dear little home and our good friends who have been so kind to us, and going, I know not whither. My woman's heart is weak, while my faith is strong. Thus far the Lord has been better to me than all my fears. Why, then, should I hold back, and feel so reluctant to enter the path His wisdom points out? I know if He were to lead me to prison, or to death, that it would be good for me. If He were to slay me, yet would I trust in him."

When we compare the greatness of the ends secured, with the smartness of the means employed, a review of the results of the Moravian Missions, throughout the heathen world, will strike us with astonishment.

The character of the Moravian women peculiarly fitted them for the work. They were a mixed race. The fiery enthusiasm of the Sclaves was in them blended with the steadfast energy and patient docility of the Germans. The fire of their natures was a holy fire—a lambent flame which lighted but did not destroy. Their creed was one of love; it was a joyful persuasion of their interest in Christ and their title to His purchased salvation. Here, then, we have the key to the success which attended the Moravian Missions in all parts of the world. They brought the heathen to the feet of Christ by the spirit of love; they faced every danger and endured every hardship in the cause of their Master, for theirs' was a joyful persuasion. They were the "Herrenhutters," the soldiers of the Lord, and yet in their lives they were representatives of the Prince of Peace, and sought to gather about them in this life the emblems of heaven.

It was before the middle of the last century that those gentle and pious brothers and sisters commenced their especial labors among the North American Indians, and to-day those labors have not ceased.

The story of these Moravian Missions for nearly a century is one long religious epic poem, full of action, suffering, battle, bereavement,—all illumined with the dauntless, fervent, Christ-like spirit which bore these gentle ministers along their high career. Their principal field of labor for the first forty years was Pennsylvania, where they established missionary stations at Bethlehem, Gnadenhutten, (tents of grace,) Nazareth, Friedenshutten, (tents of peace,) Wechquetank, and many other places.

The settlement at Gnadenhutten was the most important and the most interesting, historically considered, of all the stations. Here the Moravian brothers and sisters showed themselves at their best, and that is saying much. Assuming every burden, making every sacrifice, and performing the hardest service, they at the same time displayed consummate tact and address in conciliating their red brethren, taking their meals in common with them, and even adopting the Indian, costume.

In a short time Gnadenhutten became a regular and pleasant town. The church, stood in a valley. On one side were the Indian houses, in the form of a crescent, upon a rising ground; on the other, the houses of the missionaries and a burying-ground. The Indians labored diligently in the fields, one of which was allotted to each family; and as these became too small, the brethren purchased a neighboring plantation and erected a saw-mill. Hunting, however, continued to be their usual occupation. As this is a precarious mode of subsistence, a supply of provisions was constantly forwarded from Bethlehem. The congregation increased by degrees to about five hundred persons. A new place of worship was opened and a school established. The place was visited by many heathen Indians, who were struck with the order, and happiness of the converts, and were prepared to think favorably of the Christian religion.

Besides laboring with unwearied diligence at Gnadenhutten, the brethren made frequent journeys among the Indians in other parts. Several establishments were attempted, among which one was at Shomoken, on the Susquehanna river. This was attended with great expense, as every necessary of life was carried from Bethlehem. The missionaries were likewise in constant danger of their lives from the drunken frolics of the natives. They visited Onondaga, the chief town of the Iroquois, and the seat of their great council, and obtained permission for two of them to settle there and learn the language. They went, but suffered much from want, being obliged to hunt, or seek roots in the forest, for subsistence.

The missionaries' wives united with their husbands in these arduous labors in the wilderness, and their kind offices and gentle ways did much to render the missionary work entirely effectual.

Under such auspices for eight years, Gnadenhutten was the smiling abode of peace, happiness, and prosperity. The good work was bringing forth its legitimate fruits. A large Indian congregation was being instructed in the Word and prepared to disseminate the doctrines of Christ among their heathen brethren, when the din of the French and Indian war was heard on the border. The Moravians in their various settlements were soon surrounded literally with circles of blood and flame. Some of them fled eastward to the larger towns; others sought concealment in the depths of the forest or on the mountains.

The Brethren at Bethlehem and Gnadenhutten resolved to stand at their post. Slowly the fiery circles encompassed them closely and more closely till November, 1755, when the long expected bolt fell.

The missionaries with their wives and families were assembled in one house partaking of their evening meal, when a party of French Indians approached. Hearing the barking of the dogs, Senseman, one of the Brethren, went to the back door and others at the same time hearing the report of a gun rushed to the front door, where they were met by a band of hideously painted savages with guns pointed ready to fire the moment the door was opened.

The Rev. Martin Nitschman fell dead in the doorway. His wife and others were wounded, but fled with the rest up to the garret and barricaded the door with bedsteads. One of the Brethren escaped by jumping out of a back window, and another who was ill in bed did the same though a guard stood before his door. The savages now pursued those who had taken, refuge in the garret, and strove hard to break in the door, but finding it too well secured, they set fire to the house. It was instantly in flames.

At this time a boy called Sturgeous, standing upon the flaming roof, ventured to leap off, and thus escaped. A ball had previously grazed his cheek, and one side of his head was much burnt. Mr. Partsch likewise leaped from the roof while on fire, unhurt and unobserved. Fabricius made the same attempt, but was brought down by two balls, seized alive and scalped. All the rest, eleven in number, were burned to death. Senseman, who first went out, had the inexpressible grief of seeing his wife perish in the flames.

Mrs. Partsch, who had escaped, could not, through fear and trembling, go far, but hid herself behind a tree upon a hill near the house. From this place the gentle sister of that forlorn band gazed trembling and with ghastly features upon that scene of fire and butchery. She saw her beloved brethren and sisters dragged forth and shot or tomahawked. Before the breath had left their bodies she saw the scalps torn from their heads, some of the wounded women kneeling and imploring for mercy in vain. The burning house was the funeral pyre from which the loving spirit of Mrs. Senseman took its flight to eternal rest. Gazing through the windows which the fire now illumined with a lurid glare, she saw Mrs. Senseman surrounded by flames standing with arms folded and exclaiming—"'Tis all well, dear Saviour!"

One of the closing scenes in the history of the protracted toils and sufferings of the missionaries of Gnadenhutten, is of thrilling and tragical interest. Ninety-six of the Indian converts having been treacherously lured from the settlement, and taken prisoners, by hostile Indians and white renegades, were told that they must prepare for death. Then was displayed a calmness and courage worthy of the early Christian martyrs. Kneeling down in that dreadful hour; those unfortunate Indian believers prayed fervently to the God of all; then rising they suffered themselves to be led unresistingly to the place appointed for them to die. The last sounds that could be heard before the awful butchery was finished were the prayers and praises of the Indian women, of whom there were forty, thus testifying their unfaltering trust in the promise taught them by their white sisters—the devoted Moravians of Gnadenhutten.

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