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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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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