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A Missionary's Report from Green Bay to Philadelphia, 1826

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

This is how the catalog for the HR Harmer auction held October 26-27, 2022, described the item pictured in Figure 1:


Green Bay M Ty 4 January 1826, manuscript postmark on folded letter to Philadelphia, matching “25” rate, letter slightly reduced, contents pertain to local church business, very fine early marking and letter.


This stampless folded letter was mailed from Green Bay - in what was then Michigan Territory ("M Ty") - on January 4, 1826, to Philadelphia. The postal rate at the time was 25-cents for a single letter sheet traveling more than 400 miles. (i) That amount is shown by the manuscript "25" in the upper-right corner. Pretty interest, right? Yeah, I know, not all that much. But you know what? Read on because it gets better.


The letter was sent to Reverend George Boyd (Figure 5). Rev. Boyd was an Episcopal Church clergyman born in New York in 1788. After graduating from Columbia University, he studied and began to practice law, but a few years later, he took up the study of theology and was ordained in 1814. Soon thereafter, he became rector of St. John's Church in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, (ii) when he remained for the rest of his life. He died in Philadelphia in 1850 and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery. (iii)


So why was an Episcopal priest who spent his entire life in Philadelphia receiving mail from someone in Green Bay, Michigan Territory? It's unlikely Rev. Boyd had a casual acquittance in Green Bay. A small trading post was established in that locale in 1634, and the town of Green Bay was incorporated in 1754. The town grew in the 1820s into a trading center, particularly after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and was protected by Fort Howard, built in 1816. (iv) But even so, it was not a heavily populated town.


According to the US Census of 1820, Michigan Territory, which encompassed the current states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and the eastern thirds of North and South Dakota, had a total population of less than 9,000 - not counting Native Americans who literally were not counted in the census. Brown County, of which Green Bay was part, had a population of less than 1,400 (sans Natives) in 1830 and certainly less than that in 1826. (v)


Well, it turns out that Rev. Boyd was heavily involved in the missionary work of the Episcopal Church. In 1821, the Episcopal Church leadership at a meeting in Philadelphia established "The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States," or "Society" for short and named Rev. Boyd as its first secretary. (vi) The Society was based in Philadelphia for its first 14 years before moving its headquarters to New York. (vii)


Key to this folded letter is that by the end of 1825, the Society had sent missionaries to four parts of the US: Florida, Missouri and two to Michigan Territory: Green Bay and Detroit.


The individual sent to Green Bay was Rev. Norman Nash, who was born in Connecticut in 1790. After being ordained a deacon circa 1820, he worked as a missionary in Virginia. Sometime in the early 1820s, he was ordained a priest and preached in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a town 200 miles west northwest of Philadelphia. (viii) In 1825, the Society dispatched Rev. Nash to Green Bay to establish a school for Native Americans living in the vicinity. (ix)


Strangely, the letter to Rev. Boyd contains neither a salutation, e.g., "My Dear Rev. Boyd," nor a formal closing, e.g., "Your Obedient Servant in God, Rev. Nash." Thus, I cannot be 100% sure that Rev. Nash is the author, but it seems highly likely that he was. First, the letter certainly concerns church affairs. Second, the author writes that, "We have assembled of late for worship in my school...," and Rev. Nash's charge was to establish a school. Third, Rev. Boyd was the secretary of the Society that sent Rev. Nash to Green Bay, and the letter does mention "the Society." All that, coupled with the fact that Green Bay was a small town and Rev. Boyd could not have had many acquittances there, there is pretty strong circumstantial evidence that Rev. Nash was the letter writer.


It's possible, but unlikely, that the letter included another page. Rev. Nash was quite economical in his use of the available writing space, as you can see from Figures 3 and 4. If he had additional paper, why cram as much as he did on the front and back of a single sheet? The postage paid - 25-cents - also points to a single-sheet letter. Had it been more than one-page, the postage charge would have been higher.


The letter reads very much like a report, and my hunch is that Rev. Nash saw no need to use up valuable space with a formal salutation and closing. What I have also seems self-contained. Rev. Nash starts off by matter-of-factly stating that worship is taking place in his school, and he closes by stating that he trusts that he "shall be able" to provide some sort of expense accounting "in my next," which I take to mean in his next report.


As noted in the auction description, although the letter is "slightly reduced" - meaning that somewhere along the way, someone for some reason trimmed the edges - the contents that can be read are quite interesting.


Rev. Nash starts off by talking about how his congregation is increasing, that he had almost exhausted his supply of prayer books, and that he has "commenced discoursing to the Indians on Sunday afternoons by the help of an interpreter." He writes, "They listen with the greatest apparent attention; but when all is over they may possibly beg a little whiskey before they go especially during the holy days." He then digresses into the drinking habits of Native Americans, stating that they do not seem embarrassed when drunk but rather view it as a privilege. (x)


Rev. Nash then gets back to the business of religion. He writes how he "sent two dozen Bibles to Mrs. Clarke (wife of Capt. Clark) [on the] St. Peters River. I ascended the Fox River with her last summer as she passed from this to St. Peters and thought her to be one the most reliable & excellent women. She is a member of our church."


Based on my research, "Mrs. Clarke" was likely Charlotte Ann Clark who was the wife of Captain (later Major) Nathan Clark. In one source I found, Captain Clark is described as "an officer of many years' service, who had come West in 1820 to help in the construction of Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River." (xi) Fort Snelling was originally named Fort Saint Anthony, and it was built at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the St. Peter's River, or what is now called the Minnesota River.


Mrs. Clark was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1789, and she and then Lieutenant Clark were married there in 1816. Their honeymoon, so to speak, was to journey to Detroit where Lt. Clark's regiment was stationed. After a posting to Fort Wayne, Indiana and an extended furlough back to Connecticut, Lt. Clark was ordered to the junction of the St. Peter's and Mississippi Rivers to work on the construction of what was to become Fort Snelling.


On their way west in 1819, they stopped at Fort Crawford in what is today Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. It was there that Mrs. Clark gave birth to a daughter named Charlotte, for her mother, and to whom the officers of the fort gave the middle name "Ouisconsin," the French spelling of Wisconsin. Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark was supposedly the first white child born in that part of Michigan Territory.


According to a glowing obituary published in The Star Tribune of Minneapolis on July 29, 1873, titled, "Minnesota's First Mother," Mrs. Clark organized at Fort Snelling the first Sabbath School in the northwest and from that school sprung a Bible class in which nearly all the officers and their wives participated. That seems to square quite well with the description of Mrs. Clark provided by Rev. Nash in his letter to Rev. Boyd.


The Clarks spent about eight years in Fort Snelling before Captain Clark was assigned to other posts, including Fort Howard in Green Bay. His final posting was as commanding officer of Fort Winnebago, on the Fox River near Portage, Wisconsin, about 120 miles southwest of Green Bay. He commanded that fort during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Major Clark died at Fort Winnebago in 1836. His remains were eventually returned to Cincinnati where they were buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery. (xii)


Mrs. Clark lived until the age of 78. She died in 1873 in Colorado Springs where one of her daughters lived. Her remains were transported to Cincinnati where she was buried next to her husband. (xiii)


After saying that he had not yet purchased a farm due to, I gather, a lack of funds, Rev. Nash mentions a meeting with "Mr. Williams the Oneida chief." This was most likely Eleazer Wiliams (Figure 6), a fascinating individual whose biography is well worth reading. (xiv) Reverend Williams was a Congregational and Episcopalian clergyman (his religious affiliations were fluid) who in 1819 and 1820 reportedly led the migration of the Oneida from upstate New York (where they were being pushed out by white settlers) to the Green Bay area and negotiated with the local Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk) and Menominee for the right of the Oneida to settle there. Rev. Williams lived in Green Bay until 1834. He died in 1858 in New York, but in 1947 his tombstone and remains were moved to the Holy Apostles Cemetery in Oneida, Wisconsin.


Rev. Nash then turns back to the matter of acquiring a farm in the Green Bay area for the Society. Determining who owned the land and how to purchase it from the Native Americans was complicated, so Rev. Nash suggests that Rev. Boyd, or the Society, seek permission from "the President" - presumably US President John Quincy Adams - to hold treaty discussions with the Winnebago and Menominee. He recommended negotiations with both tribes because if they failed with one, they might succeed with the other and, besides, there was a "beautiful tract of land occupied by both in common." No treaty talks were held, as near as I can tell, because of Rev. Nash's appeal. The Winnebago were forced to cede 3 million acres to the US after the Black Hawk War, and a treaty with the Menominee was signed in 1836.


In April 1826, three months after filing this report with Rev. Boyd, Rev. Nash tried to formally organize a parish in Green Bay, but nothing came of his effort because he returned to the East Coast, I suppose at the order of the Society. In 1829, the Society ordered Rev. Richard Fish Cadel to Green Bay to revive the school started by Rev. Nash and establish a parish. Rev. Cadel, along with his sister Sarah, were successful, and Christ Episcopal Church was incorporated in 1829. Christ Episcopal is still operating, albeit not in its original building. Rev. Cadel, by the way, was the clergyman assigned to Detroit by the Society in 1825.


After a short stint in New Jersey, Rev. Nash returned to the Midwest, this time to Port Huron, Michigan where he continued to minister to Native Americans as an Episcopalian clergyman until he had a falling out with the church leadership over, of all things, how he was to be paid. He continued to devote himself to serving the Native American tribes in an independent way. He died in 1870 at age 79 in Port Huron and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in that community.

P.S. I acquired this folded letter at the HR Harmer auction for $300.00 plus an 18% buyers' premium. This item had been part of the William B. Robinson Collection of Wisconsin Postal History. (xv)


----------------------


The letter shown in Figures 3 and 4 reads as best as I can tell:


We have assembled of late for public worship in my school

(?)om on each Lords day. Our congregation has increased

(?)ighing on the river commenced & they appear attentive

(?)semble. Prayer books are generally used throughout the

congregation & my stock is nearly exhausted.


I have commenced discoursing to the Indians on Sunday

afternoons by the help of an interpreter. They listen with

the greatest apparent attention; but when all is over they

may possibly beg a little whiskey before they go especially

during the holy days (or days of rioting) assuring you at

the same time that they are not like some Indians who when they are on

[Indigenous word - "whiskey" perhaps?]

are quarrelsome. [Indigenous words] "Not I good Indian."

They cannot be made to believe that I (?)

(?) nor keep it in my house. They do not seem to consider

it a disgrace to get drunk but rather a privilege for (?)

(?) sacrifice in their power seems to be too great.


A(?) drunken Chief came to my door one day & wished to (?)

(?) with me giving as a reason [Indigenous words] "You Chief."

I answered [Indigenous words] "Not I Chief. I Black Coat."

[Indigenous words] "I drunken Indian" said the old man & shook my

hand very cordially.


I sent two dozen Bibles to Mrs. Clarke (wife of Capt. Clark)

(?) St. Peters River. I ascended the Fox River with her last summer

as she passed from this to St. Peters and thought her to be one the most

reliable & excellent women. She is a member of our church. She

(?) promise to name St Peters to you & assure you that her

(?) others there would do their best to forward the (?)

Society in that place should you think proper to send (?)

(?) Two of the officers were present & joined in the request (?).


I have not yet purchased a farm, partly because I wish

first to hear from you & partly because I have expensed

much on this place I now have & there is no other way for

(?) it but by using the house & farm.


Previous to the departure Mr. Williams the Oneida chief

[Indigenous word] called upon me with his interpreter and

delivered a long, laboured, studied & solemn speech, the

main point of which was to request me to write to (?)

(?) in behalf of Mr. Williams, praying that (?)

greatly need French Bibles, 50 at least.


As (?) no farm as yet has been procured & this will do for (?)

temporary establishment providing I am permitted to (?)

(?) it (which however is quite uncertain as it belongs to (?)

(?)ettled estate). I think it would not be amiss to get

permission from the President to hold a treaty with

the Winnebagos & also with the Menominees for a (?)

(?) tract of land for the purposes of the Society.


I mention both so that if we should fail with one (?)

we may resort to the other. And besides there is a

beautiful tract I am told belonging to, or at least

occupied by both in common. I intend to visit

[entire line mostly cut off; only top of letters can be seen]

[entire line mostly cut off; bottom of one letter can be seen]

expenses but trust I shall be able in

my next.


-------------------


(ii) The church building stands to this day. It remained an Episcopal Church until 1931 when it was consecrated as the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church. See here for more detail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John%27s_Church,_Philadelphia.

(vi) A Century of Endeavor, Julia C. Emery, Women's Auxiliary to the Board of Missions, 1921, p. 32.

(vii) What is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society?, Archives of the Episcopal Church, 2012.

(x) The history of how Native Americans were impacted by the widespread introduction of alcohol by Europeans and Americans is far beyond the scope of this short article. I refer interested readers to this article on Wikipedia: Alcohol and Native Americans - Wikipedia.

(xi) A History of Fort Howard, James Kramer, Master's Thesis, University of Arizona, James Kramer, 1956, p. 84.


Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Page 1 of letter

Figure 4 - Page 2 of letter

Figure 5 - Reverend George Boyd


Figure 6 - Reverend Eleazar Williams

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