Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part VII

The Williamson’s returned from their trip to Ohio in May of 1848 and that summer Kaposia hosted the annual reunion of the Dakota Mission. Stephen and Mary Riggs and three of their children were there, along with both of the Pond families, Moses and Nancy Adams, and John and Nancy Aiton in addition to school teacher Harriet Bishop and her new colleague, Amanda Horsford, who had opened a school in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Stephen Riggs wrote: ‘The toilers of fourteen years among the Dakota, now shook hands with the first toilers among the white people.”[1]

It is fun for me to imagine how these friends enjoyed their time together at Kaposia. Both the Adams and the Aitons were new to the Dakota mission and both couples were newlyweds.  John Aiton and his wife Nancy Hunter Aiton, were married in Theopolis, Illinois, on July 5, 1848. Moses Adams and his wife, Nancy Rankin Adams, were married in Quincy, Illinois on July 9, 1848. The Aitons were the newest missionaries, stationed at Red Wing’s village and the Adams were sent to work with the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux.[2]  Jane Williamson and Nancy Aiton soon became dear friends and it is their letters that have informed so much of the known history of the mission at Kaposia. Nancy Aiton worked side-by-side with Jane when the Aiton’s came up to Kaposia in March of 1849 and Nancy stayed with the Williamson’s while John returned to Red Wing.

Jane really came into her own during her time at Kaposia. She now knew the Dakota language and had developed close relationships with many of the Dakota women and girls. Major Richard G. Murphy, who was called the “Ind. sub-agent,” wrote the following to the territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, on October 4, 1849:

These two Dakota girls are identified only as "Little Crow's Daughters" in this photo which was taken at the Fort Snelling camp in 1862. It is likely that these teen-aged girls were among Jane's students at Kaposia.

These two Dakota girls are identified only as “Little Crow’s Daughters” in this photo which was taken at the Fort Snelling camp in 1862. It is likely that these teen-aged girls were among Jane’s students at Kaposia when they were young.

“I went to Crow’s village, but it was at a time when very few children were in attendance at Mr. Cook’s school. Such as were present shewed [sic] that they were learning reading, and one writing. I found many girls in attendance at the A.B. Foreign Mission school, conducted by Miss Jane Williamson, and was so much please by the ability displayed by the instructress, and interested by the conduct of the children, that I must call particular attention to it. On entering the school with Mr. Prescott, the children became very much embarrassed from bashfulness, but the great kindness and skill of Miss Williamson soon restored order. Their usual recess shortly followed, during which time we visited the farmer and had a talk with the chief and principal men. On our return we found school arranged again, and the Indian children singing, assisted by several viz: Dr. Williamson and his wife, Miss Williamson, Mrs. Aiton, Miss Pettijohn (a young lady well versed in music and who appeared to be the leader on this occasion and others. Messrs. Prescott and Cook joined and I was quite delighted with the singing, and much astonished to see such proficiency displayed by Indian girls so young. Once the hymn being given out, they found the proper page, they read and sang correctly, keeping excellent time, and appeared to have correct ears for music, and voices which made the music equal, if not superior, to any singing I had ever heard. They were all able to read in their Indian books, and produced specimens of their work that would do credit to any girls of their age. Miss Williamson certainly deserves great praise for the toil and skill she has bestowed on these children, to whom her kindness and tenderness equal that of the most affectionate mother.”[3]

The Dakota girls that reportedly responded so well to Jane’s teaching numbered among her favorite pupils. She wrote to her cousin Elizabeth describing an outing she took some of them on in the summer of 1850. “Last Summer I promised some of my Indian girls that I wanted to take them on a steamer when I could afford it…a short time since I took four of them and went down to Red Wing to see Mrs. Aiton. I had intended to spend a week but hearing sister was sick I hastened home before it had quite expired. The little girls enjoyed the trip very much except my poor scrofulous Fanny. I often think we will not have her with us long. To me she is a very precious child but she gives no decided evidence of being born of the Spirit. Oh, pray that she may be made one of the lambs of Jesus. She said to me the other day, “Aunt, Who made God? Did he make himself?”[4]

In another letter that Jane wrote to Nancy Aiton while Nancy was visiting with relatives in Illinois in October of 1851, she provides news of the girls as well.

“Our Indians started out a few days since…Old Sarah was too frail to accompany them and we persuaded her to stay here and at Mr. Robertson’s but good Winona Ze came down yesterday to attend worship with us and finding her mother took her home with her today. Winona seems to grow in grace and in every good work. One of her little waxicu granddaughters has learned to read and reads the Sioux Bible to her.[5] She had the little girl with her and told me with great joy that she could read to her in Mowapa Mahan. I could not but lift my heart in prayer that the dear child might be brought to see and feel the preciousness of the word she read so prettily. Her elder brother had been down frequently with her Grandma and I always taught him a lesson in Sioux and put books in his hands….Pray for us. Pray for me and pray for these dear little girls.

“Mary is a dear child but she is exposed to many bad influences. Her father reproved me just before he started for letting her help me wash Susan’s clothes. I have Nancy Jane wash them since but Mary helps me wash the other clothes. When I read your wish to have one of the little girls with you to sister R., she said ‘O, how I wish she had Marion.’ Only for burdening you we would feel it a privilege to have any of them with you.”[6]

This last paragraph allows us to understand some of the challenges that Jane and other teachers faced at all of the mission schools. First of all Mary’s father was upset that Jane was having his daughter help her wash the clothes of another Dakota girl, in this case Susan, who is probably Susan Rainbow, the little girl that Jane took under her wing in 1846. Jane acquiesced to his request in terms of Susan and had her own niece, Nancy Jane Williamson, help with Susan’s clothes but still had Mary assist with the other laundry. Because she cared for her girls so much, Jane wanted them to learn the kinds of domestic tasks that white girls were expected to learn. She felt that the only way the children would be successful was if they learned how to thrive in a white world. Mary’s father disagreed, perhaps feeling it would be better if Mary concentrated on how to tan a perfect deer hide or catch fish in the river or sew her own clothes out of buckskin.

The “Mrs. R.” referred to in the letter is Jane Anderson Robertson, Andrew Robertson’s wife. Nancy Aiton has asked if one of the Dakota girls would like to come and live with her and Mrs. R. apparently wished that her daughter Marion could be that girl. Marion Robertson was about 10 years old at this time and lived off and on with the Williamson’s, implying at least that her mother wanted her to feel at home living with white families. Jane replied to Nancy that they wouldn’t burden her by sending a girl to her. Nancy had returned to her Illinois home because of health issues so Jane perhaps had a feeling that it wasn’t a good time to send Marion to live with Nancy.

This constant conflict between how Dakota children should be raised was pervasive throughout the life of the Dakota mission. One of the earliest ways in which the missionaries attempted to reach their goal of educating the girls in both domestic tasks and in reading and writing, was by bringing those girls into their own homes for months at a time. They were called “boarding students” in the school reports and the missionaries could be paid room and board for such students at the rate of between forty to fifty dollars a year. In most cases, unless the child was orphaned or abandoned, the student only remained a few weeks or months before returning to their own family.

I will not attempt to cover the history of the Indian boarding school system in this post, but suffice it to say that these personal interactions with specific Dakota children and their families, bore no similarity to the government boarding schools that led to such horrific abuse of Indian children in our country from about 1870 to 1920.

Taoyateduta's son, Wowinape, lived in the Williamson home off and on when he was a young boy. He was withi his father when the famous Dakota chief was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1863.

Taoyateduta’s son, Wowinape, lived in the Williamson home off and on when he was a young boy. He was withi his father when the famous Dakota chief was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1863.

In Jane Williamson’s case, the family often had between five and six Dakota children in their home during the year. Taoyateduta himself, the chief of Kaposia, left two of his children with the Williamson’s off and on for periods of time. The two who are specifically mentioned are Emma and Wowinape. Emma was born to Taoyateduta’s fourth wife, Saiceyewin, in about 1844 and Wowinape was the son of Taoyateduta’s third wife, Mazaiyagewin, born in about 1847.

Author and historian Gary Clayton Anderson described the children as follows:

“He [Little Crow] sent two of his children to live at Williamson’s home. Wowinape, who Williamson renamed Albert, was a two-or three-year-old when he entered the school in 1849. His father soon claimed that villagers intended to poison his son if he were allowed to stay with the mission family, however, and this opposition to education convinced Taoyateduta to withdraw him temporarily. By 1850-51 Wowinape was back in the makeshift Williamson boarding school along with Little Crow’s second child, a girl the missionaries called Emma. ‘She learned to read and speak English beautifully,’ Williamson later claimed. Both children were removed after a year and soon forgot most of what they had learned at the school.” [7]

The anti-education attitude Anderson refers to was similar to the feeling that had caused such problems at Lac qui Parle. The Dakota at Kaposia knew that they were also to have received money for education under the terms of their federal treaties but no money was forthcoming.

Artist Seth Eastman painted this picture of some of the children at Kaposia in about 1850. It is obviously a romanticized version of what was seen to be the ideal childhood of the children of the "noble savage."

Artist Seth Eastman painted this picture of some of the children at Kaposia in about 1850. It is obviously a romanticized version of what was seen to be the ideal childhood of the children of the “noble savage.”

When Thomas Williamson submitted his annual report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1850, he described it as the Fourth Annual Report of the Female Mission School at Kaposia and said that:

“Miss Jane Williamson has given diligent attention to teaching the Dakota females of this village whenever any could be found willing to be taught. Within the year she has had school about eleven months. Not including my own children, who have been taught with the others, the whole number of scholars is twenty-nine. Counting sixty days as a quarter, the average attendance for the first quarter is 4-1/2; for the second, 7; for the third, 8-2/3; and for the fourth, 8, making an average attendance of seven for 240 days.

“Four can read with ease in the New Testament, both in Dakota and English, write legibly, and have made some progress in mental arithmetic. Three others read both languages, but not fluently. Four read the Wowassiwak’en who have not learned English, and write on slates. Most of the remaining nine can spell readily in three letters.

“Besides teaching them to spell, read, etc., ten have been taught to knit and all who attend with any regularity are instructed in sewing.

“All evince good capacity for learning, and when they attend regularly make good progress. But the same cause which has been mentioned in years past as impeding education amount the Mdewakanton Sioux, has during the past year, been activing with increased power, and until the money for which they are contending shall be in some way disposed of, there is little encouragement here to attempt teaching any except such as are boarded for that purpose. Two have been boarded by Mr. Robertson, the farmer for this village, and five in my own family during the whole time they have been instructed. Those who live with their Indian relatives, have, during the year, attended school on an average less than 30 days each.”[8]

There is little indication in Jane’s letters that she wrote during this time that she involved herself to any great degree in the politics of the Dakota education system. She was much more interested in the individual students and their progress than she was in the overall picture. The only mention she even makes of the situation is in the last sentence of the following letter that she wrote to Nancy Hunter at Kaposia while Jane was in Ohio. She wrote:

“O, with what a thrill of interest I read the names of my old scholars and all you say respecting them. I rejoice to hear that Mary tries to please you and to improve by the opportunities afforded her. May we yet be permitted to see her striving to please the Lord will all her heart. And dear little Susan too tries to be good. How glad I am that she tried. Poor Lucy. May the Lord remember her in mercy. I long to hear more particularly from Margaret. May it not be in vain that they have learned to read the Bible. It must have been very trying to you to give up the chief’s children…[9]

Despite Jane’s disinterest in the educational problems of the mission school, there was a bigger issue looming. As early as October of 1849, Selah B. Treat, head of the A.B.C.F.M., wrote to missionary Jeremiah Potter that “no new mission or school work will be begun in the Dakota mission until the results of the treaty are known.”[10]

The treaty referred to reflected the goal of the federal government to open the land on the west side of the Mississippi River for white settlement. To do so would require removing the Dakota from Kaposia and all of the other villages along the river. No one knew if or when this might occur but the possibilities impacted all of the decisions that individual missionaries and the A.B.C.F.M. made during this time.

[1] Neill, Edward E., The History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings, including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota and Outlines of the History of Minnesota by J. Fletcher Williams, North Star Publishing, Minneapolis, 1881, p. 184

[2] Both Nancy Aiton and Nancy Adams will be discussed in future stories on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[3] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1849-1850, Minnesota Historical Society Reading Room Call #E93.U71, p. 113

[4] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, July 10, 1851. Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 23, Folder 3. Scrofula is the name for tuberculosis of the lymph nodes and was used in the 19th century for breathing and other health problems. “Poor scrofulous Fanny” is believed be named after missionary Fanny Huggins Pettijohn. Her only Dakota name, Hapistina, is the common Dakota name for the third-born daughter. She is mentioned as one of Jane’s students  in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 8/29/1851, p. 175, and died at Mendota in 1855.

[5] Waxicu is the word for white in English which may mean that Winona Ze’s daughter had married a white man. Mowapa Mahan is a early Dakota language primer.

[6] Jane Williamson to Nancy Aiton, October 28, 1851. John Felix Aiton and Family Papers, 1835-1898, Minnesota Historical Society, Manuscripts Notebooks, Call #P1447.

[7] Riggs, Stephen Return, “Boarding School Students,1847-1859,” Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B, and Thomas Williamson to McLean, August 27, 1851, Senate Executive Documents no 1, 32nd Congress, 1t session, serial 613, pp. 437-439. Gary Clayton Anderson provides a possible genealogy of Taoyateduta in his biography of Little Crow. According to this version, Taoyateduta had six wives who gave birth to at least 23 children, most of whom died in infancy. Anderson, Gary Clayton, Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1986.

[8] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1850, Minnesota Historical Society Reading Room Call #E93.U71, p. 79.

[9] Jane Williamson, near Marietta Constitution P.O. Ohio,  to Nancy Hunter Aiton, at Kaposia, March 5, Minnesota Historical Society, Manuscripts Notebooks, Call #P1447.

[10] Selah Be. Treat to Jeremiah Potter, October 18, 1849, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

Posted in Dakota Mission, Emma Wakefield, Harriet Bishop, Jane Anderson Robertson, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Marion Robertson Hunter, Minnesota, Minnesota History, Nancy Hunter Aiton, Nancy Rankin Adams, Susan Rainbow aka Susan Ellison, Sylvester Cook, Women in Minnesota, Wowinape | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part VI

Artist Seth Eastman pained this image of Kaposia in approximately 1847. The two story house on the far left is believed to be the "new" mission house built by Andrew Robertson.

Artist Seth Eastman pained this image of Kaposia in approximately 1847. The two story house on the far left is believed to be the “new” mission house built by Andrew Robertson.

When Jane Williamson arrived at the new mission at Kaposia, she found herself living in a unique community. Although white settlement was not legally permitted on the west side of the Mississippi River in 1846, the land on the east side of the river had been opened to whites as a result of the 1837 federal treaty with the Dakota. The village was only nine miles from Fort Snelling which was the largest settlement of whites in the region, and explorers, tourists, government officials and travelers often visited Kaposia.

The Kaposia band of Mdewakanton Dakota had lived among whites for generations. Unlike their Wahpeton kin at Lac qui Parle, who were isolated hundreds of miles from any ports or cities, the Kaposia were frequent visitors to the fort. Samuel Pond had come to the village over a decade earlier to attempt to teach Chief Taoyateduta’s father, Wakinyantanka, (aka Big Thunder or Little Crow IV) how to use a plow and government farmers had been assigned to the village since the 1830s.

Rev. Alfred Brunson was the first Methodist missionary at Kaposia. He established the mission and school there in May of 1837.

Rev. Alfred Brunson was the first Methodist missionary at Kaposia. He established the mission and school there in May of 1837.

They were also familiar with missionaries because the Methodist Church had established a mission school and church at Kaposia in 1837, led by Rev. Alfred Brunson as Superintendent, Rev. David King as missionary and teacher and John Holton, who was to assist with farming. The group included Holton’s family as well as James Thompson, an enslaved man from Africa who was married to a Dakota woman. Brunson had brought Thompson to the site and raised the funds to purchase his freedom for $1,200.00. It was the Methodist group who built the first frame house at Kaposia, the one the Williamson’s moved into when they arrived in 1846, and who started the first school, where Rev. King taught and studied as he attempted to learn the Dakota language. Unfortunately, Brunson became ill and was replaced by Rev. James Kavanaugh in 1839, who brought his family as well as two white missionary women, Mrs. Boardman and Miss Julia Boswell, to teach in the Dakota school.[1]

Rev. Kavanaugh ran into disagreements and problems with Wakinyantanka and moved his family across the river to the settlement known as Red Rock, today’s Newport, Minnesota. He hoped to continue the school at Kaposia but Wakinyantanka grew frustrated and forced the Methodists to give up the school and the mission in 1843.

For the next three years, the Kaposia band had no opportunity to learn to read and write their own language and when Wakinyantanka died in October 1845, unrest and anxiety was prevalent among the Dakota. It didn’t help that Wakinyantanka did not name one of his sons who were living at Kaposia as his successor but chose Taoyateduta to take the position as Little Crow V. The transition did not go smoothly. When Taoyateduta showed up to claim his position, he was ambushed by two of his brothers who shot him through both of his wrists as he folded his arms across his chest. Refusing to let the physician at Fort Snelling amputate his arms, Taoyateduta managed to survive but had deformed wrists and hands for the rest of his life. His two rebellious brothers were killed and he then contacted the federal Indian Agent to ask him to send a missionary to the village to bring education and church teachings to Kaposia.[2]

It was in this challenging atmosphere that Jane arrived in October of 1846.

Eastman also painted one of the more permanent structures that the Dakota used at Kaposia. Made from bark and wood posts, the structures were used during the summer months.

Eastman also painted one of the more permanent structures that the Dakota used at Kaposia. Made from bark and wood posts, the structures were used during the summer months.

We know from Thomas Williamson’s letter to S.B. Treat that the house they were to move into wasn’t ready for the family. Eben Weld, the farmer appointed to the Kaposia by the government, had been living there since the Methodists left, and some repairs were needed. He also reported that their luggage didn’t arrive from Traverse des Sioux until November 20, 1846.[3] Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t explain where the family stayed while waiting for their clothing and supplies and while he was repairing the house. It was getting cold in Minnesota by the end of October; too cold to sleep outdoors. The group included Thomas, Margaret, Jane, Marguerite Renville and the Williamson children: John, Andrew, Nancy, Smith and Martha. It may be that they went to the home of friends in the area like Gideon Pond and his wife Sarah, who was Margaret Williamson’s sister. They were at the mission at Oak Grove, about 20 miles from Kaposia, and may have provided a place to stay for the new arrivals, at least until the house was ready. With the Dakota away, they may also have temporarily moved into one of the winter houses made out of bark that the Dakota had built earlier.

While on winter hunts, the Dakota used portable houses made of deer skins that we know as "teepees." Most images of Kaposia include both teepees and bark houses.

While on winter hunts, the Dakota used portable houses made of deer skins that we know as “teepees.” Most images of Kaposia include both teepees and bark houses.

Thomas made it clear in the letter that they did not open a school immediately since the Kaposia band had already left for the winter hunt when the family arrived at the village in October. He mentioned that only one family from Lac qui Parle had remained on site for the winter.[4] This reprieve from beginning classes made it possible for the family to get to know their neighbors and to become familiar with their new location.

Andrew Robertson brought his family to Kaposia in 1846 and was the first person Thomas Williamson accepted into the Presbyterian Church upon "profession of faith." This photo includes notes on all the places Andrew lived during his time in Minnesota.

Andrew Robertson brought his family to Kaposia in 1846 and was the first person Thomas Williamson accepted into the Presbyterian Church upon “profession of faith.” This photo includes notes on all the places Andrew lived during his time in Minnesota.

One of the families they met soon after their arrival was that of Andrew Robertson. Andrew was a Scotsman who had been in the country since 1837. He had worked with Rev. David King at Kaposia, assisting with the farming. His wife Jane was the daughter of Dakota woman, whose own father was white. Jane’s father was also white. She had been educated at the Ojibwe mission at Mackinac and became Andrew Robertson’s second wife in May of 1836.

Jane Robertson, whose Dakota name was Daybreak Woman, was the daughter and granddaughter of Dakota women who had married white men. She became the first female Superintendent of Indian Education on the Dakota reservations in Minnesota.

Jane Robertson, whose Dakota name was Daybreak Woman, was the daughter and granddaughter of Dakota women who had married white men. She became the first female Superintendent of Indian Education on the Dakota reservations in Minnesota.

Jane’s mother had remarried by then to Hazen Mooers, a noted trader who lived on Grey Cloud Island about ten miles south of Kaposia. Jane and Andrew lived with them for the first few years of their marriage. When the Williamson’s arrived at Kaposia in 1846, the Robertson’s had five living children and were settled in their home about a half mile south of the mission site at Kaposia. Their firstborn son, James Wabasha Robertson, had died at the age of three years in 1838. A second boy, Thomas, was born in 1839, followed by Marion in 1840. Angus arrived in 1842 and Gustavus was born two years later in 1844. Francis was only six weeks old when the Williamson’s arrived and the Robertson’s subsequently had three more children: Marie, born in 1848; William, born in 1850; and Martha, born in 1855. Eventually most of the Robertson children attended classes with Jane Williamson at the mission school at Kaposia and became great friends with the Williamson children.

The little community around Kaposia increased again when Samuel and Persis Dentan, who had been stationed at the Dakota mission at Red Wing, left the ministry and settled in Red Rock, across the river from Kaposia. (The Story of Persis Dentan was covered in an earlier Dakota Soul Sisters entry.)

Thomas used the first few months at Kaposia to design a new mission house for the site that was to measure 30’ x 36’ with 18-foot posts 11 rooms with closets. He hired Andrew Robertson to begin construction on the new house, which took more than two years to complete.[5] He also spent time in the future capital city of St. Paul, just four miles to the north, familiarizing himself with clergy in the area and establishing relationships in that community.

Thomas Williamson went looking for a teacher for school children in St. Paul and Harriet Bishop responded. She spent two nights with the Williamson's at Kaposia in July 1847 and opened the first public school in St. Paul a few days later.

Thomas Williamson went looking for a teacher for school children in St. Paul and Harriet Bishop responded. She spent two nights with the Williamson’s at Kaposia in July 1847 and opened the first public school in St. Paul a few days later.

One of the problems that Thomas discovered in St. Paul was the lack of a school for the children there. He estimated that there were at least 36 children in the city who had nowhere to attend school. His concern prompted him to write to Catharine Beecher who ran The Beecher School in Albany, New York. Catharine was the sister of the famous abolitionist author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose serialized, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1851 in the National Era, became a major factor in the start of the United States Civil War.

Thomas explained to Catharine Beecher that his sister Jane had a successful school for Mdewakanton Dakota children at Kaposia but he was concerned about the children in the growing city of St. Paul. He asked for Beecher’s help in identifying a woman who could come out to teach these children. Harriet Bishop, a 30-year-old teacher who was attending Beecher’s School, was seeking a new adventure and quickly agreed to go.

On the morning of July 16, 1847, the steamer “Lynx” arrived at Kaposia. In her book, Floral Home, published in 1857, Harriet described the scene: “All nature had conspired, too, for a glorious day when we first looked on Little Crow’s village, or Kaposia, where our boat landed. The ringing of the bell occasioned a grand rush and with telegraphic speed every man, woman and child flew to the landing. To an unsophisticated eye like mine, the scene on shore was novel and grotesque…blankets and hair streaming in the wind, limbs uncovered, children nearly naked, the smaller ones entirely so, while a papoose was ludicrously peeping over the shoulder of nearly every squaw. In the midst of the waiting throng appeared the missionary and his sister.”[6]

This image of the steamboat Charles Carroll from the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, portrays a typical steam boat from 1846. This is the kind of ship that brought Harriet Bishop to Kaposia. Dozens of travelers passed the village of Kaposia on similar ships, gawking at the Dakota as they headed for St. Paul.

This image of the steamboat “Charles Carroll” from the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, portrays a typical steam boat from 1846. This is the kind of ship that brought Harriet Bishop to Kaposia. Dozens of travelers passed the village of Kaposia on similar ships, gawking at the Dakota as they headed for St. Paul.

Harriet spent two more days with the Williamsons at Kaposia and then Dr. Williamson arranged for two Mdewakanton women to escort her by canoe to the capital city. She called at the home of J.R. Irvine, where she was to stay and within a few days she opened her first school in a former blacksmith’s shop. Classes opened in her humble school room on July 19, 1847. Of the first seven students who showed up for school, only two were white. Harriet could speak only English so she relied on a mixed blood Dakota girl who could read and speak Dakota, English and French to help her communicate.[7]

By the summer of 1847, Jane and the rest of the family were preparing for a trip back to Ohio. Thomas wrote to David Green on June 15, 1847, saying that he needed to take John and Andrew to relatives out east where they could attend school. He also wanted to recruit some new workers for the Dakota mission.[8] It had been over five years since Thomas and Margaret had been east and they hadn’t seen their daughter Elizabeth during that time. It had been four years since Jane had visited friends and family in Ohio and they were all anxious to make the journey. By October, 1847, however, Thomas had not had an answer from David Greene and wrote to him again, reminding him that the passage to the east would be closed in two weeks as the rivers froze.[9] Apparently Thomas decided they would make the journey whether they had permission or not and the family left Kaposia in early November.

Such a trip was not unusual. Most mission families took what might be called a furlough from service at least once every four years or so. The breaks usually lasted several months since it could take four to six weeks of travel to get to Ohio, where most of the missionaries were from. In the case of this 1847 trip, it isn’t clear whether the two youngest Williamson children, Smith and Martha, who were five and three years old respectively, were along for the journey. It was quite common for the mission families to take care of one another’s youngest children during such furloughs. In Jane’s case, she was no doubt anxious to check on her property as The Beeches was being rented and she had originally planned to return there after only two years but now it had been twice that long. She also wanted to see her cousin Elizabeth and to learn how the rest of the family was doing.

After several months in Ohio, Thomas, Margaret and Jane returned to Kaposia on May 5, 1848. They had left John and Andrew behind to go to school, but seven-year-old Nancy was definitely with Jane and her parents on the way home. Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth on June 8, 1848, describing the trip back to Kaposia.

“We left Ripley on the evening of the 17th of April and arrived here on the 5 of May. We spent the first Sabbath in St. Louis and were in Galena from Friday till Tuesday evening. We became acquainted with some pleasant people there and I wanted to have enjoyed their company much but sister and Nancy Jane had been unwell all the way and in Galena were so sick that I longed to reach even our Indian house. Nancy Jane is still unusually delicate but has… recovered her health and her mother is much better than she was and she can do light work without much fatigue and sits down or has to lie down more than once or twice during the day.

“My own health was good by the way but I have suffered much more from ill health since our return than altogether before in this country a few days after our arrival I was taken with chills and fever when recovering from this a carbuncle on my shoulder caused me painful days and wakeful nights. For two weeks I was unable to do anything but teach: had I been at home I should have rested from this also. I am still weak and much reduced but the carbuncle is discharging and I was able to assist a little with the washing yesterday. I scarce know how we should have done had not the Louis included Miss Cunningham to come with us. We would feel it a great privilege to have her remain with us but as she is much needed at some of the other stations. If sister should continue better perhaps we ought not to wish it. She will be better and useful at either of the stations.

“We have in the family a hired man and a young man who came to teach the man and boys of this village. The latter Mr. Cook is quite young makes the Dakota sounds with ease and thus far appears pleased with his work. The people of this village manifest a much greater desire to learn since our return than before. More of them also attend our religious meetings.

“A short time since we made a feast and invited the men. Bro gave a temperance lecture quite a number of them promised to abstain from spirit water, some for two moons others for four. You may suppose from these circumstances that we are much encouraged but could you dearest cousin hear the nightly drumming, songs and savage yells which accompany their scalp dance you would feel that they are still mad on their idols. O that the Lord would grant the influences of His Holy Spirit both to them and us.

“I teach in our little sitting room. The scholars come 1, 2, 3 or more at a time just as they choose or perhaps as they can for when the women are working their corn the girls must have the care of children and each one generally has a child on her back when she comes to read. I am seldom destitute of scholars and always busy if I have one. This was written between their going out and coming in.”[10]

Thomas also reported to Selah Treat on the situation at Kaposia upon their return from Ohio.

“It is one month today since we landed here on our return from Ohio. I did not find all the assistants I wanted but Mr. Cook and Miss Martha Ann Cunningham are here now…Among those attending both our religious meetings and our school are the chief and several of the principal men of the village. Mr. Cook teaches the men and boys. He is a native of Canada but of New England parentage. He came at his own expense hoping to get a job as a government teacher but Col. Bruce’s term of office expired before he got here and no one is now making these decisions….The women are taught by Jane with the assistance of Miss Cunningham who came out with us at the expense of the Board….She was willing to come without an appointment thinking perhaps she might wish to return after two years. Thus far she remains very usefully employed for owing to the poor health of Mrs. W. and my sister we have much needed her assistance but if they should recover their health as we hope it is expected she will go to reside with one of the Mr. Ponds.”[11]

Thomas Williamson had met Sylvester Cook in Bloomington, Fayette County, Ohio, in January of 1848. Cook was teaching school at the time but was willing to come out to the Kaposia mission as a teacher. According to Thomas, “He is very well spoken of by his employers and others whose judgment I suppose we may safely reply.”[12] More of Sylvester Cook’s story will be told in the Dakota Soul Sisters story about Harriet Newell Pettijohn.

Martha Ann Cunningham was 29 years old when she arrived at Kaposia. She was relocated to teach at Samuel Pond’s mission at Shakopee in September of 1848 and then helped at the Traverse des Sioux mission with Moses Adams and his wife until spending her final few weeks in Minnesota at Lac qui Parle. Her brother, Hugh Doak Cunningham, and Hugh’s wife, Mary Ellison, a cousin of Jane Williamson, were with the ABCFM from 1856-1865 and the youngest Cunningham girl, Marjorie, visited the mission in 1862 and escaped the war with the Stephen Riggs party in August 1862. I’ll cover the Cunningham sisters in more detail in a future post.

Once Jane had recovered from the fever and chills which accompanied her discomfort from a carbuncle, she returned to teaching the women and girls at Kaposia and experienced some of the most successful years the Dakota mission had ever known.[13]

[1] Unlike the Presbyterian women who came to the Dakota mission under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the Methodist women, like Mrs. Boardman and Julia Boswell, do not appear as prominently in the historic record. The Methodist church abandoned its ministry to the Dakota in 1843 and nothing further is known, at least about Julia Boswell. Mrs. Boardman, however, had quite an interesting story. She was a widow when she came out to Kaposia with Rev. Kavanaugh in 1838. She then married W.R. Brown at Red Rock in1841. They had met when both were working at Kaposia where she was a teacher and Brown a carpenter. In 1846, they became foster parents to Helen Hastings Sibley, the illegitimate daughter of Minnesota Governor Henry Sibley. Helen’s Dakota mother had died in 1843 and the Brown’s raised her until she married in 1859. Dr. Thomas S. Williamson treated Helen as a medical patient in October 1847 and repaired her broken arm in 1848. Helen’s story will be told in a future post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[2] Lorenzo Lawrence, the son of Catherine Tatidutawin, one of the featured Dakota Soul Sisters, reportedly went with Taoyateduta when the new chief traveled from Lac qui Parle to Kaposia to claim his position as chief of the band after his father’s death. Thomas Robertson shared the story: “Lawrence (Ton-wan-ite-ton) also was, among his own people, a tough character. He and another man (Sunkasistina) at one time shot and killed two of Little Crow’s brothers. Lawrence afterward married one of the widows, and lived with her up to the time of her death. So he had other things in view when he put himself under the protection of the whites.” (Reminiscences of Thomas A Robertson, Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm Collection, Call #M582 Robertson, 1918, p.17)

[3] Thomas Williamson to David Greene of the A.B.C.F.M., November 30, 1846. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[4] Ibid. The Wahpeton Dakota of Lac qui Parle and the Mdewakanton Dakota of Kaposia share deep kinship bonds and several Wahpeton families had left Lac qui Parle to relocate to Kaposia when the problems with crop failure and closing of the school and mission there prompted them to leave. Taoyateduta had grown up at Lac qui Parle because his mother was from there and she left Taoyateduta’s father when the future chief was just a toddler and took him back to her family at Lac qui Parle. Both bands shared family ties with the original Renville ancestor and many of the families from both groups were interrelated.

5] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, June 5, 1848: Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3. Thomas mentioned to Treat that they still needed to finish their house at Kaposia.

[6] Bishop, Harriet E., Floral Home or First Years of Minnesota: Early Sketches, Later Settlements & Further Developments, New York, NY 1857

[7] The woman mentioned could be Marguerite Renville, although neither Harriet Bishop nor Thomas Williamson mention her by name. Marguerite had come to Kaposia with the Williamson’s in 1846 but her name is not listed as a teacher there so it is possible that she went to St. Paul to assist Miss Bishop. She married Alexander Duncan Campbell, Jr., in 1849.

[8] Thomas Williamson to David Green, June 15, 1847. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, June 9, 1848, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 15, Folder 2. This is the earliest letter from Jane at Kaposia that I have found.

[11] Thomas Williamson to Selah B. Treat, June 5, 1848, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[12] Ibid.

[13] A carbuncle is a red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils that are connected to each other under the skin. A boil (or furuncle) is an infection of a hair follicle that has a small collection of pus (called an abscess) under the skin. Usually single, a carbuncle is most likely to occur on a hairy area of the body such as the back or nape of the neck.

Posted in Alfred Brunson, Andrew Robertson, Dakota Mission, Harriet Bishop, Jane Anderson Robertson, Jane Smith Williamson, Martha Ann Cunningham, Moses Newton Adams, Persis Skimmer Dentan, Sylvester Cook, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part V – A Word about “Dearest Cousin Lizzie”

The oldest letter I have that was written by Jane Williamson is dated October 8, 1842, seven months before she came to Lac qui Parle. The letter is written to Jane’s cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, who was living in Belpre, Ohio in Washington County, to the northeast of West Union in Adams County, Ohio, where Jane lived. Jane made no mention of any thoughts she may have had about moving to Minnesota in a few months but shared news of family and friends whom Elizabeth knew. No letters have been found from Jane’s time at Lac qui Parle but I have seven letters written to or from Jane during the years at Kaposia.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane's handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to included added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane’s handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to include added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Two of Jane’s most prolific correspondents were her cousin Elizabeth and her friend, Nancy Hunter Aiton, a fellow missionary. Nancy’s story will be told in a future Dakota Soul Sisters post but this is a good time to tell Elizabeth’s story since she and Jane corresponded until at least February 12, 1883, which is the last letter from Jane that I have in my collection.

Elizabeth, or Lizzie, as Jane often called her, was born to Jane’s paternal aunt, Anne Williamson Means, and her husband, Colonel John Means. They had come to Ohio in 1819 to free their 24 slaves just as Anne’s brother, William Williamson, had done in 1805. Elizabeth was Anne and John Means’ oldest child and was twenty years old when the family moved to Ohio. She was four years older than her cousin Jane Williamson but the girls formed an immediate and strong friendship that lasted until Elizabeth’s death on February 28, 1889, at the age of 90.

Elizabeth married Dr. William McCreary Voris in West Union, Ohio, on April 24, 1827. They lived on the corner of Main and Market Streets in West Union and William was an elder in William Williamson’s Presbyterian Church. Their first daughter, Anne, was born in 1828, followed by twins, Margaret and Theodosia, who both died in infancy in 1831. Their next child, born in 1832, was named Elizabeth after her mother.

Jane was teaching in Adams County on June 8, 1835, when she was informed of the death of Dr. William Voris, who had succumbed to cholera while on a trip to Cincinnati. It fell to Jane to go to Elizabeth and inform her of her husband’s death. Elizabeth was seven months pregnant at the time. The History of Adams County records part of the story: “At first she [Jane] told her that Dr. Voris had been very sick in Cincinnati. As cholera was prevalent there, the wife at once divined the truth and swooned way. She went from one swoon into another, and Miss Williamson, in order to terminate her swoons, went out and brought in her two little girls, one seven and the other three years of age, and leading one by each hand, asked her if there not two good reasons for her to live and to work for.”[1]

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, OH in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery had fallen into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery fell into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth grieved terribly for six weeks and then gave birth to another daughter, Margaret Jane Williamson Voris, on August 1, 1835, honoring her friendship with Jane in her little girl’s middle name. She took her daughters and moved back into her parents’ home where she and Jane continued to care for each other as cousins and close friends. Elizabeth’s father died in 1837 and her youngest brother, Hugh Means, took over the family home with his wife, Esther Ellison Means. Elizabeth’s mother, Jane’s aunt Anne, passed away in 1840. Then on August 31, 1842, Elizabeth married Rev. Dyer Burgess, a noted abolitionist preacher who had been pastor at the West Union Presbyterian Church from 1820-1829, after William Williamson’s tenure there.

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he "was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. " (The History of Adams County.)

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he “was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. ” (The History of Adams County.)

The Adams County History records Rev. Burgess’ attraction to Elizabeth:

“About this time the Rev. Burgess formed an attachment for Miss Elizabeth Means, the daughter of Col. John Means. His suit was discouraged by the brothers and the family, as they thought she ought to do better than to marry a poor minister. The matter never came to a proposal, but on the twenty-seventh day of April, 1827, Miss Means married Dr. William M. Voris. This event was entirely unexpected to Mr. Burgess, and struck him like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. At a solemn communion service season the Sunday following, he preached from the text: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols,’ and he preached with such pathos and depth of feeling that his hearers could not but believe that his idol had been shattered when Miss Means married Dr. Voris.

“On March 19, 1831, he married Miss Isabella Ellison, the daughter of Andrew Ellison. She was a maiden lady of about his own age, and he married her in Cincinnati, where she was making her home with her brother-in-law, Adam McCormick…

“Directly after his marriage to Miss Ellison, which entirely revolutionized his finances, as she was wealthy and willing to spend her money for their joint enjoyment, he returned to West Union, and there built the property now occupied and known as the Palace Hotel, and immediately took possession of it. From that time on, until the death of his wife, the Rev. Burgess had no particular charge, but preached when and where he pleased. He and his wife lived in great state in their then elegant home—as, when completed, it was the finest house in the county. They kept two pews in the Presbyterian Church at West Union, and these they had filled every Sunday- They entertained a great many visitors— usually had their house full of visitors, and especially Mrs. Burgess’ relations. These she invited from far and wide and entertained them for a long period of time…

“His wife died in their home, now the Palace Hotel, in West Union, November 3, 1839. She disposed of her property by last will and testament drawn by Hon. George Collings, father of Judge Henry Collings, of Manchester, Ohio. The will made no provision for Mr. Burgess except to give him two rooms in her house for life, but she had already given him a number of claims which she deemed a suitable provision for him…

“On August 31, 1842, Mr. Burgess was married to Mrs. Elizabeth W. Voris, widow of Dr. William M. Voris, and the daughter of Col. John Means, and who was Mr. Burgess’ first love….She was a noble Christian woman and lived a long life of sincere piety and good deeds. Mrs. Burgess died February 28, 1889, in her ninetieth year, having lived with Mr. Burgess thirty years, and survived him nearly seventeen years.”[2]

Dyer Burgess had moved to Washington County, Ohio, in 1840 and that is where he and Elizabeth began their married life together with Elizabeth’s three daughters who were fourteen, ten and seven years old when Dyer and Elizabeth married. Jane’s letters to Elizabeth are addressed to various locations including Belpre, Constitution and Marietta, Ohio. Jane often stayed with them for weeks at a time during visits home to Ohio. What is perhaps most amazing about Elizabeth’s story is that her family not only kept forty years worth of letters from Jane, but turned them over to the Dawes Memorial Library at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where they are carefully preserved in the archives.

[1] A History of Adams County, Ohio, by Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers, published by E.B. Stivers, West Union, Ohio,  1900, p. 638

[2] Ibid., Passim, pp. 515-520. The Palace Hotel was located on the southeast corner of Mulberry and Market Streets in West Union, Ohio. When the history was written in 1900, it was still in use and was known as the “Anti-Slavery Palace.”

Posted in Elizabeth Means [Voris] Burgess, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Rev. Dyer Burgess, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part IV

Jane had been at Lac qui Parle just about a year when Thomas submitted his annual report to the A.B.C.F.M. in September 1844. He reported that Dakota men and boys had attended school an average of 20 days each; females 55 days. Madeline Renville was employed as a teacher and received $2.00 per regular student for 12 weeks of teaching. The average attendance at her school was 13 with 40 enrolled. Jane was working with Fanny Huggins, learning Dakota and still becoming familiar with the culture and practices at the mission while continuing to teach the children of the missionaries.

It had been a difficult year. Thomas reported that the Indians had killed three oxen and nine head of cattle belonging to the mission during the year, besides pigs, sheep and poultry, taking two-thirds of the mission’s domestic animals, except the horses. He wrote: “They dealt still worse with our own stock but did no harm to Renville because he punishes. Much whiskey is bought by the Mdewakanton with annuity dollars.” The only good news was that the buffalo were back in large herds after an absence of nearly 20 years so the Dakota were able to obtain a winter source of protein despite the fact that flooding had prevented them from planting any crops in the bottomlands by the river.[1]

The anger of the Dakota was a direct result of two things: the ongoing mistrust of the church and the missionaries by the Dakota men, and rumors the Dakota were hearing from their relatives near Fort Snelling that the missionaries were receiving the $5,000.00 a year that was to go to Dakota education under the terms of the 1837 treaty, money which the Dakota had never received. The reality of the situation was that the missionaries had also not received any money from the Education Fund. The A.B.C.F.M. had been paid directly and told Thomas that they were using part of that money to support the Lac qui Parle mission but neither the Dakota, nor the missionaries, accepted that explanation.[2] Thomas Williamson actually promised the Dakota that he would never take Education Fund money, a position he maintained for the rest of his life.[3]

In addition to the concerns about school funding, Joseph Renville, who was responsible for most of the Dakota at Lac qui Parle, was in dire financial straits. Thomas Williamson wrote to David Green on December 19, 1843, asking if the A.B.C.F.M. could possibly provide some financial support to Renville. The old trader was in his sixties and had been a major participant in helping create the written Dakota language and in translating the Bible into the Dakota language. Stephen Riggs wrote to Green a few months later on February 14, 1844, confirming that Renville was in desperate financial need and deserved consideration.[4] Greene responded on February 18, 1844: “The board feels under obligation to Mr. Renville but don’t think it is wise to actually employ him as an assistant to the mission to give religious instruction. The Board is currently $7,000 in debt but authorizes you to draw for $200 as a grant to him for what is past but can’t promise more in future.”[5] The situation over funding also impacted the church and attendance began to drop off as the Dakota men asserted their authority over their wives and children to prevent them from participating or attending school. In the spring of 1845, Stephen Riggs and Samuel Pond traveled to Lac qui Parle to conduct a series of seven sermons and special services over 10 days in an attempt to revive the church. Thomas Williamson wrote to Samuel Pond on February 11, 1846, confessing that he had never before felt so much like leaving the Sioux.[6]

Because no letters from Jane Williamson have been found for these years at Lac qui Parle, it is impossible to know how she reacted to the problems at the mission. Mary Ann Longley Huggins wrote in her Journal that “About this time, the spring of 1846, I began to go to school with Aunt Jane Williamson. She was Dr.’s sister and had come out from Ohio a few years ago. She was a good teacher for little children and as a nurse was always at the bedside of the sick, a great help to her brother. A most unselfish woman.”[7]

Mary Ann’s journal provides another insight into Jane’s response to the Dakota. Mary Ann wrote that an Indian man frightened her while she went out to get water at the spring at Lac qui Parle. The man told Fanny Huggins the next day that he just wanted to scare her and thought it was funny. Mary then said he was wounded by the Chippewa and died but before he did he gave his little girl to Aunt Jane.[8]

Throughout Jane’s life various biographers and historians have reported that she “adopted” Dakota children or, as in this case, was given a Dakota child. These reported arrangements were not in any sense legal adoptions. I will provide a summary of the children involved in a later post but in this case, the child in question may be Washasyotankewin also known as Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. Stephen Riggs wrote to Selah B. Treat on July 11, 1856: “You have probably heard of the killing of Susan Rainbow by the Chippewa. She was taken by Aunt Jane Williamson when quite young. For many years she has been living in a white family and could talk nothing but English. She was living in a family near Mr. G.H. Pond’s. Six Chippewa came and asked for water. She gave them a drink. One asked in English if she was part Dakota. She said yes, thinking they were Dakota. The woman was suspicious and took Susan to a neighbor’s but they followed, took Susan by the hair, tossed her outside to a companion, shot by all four. They cut off her head and went on their way. Her mother lives at Lac qui Parle. It is a sore blow to Aunt Jane.”[9]

In 1846, Jane Williamson became guardian of a little Dakota girl whom she named Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. The child was murdered by a roving band of Ojibwe in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1856. This photo is of her grave in the Bloomington Cemetery.

In 1846, Jane Williamson became guardian of a little Dakota girl whom she named Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. The child was murdered by a roving band of Ojibwe in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1856. This photo is of her grave in the Bloomington Cemetery.

Susan’s mother was Lucy Wikmankewashtewin. Susan was born in about 1845 so she was probably less than a year old when Jane took her in. She was killed on June 12, 1856, in Bloomington, and is buried in the Bloomington Cemetery as Susan Ellison. Jane had sent her to the Whalen family in Bloomington in 1852 when the Williamsons moved to Pejutazee near Yellow Medicine, assuming that Susan would have a better chance of completing her education with the Whalen’s than she would on the new reservation.

By the time Jane became the guardian for Susan Rainbow, Thomas and Margaret had another child. Martha Williamson was born at Lac qui Parle on November 15, 1844. The other Williamson children by that fall of 1844 included Elizabeth, aged eleven, who was already being raised by her aunt in Ohio; John, who was nine years old; Andrew, aged six; Nancy, who was four; and Smith, who was two years old. The Huggins children in the fall of 1844 included Amos, aged twelve, Mary Ann, who was five years old and Eli, who was just two. Jane, aged ten, and Eliza, aged seven, were being cared for by relatives out east. Robert and Agnes Hopkins had their first child at Lac qui Parle when Mary arrived on September 16, 1843. They left Lac qui Parle to join the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux in April 1844.

Life at Lac qui Parle changed forever when Joseph Renville died on April 5, 1846.Thomas Williamson wrote to Green: “Last Sabbath a little before noon our earliest friend here, Mr. Joseph Renville, Sr., was called. He left four sons and four daughters all grown except one son who is probably in his 15th year. The daughters and one son and wife and the widow are members in good standing in this church. One daughter is married and lives near Fort Snelling. All his other children with wives and eight children of his two elder sons have lived together as a single family and depended on the father to provide for them…they will probably be compelled to go near Fort Snelling to avoid starvation.”[10]

With Renville gone, the Dakota at Lac qui Parle became even more agitated about the mission and the school and no classes were held for Dakota students in the summer and fall of 1846. Alexander and Lydia Huggins left the station and relocated to join the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux. Only the Williamson’s and Fanny and Jonas Pettijohn remained at Lac qui Parle.

That same year, Indian Agent Amos Bruce wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: “The chief of the Little Crow’s band, who reside below this place about 9 miles, in the immediate neighborhood of the whiskey dealers, has requested to have a school established at his village. I wrote to Dr. Williamson soon after the request was made, desiring him to take charge of the school, but have not yet heard from him.[11]

Thomas Williamson had actually responded to Bruce on August 12, 1846, confirming that Little Crow wanted him at Kaposia, but expressing his feeling that he really didn’t want to leave Lac qui Parle. Only a few months later, however, Thomas wrote to David Greene on November 30, 1846:

Fred Lawshe, founder of the Dakota County Historical Society in South St. Paul, Minnesota, painted this version of the Kaposia village as he imagined it might have looked in about 1850.

Fred Lawshe, founder of the Dakota County Historical Society in South St. Paul, Minnesota, painted this version of the Kaposia village as he imagined it might have looked in about 1850. Today the site of the village is known as the Simon’s Ravine Trailhead just north of Butler Avenue and Concord Street in South St. Paul.

“I write from a new station, Kapoja [sic]

I believe it is possible that this house is the original Methodist mission house from Kaposia village and that it was later moved to its current location in Newport, Minnesota on the grounds of the United Methodist Church.

I believe it is possible that this house is the original Methodist mission house from Kaposia village and that it was later moved across the river to the new site of the Methodist Church. Today its current location is in Newport, Minnesota, on the grounds of the United Methodist Church.

…The house we occupy was built by the Methodists about 10 years ago. It is built of logs and the floors of puncheons that is boards split with a wedge instead of saw. It is rather small for the present size of my family – and yet the rooms are larger than we can warm well in this climate with such stoves as I have as I have been able to procure. For several years it has been occupied by one of the farmers for the Indians here, a man without a family and I found it necessary to make several repairs made before I could bring my family into it. It needs more but I hesitate. I don’t know if it will work for my family in the summer. The Methodists built anew house across the river where the Post Office is – the man who lives there now plans to sell in the spring and perhaps we should move there even though it is further from the village and across the river. All of the Indians except for one family from Lac qui Parle are gone on the winter hunt and will not return for some weeks. The one man here couldn’t go because of rheumatism said Little Crow, a relative of his, only asked for a missionary out of ambitious and selfish motives.

“When my family left Lac qui Parle on September 29, 1846, they had a two-horse wagon and a small one-horse cart, my wife, sister and five children. It took a week to Traverse des Sioux, then a three-week delay waiting for the boat and then the boat refused to bring all the luggage which didn’t get here until November 20, 1846. The entire distance is 270 miles from Lac qui Parle although a road could be built that would make it at 200 miles.

“The Renville family has scattered. Marguerite has requested to come here and we have agreed. I have been appointed as physician to these Indians, about 2000 Mdewakanton, for which I receive $240 a year – half of which I am to spend on medicines. I should ask for more but that is what Dr. Turner got and even though I expect to do much more than he I don’t want the Indians to think I am doing this for money.”[12]

Taoyateduta became the new chief of the Kaposia band when his father died in 1845. He asked the Indian Agent to send a missionary to Kaposia and the Williamson's arrived in October 1846.

Taoyateduta became the new chief of the Kaposia band when his father died in 1845. He asked the Indian Agent to send a missionary to Kaposia and the Williamson’s arrived in October 1846.

So it was that Jane found herself at a new village located just four miles south of Pig’s Eye, which would become the capital City of St. Paul, and nine miles from Fort Snelling. There would no longer be a wait of nearly a year to receive mail from family and friends out east and access to food, supplies, housewares, clothing and sewing supplies was greatly improved. The new chief of the Kaposia band, Taoyateduta, known to whites as Little Crow V, had known the Williamsons at Lac qui Parle when he lived there with his mother as a young man and he welcomed the family and encouraged them to set up a church and school as soon as possible.

While the Williamsons settled into their new mission, Stephen and Mary Riggs and their family left Traverse des Sioux to join the Pettijohn’s back at Lac qui Parle and attempted to carry on the work there.

 

[1] Thomas Williamson to American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Annual Report, September 1844 –Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3. The killing of domestic animals at the Lac qui Parle mission was an ongoing problem and it not only angered the missionaries and endangered their food supply, but they also could not understand why the Dakota often simply killed the animals, especially the young calves, but didn’t make any effort to use the meat, just leaving the bodies to rot or throwing them into the river.

[2] David Green to Thomas Williamson, 12/23/1840 – “You are mistaken in supposing that no portion of the civilization fund for the U.S. goes to your mission. Our treasurer has for these two years, I think, received $100 a quarter.” Ibid.

[3] Thomas Williamson to Selah B. Treat 12/2/1853: “I cannot be part of the boarding school since I promised the Dakota years ago that I would never touch the Education Fund. I’ll still teach religion and medicine and the wants of my own family.” Ibid.,  Box 6

[4] Ibid., Box 3

[5] Ibid. Renville was a Roman Catholic and had never joined the Presbyterian Church so even though, he attended services regularly along with his family, the board no doubt could not condone him as a teacher of religion.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mary Huggins Kerlinger Journal, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society, p. 120, hereafter Kerlinger Journal.

[8] Ibid., p. 146

[9] Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1846 p. 35 – Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm, Call #1599.

[12] Thomas Williamson to David Greene of the A.B.C.F.M., November 30, 1846. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

Posted in Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Kaposia Village, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part III

Jane Williamson was forty years old when she arrived at the Lac qui Parle mission. This photograph was probably taken about ten years later.

Jane Williamson was forty years old when she arrived at the Lac qui Parle mission. This photograph was probably taken about ten years later.

Jane Williamson didn’t come to the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle as a missionary. Her intention was to stay one or two years to help Thomas and Margaret with their children and teach her nieces and nephews and the other white children at the mission as they approached school age. She had never lived with the Dakota, did not know the language and planned to eventually return to her home in Ohio.[1]

She arrived at an unusual period for the mission. Thomas and his family had been away from Lac qui Parle for over a year and most of the Dakota had gone to Fort Snelling with them or moved to other villages where they had relatives. The crops had failed because of bitterly cold temperatures and early snow; they had no sustainable food source and they took refuge at the fort for several months. They had all left in the spring of 1842, and the Riggs family set out for a furlough in Ohio at the same time. Fanny Huggins, Alexander and Lydia Huggins, and Samuel and Cordelia Pond and their families remained to carry on the work at Lac qui Parle.[2]

Upon their return from Ohio in the spring of 1843, the Riggs relocated to start a new mission at Traverse des Sioux, now St. Peter, Minnesota. Samuel and Cordelia Pond left Lac qui Parle in June of 1843 and moved in with Samuel’s brother Gideon and Gideon’s family at the new Oak Grove mission in Bloomington, Minnesota. The new missionaries, Robert and Agnes Hopkins, came out to Lac qui Parle with the Riggs in the spring of 1843 and began their ministry by learning the Dakota language and familiarizing themselves with the mission operations.

Jane had traveled from Ohio with Agnes and Robert Hopkins so she knew them quite well and it is likely that her path had crossed at some point with Fanny Huggins since she and Fanny had both been teachers near Ripley in Ohio. Only eight-year-old John and five-year-old Andrew Williamson, along with eleven-year-old Amos Huggins, were old enough to begin studying with Jane when she arrived. Elizabeth Williamson and the two oldest Huggins girls, Jane and Eliza, were living with relatives in Ohio.

Fanny Huggins taught the younger Dakota children at the mission. She learned to speak and write Dakota and taught the students in their own language.

Fanny Huggins taught the younger Dakota children at the mission. She learned to speak and write Dakota and taught the students in their own language.

Amos Huggins and John Williamson had already learned the Dakota language from their Indian playmates with whom they had grown up at Lac qui Parle. It is likely that Jane began to pick up Dakota words from the boys as her first introduction to the language.[3] Fanny Huggins was the regular teacher of the Dakota children. She had already been at the mission for four years when Jane arrived. Margaret Williamson and Lydia Huggins worked with the Dakota women, teaching them to sew and do laundry and other domestic tasks. Thomas Williamson conducted worship services and worked with Joseph Renville on translating the Bible into Dakota. He also assisted Alexander Huggins in the many agricultural pursuits that provided animals and vegetables for the mission community and the Dakota who helped with the planting and harvesting. As newcomers, Robert and Agnes Hopkins helped wherever they could while preparing themselves for their own future as teachers and missionaries.

It was during the first few days and weeks of her arrival that Jane met the Dakota women who were a vital part of the church at Lac qui Parle. Joseph Renville, the Dakota/French fur trader whose post was at Lac qui Parle, had married his first wife, Tokanne or Mary Little Crow in the Catholic Church in 1804. Mary was a Christian long before the first missionaries arrived and she had great influence on other Dakota women until her death in 1840. Her children had been raised with knowledge of the Christian church and when Jane arrived in 1843, Magdalena, Rosalie and Marguerite Renville were all in their twenties and still living at home with their father. The youngest of the family, John Baptiste Renville, was twelve years old when Jane arrived at the mission. He and John Williamson were the best of friends and had grown up together at Lac qui Parle.

Catherine Tatidutawin was the first Dakota woman baptized ino Christianity at the Lac Qui Parle Mission in 1837. She is pictured here perhaps 50 years later. (Photo Courtesy Marlin Peterson)

Catherine Tatidutawin was the first Dakota woman baptized ino Christianity at the Lac Qui Parle Mission in 1837. She is pictured here perhaps 50 years later. (Photo Courtesy Marlin Peterson)

The Renville children’s aunt, Tatidutawin, whose Christian name was Catherine, was the first Dakota woman to become a member of the Christian church after the Williamson’s and Huggins’s established the mission. She was married to Mary Little Crow’s brother, Chatka. They had two sons, Kawanke and Towanetatan and a daughter, Wawiyohiyawin. Catherine and Wawiyohiyawin were baptized into the church in December of 1837 and took the Christian names Catherine and Sarah. Sarah was about 17 years old when Jane arrived at Lac qui Parle.[4]

The women of Lac qui Parle were the foundation of the church. The year before Jane arrived they had managed to raise enough money to purchase a bell for the chapel.by selling beaded moccasins to churchgoers out east. Jane, who was named Dowandutawin, or Red Song Woman, by the Dakota, loved to listen to the women sing the Presbyterian hymns of the faith in their own language, no doubt helping her learn to speak and understand the Dakota language.

Despite the installation of the bell and the faithfulness of some of the Dakota women, most Indian men resented the missionaries and believed that the mission should be closed and that their own wives and daughters should return to traditional Dakota religion. Other Dakota men, like Catherine’s own husband Chatka, expressed interest in joining the church but he had two wives, Catherine and Rachel, who was also a church member. Ironically, missionaries like Stephen Riggs refused to allow Dakota men with more than one wife to join the church although he had no problem welcoming the women from such marriages. He believed that the men should be forced to pick one wife and set aside any others. Thomas Williamson disagreed and felt that splitting up families resulted in one or more women being abandoned along with their children and that that situation was harmful to all.

The Williamson's cabin at Lac qui Parle was built in 1836 and included a main room on the ground floor where services were held until the chapel was built in 1841. The bedrooms were on the upper floor.

The Williamson’s cabin at Lac qui Parle was built in 1836 and included a main room on the ground floor where services were held until the chapel was built in 1841. The bedrooms were on the upper floor. This image is from a series of drawings of the mission site created by J.M. Rongstad in 1991 for the Chippewa County Historical Society.

As Jane gradually became aware of the challenges faced by the missionaries, she also settled into her new life. The Williamson house next door to the chapel was 20’ x 30’ with 1-1/2 stories and a clapboard roof. There were two rooms below and three above with a large fireplace and wood plank floors. Jane was given one of the small bedrooms on the upper floor; the boys had the other small room and Thomas and Margaret probably shared with three-year-old Nancy Jane and baby Smith, who was just a year old when Jane arrived.

On June 30, 1844, Thomas Williamson wrote to David Greene of the A.B.C.F.M. to report on how Jane’s work, which had expanded significantly since her arrival. Although he didn’t specifically ask that she receive some kind of salary, he did stress her usefulness to the mission:

“Miss Williamson teaches in English, all the others in Dakota. Jane has taught from April 8 to June 30 – 12 weeks…She has been useful to us in various ways and I do not know that she has in the slightest degree added to our expenses. Still, as she has been for many years a regular contributor to the funds of the Board, I have thought it right that the Board and the Mission should have the credit of what she does in teaching Indian children and so have taken her receipt as from the Board for what she supposes would be a fair price for what she has done in teaching other than Mr. Huggins’ children and mine. It and all she does for us here might be considered as a donation of so much to the Board but she has no wish to have it acknowledged by the Board as such. Teaching English has ever been a very discouraging business but as sister has had more experience in teaching than any who have tried it here before, I hoped she might succeed better. The older scholars… most of them manifest an utter aversion to that application without which we cannot hope to see them make much progress, but some younger ones who we at present board in our families are making good progress in learning to understand as well as read our language.”[5]

Thomas’s comments to Greene provide some insight into the early development of the educational process at Lac qui Parle. He clearly states that Jane is teaching in English while the other teachers speak only Dakota in the classroom but it is also clear that she was now attempting to teach English to the Dakota children. Over time, the Williamson’s and most of the other A.B.C.F.M. missionaries realized that it was much more effective to teach young children only in Dakota and to present them with lessons in spelling and writing only in their own language. English was not taught until a student was in their mid to late teens and then only if they were interested.

Thomas also brings up the subject of boarding Dakota children in their homes. From the earliest days at Lac qui Parle, it was not at all uncommon for the missionary families to take in one or two Dakota children, especially during the winter months while their parents were out on the winter hunt. By welcoming the children into their own families, they were able to provide them with food, warm clothing and a warm, safe place to sleep. This early arrangement was practiced at all of the missions but had nothing to do with the establishment of the hated Indian boarding schools that would devastate so many Indian children in the 1880s to 1920s.

As Jane expanded her work to attempt to teach the Dakota students the English language, Fanny Huggins decided to make a trip back to Ohio with her brother Alexander and Alexander’s family. Her health hadn’t been good and she thought a trip home would be beneficial. Thomas Williamson had already asked Jane if she would be willing to take over Fanny’s classes during the Huggins’s absence from the mission and she agreed.[6]

This replica of the mission at Lac Qui Parle is located at Lac Qui Parle State Park in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

This replica of the mission at Lac qui Parle is located at Lac qui Parle State Park in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

Teaching Fanny’s classes of Dakota children is really how Jane became a teacher in the Dakota language. She had been at Lac qui Parle for 19 months when Fanny left in April of 1845. Although Jane had originally intended to go back to Ohio after two years, she had now committed to remaining at least until Fanny returned. However, when the Huggins came back to Lac qui Parle on October 31, 1845, Fanny returned with her new husband, Jonas Pettijohn, and Jane realized that she didn’t want to stop teaching the Dakota children and she decided to stay at the mission. I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that she’d never move back to Ohio but would spend the remainder of her days among the Dakota people.

 

[1] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, head of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) October 5, 1843 – “My youngest sister is with us. She came out with Mr. and Mrs. Riggs at her own expense to teach the children of the mission. She may stay one or two years and we don’t expect her to learn the language. Having her here will free up some time for others though.” Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3

[2]Margaret Williamson, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Mary Ann Longley Riggs, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Cordelia Eggleston Pond, and Agnes Johnson Hopkins are all featured in earlier posts on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[3] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, November 16, 1843. Thomas reported that, like him, Jane was a slow learner (of Dakota) but was making progress. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[4] Catherine Tatidutawin is one of the women featured in earlier posts on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[5] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, June 30, 1844. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[6] Ibid., August 13, 1844.

Posted in Agnes Johnson Hopkins Pond, Catherine Tatidutawin, Cordelia Eggleston Pond, Dakota Mission, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Jane Smith Williamson, Joseph Kawanke, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Margaret Poage Williamson, St. Peter, Traverse des Sioux, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part II

Jane Williamson was 21 years old when her brother Thomas graduated from Yale University Medical School and returned to Ohio where he opened a practice in the growing city of Ripley in 1824. Jane had established her own career as a teacher, accepting the white children of the neighborhood as well as the children of the formerly enslaved persons in subscription schools in Manchester and West Union, Ohio. She never turned a child away because of inability to pay and earned a reputation for being an excellent educator.

A History of Adams County, Ohio, records the following story about Jane:

“Her teaching the colored people aroused bitter feeling in the community, but she was such an excellent teacher that it did not decrease the number of her white pupils, and her control of her pupils was so prefect that the bringing of the colored pupils into the school did not affect the government of her school. The progress made by her pupils was rare and her teaching so thorough that the presence of the colored pupils did not drive the white ones away. There were many threats of violence at her school, but she was not alarmed. On more than one occasion, friends of hers, dreading the attempt to forcibly break up her school, took their rifles and went to her school house to defend her. Some of these men were rough characters, and hard drinkers, and some of them were pro-slavery but they were determined her school should not be disturbed. They regarded her as a fanatic in her views, but as they regarded her as an efficient teacher, they did not propose that her work should be interfered with….Her love for children was a distinguishing trait of her character. She won their affections entirely, and then ruled them without any apparent effort.”[1]

Jane’s ardent abolitionist beliefs were combined with a deep passion that the children in her care would come to a belief in Jesus Christ and grow into mature believers and members of the church. She was an active worker in Sunday School at her father’s Presbyterian churches as well as attending and leading prayer meetings and missionary society activities. She was also surrounded by relatives. By the time her brother Thomas married Margaret Poage on April 10, 1827, Jane and Thomas had eighteen nieces and nephews, the children of their four half-sisters. The nine boys and nine girls ranged in age from eleven years to three weeks old when the family gathered for Thomas and Margaret’s wedding.

On May 2, 1828, Thomas and Margaret welcomed their first son, William Blair Williamson. It is not hard to imagine that Jane had a special fondness for the little boy and that her grief matched that of Thomas and Margaret when William died at the age of 21 months on March 27, 1830. The loss must have been bittersweet for Margaret who gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Mary Poage Williamson, just a few days later on April 13, 1830. Another boy, James Gilliland Williamson, was born in 1832. Jane and Thomas had always been very close and it is not hard to imagine that Jane spent every minute she could visiting with these two little ones. She and Margaret formed a strong friendship and although Ripley was nearly twenty miles from Manchester on the Ohio River, trips back and forth were common.

Gravestones of the first three Williamson children in Ripley, Ohio. William died at the age of 22 months in 1830 and Mary and James both died of scarlet fever in January 1833. Mary was almost three years old and James was not yet a year old.

Gravestones of the first three Williamson children in Ripley, Ohio. William died at the age of 22 months in 1830 and Mary and James both died of scarlet fever in January 1833. Mary was almost three years old and James was not yet a year old.

It is hard to comprehend the family’s overwhelming grief when both Mary and James died just a few days apart in January of 1833. Mary was almost three years old and James just one year old when they lost their lives to scarlet fever.

For Jane, the loss of Thomas and Margaret’s first three children led to more personal loss for her. In August of 1833, Thomas gave up his medical practice and followed the call he felt to take Margaret and move to Cincinnati where he planned to enroll in Lane Seminary and study to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. His further goal was to take his new profession not to a local pulpit in Ohio, but to American Indians in the west. After just eight months at the Seminary, Thomas was licensed as a preacher and he left a few weeks later to tour the land of the Dakota on the Mississippi River halfway across the country from Ohio. By that time he and Margaret had another child; daughter Elizabeth Poage Williamson was born on October 30, 1833, in Walnut Hills, Ohio, while Thomas was at seminary.

After four months traveling the wilderness of the area that would become Minnesota, Thomas returned home and told his family that he and Margaret would soon be leaving to serve as missionaries to the Dakota. Thomas was ordained as a Presbyterian minister at Red Oak Presbyterian Church in Ohio on September 18, 1834, and he and Margaret left for the west in April 1835. They took 18-month-old Elizabeth with them. Margaret was already four months pregnant with their son, John Poage Williamson, when they embarked on their new adventure.

I’ve often wondered about Jane’s feelings as she said goodbye to her dear brother and to her friend Margaret. Margaret’s younger sister, Sarah Poage, was going with them to the land of the Dakota and I can’t help but think that Jane wished she could also accompany them. One of her biographers suggests that she felt she couldn’t leave her father and as the last child at home, she was responsible for caring for him.[2] If that were the case, it implies that William Williamson may have already been widowed again by the time Thomas left. If William’s third wife, Hannah, was still living, Jane may have been free to go but instead she remained behind continuing to teach and attend to her church duties.[3]

It was nearly four years before Jane saw Thomas and Margaret again. They made a trip home to Ohio, leaving Fort Snelling in March of 1839, and spending three months with their Ohio families. They took two of their children with them. Their oldest, Elizabeth, was five years old, and Thomas and Margaret took her to live with relatives and start school in Ohio.[4] The other was probably the youngest, Andrew Williamson, who had been born at Lac qui Parle on January 31, 1838. It appears that they left their three-year-old son, John at Lac qui Parle with fellow missionaries, Stephen and Mary Riggs.

Unfortunately, no letters have been found to record what Jane was thinking about when she heard the stories from Thomas and Margaret about life among the Dakota. She was still caring for her father at The Beeches and was once again left behind when Thomas and Margaret returned to Minnesota in June of 1839. Just five months after their departure, William Williamson passed away on November 29, 1839, at the age of seventy-seven years. At the time of his death, the pioneering pastor who fought slavery all of his life, had 31 living grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Jane was 36 years old when she inherited the Williamson family farm, The Beeches, from her father. I’ve often considered the kind of pressure she may have been receiving from her brothers-in-law and her older sisters. A single woman owning and operating a farm was very unusual and I don’t doubt that the family wanted her to sell the property and move in with one of her sisters’ families. She was clearly not going to marry at her age and why would a single spinster schoolteacher want to try to manage the family farm. But Jane didn’t sell and didn’t leave, perhaps treasuring her independence.

Then in May of 1842, Stephen and Mary Riggs took a year of furlough from the Lac qui Parle mission and returned east. Mary visited friends and family while Stephen managed the printing of the first Dakota/English dictionary.  At some point during that year, the Riggs contacted Jane and perhaps gave her a letter from Thomas and Margaret or simply relayed greetings. In any case, Jane became convinced to accompany the Riggs when they returned to Minnesota in March of 1843. She rented The Beeches  to an area farmer and embarked on the greatest adventure of her life at the age of forty years. She boarded the steamer at Ripley, Ohio, and traveled across the country with others who were all headed for Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in what would eventually become the State of Minnesota.

Stephen and Mary Riggs, their five-year-old son Alfred and 15-month-old baby Martha, as well as Mary Riggs’ brother, 22-year-old Thomas Longley, and new missionaries, Robert and Agnes Hopkins, were part of the group. Julia Ann Kephart, a young woman from Ripley, Ohio, was also along to help Mary Riggs with the children.

Three young Dakota men also returned home with the group. Lorenzo Lawrence, Simon Wasicuntanka and Henok/Appearing Cloud,  had been taken east by Stephen Riggs in 1842. They had spent the past year in Ohio, living with Alexander Huggins’ extended family, attending worship at the Red Oak Presbyterian Church, and learning how white settlers operated their farms. Riggs had assured their families they’d be home within a few months. Now, with more than a year gone by, the men were anxious to be reunited with their parents and relatives.

Jane arrived at Fort Snelling on May 7, 1843. Construction on the fort began in 1817. In 2016, the Minnesota Historical Society is planning a major renovation of the entire area, which has been open as a historic site since the 1950s.

Jane arrived at Fort Snelling on May 7, 1843. Construction on the fort began in 1817. In 2016, the Minnesota Historical Society is planning a major renovation of the entire area, which has been open as a historic site since the 1950s.

After more than a month of steamboat travel, the group arrived at Fort Snelling on May 7, 1843. Jane remained at the fort where her brother Thomas was serving as garrison surgeon while the others continued on to Lac qui Parle. A crop failure at Lac qui Parle in 1842 had brought the Williamson’s to the fort and Thomas had signed on for a year of service, planning to return to the mission at Lac qui Parle in September 1843.

Jane thus spent the first few months of her new adventure in the bustling community at the fort. Soldiers, government agents, traders, bands of Indians and other adventurers all visited the fort. The Williamson’s were often guests of the officers who entertained at dinner parties in this last vestige of white civilization between the Mississippi River and the west coast.

It was at the fort that Jane met her seven-year-old nephew, John Poage Williamson, for the first time. Andrew was now five years old and two more children had joined Thomas and Margaret’s family. Nancy Jane was two years old when Jane arrived and little Smith Burgess Williamson was just nine months old. Jane immediately embraced life with the family as she got to know the children and helped Margaret as much as possible.

As summer days faded away, the Williamsons began to prepare for the return trip to Lac qui Parle. They left the fort early in September and arrived at the mission approximately three weeks later after battling the weather, the big slough and the mosquitoes as they followed the Minnesota River west. Jane found herself in a tiny upstairs bedroom in the mission house. The primitive mission cabin, the humble adobe chapel and the schoolroom downstairs were a far cry from the life she had known in Ohio, but she was also excited and grateful to finally be with her beloved brother and his family in this place they had all come to call home.

__________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

[1] A History of Adams County, Ohio, by Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers, published by E.B. Stivers, West Union, Ohio,  1900, p. 638

[2] Ibid., p. 648

[3] No death certificate or burial site has ever been found for Hannah Robb [Johnson] Williamson, who married William Williamson in Cabin Creek, Kentucky, on May 27, 1816. She is not identified among the burials at the Manchester, Ohio Founders Cemetery where William himself is interred next to his second wife, Mary Webb Smith Williamson.

[4] It was quite common for the early missionaries to send their children back to relatives in the east, often for years at a time. Elizabeth Williamson did not return to Minnesota until 1851, when she was nearly 18 years old. She had lived with her mother’s sister, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s husband, John B. Knox, and their family in Yellow Springs, Ohio, since she was four years old. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Correspondence, 5/3/1838, BA10.4512b, Box 2, Minnesota Historical Society.

Posted in Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part I

Finally – my desk is cleared; my notes and papers are filed; other projects are under control and I can return to Dakota Soul Sisters. I’ve met so many people over the past two years who have told me how much they enjoy these stories of the women of the Dakota mission and I have thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing about these remarkable individuals.

The last woman discussed on the site is Agnes Carson Johnson [Hopkins] [Pond]. Agnes and her husband, Robert Hopkins, came out from Ohio in 1843, arriving at Fort Snelling in May and then heading out to Lac qui Parle in late June. In addition to Rev. Stephen and Mary Riggs, who led the group back from Ohio, the party included, Thomas Williamson’s sister, Jane Smith Williamson, and Julia Kephart, a young woman from Ohio who was coming out to assist the Riggs family at Traverse des Sioux. Traveling with them were three young Dakota men who had been brought to Ohio by Stephen Riggs in 1842 and were now returning to their families at Lac qui Parle. The three were Lorenzo Lawrence, Henok and Simon. All were in their early twenties.

Julia will be the next woman discussed on this site, but I’m first of all going to tell Jane Williamson’s story. I’ve talked about Jane and her significance to the development of the mission as well as mentioning the amazing personal letters she wrote to family members over the course of her nearly fifty years of working with the Dakota mission. Details of how I first learned about Jane and obtained over 35 of her letters are provided in the post entitled: “Life of a Legend – Introduction to the Story of Jane Smith Williamson,” in March of 2014. I encourage you to review that entry as a good basis for getting to know Jane as you begin to read through her story.

On March 8, 1803, thirty-nine-year-old Mary Webb Smith Williamson gave birth to her only daughter, Jane Smith Williamson, in Fairforest, Union County, South Carolina. Mary and her husband, Rev. William Williamson, had one other child together, their son Thomas Smith Williamson, who was born on March 6, 1800, also in Fairforest. Mary was William’s second wife; his first wife, Catherine Beauford Williamson, had died in childbirth in January 1797. The baby, Esther Alexander Williamson, survived, and was the fourth and youngest daughter born to William and Catherine. Their three older girls were: Mary, born in 1790; Anne, born in 1793; and Elizabeth, born in 1795. On February 19, 1799, William married Mary Webb Smith, welcoming her as stepmother to his four little girls and later as mother to Thomas and Jane.

Thomas and Anne’s home, built in 1783, in on the National Register of Historic Places, and was opened as the Woodruff Bed and Breakfast in Woodruff, South Carolina, in 1987. The former owners, who have since retired, believed that the spirit of Thomas Williamson haunted the house – a story which no doubt attracted visitors to the lovely B&B. Today the house is a private residence in Woodruff, South Carolina.

Thomas and Anne’s home, built in 1783, in on the National Register of Historic Places, and was opened as the Woodruff Bed and Breakfast in Woodruff, South Carolina, in 1987. The former owners, who have since retired, believed that the spirit of Thomas Williamson haunted the house – a story which no doubt attracted visitors to the lovely B&B. Today the house is a private residence in Woodruff, South Carolina.

William Williamson was born in 1762 in Granville County, Virginia, and, like his father, Thomas, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. The family lived in Stovall, Granville County, North Carolina. After the war, Thomas Williamson bought a cotton plantation about 250 miles to the southwest in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with his wife, William’s mother, Anne Newton Williamson. Thomas and Anne owned enslaved[1] people although Anne was opposed to slavery and was related to John Newton, an early slave ship operator from England, who did not publicly renounce slavery until 1788. Newton wrote the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” published in 1779. The hymn has long been believed to be his outpouring of gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness for his role in the slavery system.

When William Williamson was about 25 years old, he enrolled in Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, graduating in 1790. He studied theology and became a Presbyterian minister in 1783, serving churches at Fairforest, Union and Grassy Creek in South Carolina, until 1805. The family lived in the parsonage next door to the church in Fairforest, about 18 miles from William’s parents’ plantation in Spartanburg.

Mary Webb Smith, Jane’s mother, was the second of eleven children born to Samuel and Mary Webb Smith. Born in Essex County, Virginia, in 1763, Mary grew up on her father’s farm next door to the Williamson farm in Stovall, North Carolina. She was well-educated and was characterized by James W. Alexander as follows:

“Colonel Smith’s daughter, Mary “Polly” Webb Smith, understood the Calvinist doctrines better than any woman I ever saw. I have spent days in conversation on theological points with Polly Smith. Her religion was not merely theoretical; but deeply practical. She was truly a devout and humbler person.”[2]

Mary was an avid abolitionist who detested the entire concept and practice of slavery even though her family owned enslaved people. When she and William married, she ignored South Carolina’s laws which forbade teaching enslaved people to read and write. They did not have the option of freeing the enslaved people they owned in South Carolina, but William began to join with other Presbyterian ministers who were becoming more and more outspoken about the evils of slavery. From 1802 to 1804, William and two pastoral colleagues, James Gilliland and Robert G. Wilson, were leaders of what became known as the Second Great Awakening in America. They held evangelistic meetings in Nazareth, South Carolina, near Fairforest and saw a great revival in the church, as well as increased opposition to slavery.

William and Mary’s grandson, John Poage Williamson, described what happened to the family in an article he wrote for a book, Home Mission Heroes, published by the Literature Department of the Presbyterian Church, in New York in 1904.

“William Williamson’s wife, Mary W. Smith, was a woman of the same noble and consecrated spirit as his mother. Sitting one morning in the parsonage of the Fairforest Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, a baby girl in her arms, and a little boy at her knee, just old enough to prattle and to drink in his mother’s feelings, someone knocked at the door. It was the patrol, who immediately proceeded to read her the order from the officers of the district that she must at once cease instructing her salves, or be prosecuted according to the law…But in Mrs. Williamson’s eyes God’s law was far above Man’s laws. So, the patrol had hardly shut the door when she said, ‘Thomas, the gospel must be taught to every creature, go to the cabin and tell the children to come to school.’

“Further notices, a trial, a fine followed…The immediate result was that in less than twelve months that delicate mother with Jane on her lap, was climbing the Allegheny Mountains on horseback. Just ahead was her good husband with little Thomas astride behind him; and their 27 negroes [sic] stringing along as they pleased – all bound for the Ohio River, across which was the land of liberty.”[3]

The Williamsons left Ohio in 1805, with the families of fellow Presbyterian pastors Robert G. Wilson and James Gilliland. In addition to five-year-old Thomas and two-year-old Jane, the party included William’s four daughters, who ranged in age from 14-year-old Mary to 8-year-old Esther. Today the trip is around 420 miles on paved highways but in 1805, they traveled on foot and horseback over mountain trails and through woodlands, sleeping on the ground at night while trying to feed the entire entourage two or three times a day with only occasional access to a wayside inn or tavern. All three families were leaving behind relatives and all personal property as well as bidding farewell to their congregations in the churches they had pastored for so many years.

When the Williamsons arrived in Ohio, they stayed in the home of Thomas Kirker, the second governor of Ohio, in West Union, Ohio.

When the Williamsons arrived in Ohio, they stayed in the home of Thomas Kirker, the second governor of Ohio, in Liberty Township, Ohio.

The three pastors had been in contact with the newly established Presbytery at Chillicothe, Ohio, and were warmly welcomed and received into the Presbytery on August 28, 1805. William and Mary stayed with the Thomas Kirker family on the Kirker farm in Liberty Township, Adams County, Ohio, along with their six children.

A plaque on the wall of the Kirker home reads: 1805 - Homestead of Thomas Kirker, 1760-1857, Settled in Adams County, 1793. Justice of hte Peace, 1797; Member, Constitutional Convention, 1802; Ohio Legislature, 1803-1815, 1816-1917, 1821-1825; Governor of Ohio, 1807-1808. Presented in honor of service during the War of 1812. By Ohio Society - National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, March 25, 1875.

A plaque on the wall of the Kirker home reads: 1805 – Homestead of Thomas Kirker, 1760-1857. Settled in Adams County, 1793. Justice of the Peace, 1797; Member, Constitutional Convention, 1802; Ohio Legislature, 1803-1815, 1816-1917, 1821-1825; Governor of Ohio, 1807-1808.  Presented in honor of service during the War of 1812. By Ohio Society – National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution,    March 25, 1975.

 

 

The Kirkers were members of the West Union Presbyterian Church in West Union, Ohio, where William Williamson became the first pastor in 1805. William soon purchased several acres of land around Manchester, including property in West Union, Ohio, where he built the family home, known as The Beeches. He also pastored the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Cabin Creek, Kentucky, just across the Ohio. River from Manchester, Ohio, and in 1814, he became the first pastor of the Manchester Presbyterian Church.

 

William Williamson built his family's first home in West Union, Ohio, in 1805. The charming cottage was named The Beeches for the trees which surrounded the homestead. Jane Williamson lived here from 1805 until 1843.

William Williamson built his family’s first home in West Union, Ohio, in 1805. The charming cottage was named The Beeches for the trees which surrounded the homestead. Jane Williamson lived here from 1805 until 1843.

Jane Williamson was just two years old when the family settled into their new Ohio home. As the baby of the family, with four older sisters and one older brother, Jane no doubt received lots of attention. She was taught to read and write by her parents and certainly her older sisters helped her with her schooling while also instructing her in sewing, needlework and other household tasks. Jane and her mother Mary shared a special bond and Mary delighted in her young daughter. She had never expected to marry and when William asked her to become his bride in 1799, she was already 35 years old, far beyond the age most women were thought to be marriageable. When Thomas was born in 1800, Mary perhaps felt that he would be her only child, but then, when she was nearly 40 years old, little Jane arrived.

William and Mary raised Williams’ daughters and their own children to be thoughtful and serious about their studies and especially about the theology of the Presbyterian Church, a denomination which was constantly shifting and changing as the issue of slavery in America continued to cause friction between the north and the south. Jane grew up around a dinner table where her parents and siblings discussed and argued about both political and religious issues. From several historic sources, it is clear that William Williamson was a significant player in the forming of the Underground Railroad which has its roots along the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio in the very early 1800’s. In addition to serving the churches which employed him as their minister, he also operated a ferry boat between Manchester, Ohio, and the Kentucky shore on the south side. What better way to secretly assist individuals who were fleeing a life of enslavement in the south and bring them to freedom in the north?

Like many of the Presbyterian pastors and citizens who lived on the Ohio side of the river, the Williamsons, the Wilsons and the Gillilands were all secret participants in aiding escapees on their journey to freedom. Of course, all of their activities had to be done without ever communicating openly about what was happening or who was being transported. So-called slave catchers from the south were constantly patrolling the waterfront on the Ohio side, stalking those they suspected of harboring formerly enslaved people in an effort to recapture the escapees and return them to their owners in the south. For the Williamson children, it was no doubt a frightening but also exciting operation world which they sensed all around them.

When Jane was ten years old, her grandfather in South Carolina, Thomas Williamson, passed away at the age of 77 years. He specified in his will that all of the enslaved people he owned were to be freed at the time of his death. William’s mother Anne was unable to fulfill her husband’s instructions as long as they remained in South Carolina so she brought their household of enslaved persons and joined William and his family at The Beeches in West Union, Ohio. Jane was at an impressionable age and no doubt loved hearing her grandmother’s stories about life in the south and her lifelong opposition to slavery.

Jane's mother, Mary Webb Smith Williamson, is buried in the Founders Cemetery adjacent to the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, where William Williamson was pastor.

Jane’s mother, Mary Webb Smith Williamson, is buried in the Founders Cemetery adjacent to the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, where William Williamson was pastor.

Shortly after Anne’s arrival, Jane’s life entered a period of fast and dramatic change. When she was 11 years old, her beloved mother Mary passed away at the age of 50.[4]  By that time, Jane’s brother Thomas was living with the John Gilliland family and attending a boys seminary in Ripley, Ohio, 20 miles west on the Ohio River. Six months later, Jane’s sister Mary married James Ellison, a prominent member of the Adams County, Ohio, establishment. Nine months later, on June 13, 1815, Elizabeth Williamson married Robinson Baird, a businessman in Ripley. Then, on May 27, 1816, William married his third wife, Hannah Robb Johnston, a widow from his Cabin Creek church in Kentucky.

Jane was now at home with her father William, step-mother Hannah, grandmother Anne Williamson and William’s two daughters, Anne and Esther. The day after Christmas in 1816, Anne married Dr. William Willson, a prominent physician in Ripley, Ohio, and on March 27, 1817, Esther married William Kirker, the son of the second governor of Ohio. Still more family members made the journey to Ohio from South Carolina in 1819, when William’s sister, Anne, and her husband, Colonel John Means, brought their own 24 enslaved individuals to freedom and established their new home near William and his family in West Union.

The arrival of her Means relatives introduced Jane to her South Carolina cousins, Elizabeth, who was four years older than Jane, and the younger boys, Thomas, 16; John, 13; James, 10; and Hugh, who was just five years old when the family came north. Jane and Elizabeth became lifelong friends and the majority of Jane’s famous letters, which are preserved in private collections and museums across the country, were written to Elizabeth between 1840 until Elizabeth’s death in 1899 at the age of 90.

Thomas graduated from Jefferson College in 1820 and that same year, on April 25, 1820, Jane’s grandmother, Anne Newton Williamson, died at The Beeches at the age of 83 years. Thomas left for medical school at Yale University and Jane, now 17 years old, remained at home at The Beeches with her father and stepmother.

Then, in 1819, a letter arrived for Jane from her mother’s brother, John Granville Smith, in Granville County, North Carolina, informing her that she had inherited a woman enslaved there and her two children, left to her by another member of the family who had passed away. If she did not want to claim the woman and children, they could be sold and she would be sent $300.00. Jane was horrified at the idea of owning another individual but she also could never agree to receive any proceeds from their sale. She and Thomas began to plan how they could get to North Carolina and finally in 1821, they set out on horseback to visit their mother’s family and bring the woman and her children back to Ohio and set them free.

John Poage Williamson described their arrival in North Carolina as follows:

“As they neared the old stamping ground of their fathers, they were filled with expectancy and longing as they called to mind the stories their parents had told them of the large circle of dear friends and relatives who lived there. They stopped one night at the plantation of one of these near relatives. The large house with wide porches stood some distance from the road, with negro quarters in the rear. They were courteously, though somewhat cautiously, entertained. In the morning when prayers and breakfast were over the negro boys who had taken their horses the night before, were seen holding them at the mounting block.

“The host then called Thomas to one side and said, “Now Thomas, as you have told us the object of your visit, I wish to tell you that it will be impossible for us to entertain you on your return; and for the future, if you continue in your course, the farther away you stay the better.”

“Thus it was that for conscience sake the ties that bound them to earthly kith and kin were rudely severed.”[5]

The woman, who now was considered Jane’s property, was named Jemima. She was born in about 1800 and in 1817 was permitted to enter into marriage with an enslaved man Joe Logan, who belonged to John Granville Smith. They had two children at the time that Jane and Thomas arrived in North Carolina in 1821, but one of the children died before they were to leave for Ohio. Jemima’s husband, Joe Logan, begged Jane and Thomas to buy him so that he could go with Jemima and their daughter but they had no money to do so and had to leave Joe behind.

Joe was not about to accept the separation, however, and in 1822, he escaped from the Smith plantation and made his way to The Beeches where Jemima was living with the Williamsons. Although he was never legally free, Joe Logan made a life for himself in Ohio and his owner, John Granville Smith, knowing Joe would never be taken alive, did not pursue bringing him back. The Logans lived and worked at The Beeches until 1841, when they were able to buy a 26-acre hillside farm immediately north of West Union and erected their home there. Joe as an active participant in the Underground Railroad and although he had to look over his shoulder every day of his life to watch for slavecatchers, he lived as a free man until his untimely death in 1849, following an accidental shot to his foot which led to lockjaw. Jemima lived until September 23, 1885. They had several children who made their homes and raised their own families in Ohio, a living legacy to Jane and Thomas Williamson’s and the visit they made to their southern relatives so many years earlier.

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[1] In recent years, there has been a conscious effort on the part of historians and others to not refer to individuals as “slaves,” because that name can connote that the individual has only that identity rather than the more appropriate “enslaved person,” because slavery was imposed on them, not a personal characteristic or choice. To our ears, it may sound contrived or confusing but I am attempting to be sensitive to current considerations.

[2] The Life of Archibald Alexander DD LLD, 1st Professor of the Theological Seminary at Princeton, NJ, by James W. Alexander DD, 1870

[3] John P. Williamson: A Brother to the Sioux, by Winifred W. Barton, Sunnycrest Publishing, Clements, Minnesota, 1980, p. xiv

[4] Mary Smith Williamson’s tombstone in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, bears the following inscription, “In memory of Mrs. Mary Williamson, Late Wife of the Rev. W. Williamson, who died on the 21st of March AD 1815 in the 50th year of her life. Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord.” Family records indicate that Mary passed away on March 21, 1814.

[5] John P. Williamson: A Brother to the Sioux, by Winifred W. Barton, Sunnycrest Publishing, Clements, Minnesota, 1980, p. xv. John Williamson indicates that both Thomas and Jane were the inheritors in this case but other accounts from Adams County, Ohio, specify that it was Jane who was the one named in the estate documents.

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