Lydia Huggins Pettijohn was 22 years old when she arrived at Fort Snelling in Mendota, Minnesota, in May 1835. Her husband Alexander was 33 and they had two children, Amos Williamson Huggins, who was two years old and Jane Sloan Huggins, who was just five months. They made the journey from Ripley, Ohio, with Dr. Thomas Smith Williamson, 32, his wife, Margaret Poage Williamson, 28, and their daughter Elizabeth Williamson, who was 18 months old. Margaret’s sister, Sarah Poage, 29, completed the group. Dr. Williamson had accepted a call to establish a mission and provide education, medical assistance and spirtual teaching to the Dakota people in Minnesota. He recruited Alexander and Lydia to come with him as mission workers. Alexander was a hard worker with experience in building, farming, carpentry, livestock, blacksmithing and other valuable skills.
For Lydia the trip was an adventure. Her sister-in-law, Fannie Huggins Pettijohn, wrote in her own memoirs in 1888, that “Lydia was willing, pleased and glad to go….I believe we all had enough missionary Spirit to be glad to have our friends go as missionaries but it was dreadful hard to part with them.” [Huggins Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, Fannie Huggins Memoir]. Fannie was the one who introduced Lydia to her brother Alexander when the Huggins clan moved to White Oak, Ohio in the spring of 1831. In addition to his skill at farming and carpentry, Alexander had a wonderful voice and taught singing school at night. His daughter, Mary Ann Longley Huggins Kerlinger, wrote in her journal that “As there was no dancing allowed, [they were all strict Presbyterians] singing school was where people met each other.”
Mary Ann described her mother in the same journal. “Mother was a fine looking young woman, ambitious to have everything neat and attractive about her. Father was very fond and proud of her. He was merry and playful and very kind and considerate and I know they must have been happy.” [Minnesota Historical Society, Huggins Collection, Mary Ann Longley Huggins Kerlinger Journal, p. 43]. Mary Ann’s brother, Eli Lundy Huggins, recalled that the Dakota called Lydia by the name Winona, a name that a young girl was traditionally given until she was married. He wrote: “The Indians saw it as an honor to continue to call her Winona.” [Minnesota Historical Society, Huggins Collection, Eli Lundy Huggins Memoirs, p. 8]
Amos Huggins, one of Lydia’s grandsons, was born in 1863. In his memoir, he wrote the following about the family, and particularly about Lydia: “It might be well for me at this time to comment briefly on this family. They were of good American stock, extremely religious, led sincere lives and were endowed with the thought of the superiority of the Huggins tribe, culturally, morally and spiritually. They were surrounded by hardships and, from what I have been told, were poorly nourished during the winter season, with the result that the women, especially, were not endowed with physical vigor. All four of the women were small and very light in weight. [He is apparently referring to Lydia’s daughters who actually numbered five: Jane, Eliza, Mary Ann, Frances and Harriet.] My grandmother was a wonderful woman. She was normal physically, had a good mind and took a great interest in current events.” [Minnesota Historical Society, Huggins Collection, “Sketch of the Life of Amos Williamson Huggins by Himself,” Part I, p. 3.]
Both Alexander and Lydia came from large families. Their parents were part of a large group of residents who came to Ohio in the early 1800s from the southern states for the purpose of freeing their slaves. The Ohio River was the dividing line between slave and free states and as slavery became more and more abhorent to Presbyterians and other Christian groups, many familes set up new homes and farms in Ohio. They practiced their anti-slavery belief by operating the earliest Underground Railroad to assist slaves in their efforts to escape to the north. Many abolitionist heroes were found in the Huggins and Pettijohn familes in the Ripley/Red Oak/White Oak region of southern Ohio.
The Williamsons were also part of this group. Thomas Williamson’s father brought his family to West Union, Ohio from South Carolina in 1805. Alexander Huggins father made the move in 1809. These transplanted southerners established a tight-knit community of Presbyterian abolitionists. Interestingly, many of them also became missionaries to the Dakota people in Minnesota in the years between 1835 and 1862.
When the Williamson/Huggins group arrived at Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, they had already been traveling for 17 days on several riverboats that brought them from Ripley, Ohio to Galena, Illinois and then up the Mississippi to Minnesota. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving at the fort, Lydia and her children, Amos and Jane, came down with the measles which they reportedly caught from Dred Scott’s wife Harriet. [Kerlinger Journal, p. 69]
Scott is famous for bringing suit to gain his freedom, and that of his wife and two daughters, when he was in Minnesota. His case was based on the fact that although he and his wife were slaves, he had lived with his master Dr. John Emerson, in states and territories where slavery was illegal according to both state laws and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 including Illinois and Minnesota (which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory). The United States Supreme Court decided 7–2 against Scott, finding that neither he nor any other person of African ancestry could claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under diversity of citizenship rules. Moreover, Scott’s temporary residence outside Missouri did not bring about his emancipation under the Missouri Compromise which the court ruled unconstitutional as it would improperly deprive Scott’s owner of his legal property.
When Lydia and the children recovered from the measles, the group set out for Joseph Renville’s fur trading post and stockade at Lac Qui Parle, the “Lake that Speaks,” where they planned to establish a mission and school. They left Fort Snelling on June 22, 1835 and arrived at the post on July 9.
Lydia and Alexander and the children shared quarters with the Williamsons inside the stockade until Alexander and Thomas were able to build a small log cabin which became the first Huggins’ home at Lac Qui Parle. They moved into their cabin in October 1835. The couple welcomed another daughter when Eliza Willson Huggins was born on March 7, 1837, followed by Mary Ann Longley Huggins on September 18, 1839.
Rev. Stephen Riggs and his wife Mary joined the mission in September 1837 and in November, Margaret Williamson’s sister Sarah was married to Gideon Pond, another missionary who had come to Lac Qui Parle to assist Thomas Williamson. Alexander’s sister Fannie Huggins, Lydia’s long-time friend, came out from Ohio in June 1839 and began studying Dakota so that she could assist in teaching. Lydia and Alexander had their second son and fifth child, Eli Lundy Huggins, born on August 1, 1842.
The little community of missionaries continued to grow. By the early fall of 1842, the offspring of the missionaries numbered 13 children under the age of ten: Amos Huggins, 9; Elizabeth Williamson, 8; Jane Huggins, 7; John Williamson, 6; Eliza Huggins, 6; Alfred Riggs, 4; Andrew Williamson, 4; Mary Ann Huggins, 2; Isabel Riggs, 2; Nancy Jane Williamson, 1; Martha Riggs, Eli Huggins and Smith Williamson were not yet a year old. The families’ little houses were within a few steps of each other and there must have been times when Lydia or her counterparts, Margaret Williamson and Martha Riggs, as well as her sister-in-law Fannie, may have wished for just an occasional bit of privacy.
Although a specific date and the details have not been found, sometime around the end of 1842, Alexander and Lydia sent their two oldest girls, Jane and Eliza, back to Ohio to live with relatives. Then, early in Spring 1843, Stephen and Martha Riggs and their family moved to Traverse des Sioux to establish a mission there. They were replaced for one year at Lac Qui Parle by Robert Hopkins and his wife, Agnes Johnston Hopkins. Hopkins was a cousin of Alexander Huggins and knew the Williamsons in Ohio as well. Their first child, Mary Frances Hopkins, was born at Lac Qui Parle on September 10, 1843. Thomas Williamson’s sister, Jane Williamson, came to the mission that same month and began to learn the Dakota language.
In April 1845, Lydia and Alexander and the children headed for Ohio on furlough from the mission. Fannie Huggins made the trip with them, as did 12-year-old Amos, six-year-old Mary Ann and two-year-old Eli. While they were there, Fannie was married to Jonas Pettijohn, a cousin of Lydia’s, on September 27, 1845. The newlyweds returned to Lac Qui Parle with the Huggins family a few weeks later. Lydia gave birth to another son on March 26, 1846, when Rufus Anderson Huggins was born. He was the last of the Huggins children born at Lac Qui Parle.
When Thomas Williamson accepted the inviation of Kaposia Chief Taoyateduta (Little Crow) to open at mission at his village on the Mississippi River at what is now South St. Paul, Minnesota, Stephen and Mary Riggs and their family returned to Lac Qui Parle to take their place and Alexander and Lydia and their family moved to Traverse des Sioux to work with Robert and Agnes Hopkins, who had been working at Traverse since 1844.
Lydia was 34 years old at the time. Her three oldest children, Amos, Jane and Eliza, were living with relatives in Ohio. Her seven-year-old daughter Mary Ann recalled in her journal that: “Father was to go to Traverse. Aunt Fannie wanted to keep me and Mother said I could decide myself. Mother was a silent, dignified woman. She rarely spoke to me and I quite stood in awe of her although I felt I was making a strange choice. I said I want to stay with Aunt Fannie. So I let Father, Mother and little brothers drive away without me.” [Kerlinger Journal, p. 124]. So it was that Alexander and Lydia traveled down to Traverse and their new mission with four-year-old Eli and the baby Rufus.