Two weeks after the Williamson and Huggins families arrived at Fort Snelling in May of 1835, another missionary group, led by Rev. Jedediah Dwight Stevens, also showed up for the purpose of setting up a mission among the Dakota Indians. Jedediah and his wife, Julia Sarah Eggleston Stevens, were accompanied by Jedediah’s niece, 16-year-old Lucy Cornelia Peterboro Stevens, a foster daughter, six-year-old Jane DeBow and their two young sons. The individual stories of the three women will be told in the next few Dakota Soul Sisters posts.
Julia Sarah Eggleston was born in May 1807 in Stafford, Genesee County, New York, the fourth child and second daughter of Esquire Ebenezer and Anne Kingsley Eggleston. Her father died when Julia was eight years old, leaving her mother a widow with eight children and another on the way. Julia married Jedediah Stevens in May 1827. Jedediah was the son of Jonathan and Lucy Berry Stevens and was nine years older than Julia. The newlyweds left New York on June 13, 1827, and traveled to their first mission station at Mackinac in Michigan. They arrived five weeks later on July 21.
The mission at Mackinac had been established in 1823, when missionaries William Montague Ferry and his wife Amanda founded a mission on the southeast corner of Mackinac Island at the location since known as Mission Point. Jedediah was expecting to remain at the station only a short time before being sent to Lake Superior to set up a new mission. Instead, over a year after their arrival, on August 20, 1828, they were sent to work among the Stockbridge Indians on the Fox River near present day Green Bay, Wisconsin. A few months later, in December, they returned to Winfield, New York, where Julia gave birth to their first child, Julia Ann Stevens, on March 14, 1829.
Later that year, Jedediah made his first journey to Fort Snelling in what would become Minnesota. He was accompanied by Rev. Alvin Coe. The agent at the fort, Lawrence Taliaferro, welcomed them on September 9, 1829, and took them to the falls at St. Anthony “to see whether a missionary establishment could be formed there for the agricultural schools and for the benefit of the Sioux of the Agency,” but they decided to head off on their own and eventually left the area. [Minnesota Historical Society, Taliaferro Manuscript Collection, Lawrence Taliaferro Diary, September 9, 1829].
Jedediah and Julia returned to the Stockbridge Mission after Jedediah’s return. Jonathan Dwight Stevens, who was called Dwight, was born to the couple there on April 19, 1831. Julia had another son, Evarts Cornelius Stevens, on September 27, 1832. Only three months later on January 2, 1833, little Julia died just two months before her fourth birthday. By 1835, the Stockbridge Indians had accepted a cash settlement from the government and agreed to move to the east shore of Lake Winnebago and Jedediah Stevens once again was transferred to a new mission site, this one near Fort Snelling in what would become Minnesota.
No matter what source historians turn to to learn about Jedediah Steven’s arrival at the fort, each of those sources document that all of the other missionaries soon developed contentious relationships with Jedediah. According to author Charles Gates, Thomas Williamson, who had arrived two weeks earlier, thought he would set up his mission at Lake Calhoun and let Stevens be nearer to the fort but when Stevens arrived he claimed Lake Calhoun as his property on the basis of his trip there in 1829. Thomas gave in but didn’t believe his claim. [“Lac Qui Parle,” by Charles Gates, Minnesota History, June 1935.]
Jedediah then decided that the best location for him was nearby at Lake Harriet. Samuel and Gideon Pond, who had been working with the Dakota at Lake Calhoun since 1834, soon had problems with the new arrival. “We purchased a cow and were about to make some improvements in our house when Mr. S. said if we remained at Lake Calhoun he could do nothing at Lake Harriet and that might have been true, for he was never popular with the Indians. He also claimed that as we had approved of his building Lake Harriet we were in some measure responsible for the success of his mission. We learned afterwards that he wrote to Secretary Green[e] that the reason why we joined him was because we were so uncomfortably situated at Lake Calhoun, but we did not know it then or we should have said there, so we reluctantly abandoned our house – turned over our cow, corn and potatoes of which we had a large crop, to Mr. S. and G[ideon] remained with him, while I went off with the Indians on a hunting expedition. [“Two Missionaries in the Sioux Country,” by Samuel Pond, Minnesota History, March 1940, p. 28].
Samuel Pond continued: “I soon perceived that my relations with Mr. Stevens were not likely to prove very agreeable. As G. was now gone [to Lac Qui Parle] Mr. Stevens thought I should be compelled to remain with him, and he gave me to understand that, as he was a licensed preacher and I only a layman, he should expect me to spend much of my time in manual labor, and interpret for him in his intercourse with the Indians, but I did not come here to interpret for anyone,–certainly not for one with as little ability natural or acquired as Mr. S. so I determined to go to Connecticut and obtain a license to preach.” [“Two Missionaries in the Sioux Country, by Samuel Pond, Minnesota History, June 1940, p. 158]
Historian Gary Anderson reported that Jedediah took the team that he was supposed to use to teach the Dakota to plow and broke land for himself. [Kinsmen of Another Kind, p. 166]
None of the source documents from the period mention Julia. In fact the only comment made about her at all is in John Willand’s thesis on Lac Qui Parle where he calls her Jedediah’s “sharp-tongued wife,” but there is no attribution for that remark. [John Willand, Lac Qui Parle and the Dakota Mission, Lac Qui Parle Historical Society].
Julia had two little boys when the family came to Fort Snelling, as well as six-year-old foster daughter, Jane DeBow. Jedediah’s niece, 16-year-old Lucy, was also part of the family. Julia and Lucy were among the first teachers at the first boarding school that Jedediah established at Lake Harriet in July 1835. The school was meant to provide an education to the many young women in the area who had white fathers and Dakota mothers. Only a few months after their arrival, Julia and Jedediah had another child on September 30, 1835, a daughter whom they named Julia Ann after their first child who had died on January 2, 1833.
The Williamsons extricated themselves from any further dealings with Jedediah Stevens by locating their mission 130 miles west at Lac Qui Parle in July 1835. By 1838 the strained relationship between Stevens and the Pond brothers was called to the attention of the mission board. Stephen Riggs, who arrived at Fort Snelling in 1837, reported that Stevens would never be a success as a farmer or missionary. Thomas Williamson wrote that Stevens was not popular with the Indians and could not learn the language. Rollin Brown declared that Stevens was unworthy of the patronage of the Board. . [“Two Missionaries in the Sioux Country,” by Samuel Pond, Minnesota History, March 1940, note26, p. 28].
Jedediah was released from service with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions on August 13, 1839. He headed south to Winona and became a government farmer for Dakota Chief Wabasha’s band. Julia gave birth there to another son, Henry Gustavus Stevens, on September 8, 1839. In 1841, Jedediah left his position with Wabasha’s band and moved the family to Prairie du Chien, where he became the pastor of the Presbyterian church and subsequently to Prairieville, Wisconsin (now Waukesha). He and Julia had a baby girl, Salome Eveline Stevens, on November 10, 1842, followed by another boy, Holbrook Stevens, on December 10, 1844. Three months later, on March 7, 1845, Julia died in Prairieville at the age of 36 years, leaving Jedediah with six children. Dwight was the oldest at 13; Evarts was 12; Julia was nine; Henry was five years old; Salome was two and baby Holbrook was three months old. Jane DeBow, who still lived with the family, was 16. Little Holbrook only lived a few months before he died on August 21, 1845.
As a footnote, Jedediah remarried on November 22, 1845, to Esther Humphrey, who was 20 years younger than Jedediah. Esther and Jedediah’s first child together was Edwin Humphrey Stevens, born on December 31, 1847. He was followed by Ellen on September 4, 1851; William on September 8, 1853; Caroline on September 30, 1856; and Joy Walter on August 19, 1858. Ellen died at the age of four years. Jedediah was 63 years old when the youngest child was born.