Cordelia Comes West – The Story of Cordelia Eggleston Pond – Part I

On October 13, 1837, 21-year-old Cordelia Eggleston left her home in Stafford, New York, and headed west to join her sister, Julia and Julia’s family at Lake Harriet, Minnesota Territory. For Cordelia this was a great adventure, one that she’d anticipated ever since Julia began writing to her to invite her to come and serve as a teacher to the Dakota at the Lake Harriet mission.

Cordelia was Julia’s youngest sister, born on November 22, 1815, in the small community of Stafford, just outside of Batavia, New York. Her father, Esquire Ebenezer Eggleston, had died eight weeks earlier, leaving Cordelia’s mother, Anna Kingsley Eggleston, a widow with eight children. The oldest, Harvey, was fourteen and the youngest, Jane, was three years old. Baby Cordelia arrived two months later.

Cordelia was eleven years old when her older sister Julia married Rev. Jedediah Stevens in May of 1827 and left for the couple’s first mission station at Mackinac in Michigan. The girls’ mother Anna had remarried a widower, Rev. Jesse Churchill of Winfield, New York, in about 1824 when Cordelia was nine or ten years old. He was 20 years older than Anna and died in 1828. Anna was 61 years old when Cordelia left home in 1837, and it is unlikely that she saw her daughter again before she died in 1843.

Samuel Pond, Jr., writing in Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas, described Cordelia’s arrival at Lake Harriet as follows:

“….a sister of Mrs. Stevens, Miss Cordelia Eggleston, then a young lady of twenty two, had joined the Lake Harriet Mission in the capacity of teacher. She was a great favorite with her sister, Mrs. Stevens, who had long and diligently laid her plans to have her younger sister associated with her in her work in the Indian country, and was much elated with her success.”[1]

Cordelia made her home with Julia and Julia’s husband, Rev. Jedediah Stevens, who was running a boarding school at Lake Harriet for the mixed blood Dakota daughters of many of the area’s white government officials and traders. Julia and Jedediah had two boys, Dwight, who was six years old when his Aunt Cordelia arrived, and Evarts, who was a year younger. Jedediah and Julia’s foster daughter, Jane DeBow, was nine years old in 1837 and Jedediah’s sister, Lucy Cornelia Stevens, then 18, also lived with the family.

Samuel Pond’s comments about Cordelia continue:

“The lady commended herself to all by her amiable character, modest demeanor, and personal attractions….During the spring and summer following Mr. Pond’s return to Lake Harriet, he saw much of this young teacher and the acquaintance resulted in a marriage engagement after a brief courtship in the beautiful groves bordering the lovely lake.”[2]

The wedding of Cordelia Eggleston and Samuel W. Pond is one of the more well-documented events of early Minnesota history and it was attended by anyone of importance in the territory. Samuel Pond, Jr. shares the story:

Samuel Pond, Jr., writing in 1893, says that the wedding of his parents, Cordelia Eggleston and Samuel Pond, Sr. took place "scarcely a stone's throw" from the Lake Harriet Pavilion which is pictured above. It was built in 1892 and burned down in 1903. He describes a slight depression in the ground that marked the site of the Lake Harriet Mission boarding school where the wedding was held on November 22, 1838.

Samuel Pond, Jr., writing in 1893, says that the wedding of his parents, Cordelia Eggleston and Samuel Pond, Sr. took place “scarcely a stone’s throw” from the Lake Harriet Pavilion which is pictured above. It was built in 1892 and burned down in 1903. He describes a slight depression in the ground that marked the site of the Lake Harriet Mission boarding school where the wedding was held on November 22, 1838.

“Scarcely a stone’s throw from the Lake Harriet Pavilion, the close observer may have noticed a slight depression below the general surface of the ground. That depression marks the site of the Mission Boarding School, where, in 1835, the first attempt was made to educate and Christianize Dakota Indians.

“There, on the evening of November 22, 1838, was solemnized the first marriage of white people in civilized form within the present limits of Minneapolis. It was a brilliant, starry evening, one of Minnesota’s brightest and most invigorating. The sleighing was fine, and among the guests were many officers from Fort Snelling with their wives. Dr. Emerson and wife, best known as the owners of Dred Scott, the subject of Judge Taney’s famous decision, were present, the doctor being at that time post surgeon at the fort. Dred Scott himself was then held as a slave at For Snelling. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. J.D. Stevens, whose wife was a sister of the bride. The bridesmaid was the beautiful and accomplished Miss Cornelia Stevens, at that time teacher at the boarding school, who afterwards became the wife of the talented Rev. Daniel Gavin, the Swiss missionary….The groomsman was Henry H. Sibley, destined in later days to be Minnesota’s first delegate in Congress, her first state executive, and finally, General Sibley, alike distinguished in political, civil and military life.

Samuel Pond was 30 years old when he married Cordelia Eggleston on her 23rd birithday. This portrait was made many years later. No photo or image of Cordelia has been found.

Samuel Pond was 30 years old when he married Cordelia Eggleston on her 23rd birithday. This portrait was made many years later. No photo or image of Cordelia has been found.

“The bride on the occasion was Miss Cordelia Eggleston, whose amiable yet sensitive nature poorly fitted her to endure the toils and privations which fell to her lot as the wife of a missionary to the Dakotas…The wedding day was also the bride’s birthday. She was just twenty-three. The bridegroom was the Rev. S.W. Pond, of the Dakota mission.

“At the conclusion of the wedding festivities the guests from Fort Snelling attempted to cross Lake Harriet on their return, but only those who had fleet horses succeeded, the violent northwest wind compelling the return of those less fortunate. It was a romantic one – that first wedding; and though few of the modern accessories of a great marriage added to the attraction of the occasion, a more distinguished company could not at that time have been assembled within the limits of the territory…

“The tall bridegroom and groomsman, in the vigor and strength of young manhood; the bride and bridesmaid, just emerging from girlhood, must have presented an attractive picture in the mission house that night at Lake Harriet.

“The ‘wedding hymn’ was written for the occasion by Mr. Pond, at the request of the ladies, who could find nothing that seemed to them quite appropriate. The concluding verse is given:

‘Oh, make them faithful unto death,

And then may they in glory meet,

And crows of life from thee receive

To cast at their Redeemer’s feet.’ ”[3]

The map of the area shows the "Sioux Mission" on the north shore of Lake Harriet. Cordelia and Samuel lived in a small room above the schoolroom in the early months of their marriage.

The map of the area shows the “Sioux Mission” on the north shore of Lake Harriet. Cordelia and Samuel lived in a small room above the schoolroom in the early months of their marriage.

Cordelia and Samuel began their married life together living in a small upper room over the schoolroom at the mission house. Cordelia continued to teach at the boarding school and Samuel worked as a farmer with Cloud Man’s band. In April 1839, Samuel’s brother Gideon, his own new wife, Sarah, and their six-month-old daughter Ruth, relocated to Lake Harriet from the mission where they had been working at Lac Qui Parle. Gideon accepted a position as a government farmer and the brothers once again worked side by side with the Dakota.

A few months later, in August of 1839, Jedediah Stevens was released from his work with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Jedediah and Julia and their family moved near present-day Winona, Minnesota, where Jedediah went to work as a government farmer for Dakota Chief Wabasha’s band. Cordelia thus parted from her sister Julia after less than two years of living and working together at the mission. Jane DeBow and Julia’s sons also left of course, and Lucy Cornelia Stevens married missionary Daniel Gavin and moved to the mission at Red Wing.  Cordelia was now a new bride with no other family nearby. Fortunately, she and her sister-in-law, Gideon’s wife, Sarah, apparently got along very well and supported each other as they entered into the tumultuous years of the Dakota mission in the 1840s. (Sarah Poage Pond’s story is found in earlier posts and can be accessed by clicking on her name in the categories on the right.)

The Dakota at Cloud Man’s village at Lake Calhoun had now known and worked with Samuel and Gideon for five years. While the band was increasing their farm production and sending their children to school, they also faced constant and violent harassment from the Ojibwa. A series of particularly tragic battles convinced Cloud Man to leave the area and he relocated the entire village to Nine Mile Creek in what is now the Oak Grove neighborhood of Bloomington, Minnesota. In the spring of 1840, Gideon and Samuel and their families left the mission house at Lake Harriet and moved to a stone house known as the Baker House near Camp Cold Water, a short distance from Fort Snelling. The Ponds rented one half of the house while Samuel and Persis Denton and Daniel and Lucy Gavin took the other side. (Persis and Lucy’s stories will be found in earlier posts on this site by clicking on their names on the right.)

While the two Pond families shared half of the Baker house, Sarah and Gideon Pond welcomed their first son, Edward, who was born on March 17, 1840. The following spring, Samuel Pond made the journey to Lac Qui Parle to participate in the annual meeting of the Dakota mission. Cordelia remained at the Baker House where she wrote him the following letter:

“I am glad of an opportunity to send you a few lines as an expression of my continued affection for you, and to tell you that I am looking forward, somewhat impatiently I fear, for your return yet as much as I wish to see you, I believe I should not call you away from duty. It is always pleasant to me to think that you are about our Master’s business – that you are engaged in a good cause….”[4]

Samuel returned a few weeks later and he and Gideon continued their work on the Dakota alphabet and grammar, served at Fort Snelling as preachers and worked in a variety of government enterprises. Gideon and Sarah had another child, Sarah, in January 1842, and four months later, Cordelia and Samuel had their first child, Jennette Clarissa Pond, born on May 6, 1842.

The baby’s arrival coincided with a new appointment for Samuel. Stephen Riggs, who was serving at Lac Qui Parle, was due for a furlough from the mission field and he and his family were to go to Ohio for a year. Samuel was asked to take his place at the Lac Qui Parle mission during his absence. Riggs engaged a flatboat for the trip down and Samuel and Cordelia were to use the same boat for their trip out. They had to return it to Traverse des Sioux by June 6. Jennette was only three weeks old and Dr. Thomas Williamson told the new parents that he thought the baby would survive the trip just fine but he was concerned that it would be too much of a strain for Cordelia. The doctor at the fort, however, Dr. Turner, warned Samuel that his concern was for the baby whom he predicted could never survive such a journey.

Always prepared, Samuel put a little box on the boat which he could use for a coffin should baby Jennette die and need to be buried along their 130-mile journey. Samuel Pond, Jr., reflected on Cordelia’s experience:

“That journey was one of peculiar anxiety to the young mother, whose little babe faded day by day before her eyes. Only those who have passed through a like experience can realize the burden of anxiety and apprehension which rested upon her in her inexperience and extremity. She could do little for her child but pray.

“The vernal beauty of the Minnesota, which she then saw for the first time, with its wealth of foliage and rich variety of blossoms, would in ordinary circumstances have been greatly enjoyed, but in the shadow of a threatened affliction like this one the beauties of nature cannot soothe the anguish of the soul.

“The long journey finally came to an end, and the little Jennette was just alive when the party reached Lac Qui Parle. She, however, speedily recovered from the nearly fatal effects of the journey, and became a remarkably healthy, active child, a great comfort to her lonely mother.”[5]

When Samuel accepted the call to Lac Qui Parle for a year, he assumed, as did the mission board, that Dr. Williamson and his family would be there to assist in the mission work, along with Alexander and Lydia Huggins. A severe frost hit the area in June, however, and the Indians began killing off the missionaries’ cattle. Dr. Williamson, fearing a year of famine, took his family to Fort Snelling and moved into the same Baker House that Samuel and Cordelia has just vacated. The Williamsons remained there for over a year and Samuel and Cordelia worked at Lac Qui Parle with the Huggins.

The bitter cold winter passed slowly and Samuel engaged some of his time in teaching little Amos Huggins to read and preaching on Sundays at the small gathering of Christians who met at fur trader Joseph Renville’s for Sabbath services. The Riggs returned in the spring, along with a new mission couple, Robert and Agnes Hopkins, and Samuel and Cordelia returned to Fort Snelling. While they had been gone, Gideon Pond had built a new log cabin at Oak Grove near Cloud Man’s new village and Samuel, Cordelia and Jennette moved in with them at the new location in June of 1843. Another chapter of Cordelia’s great adventure was about to begin.

[1] Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas or The story of the Labors of Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, by S.W. Pond, Jr., Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society,© 1893, p. 126. Cordelia had turned 22 years old on November 22, 1815, shortly after arriving in Minnesota.

[2] Ibid. The Mr. Pond referred to is Samuel W. Pond, Sr., father of the writer, and brother of Gideon H. Pond. His “return” to Lake Harriet refers to the fact that he had been in Connecticut studying for ordination in 1836-1837, an honor which he attained in March of 1837. He was back in Minnesota, working with the Dakota Chief Cloud Man at Lake Harriet when Cordelia arrived in the fall.

[3] Ibid., pp 129-131.

[4] Ibid., p. 158

[5] Ibid., p. 159-160

This entry was posted in Cordelia Eggleston Pond, Dakota Mission, Jane DeBow Gibbs, Julia Eggleston Stevens, Lucy Cornelia Stevens Gavin, Sarah Poage Pond, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Cordelia Comes West – The Story of Cordelia Eggleston Pond – Part I

  1. Carrie Zeman says:


    Thanks for pulling together these stories so we can see how they intersect with each other. It is fascinating to watch the wider story build post after post!

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