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

Andrew Williamson

Andrew Williamson lived with his Aunt Jane in St. Peter off and on from 1877-1880.

One other change that the Williamsons experienced in the latter years of the 1860s was that Andrew Williamson, Thomas and Margaret’s second oldest son, came home from his service in the Civil War. Andrew had enlisted in the 5th Minnesota, Company B in January of 1862 and found himself battling Taoyateduta in the attacks on Fort Ridgley in August 1862. He was commissary at the fort during the influx of hundreds of refugees who were fleeing the warring Dakota in those weeks of August and September.

He took leave with the family in St. Peter in November 1862 after a wagon ran over his foot and made it necessary for him to find a place to recover. He was officially stationed at Fort Snelling by that time but at the end of 1862 he joined the regiment at near Oxford, Mississippi, and was promoted to 2nd lieutenant of the 71st Colored Infantry. His name was added to the Spirit of Freedom memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 1998, in honor of his work with those troops.

He was badly injured in 1863 and destroyed the socket of his right eye but refused to go to St. Louis, Missouri, for treatment and managed to save the eye. Two years later he contracted swamp fever and returned home to St. Peter in September. He had to be carried into the house and was in terrible condition. He weighed only 90 pounds, down from 190 pounds, and was erratic, talking to himself. The family rallied around him, of course. Thomas treated his medical conditions and his mother and Jane tended to his comfort and healing. By 1866, he was recovered and embarked on the study of law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN.

Gustavus Aerial

Gustavus Adolphus College opened on October 16, 1876. The college was just two or three blocks from the Williamson’s house in St. Peter. Andrew Williamson lived at home with the family while he taught there from 1877-1880

View from Janes House to GA Obelisk St Peter 092011.old

The obelisk at Gustavus Adolphus College is visible just up the hill from the site of the Williamson home in St. Peter.


Over the next several years he lived in several places and embarked on a variety of careers including serving as superintendent of the Odana (Chippewa) boarding school in Wisconsin; filling in as postmaster at Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; accepting a professorship at the University of Minnesota; and holding the position of Superintendent of Schools at Blue Earth City, Minnesota. He taught at Gustavus College in St. Peter in 1877, and then was hired as professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Off and on during these years, he would return to St. Peter and the family home where, after the passing of his parents, he often was able to help Jane in her later years. Writing to her cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, on August 5, 1880, Jane described Andrew’s activities to her as follows:

“Ever Dear Cousin,

“Andrew walked out to visit William and Martha today. Next week he goes to Sleepy Eye on business. The latter part of the month he goes to Rock Island. He has been approved assistant teacher for the present year in a Swede College in that place. He had previously accepted a School Superintendency in Worthington, Min but on receiving the appointment from R.I. he applied for and received a release from the other place. It is further off but it will probably suit him better. It would have been pleasant to him and to me to have had him remain here and not only the Prof. and teachers but the other Swede ministers who were acquainted with him wished to retain him but the general association by whom the institution is supported voted hat none but Lutherans be permitted to teach in this Col. I suppose it was through the recommendation of the Prof. here that he received the appointment. The students have made him a present of forty dollars’ worth of books at the close of the term. I need not tell you that it is hard for me to part with him but I think he is doing all that he can to add to my comfort and I ought to be cheerful and thankful.”[1]

Augustana College Rock Island

Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, had opened in 1875 and Andrew was one of the early professors when he moved there in August of 1880.

Thomas Williamson turned his attention to completion of his translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Dakota language once the Dakota had been removed to Niobrara although he remained active in ministry, preaching both in the Twin Cities and assisting his son John at the Greenwood mission in South Dakota when needed.

The entire family grieved when they learned that their long-time colleague, Mary Ann Longley Riggs, passed away on March 29, 1869, in Beloit, Wisconsin, at the age of 55 years. Jane had had a sometimes contentious relationship with Mary Riggs, but in recent years had seen her more and more as an ally in the aftermath of the war.

Just a few months later, on October 1, 1869, Margaret Williamson slipped and fell, injuring herself so badly that despite Thomas’s medical expertise, she remained confined to her bed for the next two years and eight months until her passing. When the entire Presbytery held its annual meeting at the Williamson home in 1870, it no doubt fell to Jane to handle the hospitality for the assemblage. The house had been expanded by that time. Andrew Williamson wrote to his brother John on June 10, 1870 and reported that “William’s addition to the house is enclosed, shingled and window casing are not yet put in. It consists of a sitting room, two small bedrooms, kitchen, pantry, porch and closet.”[2]

We can also confirm who was living in the house at the time the 1870 census of Nicollet County was made. It reports the following individuals:

Thomas Williamson, 70
Nancy Williamson, 29
Jane Williamson, 67
Nancy Hunter, 11
William Stout, 29
Martha Stout, 24
James Stout, 6
Albert Frazier, 19
Patrick Barnes, 38
Martha Big Fire, 14
Samuel Hopkins, 17

The census does not record Margaret Williamson’s presence and three-year-old Alfred Stout is also missing. The census does include James Stout, aged six, but it is not clear who this might be. Martha and William Stout did not have a son named James. William Stout did have a younger brother named James Alfred Stout, who may have been visiting from Illinois, but he was twenty-six years old in 1870, not six years old. Albert Frazier, Samuel Hopkins and Martha or “Mattie” Big Fire were Dakota students who were living with the family. Patrick Barnes may have been a hired man or farm helper. In any case, it was a full house. Henry Williamson was away in Minneapolis at law school.

The family gathered in sadness yet again when Margaret succumbed to her injuries and died on July 21, 1872. Thomas sent the news to the Ripley Bee newspaper in Ripley, Ohio which published the following on September 11, 1872: “She never once complained, rose at 5 a.m. summer and winter. She was the oldest married female ever connected with the mission. She was the mother of 10 children; 5 dead; 5 living. For more than 45 years, she was my wife.”

John shared the following thoughts about his mother in the Iape Oaye newspaper of January 1873: “Mrs. Margaret P. Williamson, one of the first band of missionaries who came among the Sioux Indians 37 years ago, died July 21, aged 68 years. Our mother, so faithful and gentle, patient and true, has fallen asleep. It is well with her now. Her pains are no more. That voice, so familiar and sweet, so wont to comfort and cheer is being tuned for finer praise. The angels rejoice, why should not we?”

Margaret Williamson is the first Dakota Soul Sister featured on this site but I’ve included her obituaries here again as a reminder of what an important person she was to the family. Jane had known her since they were young and they had lived together in the same house for the majority of their lives, working side by side in the kitchen, sewing together, doing laundry, managing meals and caring for the family. It was a huge loss for Jane, even as she rejoiced in her usual fashion that a blessed soul had been released to heaven.

Jane continued to keep house on the farm with Martha Stout for Thomas and the Stout family but in 1873, Thomas decided that it would be better for them both if they were to move into town. William Stout purchased the farm. Thomas wrote to John on June 7, 1873.

House on Janes Property St Peter 092011.old

The actual house where Jane lived in St. Peter is no longer standing. It was torn down in 1905 and replaced with this home. The property covers two lots and a well-worn stone walkway leading to the back garden could be from Jane’s era. The house is just a few blocks from Union Presbyterian Church where Jane and the family worshipped. The location is 535 St. Paul Street, St. Peter, Minnesota today.

“We moved into St. Peter on the 27th of last month. I bought the Ole Mose’s house and we are living in a little more than two squares west of the avenue and about the same distance north of the Presbyterian church. Has the same number of rooms as the house we left except in the lower floor on the first floor they are larger. We are as well pleased as we expected to be.”[3]

It wasn’t long before it was just Jane, Thomas and Nancy Hunter at the new house in town. Nancy Williamson went to the mission at Greenwood in 1873 to join her brother John there, filling her lifelong desire to work with the Dakota people. Henry graduated from law school in 1873 and became an attorney in Flandreau, Minnesota.

Nancy wrote to Jane from Greenwood on November 28, 1873, describing the Thanksgiving sermon and celebration at the mission there.

“My very dear Aunt,

“I believe I have written to you since receiving any letter from you. But I guess it is time to write home again so I will write to you. I received a Postal Card from Father Tuesday and was intending to reply but John said that he would write to Father and enclose the questions, which he did.

“I wonder if any of you have been writing to me today; and I wonder how Thanksgiving passed with you. Did Mr. Kerr preach the Thanksgiving sermon this year? I wonder if you went to hear it. I am afraid that you staid [sic] at home to see about dinner. So I guess I had better give you a few extracts from the sermon I heard, lest you should entirely miss that part of the Thanksgiving feast.

“I thought John gave the Indians an excellent – I mean an appropriate discourse. He told them at first that the President had appointed the day and a great many people were observing it. He wished to join in the observance as he had appointed this meeting and he was glad to see some of them there. (There were not quite 20 present.) Then he said, ‘This day is to think of the good things we have. If a man gives me a horse I don’t go around complaining he did not give ten horses’!… He first spoke of food and that they were indebted to God for that whether raised by their own labor or given them by Government. Then he spoke of other things. He grew up among the Dakotas and he remembered how poorly they were dressed when was a little boy; how few of them wore anything but skins. These Indians were more comfortably dressed. Then he saw many children naked even in winter; now it was not so. Then he spoke of the blessing of peace; told how the Santees used to suffer from the incursions of Chippewa war parties; but this Yankton people lived in peace and could lie down at night without thinking, ‘Perhaps some enemy may come and kill me while I am asleep.’ He mentioned the small pox. ‘It has been on both sides of us, but it seemed as if a wall was around this people, so that it could not touch them.’ Then he spoke of incurring God’s anger by ingratitude and closed.

“Amelia said yesterday, ‘I will tell you who I would like to have here for dinner if I only could. Your Father and Aunt and Nancy & my Father and Mother & three younger brothers.’ If we could not have them, she asked the storekeeper Mr. Trumlo and his wife and brother. The meeting was at 11, and our dinner was at 2. I guess A. will give you the bill of fare as it was a more extravagant one than we often indulge in. We actually had a turkey – a large, fat one weight 11 lbs. I guess John and Amelia half repented having ordered it when it came for including carriage it was $2.00. Beside the turkey, we had potatoes, turnips, two kinds of pie, cranberry sauce, cake, bread & butter. John had family prayers in the afternoon, while the company were still here. Late in the afternoon we had an apple apiece. This much about our Thanksgiving.”[4]

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in America in 1863 upon declaration by President Abraham Lincoln. The Williamsons always celebrated the day with a special meal, which according to Nancy’s letter included a pretty pricey turkey.

It is clear from Nancy’s letters that she was generally a cheerful, willing woman who enjoyed her work, especially when she was teaching at the mission at Greenwood. Nancy had not had an easy life. Sadly, she was burdened with a condition that has never been identified. She was unable to walk until she was two years old and then had wooden splints on her ankles to enable her to stand and move around. Apparently her affliction was some kind of unspecified spinal disease and when she was little, big brother John pulled her around while she laid flat in the bed of a wagon. As she grew older she was able to walk and attend school but there are times when Jane mentions her affliction and that she always studied while lying on her back. She graduated from the Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, in the class of 1860 and managed to make a trip to Ohio in 1876 to a reunion of her seminary classmates. She also enjoyed visiting in Ohio with the last of her two aunts, Elizabeth Williamson Baird and Anne Williamson Willson, both of whom passed away a few months within Nancy’s visit. There are some references in the historical record that she was very small and never fully developed even in her adult years. Stephen Riggs once said, “Nancy Jane is like Zaccheus of old, low of stature but very mature in mind.”[5]

Then, on October 19, 1877, John Williamson wrote to Alfred Riggs.

“Sister Nannie’s case is a little different from what it was a week ago. I cannot say we have hopes of her recovery, but the violent symptoms have disappeared and she is walking calmly along the brink. From appearances now I should say it might be some weeks before she would go. She is so weak she can only raise herself up one elbow and has to be helped if she gets out of bed. She coughs a good deal and can eat nothing but a few teaspoons of gruel or soup at a time. We have had the doctor from Randall to see her twice and we keep him informed of how she is and he sends down advice. We are pretty well fixed for help….The neighbors are kind and have offered to help sit up but so far we have not called on them yet. It seems to disturb her to have strangers wait on her. If she dies here I shall want your help then in whatever is to be done. We shall probably wish to take her body to Minn. for interment. And we should like some public religious exercises here. As it will be impossible to tell beforehand just when the time will be I shall expect to telegraph you at that time.”[6]

The next information in the record is a letter from Thomas to his son Henry. “I received a telegram from John saying your sister Nannie is gone home and that he will be here with the body Wednesday morning. If the state of your family admits of your leaving home, please come tomorrow.” [7] Her obituary in the Iape Oahe newspaper of January 1878 says, “On Sabbath morning, November 18, 1877, Nannie Williamson entered the Pearly Gates of Jerusalem the Golden. So calmly and quietly did she pass away it seemed a literal falling asleep in Jesus. Remains taken to St. Peter to be buried next to her mother and older sister.”[8]

Nancy Jane Tombstone

Nancy Jane Williamson was Jane’s niece and namesake and had lived with Jane for most of her life.

No letters written by Jane have surfaced for the period from 1863 to 1879 so we cannot document Jane’s reaction to Nancy’s death. I am sure she was filled with sorrow. Nancy Jane was her namesake and Jane had lived with her since Nancy was three years old and Jane arrived at Lac Qui Parle. Although Nancy had gone east to school for a short time when she was a young woman, she and Jane remained close. Several letters written to Jane by Nancy are in the historical record and it is clear that the affection between aunt and niece was strong. Nancy’s body was brought to St. Peter and the family gathered as she was interred in the Green Lawn Cemetery in what was then Traverse des Sioux. Nancy was thirty-seven years old when she died.

Two years later, in 1879, Jane welcomed John and Amelia Williamson’s two oldest children, Winnie and Guy, to St. Peter, where they were to attend school. Winifred Lee Williamson was twelve years old in 1879 and her brother, Guy Wycliffe Williamson, was eleven. Jane wrote about the children in a letter to her cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, on January 7, 1879.

“When brother returned from Yankton Agency he brought John Williamson’s two eldest children with him that they might go to school. They are both healthy bright children. Winnie never needs reminding of her lessons only that her health seems perfect I would fear that she was studying too hard but although she is anxious about her lessons she is very seldom willing to be absent from our evening meetings. Guy thinks going to church on the Sab. is enough for him. He would rather stay at home and play at night and it requires a good deal of care to have him prepare his lessons for school. But there are few boys of his age that have so much Biblical knowledge as he has and is so affectionate and willing to do any kind of work that he makes sunshine in our house.”[9]

In the same letter, we learn of Jane’s other concerns:


Thomas Williamson completed the translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Dakota language during his lifetime. He spent forty-four years with the Dakota mission.

“Brother has been unwell for about a month, not confined to bed or to the house but he had soreness in his stomach attended with pain and some fever and he could take very little nourishment except rice. He has been a good deal better for several days. Has gone to church. I would have gone too but I fell and hurt my shoulder. Not bad but it is the same one that gave you so much trouble and I thought I had better keep quiet and warm. My health is much better than it was in the summer and as Martha is with us I have an easy time though our family is large.”[10]

Jane goes on to mention that Nancy Hunter is still in school. Martha and William Stout were living in town with Jane and Thomas and their son, Alfie, age twelve, was also with the family. The household thus consisted of Thomas, Jane, Nancy Hunter, Winnie, Guy, Martha, Alfie and perhaps a few of Jane’s former Dakota pupils who may still have been living with the family at the time.[11]

Jane introduced her letter to Elizabeth by expressing sorrow and sympathy to her cousin on the death of William Means, Elizabeth’s nephew, who as just twenty-one years old at the time of his passing December 15, 1878. “Willie,” as Jane called him, was a cousin of Jane’s. Her sadness led her to share some philosophical thoughts.

“The providence of God sometimes appear mysterious to us when young men that seem so well qualified for usefulness are called away while old people such as we are spared but we know that infinite wisdom cannot err, and he says,“What I do thou knowest not now but then shall know hereafter.” So let us wait his time patiently, trying to be ready when the call comes. Sometimes I dread the infirmities of age and fear I may be a burden to others and then I remember He has said, “Fear not I am with thee,” and I feel so thankful that ever mindful of our infirmities He has also said “And even to your age I am He and even to your final hours will I carry you.”[12]

Thomas W Tombstone

Thomas Williamson was 79 years old when he passed away on June 24, 1879. He and Jane had been close since childhood and Jane missed him greatly.

Jane had mentioned Thomas’s health in her letter to Elizabeth in January of 1879 and as the months passed, her concerns increased as her beloved brother began to experience stomach pain and was unable to eat. By early June, the respected founder of the Dakota mission stopped speaking and awaited death with patience. Thomas Williamson died on June 24, 1879 at the age of seventy-nine years. He had completed the translation of the entire Bible into the Dakota language earlier that year and perhaps felt that his work was done. Obituaries and tributes were published across the country as many mourned the loss of this humble man who had guided the founding of the Christian missions in Minnesota. He had lived through the deaths of six of his children and of his beloved wife Margaret. He had provided financial security for his surviving children and for his sister Jane and had earned the love and respect of his colleagues in ministry, despite his strong opinions that did not always sync with those of his fellow missionaries. Thomas is buried in the Green Lawn Cemetery in St. Peter, Minnesota, next to his wife Margaret.

On October 18, 1879, Jane wrote the following to her nephew John who was at the Yankton Reservation in Greenwood, South Dakota.

 “Your kind letter was recd today. How kind of you to think of me when so many important matters are pressing on our time and attention. Well in all my life I never felt such a hungering for love and sympathy as I do now. I know that I ought not to yield to despondency but feel weak to resist and the feat that I may be a burden to others troubles me.

“And then I think:

What may be my future lot

Full well I know concerns me not

This should set my heart at rest

What His love ordains is best

“Will you pray that God in mercy may give me more grace and not suffer me to be tempted more than he gives me strength to bear.

“But I will turn to a brighter subject. You have another little daughter, not so very little either.[13] I read of one a short time since that did not weigh one pound and yet it was bright and perfectly developed. How much reason for gratitude when there is no de…of body or mind. Should those dear boys and girls all give their hearts to Jesus and become earnest consistent Christians. How many souls they might be the means of bringing from darkness to the glorious light of the Gospel. May God give you all needed grace to train them all for him. I am so thankful to learn that cousin [sic] Sarah is comfortable. Hope she may not be tempted by her large family to expose or fatigue herself too soon… 

“May God keep me even on my death bed from doing anything that will bring dishonor on his name.

“I hope you have preserved the no. of the I. missionary that had the obituary of your father. It stopped coming to us immediately after his death. I borrowed it from Mrs. McAfee, the only person in this place I think that takes it. I asked Andrew to write on and bring any extra copies of that no. I thought I would like to send them to some of his nephews and nieces and I would like, too, if there are extra copies of the Dakota paper that has the piece written by Mr. Riggs to have them also. Did you send a copy of that paper to the Rev. John Crosier? I would like to have his address. His mother and aunts were the friends of my childhood and I often had him in my arms. They moved away when he was a babe.

“I could not write anything as you would expect dear nephew but when I have acknowledged some of the many letters that I have from sympathizing friends I will try to write the children for their own sakes something about their grandpa. I had intended filling this sheet to Winnie but will write to her again. Love to all form Aunt Jane.  

[The letter continues. No new date]

“Cousin John, Did you know that your Aunt Kirker, my only living sister, has been sick for many weeks?[14] She is a very little better but there is little hope of her recovery. The Dr. says they will write me in a week till there is a change. She suffers so much that they keep her for the most part under the influence of morphine. Lizzie says her mother felt brother’s death very much – said she had never thought of his going before she did.[15] She says she is not anxious to live and feels an assurance that we shall meet in another and a better world. She is surrounded by her children and grandchildren and has all that love and kindness can bestow. They complain that she has lost her appetite for food. I never knew anyone that took much morphine that did not lose their appetite but opium in any form makes me crazy. On that account I think when in my senses I would not consent to take it but perhaps under severe pain I might.

“Andrew and Nancy came from young peoples’ prayer meeting last evening and I stopped writing. This is the anniversary of Mr. McAfee coming to us and in taking a review of the year and recounting the deaths, he made a very touching reference to your father. Among other things he said though retaining his connection with the Dakota Pres, he was one of us and all remember the precious and sweet words he spoke in our prayer meetings.

“In the St. Peter Tribune I see that Synod approved Dr. Riggs to deliver a memorial of your father at the Synod next fall which meets in this place. I hope you will be able to attend and bring bro. Selwin with you and as many of your family as you can. How good it is of our Heavenly Father to spare cousin Sarah to you through all her trials. How very sad had you, like poor Thos. Riggs have been left a lonely widower.[16] I think we all thank God for giving you so good a wife. May she be long spared to you, your children, the friends of the mission. Andrew and Nancy are gone to Swede S.S. he teaches a class in English.

“Alfred has been sitting by me reading Youths Companion. Andrew has gone to temperance lecture. Nancy is busy preparing her lessons for tomorrow.[17]

“Good Night.”[18]

Of all of Jane’s letters, this one expresses her personal grief more than any other – and perhaps even a bit of fear as she suddenly states how she hopes she will never do anything, even on her death bed, that would bring dishonor to God. She also mentions that she never wants to be a burden to others. Her concerns are no doubt a direct result of Thomas’s death. She and Thomas had always been close and they had lived in the same house for all of childhood and then from 1843 to 1879, when Thomas passed away. Jane relied on Thomas for companionship, guidance, friendship, care and financial stability. Now, at the age of seventy-six, she is finding it difficult to just move on without him.

She is also obviously concerned that Thomas’s grandchildren are aware of his many accomplishments and encourages John to bring the entire family to the Synod Meeting where Rev. Riggs will give the official eulogy. Jane sees herself as the keeper of the family story and seeks assurance that Thomas will be remembered for all time.

Over the next year or so, Jane continued to keep house with Martha. Nancy Hunter got a teaching job about twenty miles from St. Peter so she was away from home off and on. Then, in the summer of 1880, Andrew accepted a position at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and Nancy was offered a position teaching at the Yankton reservation in Greenwood, South Dakota with John Williamson’s family. Jane expressed her thoughts about a future without her nephew and niece to her cousin Elizabeth Burgess on August 5, 1800.

 “Ever Dear Cousin,

“I rec’d cousin Lizzie’s good letter yesterday and would have acknowledged it immediately but in a few days we expect a small family to occupy the lower part of our house and I was so busy helping Andrew to vacate a room that it seems as though I could not stop. We have partially arranged things better but many of them are thrown into my room in disorder and I feel too tired to right them today and I could not hire anyone to suit me in doing it. Andrew walked out to visit William and Martha today. Next week he goes to Sleepy Eye on business. The latter part of the month he goes to Rock Island. He has been approved assistant teacher for the present year in a Swede College in that place… I need not tell you that it is hard for me to part with him but I think he is doing all that he can to add to my comfort and I ought to be cheerful and thankful. Shall one so favored ere complain? Or one so vile complain?

“Nancy is a great comfort as well as help to me but I don’t much expect to have her with me this winter. She is needed at the mission. Miss Aungie who taught the Dakota school is married. Miss Dickson who has been studying the language so hard expects to join Mr. Woods the new missionary this fall. She says she feels worse about leaving the mission where she is than she did about leaving her home. John and his wife feel too but they concur with her in thinking she ought to go….

Nancy Hunter Lindsey

Nancy Hunter’s mother and baby brother died when she was a young girl and her widowed father was unable to care for her on his own. She was raised by her Williamson grandparents and was a companion and housemate of Jane’s in Jane’s final years. Nancy left St. Peter to become a teacher at Greenwood, S.D., at the Yankton Reservation in 1880. She married Edwin Lindsey in 1889 and they spent their lives with the mission in Poplar, Montana.

“They have no teacher engaged for their Dakota school at Yankton Agency. Thinking they refrained from asking Nancy on my account I spoke to John’s wife about it when she was here and told her if they wished to try Nancy not to stop on my account. I could not pray for the success of the mission if I was not willing to make that sacrifice. Should she only remain this winter or till better help is obtained it will not be very hard for me. Should she become a permanent helper the younger she goes the better she will speak the language. Having seen Indians from her childhood I think she will feel less repugnance to or fear of them than those who are altogether unacquainted with them. I would not if I might throw a straw in the way of her going to the mission if there is hope of her being useful there. You may think it strange that I have never conversed with her on the subject. I have wished her to think and make up her mind without my influence. She is very unselfish and has a great deal of energy but is somewhat lacking in caution.

“In Oct. Synod meets in this place. John Williamson and some of the Dakota ministers will probably be here and should Nancy conclude to go she will probably accompany her uncle home. May our Heavenly Father grant her the enlightening influence of his Holy Spirit and grant her all needful ______.

“As to myself it does not seem a matter of great importance where I spend what little remnant of life but I feel at home here. We have a good preacher. I am very near the church. I know the people (I mean some of them) and they know my peculiarities and can bear with them better than a stranger might. I have a home and feel at home. I am not quite sure I could feel at home elsewhere. Were I to accept Mary Cunningham’s kind invitation to live with them I don’t think I could stand the ride to church neither should love the preacher as I do ours and I am not quite sure I would be suited in Minneapolis. None of my friends are near enough to church for me to walk. So for the present it seems better for me to remain where I am and then if Nancy should not wish to go to the mission or should feel that it is not her duty to remain there this would be a home for her too. Andrew will pay the tax on the house and he is trying to arrange matters so that I may have no pecuniary difficulty.

“Andrew has just rec’d a letter from John. He says I have been thinking a great deal about Aunt. Don’t let her lack any comfort. It don’t matter whether they pay much rent or not if they make her comfortable…. I have had company all day and now I must soon drop my pen to get supper but as there is no one but Andrew and I it is easily done….The man and his wife have moved in. I hope I shall like them. He is Pres. She Episcopal.

In a postscript to the letter Jane adds: “With tears of gratitude I thank you for the five dollars so kindly sent but dear cousin I fear you are denying yourself to supply my wants thinking my necessities greater than your own. The family that are in with us only expected to remain till Nov., but after that some way will be provided.”[19]

This letter provides a great deal of information about Jane’s life at this time. It is clear that John and Andrew have determined that if they rent the bottom floor of the house to a family, the renters could provide assistance to Jane who will be living alone when Andrew and Nancy leave. It also seems that William and Martha Stout have moved back to the farm since they are no longer living in the house with Jane. Jane then indicates that the renters downstairs will only be able to stay until November but she is confident that “some way will be provided.”

We also learn that Hugh and Mary Cunningham have invited Jane to move in with them and that she has considered it but rejected the idea. The Cunninghams were longtime associates of the Dakota Mission and had escaped the war in 1862 with the Riggs’ group. In 1880, they were living in Bloomington Ferry in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they were operating combined denomination church. Hugh was pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church and he became superintendent of the Bloomington Ferry Church for twenty years. Mary taught the younger children. Preachers came from Oak Grove Presbyterian Church or Eden Prairie Methodist to bring the message at the Sunday service which was held at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Jane instead believed that her friends were in St. Peter and that the church was close enough so she could attend. She liked her pastor and didn’t think she’d do well in Minneapolis. We also learn that five dollars tucked into the letter from her cousin Elizabeth was much appreciated. Considering inflation, five dollars in 1880 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $123.09 in 2018, a difference of $118.09 over 138 years.

Another letter from to Elizabeth Burgess describes Jane’s life in great detail on March 14, 1881.

“Dearest Cousin

“I have been intending to write you ever since I received Cousin Lizzie’s last kind letter but I am prone to procrastination especially about writing letters. Sometimes my hand trembles. I thought I would write you on the eighth of this month it being my 78th anniversary but I had company all day. It seems almost strange to think I am in my 79th year but thus it is. I feel glad that you were recovering but this month is usually hard on weak lungs and I shall be anxious till I hear again. If consistent with the will of our Heavenly Father May you yet be spared a blessing and comfort to your loving children grand children and other dear friends….The valley of the shadow of death will not be dark to Jesus and having passed through he knows the way. Let us then lean on His precious Friend fearing no evil. How comforting to be assured that his blood cleanses from all sin and that we may appear before him clothed in his own supplied Righteousness.

“I suppose the winter has been unusually hard almost all over the U.S. and remembering that your delicate constitution did not bear the cold so well as mine I have often felt anxious about you although I knew you were surrounded by every comfort that love could give…Before the snowdrifts intercepted our communication with the west I rec’d letters from Nancy Hunter once or twice a week but they come very seldom now. The last one was dated 21st of Feb and she said she had not heard from me for four weeks and feared I was sick and that she had done wrong in leaving me but they needed her there and I have been very comfortable all winter. Have not had a wearisome night or an hours sickness and notwithstanding the storms I have not been confined to the house a single day although there has been a great deal of stormy weather this winter no single storm has been so severe as I have seen in goneby years but I think there is more snow than there has been any winter since we came to St. Peter.  

“Some mornings the men and large boys were all busy shoveling the snow to make roads from there doors and for a time wood was scarce but Andrew had left me plenty of good wood. The man who with his family occupy the lower part of the house had it sawed. His boys brought it up so that I have had no trouble all winter. Before the weather became very cold I slept in the other room where I have a cook stove and used this for a sitting room but when the weather became severe I found it more comfortable to cook, sleep and eat in my sitting room. It has a nice little parlor cook stove that I bought long ago with money that you sent me and it makes this room very comfortable indeed. I cover the fire at night and in the morning step out of bed uncover the fire, take up the ashes, lay in dry wood and go back to bed till my room is warm and then rise and get my breakfast which is not much trouble but I always eat it with good relish. This climate gives us good appetites.

“I don’t trouble much about cooking. Martha Stout usually sends me a loaf of light bread once a week when the traveling is practicable. I told Mrs. Ericson I would like to have her send me a piece of cooked meat once a day and I would make it right at the end of the month. My little stove bakes potatoes very nicely. I can buy anything I wish downtown. Mr. Ericson calls at the P.O. or does any other errand I wish both he and his wife are very kind and thoughtful seem to take pleasure in doing me any favor. They are Swede Lutheran of the middle class. Andrew Williamson tried to leave everything comfortable for me. All my brothers’ children seem to desire to do anything to add to my comfort. Andrew left money subject to my order so that I could draw it at any time and the others seem just as willing to do for me. The man who had the greater part of my money failed but I draw the interest on four hundred dollars (in other hands) semi-annually a piece of land that had been unsuitable on account of the grass hoppers was sold the last of Dec. and from that source I will now draw nine per cent interest on eight hundred & fifty dollars from the sale of the land and there is some other money owing to me that I may receive the lower part of the house rents for six dollars a month and although I make some reduction on account of the many kindnesses I receive. Still I have all that I need with something to give the church and the poor.

“I am acquainted with many of the poor often bringing their children outgrown garments and their own that for some reason they are willing to spare to be distributed to the needy. And other winters I have been in the habit of seeking out those who were sick or in want but the walking has been bad this winter and I have gone out very little except to church to attend our missionary meetings when the weather is favorable or a lady calls to walk with me to the evening meetings but when the wind blows I stay at home. I am sometimes troubled when walking with a sharp pain striking me just above the left ankle that for a moment deprives me of the use of that limb. It hurts me very little when sitting and I have never felt it at all when lying on the bed. I suppose all old people have their pains and aches but I think very few suffer so little

as I do. I have a cold now for the first time this winter but it does not make me sick though I am not so strong as I was earlier in the season. We are having pleasant weather now and the snow melts a little every day but it is still very deep and warm rain would probably cause a great flood.

The letter continues on the 23rd.

Mary Aiton Alone

Mary Briggs Aiton came to Minnesota with Jane in May of 1852. She was just sixteen years old and had attended Jane’s school in Manchester, Ohio, when she was a girl. She ended up marrying missionary John Aiton in Minnesota and spent the rest of her life in the state.

“I stopped writing recd a letter from Nancy as she had still no letter from me and was troubled about it I wrote her a very long letter and then it was necessary for me to write to Andrew and although I stay at home very closely people thinking I am lonesome call very often. Mrs. Aiton spent a week with me lately. She is the one that I can talk with of Ohio friends. Should I live till June I think Andrew and Nancy both will visit me and although I am not lonesome I shall enjoy a visit from them very much.

“That you may be enabled at all times to cast your care on Him who cares for you is the desire of your ever loving Cousin Jane.“[20]

So Jane began yet another chapter in her life as she adjusted to living alone for the first time since she left Ohio in 1843.


[1] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, August 5, 1880, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 43, Folder 5.

[2] Andrew Williamson to John P. Williamson, June 10, 1870, MNHS, Williamson Family Papers, Box 6

[3] Ibid., Thomas Williamson to John P. Williamson, June 7, 1873.

[4] Nancy Jane Williamson to Jane Williamson, November 28, 1873; Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 38, Folder 4. The turkey coming by carriage reflects the fact that the closest city to the Yankton Reservation at Greenwood was Springfield, South Dakota. It was about twenty miles to the east and was where people coming to Greenwood by rail had to get off and take a horse-drawn carriage to the mission school. The turkey and any other non-homegrown supplies for Thanksgiving would have been brought in from Springfield.

[5] Missionary Herald, 1854 p. 221 May 6, 1854.

[6] John Williamson to Alfred Riggs, October 19, 1877, MNHS, Williamson Family Papers, 786, Box 1

[7] Ibid., Thomas Williamson to Henry Williamson, n.d.

[8] Iape Oaye, January 1878.

[9] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, January 7, 1879, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 40, Folder 4

[10] Ibid.

[11] The 1875 Federal Census of Nicollet County, Minnesota lists Dr. Williamson, 75; J.S. Williamson, 72; Nancy Hunter, 16; Annye Renville, 15: and a name that looks like Horace Ange, 20. The next federal census isn’t recorded until 1885 and at that time the household included William Stout; Martha Stout, 38; Alfred Stout; Jane Williamson, 84; and a young man named Albert whose last name looks like Hargot?

[12] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, January 7, 1879, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 40, Folder 4

[13] John and Sarah Amelia Williamson had welcomed a daughter, Laura Lucille Williamson, born in 1879. Jane’s letter implies that the baby may have been born prematurely but Laura married William Lyman and lived to be sixty-five years old.

[14] The sister Jane mentions is Esther Alexander Williamson. She married Colonel William Kirker and was eighty-two years old when Jane wrote to John. Esther passed away on January 20, 1880.

[15] Lizzie is Esther’s daughter, Elizabeth Campbell Kirker Coleman. She is informing Jane that Esther was very sad to learn of Thomas’s death.

[16] Thomas Riggs, the son of Rev. Stephen and Mary Riggs, lost his wife Nancy in childbirth on August 5, 1878. She was just thirty years old.

[17] Andrew Williamson was teaching at Gustavus in St. Peter in 1879 and he and Nancy Hunter were living with Jane as were the Stouts, including Alfred, who was twelve years old at this time.

[18] Jane Williamson to John Williamson, October 18, 1879, South Dakota State Historical Society, Pierre, SD; John Poage Williamson Papers, Volume 3471A, Folder 2

[19] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, August 5, 1880; Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 43, Folder 5

[20] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, February 12, 1883, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 46, Folder 5

This entry was posted in Andrew Hunter, Hugh Doak Cunningham, Jane Smith Williamson, Margaret Poage Williamson, Martha Williamson Stout, Mary Beauford Ellison Cunningham, Mary Smith Briggs Aiton, Nancy Hunter Lindsey, Nancy Jane Williamson, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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