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.

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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.

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[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.

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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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Letters from Jane – The Story of Jane Williamson and the Dakota Mission

Author PhotoOn Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. I will be presenting a program on Jane Smith Williamson in the History Lounge at the Minnesota Historical Society, 345 W Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, MN 55102. The museum and my presentation are free on Tuesdays so this is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to all that MNHS has to offer.

Jane Williamson spent nearly 50 years with the Dakota in Minnesota as both a teacher and a Presbyterian missionary. She never married and devoted her life to trying to improve the quality of life for her Dakota students in terms of their daily lives, trying to ensure that they had warm clothes, enough food and sufficient shelter.

She also was an astute businesswoman and a marvelous correspondent as she captured the daily life of the mission in letters that she wrote to friends and family across the country. My goal is to see her never before published letters combined into a volume that is accessible to the public.

Her story is really intriguing – from her birth into a slave-holding family in South Carolina to her childhood in an ardent abolitionist home in Ohio to her work with the Dakota in Minnesota and South Dakota. Hope to see you at MNHS on January 26.

 

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New History of South St. Paul Published

Final CoverArcadia Publishing/The History Press has released my new book on the History of South St. Paul. It’s a brief paperback with lots of previously unpublished photographs and focuses on the last thirty years of the city’s development. It’s a very different publication that the 528-page history of the city that I wrote in 1987. That book included over 1000 photographs and really concentrated on businesses, early pioneer families and the detailed stories of how the world’s largest stockyards industry became the identity of South St. Paul for generations. Today there are no stockyards, no packing plants and no smell of manure wafting over the Mississippi.

Instead, there’s a river trail, public access to the Mississippi, a DNR Boat Launch, an expansive and beautiful new business park and a renovated Exchange Building. The story of how those things happened is covered in this new history.

The first book signing is December 12, 2015, at the Dakota County Historical Society, 130 Third Avenue North, South St. Paul, MN 55075, from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. On December 13, 2015, I’ll be presenting a book talk, slide show and signing at First Presbyterian Church, 530 20th Avenue North, South St. Paul, MN 55075, from 8:30-9:45 a.m.

The book is available for purchase at the Dakota County Historical Society gift shop. The first book signing in 2016 is at the Barnes and Nobel bookstore in HarMar Mall, Roseville, MN 55113, on Sunday, January 10, from 2-4 p.m.

Another book talk, slide show and signing is set for Thursday, February 25, 2016, at the South St. Paul Public Library, 106 Third Avenue North, South St. Paul, 7:00 p.m.

Now that my year working on this publication has ended, I’m looking forward to finding my way back to my Dakota Soul Sisters and continue to tell their amazing stories.

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January 2015 Update

One thing I’ve realized during these past few months of study and research is that there will never be enough time to learn and do all the things I want to do in a given day. After my months at The Gale Family Library at the Minnesota History Center, I had to refocus my attention on a new book I’m writing, a new History of South St. Paul, Minnesota for The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina. My deadline is May 15, 2015 for publication next fall. It’s a very fun project and will be a fun book but unfortunately it means that my Dakota Soul Sisters have to wait patiently in the wings until I can return to their stories.

Thank you for your supportive comments, your many questions and the information you’ve shared with me in recent months. We’ll be back!

 

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