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 Margaret’s sister Rachel Knox and her husband John so she could 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.

Posted in Jane Smith Williamson, Ohio, Ripley, Underground Railroad | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Women in Minnesota | 2 Comments

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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Living in the Library Leads to Soul Sister Updates

I’ve been having a splendid time at the Gale Family Library of the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota. My research fellowship allows me the opportunity to do catch up on research that I’ve meant to do for years but simply couldn’t always find time to accomplish.

This week, I found three quite remarkable letters that are not cross-indexed in the library database, meaning that I had never found, nor seen them before. The earliest letter is from Cornelia “Lucy” Gavin to Samuel Pond. It is dated December 12, 1867, and was written from Baltimore, Maryland, to Samuel’s home in Shakopee, Minnesota. Samuel had written to Cornelia after a silence of 12 years and reached her by mailing it to Cornelia’s sister Mary who was living in Monmouth, Illinois. In her response Cornelia mentioned that the last letter she had received was addressed to her husband, Daniel Gavin, who had died in 1855.

Cornelia’s original story is told in Dakota Soul Sisters as Julia, Jane and Lucy Arrive – The Stevens Family Women – Part III. At the time I had very little information on how many children she and Daniel Gavin had after leaving the mission, or what happened to her in later years. Her letter to Samuel Pond fills in many of those questions and reveals in the most poignant way the struggles a single woman faced when she was widowed and left with five children ranging in age from 9 months to age 14.

I was then happy to find another Gavin family letter. Minnie Gavin, Cornelia’s daughter, received a letter from Samuel Pond and responded to him on April 23, 1874. She continued the story her mother had begun a few years earlier, revealing the tragic circumstance of the deaths of her brother Elie, her sister Carrie, and of Cornelia herself in 1872. All of the details of both of these documents have been added to Cornelia’s Story.

A third letter, also written to Samuel Pond, added substantial information to another Soul Sister’s story, that of Persis Skimmer Dentan. I had been in touch with living descendants of the Dentan family, but this letter, written in 1878, provided a personal link to Persis. Her story can be found in The Story of Persis Skimmer Dentan where I have added this updated information. At the time I wrote her original tale, I had little information on her four sons and what happened to them. It was a thrill to have Persis herself update the story.

What I found really interesting is that Cornelia in her letter mentions that she visited Persis in the spring of 1864, presumably in Illinois where Cornelia was staying with her step-sister Annie Kirkpatrick.  She said that “after 19 years separation I first saw her in the street closely veiled, and knew her by her walk.” Persis, in her own letter to Samuel, also recalled Cornelia and their year of living together at the Baker House at Fort Snelling with fondness. Somehow finding evidence of life-long friendships among the Soul Sisters is always rewarding.

The three letters are in the vast collection of Pond papers at The Minnesota Historical Society but I found them because of a quite remarkable compilation of important documents relating to the Dakota missions in Minnesota that was created by Grace Lee Nute. The documents in her collection are transcribed from the originals and filed as Manuscripts Relating to the Northwest Missions, 1863-1896. All three are in the Manuscript Collection #P489, box 21, along with dozens of other treasures at the Gale Family Library where I’m lucky enough to spend my summer!

Posted in Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment

The Story of Mary Napexni

Mary Napexni Letter

In the John Aiton Family Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society is an undated letter, written in cursive English script and addressed to “Dear Mrs. Aiton.”  The letter continues:

“I think the rose you sent me very pretty. You were very kind to spin that good yarn to keep my feet warm in the winter. I thank you for the knitting needles. I have commenced knitting my stockings. I read Bowyer Smith through three times and thank you for sending it to me. I have read Mother stories and some other books. I read some chapters in the Bible every day now. I read about Jephthah’s daughter today in school.

“I was very sorry when I heard little Elizabeth was dead. My little Brother is dead too. He was put in a box and buried on the bluff. Aunt Jane goes with us up to the grave sometimes – we can see it from the kitchen door. On the same hill are some red stones the Indians pray to but I know they cannot hear nor help them.

“Please do not forget,

Mary Napexni”[1]

This is the earliest introduction we have to Mary. She was ten or eleven years old when she wrote this letter to Nancy Hunter Aiton, a missionary teacher at the Mdewakanton Kaposia village. Nancy was back in Illinois when the letter was written sometime in about 1850. The “little Elizabeth” in the letter is Nancy’s firstborn daughter, Elizabeth Aiton, who had died in infancy in Illinois. “Aunt Jane” is Jane Smith Williamson; Mary was one of her pupils at the A.B.C.F.M. mission school at Kaposia in the summer of 1851 and one of John Aiton’s students at the government school at Kaposia from October 1851-March 1853. She had perfect attendance and quite obviously had learned to read and write in English.[2]

It also appears that Mary was a Christian, or at least wanted to assure Nancy Aiton that she no longer believed that the red stones to which the Dakota prayed had any power. On October 11, 1851, however, Nancy Jane Williamson, Thomas and Margaret Williamson’s second oldest daughter, wrote to Nancy Aiton and said that “Once when I went out with Mary to see her brother’s grave she said his soul had come out of a hole she showed me. But I hope she will learn better after awhile.”[3]

Mary’s little brother who died is never named but she did have a sister named Harriet who attended John Aiton’s school at Kaposia in the fall of 1851 and then off and on during 1852 and 1853.[4] Joseph Napexni was Mary’s father. He was born in 1806 and was the first Dakota man to be baptized as a Christian at Lac qui Parle on February 21, 1840. His son, And or Ande Napexni, was a student at Lac qui Parle by 1845. According to Stephen Riggs, Joseph had three wives who died before he married a Christian Dakota woman and relocated to Kaposia by 1846.[5] Their daughter Mary was born there four or five years later. Stephen Riggs said that Joseph Napexni was the son of Mary Renville’s sister and Chatka or Left Hand (1780-1847). [6]

By the time Mary was 12 years old in 1852, the 1851 treaty meant that the Kaposia band of Dakota had to move to the Lower Sioux Agency Reservation, leaving behind the river, the bluffs, their village and  the burial ground that Mary described in her letter.  Joseph remained active in the church and along with six or seven others, established independent farms on the reservation.

Eli Huggins' illustrious career is described in the story of Lydia Pettijohn Huggins. William Folwell's correspondence with Eli is a priceless personal memoir of early Minnesota history.

Eli Huggins’ illustrious career is described in the story of Lydia Pettijohn Huggins. William Folwell’s correspondence with Eli is a priceless personal memoir of early Minnesota history.

We pick up Mary’s story in a letter written by Eli Huggins to William Folwell of the Minnesota Historical Society on June 26, 1918:

“There is one two or three years before the outbreak to a man named Lynde [sic] who had been in the Minn. Senate, a man of considerable culture went to the Sioux reservation as a clerk … but really it is believed to make a study of Sioux folk lore, customs, etc. He was one of the first whites killed and left some manuscript of which perhaps you know. He took as his wife, Indian fashion, a girl who had been taught to speak and write English by Aunt Jane W. …Her father’s name was Napeshay (No Hand) and the girl was called by the missionaries Mary Napashay. The father may not have been a convert but like a number of non-converts was a friend of the missions, and learned to read and write Sioux. Aunt W. was distressed and went to plead with L. to marry Mary. L. said I like her better every day. She is pleasant and neat and a good housekeeper. I have tried to have her wear civilized dress but when she came to me she abandoned…full squaw dress and she won’t speak English. If she will dress like a white woman and speak English I will marry her. Aunt J. was delighted and spoke to Mary about it, but she stubbornly refused to change. Soon afterwards Mary became ‘as ladies wish to be who love their lords.’ Aunt went to her again and expressed to her how important a legal marriage would be for the future offspring. Her father, Napeshay, and Dr. W. also expostulated with her, but to no purpose. L. finally offered to marry her in her squaw dress, but she refused. She would give no reason, but Aunt J. thought from some words dropped, that she thought a legal marriage would give L. and perhaps some day his relatives a claim to control of the children, and was determined that this should not happen.”[7]

Eli’s letter, like many of his memoirs and correspondence, is filled with casual references and lot of gossip; it’s sometimes hard to believe what he says. On the other hand, he had no reason to lie when he was corresponding with Folwell and it is safe to assume that what he says about Mary is true. For many young Dakota women, partnering with a white man was a sure way to at least some level of financial security. What is striking about Mary’s story is that, despite what Eli says about Joseph Napexni’s faith, Mary’s parents were solid Christians, but Mary still did not want to legally marry James Lynd.

James Lynd was about 25 years old when he and Mary Napexni had their first child. He abandoned her after the birth of another daughter in about 1858.

James Lynd was about 25 years old when he and Mary Napexni had their first child. He abandoned her after the birth of another daughter in about 1858.

Lynd himself was the son of a Baptist minister from Baltimore but grew up in Kentucky. He came to Minnesota in about 1853 and settled at Traverse des Sioux where he pursued his study of the Dakota culture, language and religion. When the Dakota were removed from the area, Lynd worked as a trader and was based at the Lower Agency by 1862. He became the editor of the Henderson Democrat, a weekly paper owned by Joseph R. Brown. He left the paper when he switched political parties, became a Republican and was elected to the Minnesota State Senate for two years in 1861.

Lynd’s relationship with Mary was well known to the community. Stephen Riggs wrote that:

“Mr. Lynd, soon after he came into the country took Mary Napayshue, a very respectable and educated Indian girl. She had been raised in one of the mission families, and could read and speak English quite well. By this connection, she has two beautiful, light-haired, fair-skinned girls, the eldest of which must be now eight or nine years old. Mr. Lynd was frequently encouraged to marry this woman, and at times he expressed his wish and determination to do so, but he did not do it….Sometime before the outbreak, he abandoned Mary and attached himself to another woman, by whom also he had a child…While the Indian camp was at Fort Snelling, during the winter after the outbreak, this boy was baptized James Lynd.”[8]

It is impossible to determine if the reason that Mary and James Lynd didn’t get married was because of her fear that he would seize her children or his reluctance to enter into a legal relationship with a Dakota woman. After he abandoned her, Mary probably returned to her father’s home. Her two daughters were Leonora Hunter Lynd, born September 21, 1856, and Nancy Anna Lynd, born about 1858.  James’ son with his second Dakota wife, James Lynd, Jr., was born in 1860, so it is clear that James and Mary were no longer together at that time.

On the morning of August 18, 1862, James Lynd was the first white man killed at the Lower Sioux Agency when the Dakota attacked. He was 31 years old and was shot while he stood in the doorway of Andrew Myrick’s store. Andrew’s brother Nathan buried the body where he fell but Lynd was later interred in the cemetery at the Lower Agency.

A story that has been repeated several times in secondary sources suggests that Mary’s father Joseph was the one who shot James Lynd on that fateful August morning and that he did it to avenge Lynd’s abandonment of Mary and the girls. This man, identified as Napesni, Napayshne or Napashue, was tried as Case #178 after the war and boasted in public that he had killed 19 whites. At his trial, he said he was innocent and that he had a sore knee on that day and didn’t fight. He was executed at Mankato on December 26, 1862, for those crimes. It seems clear that this Napesni was not Mary’s father. It also is  unlikely that this Napesni killed James Lynd, whose death is attributed to a Dakota man named Many Hails who escaped after the war and was never tried.[9]

Unfortunately, there is no record of what happened to Mary after the 1862 war. Her father was not among those arrested or tried. John Williamson, who was in the process of building a new mission house at the Lower Agency when the war broke out in 1862, held worship services in Joseph’s tent after the military trials of the Dakota.  John Williamson’s daughter later wrote in his biography that “At Redwood he [John] was thirty miles from the home of his parents at Yellow Medicine and …..the wise old Indian [Napesni] devoted himself to instructing the young white man in all the cunning and woodcraft, the customs and etiquette of the old Indian life before it was touched by association with the whites.[10]

Joseph was made an Elder in the Presbyterian Church on March 9, 1861, and ordained the next day.[11] Like all other Dakota who were not caught up in the trials or imprisoned after the war ended, he was sent to Fort Snelling in St. Paul. Camp records indicate that he had five people in his family, one horse, two oxen, a wagon and one chain.[12] He was one of four Elders at the internment camp there and became one of the first Elders of the Scouts Church in 1863. He settled at Lac qui Parle after leaving the Scouts. Knute Stevenson, who settled at Lac qui Parle, Minnesota, in 1870, described Joseph’s death.

“The Indian families, 50-60, lived in teepees on Joe LeBlanc’s land about 80 rods away. Old Chief Napesni died in the late summer. He was a good Indian, over 90 years of age. I was at the funeral. He was placed in a rough box of boards and I helped load it into the wagon and hauled him to the top of the hill, where a grave was dug and the coffin placed in a grave. His pipe, hatchet and other things that belonged to him were thrown into the grave. No tears were shed. Thus ended the career of Napesni.”[13]

As for Mary’s daughters, Leonora, known as Nora, married a Dakota man named Horace Greeley and had two daughters, Esther and Mabel Greeley, who were educated at the Good Will Mission in South Dakota. Mary’s younger daughter Nancy Anna, married Moses Blue Cloud and settled at Brown Earth, where they had two or three daughters by 1899.[14]

I think of little Mary writing that letter at Kaposia as a young girl and reflect on her life. I can just see her visiting the burial place atop the bluffs at Kaposia with Jane Williamson. I imagine they would sit and talk about her brother, while Jane would comfort her with words of scripture or poetry; perhaps they sang a hymn or two in Dakota. Raised in the mission and educated to read and write in both Dakota and English, Mary was ultimately torn between two worlds. She refused to put on “civilized” clothes as James Lynd requested and also turned down his proposals of marriage in order to prevent his family from taking her daughters. Mary’s story is just one story out of hundreds of stories of Dakota women and the complex world in which they lived.

 

[1] Nancy Hunter Aiton (1828-1854) married Rev. John Aiton on July 5, 1848. They were stationed at the Dakota Mission at Red Wing from 1848-1850, and at Kaposia from 1851-1853. Nancy died in Illinois in the spring of 1854. The Bowyer-Smith book that Mary referred to in the letter is The Child’s Remembrancer-a Memoir of Bowyer Smith a Pious Child who died Jan. 30, 1811, aged 7 years and 2 months, by the Rev. Basil Woodd. The book was published in 1825. The story of Jephthah’s daughter is from The Book of Judges, 11:30-11:39. It is a particularly sad passage which describes how Jephthah promised God that he would offer up a burnt offering of the first person he saw come through the door if God would bring him safely home. The first person was his only child, a daughter whom he loved. Mary clearly wrote her last name in English as Napexni. In Dakota that “x” represents a sound that doesn’t really exist in English but is sometimes written as “sh.” Documented spellings of the name include Napahshue, Napayshne, Napesni, Napashue, and Napexna.

[2] Annual Report of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Minnesota Superintendency, August 29, 1851, and Aiton Papers, School Attendance book, Aiton Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society,

[3] Aiton Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

[4] On January 23, 1863, Stephen Riggs wrote to Thomas Williamson and reported that Harriet had died. Riggs Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society. Alexander Huggins “List of children at Lac qui Parle in 1845 includes a son of Joseph Napexni named Ande Napexni, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society

[5] Stephen Riggs to Selah B. Treat, April 1839, ABCFM Papers, Minnesota Historical Society.

[6] Ibid. The various clues about Joseph Napexni’s family background are confusing but it is clear that he was a Christian and was related to Mary Little Crow Renville.

[7] Eli Huggins Letters, Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, Box 47. Dr. W. is Dr. Thomas Williamson and Aunt Jane W. is Jane Smith Williamson.

[8] Stephen Return Riggs “Memoir of Hon. Jas. W. Lynd,” Minnesota Historical Collections, vol. 3, p. 111, Minnesota Historical Society.

[9] Many Hails has many names including Plenty Hail, Wakinyantawa and Tawasuota.

[10] Barton, Winifred, John P. Williamson: A Brother to the Sioux, Fleming H. Revell Company, © 1919, p. 234

[11] John Poage Williamson personal notebook, Williamson papers, Dakotah Prairie Museum, Aberdeen, SD

[12] Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz, The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864, Prairie Smoke Press, St. Paul, MN, p. 135. The five family members could have included Mary and her two daughters.

[13] Email from Dave Craigmile to author, December 1, 2013. If Joseph Napexni died in 1870, as Stevenson says, he would have been 64 years old, not over 90.

[14] Ann Lynd to Warren Upham, May 23, 1899, and James W. Lynd to Warren Upham, August 18, 1899, Upham Papers, Minnesota Historical Society Institutional Archives. Noah, Peter and Moses Blue Cloud all owned land at Brown Earth in the 1880s. Their wives’ names are not listed but when Moses Blue Cloud’s daughter Eliza died on February 19, 1884, her mother’s name was given as Nancy Blue Cloud. See Elwin E. Rogers, For God & Land: Brown Earth A Dakota Indian Community 1876-1892, Pine Hill Press © 2002, p. 87

Posted in Dakota Mission, Jane Smith Williamson, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Mary Napexni, Minnesota, Minnesota History, Nancy Hunter Aiton, Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment

Letters from Jane: Inside the Dakota Mission, 1843-1883

It was only a few weeks ago that I sat in front of my screen preparing to share with you the story of Jane Smith Williamson, one of the most significant of the “Dakota Soul Sisters.” At that time, I had applied for a Research Fellowship at the Minnesota Historical Society – a fellowship focused on sharing Jane’s letters with the goal of reaching a better understanding of how the Dakota mission schools and school teachers interacted with the Federal Government/treaty funded schools in the years prior to 1862. I never dreamed I’d be one of just four individuals to receive this particular fellowship which is in its initial year of funding under Minnesota’s Legacy Fund program.

I begin my residency at the Minnesota History Center Gale Family Library on June 4. The result of my research will be an article about the Dakota missions, based on Jane’s letters. It will be published on the History Center’s MNOpedia site and possibly as an article in Minnesota History. Because of this unexpected opportunity, I have to hold off on telling Jane’s story on the Soul Sisters site so that anything I do publish for the fellowship will be original material. I apologize that you’ll just have to wait to hear Jane’s amazing story.

I plan to continue Soul Sisters though and am considering sharing the somewhat sad, but meaningful story of Mary Napayshne, a Dakota girl who grew up at Kaposia and who was one of Jane Williamson’s students.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Dakota Mission, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Mary Napayshne, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – Introduction to the Story of Jane Smith Williamson

Jeff Williamson had no photographs of Jane when I began my research in 2001. There was one photo, taken when she was quite old and blind, which I photo copied in the Minnesota Historical Society files but it was destroyed in the infamous photo purge of that institution's collection. (http://athrillingnarrative.com/2013/02/09/the-mhs-photo-purge/). Jane is also identified in the famous Adrian Ebell image of the Williamson mission taken on the morning of August 18, 1862, but it is a group photo and she can barely be seen. (See Margaret Poage Williamson - Part II). I longed to learn what Jane really looked like and one day, while working with Alan Woolworth's files at the Minnesota History Center, I found a little scrap of paper on which Alan had scribbled: "Jane Williamson pic - Covert sermon in What Israel Ought to Do - Macalester Library." I had no hope of ever interpreting what that note even meant, but a few weeks later, I called the library at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I gave the helpful young woman at their library the brief info I had and she put me on hold for a short time. When she returned to the phone she said, "Oh, here it is. Would you like me to email you a scan of her photo?" I couldn't believe it. Within moments, there was Jane - the only image of her that anyone had ever seen. I believe the original photo was probably made in St. Peter, Minnesota, in the 1870s. Jane was maybe 67 or 68 years old. I think she looks kind; I like the fact that she is almost smiling and that her eyes are alert and sharp, connecting with the viewer in welcoming curiosity.

Jeff Williamson had no photographs of Jane when I began my research in 2001. There was one photo, taken when she was quite old and blind, which I photo copied in the Minnesota Historical Society files but it was destroyed in the infamous photo purge of that institution’s collection. (http://athrillingnarrative.com/2013/02/09/the-mhs-photo-purge/).
Jane is also identified in the famous Adrian Ebell image of the Williamson mission taken on the morning of August 18, 1862, but it is a group photo and she can barely be seen. (See Margaret Poage Williamson – Part II).
I longed to learn what Jane really looked like and one day, while working with Alan Woolworth’s files at the Minnesota History Center, I found a little scrap of paper on which Alan had scribbled: “Jane Williamson pic – Covert sermon in What Israel Ought to Do – Macalester Library.” I had no hope of ever interpreting what that note even meant, but a few weeks later, I called the library at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I gave the helpful young woman at their library the brief info I had and she put me on hold for a short time. When she returned to the phone she said, “Oh, here it is. Would you like me to email you a scan of her photo?” I couldn’t believe it. Within moments, there was Jane – the only image of her that anyone had ever seen. I believe the original photo was probably made in St. Peter, Minnesota, in the 1870s. Jane was maybe 67 or 68 years old. I think she looks kind; I like the fact that she is almost smiling and that her eyes are alert and sharp, connecting with the viewer in welcoming curiosity.

All of the missionary women whose stories have been recorded in Dakota Soul Sisters to this point came to the Dakota mission when they were young. Most were new brides; others were single women who came to experience the adventure of life in the western wilderness while under the protection of a family member already working in the mission. We’ve journeyed with them through the births and often untimely deaths of their children; we’ve seen them widowed and remarried and we’ve also mourned their deaths as they passed away, often leaving their young children and a grieving husband to carry on without them.

The next Soul Sister to arrive in Minnesota has a completely different story. Jane Smith Williamson was forty years old when she arrived at Fort Snelling in May of 1843. The daughter of a Presbyterian pastor in Ohio, Jane had never married but had devoted her life to caring for her twice-widowed father and to her work as an abolitionist schoolteacher who opened her classroom to the children of escaped slaves even under threat of attack by slave-catchers from Kentucky.

She came to Minnesota, not as a missionary, but to join her beloved brother, Dr. Thomas Williamson. Thomas and his wife Margaret had left Ohio in 1835 to establish the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle and they had five children by the spring of 1843. Jane came to Minnesota to assist Thomas and Margaret with caring for and educating their children. I can find no indication that she had any plans to work in the mission as staff or teach Dakota children. Her father had died and she was simply joining her family in what might have been thought of as her retirement, now that she no longer had to remain in Ohio to care for him.

Instead, Jane Williamson was to become one of the most well-known and beloved women of the Dakota mission. I’ve entitled her story “Life of a Legend” because apocryphal stories about Jane abound in Dakota oral tradition and written accounts from 19th century historians. Dozens of young Dakota girls were named Jane in her honor and events in her life appear again and again in original historic documents with different locations, details and dates but with the same almost mystical or magical outcomes. She is referred to as “Aunt Jane” in many of the historic records and I’m sure that is what she was called, but her prolific and amazingly preserved correspondence and stories others tell about her in many ways defy this image of her as a loving, elderly, maternal figurehead. Instead, I have found a woman who was intellectually superior to many of her male colleagues – better educated and certainly progressive in her philosophy about the Dakota people and how to prevent their annihilation.

Her letters to family members around the country provide the most intimate and personal history of the Dakota mission’s daily life than exists. What is most amazing is that her casual and personal correspondence was preserved by families, historical societies and museums and continues to be available today, nearly 120 years after her death in 1895, and 170 years after the first letters were written.

Followers of Dakota Soul Sisters know that I find Mary Riggs’ memoirs somewhat self-serving and edited for publication. Jane’s letters are completely unedited and unchanged – existing only as the original paper thin documents sent and saved by the recipient and the recipient’s descendants. Jane’s writings also provide insight into the depth and longevity of the personal relationships that were established between the white women of the mission and the Dakota women with whom they interacted. For years after the trauma of the 1862 war, she continued her connection to and correspondence with the Dakota women whom she had come to know during the pre-war years. Jane took in several orphaned Dakota children over her lifetime and her letters record the love and affection she felt for those little ones.

Her faithful loyalty to the Dakota extended to her passionate efforts after the 1862 war to save the lives of Dakota men who had helped her and the family reach safety in those dangerous days. She did not hesitate to risk her own reputation but wrote letters that ultimately saved the lives of Robert Hopkins Chaska and Peter Tapetatanka. She also ministered to the imprisoned Dakota at Mankato, petitioning those in charge to allow her to bring the men paper and pencils so they could write to their families being held at Fort Snelling. Of all of the Soul Sisters, Jane is the only one who did anything public and proactive on behalf of the Dakota after the war.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that my connection to Jane Williamson is stronger than to any of the other Soul Sisters. I plan to share her story with the same focus on her chronology and events in her life as I have with the other women showcased here but I must confess that Jane is near and dear to my soul.

I first heard of her when I was in the fourth grade at Jefferson Elementary School in South St. Paul, Minnesota. She was mentioned in my Minnesota history book but in such a way that I never quite forgot it. All of us South St. Paul kids knew that our community was founded on the site of the Mdewakanton Dakota village of Kaposia. We knew the name of Dr. Thomas Williamson, the “first medical missionary to the Sioux Indians,” who came to the village at the invitation of the infamous Chief Little Crow, who ultimately became the main leader of the Dakota in the 1862 war. Somewhat ironically, we’d also been taught that Little Crow was a friend of the South St. Paul settlers and that no white person had ever been harmed by a Dakota in our community. I don’t know that we were fully taught the extent of the violence of the war or that we ever knew of Little Crow’s death and the impact the war had on Minnesota.

What I do remember is that my fourth grade history book told of Dr. Williamson and concluded that paragraph with the words, “His sister Jane was also there.” Even then, at age ten, I wondered about Jane and who she was and why we didn’t know more of her story. I set aside my childhood curiosity, however, and it was over forty years later that Jane came to my mind again.

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon in November of 2001. I was enjoying a hike through Kaposia Park in South St. Paul – an 80-acre park that commemorates and preserves the story, heritage and location of the original Dakota village. Our nation was reeling from the September 11 attack at the World Trade Center; I’d quit my full-time job because the executive director had refused to allow staff to watch the television during that fateful day and I was thinking about what my next history project should be. Life seemed too short to me to devote my life to working for an organization where employees were treated in such an uncaring way.

South St. Paul's Kaposia Park is a magical place to walk back in time and experience the dramatic landscape, the river, the bluffs and the forests that were home to Little Crow and the missionaries in the 1850s.

South St. Paul’s Kaposia Park is a magical place to walk back in time and experience the dramatic landscape, the river, the bluffs and the forests that were home to the Dakota and the missionaries in the 1850s.

Suddenly, as the November sunshine dappled the gold-colored trees, I remembered Jane Williamson. I began to wonder if anyone knew any more about her; if perhaps there had been studies of her life and if not, whether I could learn her story and share it with the world. She had walked these trails, taught her Dakota students here on these hillsides and left her mark at least on one ten-year-old girl many years earlier. Now it seemed as though it was my mission to find out more about her and her life.

I truly wasn’t sure where to begin my research. I mean certainly at the Minnesota Historical Society, but who there would really know or care about a single spinster missionary who’d been dead for over 100 years? As it turned out, I actually started my research at the Fort Snelling historic site. I wandered in as a true newbie – knowing very little about the history of the missions. I’d written three published local community histories for South St. Paul, West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights, so I’d learned a lot about the establishment of Dakota County and the early missionaries and settlers but I really didn’t have a clue about how the missions and the eventual cities came together.

Fort Snelling is well-known as a historic site where events and activities of the fort are re-enacted for thousands of tourists and school groups each year. The Fort, however, is also home to a library and research center adjacent to the book shop where many original source documents about the early history of Minnesota are accessible to scholars.

Fort Snelling is well-known as a historic site where events and activities of the Fort are re-enacted for thousands of tourists and school groups each year. The Fort, however, is also home to a library and research center adjacent to the book shop where many original source documents about the early history of Minnesota are accessible to scholars.

Stephen Osman was at the Fort to help me. He directed me to John Willand’s master’s thesis on the Lac qui Parle mission, along with a few other documents on the early Dakota missionaries. Then he suggested that I contact Alan Woolworth at the Minnesota Historical Society who also had lots of information on the early missions.

I  have to confess that I was really surprised to learn that Alan Woolworth was still alive. As a young teen, I’d volunteered at the Dakota County Historical Society where my parents were charter members. Fred Lawshe, the founder of the Society, gave me the job of hand-writing labels for all of the artifacts on display at the various locations of the museum. Mr. Lawshe found in me an excited and loyal volunteer. Even before I heard of Jane Williamson, I was passionate about South St. Paul history and remember that when the local Chamber of Commerce published a little pamphlet in 1958 in commemoration of the state’s hundredth anniversary, I made my mother drive me by the locations of the first log cabin, the first Indian village, etc. that were mentioned in the little publication. I was in first grade then.

It was through Mr. Lawshe that I first heard of Alan Woolworth as one of the most esteemed and respected Minnesota historians. But now it was 2001 and my knowledge of Alan Woolworth had come to me more than thirty years earlier. Still, I took Stephen at his word and wrote a letter (yes, an actual letter) to Mr. Woolworth, who was a curator emeritus at the Minnesota Historical Society. I received a phone call within a day or two from Alan, who invited me to come to his office to meet with him and gather whatever I needed from his files to begin my work on Jane.

Generations of Minnesota researchers and scholars have turned to Alan Woolworth for advice, encouragement, assistance and access to his personal history files. He is retired from the Minnesota Historical Society, but his decades of collected files continue to allow today's students access to the massive amount of work he accomplished in his lifetime.

Generations of Minnesota researchers and scholars have turned to Alan Woolworth for advice, encouragement, assistance and access to his personal history files. He is retired from the Minnesota Historical Society, but his decades of collected files continue to allow today’s students access to the massive amount of work he accomplished in his lifetime.

No one could ever have been more gracious than Alan Woolworth. He not only welcomed me warmly, but completely opened his files to me, gave me free copy privileges and told me everything he knew about Jane and the Williamsons. It was Alan who gave me Jeff Williamson’s phone number ( a resource that has led to years of collaboration and friendship) and who introduced me to John LaBatte, a Dakota man who was more than willing to share with me all of his knowledge about the early Dakota Christians and the missionaries.

It was John who took me on my first tour of the mission and Dakota war sites across Minnesota and it was, and always has been, Alan and Jeff who have continued to share information and resources about Jane and her life. Jeff Williamson is the most gracious family resource that I’ve ever encountered. Instead of being protective of his family tree, he has always been willing to share every detail with me and included me in Williamson family reunions in Ohio over the years. Alan Woolworth is no longer able to participate fully in historic research or discussion but I remain forever grateful to him for his generosity and the depth of knowledge that he has always been willing to share.

As for Jane, well Jane has also been a part of this journey. From the amazing and nearly miraculous discovery of the only portrait of her which exists, to the astounding series of events that led me to her grave in Greenwood, South Dakota, Jane has been guiding my path. Perhaps most significantly, I credit Jane with bringing about my personal faith conversion. My maternal grandparents were always Presbyterians but I’d grown up in the Baptist faith of my paternal family and attended a church where I had over 80 relatives when I was in elementary school. I like to think I was one of Jane’s last conversion success stories since I became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of South St. Paul in 2006. I was thrilled to become a member of the church that traced its roots to the original Williamson mission a Kaposia in 1846.

Since those first early days of looking for my next history project in 2001, my work has expanded far beyond Jane and the missionaries. My ultimate professional goal is to find a publisher who will publish Jane’s letters and her biography because I feel she is truly a unique individual in the history of the Dakota mission and in how American Indian policy developed. In the meantime, she is included here as one of the Dakota Soul Sisters.

Posted in Alan Woolworth, Jane Smith Williamson, Jeff Williamson, John LaBatte, Kaposia Village, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs, Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society Photo Purge, Minnesota History, Ohio, Stephen Osman, U.S. Dakota War of 1862, Underground Railroad, Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment

Heartbroken Heroine – Agnes Carson Johnson [Hopkins] [Pond] – Part IV

After Robert’s tragic death, Agnes had little choice but to take her children and return to her family in Ohio. She couldn’t make the trip alone, however, and it wasn’t until September that arrangements were made for her to travel with other missionaries who were heading east that fall. Agnes recalled the journey in her memoirs:

“As there was quite a large party and the American Board was far from wealthy, Mr. Riggs did not think it right for us to travel first class so we traveled in the second class coaches. The seats were very hard like benches, and my daughter, Sadie, then two and one-half years old, was taken sick on the journey and cried for water, but there was none to give the poor sick little thing, In the night the train stopped somewhere for water, and a young man who I could not remember ever having seen before got off and brought a cup of water for which he had to pay 25 cents and gave it to the poor sick baby. If I have thought of  that young man once, I have thought of him hundreds, perhaps thousands of times and wished that I could thank him, I did thank him then but I would like to thank him again and tell him what a beautiful thing he did.”[1]

Agnes and the children moved in with her widowed mother, Fanny, in South Salem, Ohio. Fanny’s father, Agnes’ grandfather, Rev. Robert G. Wilson, had died earlier that spring, on April 30, 1851, but Fanny’s sister, Agnes’ aunt Mary Irwin, lived next door with her three children (Robert, 13, Mary, eight, and Joseph, aged two). Mary was also a widow. Her husband, Joseph Irwin, died in 1849. Fanny herself still had three children at home, James was 17; Mary was 14 and Martha was 11. Agnes’ own children included Mary Frances, who was eight years old, Will, who was six, Sarah, aged two and one-half, and four-month-old baby Ann.

Agnes and Fanny had been through much sadness and sorrow together and no doubt it was comforting for Agnes to have this time with her mother and her favorite aunt as well as having time for her children to get to know their cousins and young aunts and uncle. Agnes described Fanny in her reminiscences:

“My mother was a wonderfully patient and meek woman. She was slight of build, of medium height and had brown eyes and brown hair. I remember her telling me that when she was married her belt ribbon was one inch over a half yard. She had the best educational advantages that the town she lived in afforded, attending a select school for young ladies. She was brought up a Presbyterian, but after she was married, united with her husband with the Associate Reformed, or United Presbyterian Church as it was called. In those times the members of that church were not permitted to sing hymns. My mother delighted in singing hymns and was a beautiful singer. Once a committee from the session of this church was sent to tell her it was contrary to their rules to sing hymns. She said, “I think it is right to sing hymns and I shall continue to do so as often as I wish.’ And she did.”[2]

Agnes settled in and the three widows and their children carried on as best they could. Fanny took in boarders from the local seminary as her income; it isn’t clear how Agnes was to provide support for her own family. It is hard to imagine that tragedy would once again strike but less than a year after Agnes and the children arrived in Ohio, little Ann succumbed to illness and died at the age of 14 months on July 18, 1852. Agnes now had to bury another of her children only a year after losing her husband.

At around that same time, Agnes’ half-sister, Mary Margaret McDill, married William M. Pinkerton and settled in Bloomingburg, Fayette County, Ohio,  just a few miles northwest of South Salem. Then, on May 19, 1853, Agnes’ mother Fanny, now 49 years old, married Mary Margaret’s new father-in-law, William Carson Pinkerton, and she also moved to Bloomingburg.

Agnes still had her aunt Mary in South Salem, and it is possible that Fanny had invited Agnes to remain in her home and use the income from the students who had boarded with her, but Agnes had to be concerned about her own future. She was now 27 years old and she had to find a way to support her children.

That same spring, in May of 1854, Rev. Gideon Pond, a widower whose story has been recorded in these pages through the lives of his first wife, Sarah Poage Pond, and of his sister-in-laws, Margaret Poage Williamson, and Cordelia Eggleston Pond, represented the Presbytery of St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly in Buffalo, New York.

It isn’t quite clear exactly what happened, but, according to his brother’s memoirs, when Gideon returned to Minnesota from the meetings, “he was accompanied by the second Mrs. G. H. Pond, formerly Mrs. Robert Hopkins, who thenceforth shared the toils and privations and lightened the burdens of his life. Her three children added to his seven made a family of ten and to this number six little ones were afterward added, making in all sixteen.”[3]

Agnes was 28 years old when she and Gideon Pond, then 43, were married in Ohio on April 20, 1854.

Agnes was 28 years old when she and Gideon Pond, then 43, were married in Ohio on April 20, 1854.

Agnes and Gideon Pond were married on April 20, 1854, in Ohio. I’ve tried to calculate how well Gideon and Agnes knew each other prior to this commitment. Undoubtedly their paths crossed occasionally over the years while Robert Hopkins was alive but when Agnes and Robert first came to Lac qui Parle in 1843, Gideon and his first wife, Sarah Poage Pond, were already living at Oak Grove in what is now Bloomington, Minnesota. Gideon would have had very little reason to visit Traverse des Sioux during Robert and Agnes’ years there and I truly cannot document any type of personal acquaintance they may have had.

Still, it is clear that both of them needed someone.  Jane Williamson wrote to her cousin Elizabeth of Sarah’s passing and Gideon’s dilemma when his wife Sarah died on May 2, 1853.

“Mr. Pond was anxious to break up housekeeping but did not know where to put his children. He had written to E. P. Williamson to know if they could take one but her uncle is not quite willing. Sister thought perhaps you or Cousin Cutler might be willing to take one of the little girls. I have not much hope …. but at her request I mention it. They are pleasant children. The eldest daughter at home is I think near the age of Marion, very energetic and sprightly, pretty well advanced in her education but bro said when he saw her last she had every appearance of being overworked. He told her father so, he said he knew it but could not help it. There are three little girls younger than Sarah.”[4]

Gideon had every right to be concerned about his children. Ruth age 15, was living with Gideon’s sister and her family in Connecticut when Sarah died. Edward, 13; Sarah, 11; George 10; Mary Ann, 7; Jane, 5; and three-year-old Ellen were at home. Sarah was too young to care for her siblings and take care of the house, and although Ruth returned to the family soon after Sarah’s death, she was also too young to manage such a large household.

For Agnes, Gideon provided not only a somewhat secure future for her and her children, but his proposition allowed her to continue her path toward becoming “one of God’s people,” as she had so passionately desired when she was a young girl of 14.[5] The only difference now was that, instead of laboring at a mission specifically for the Dakota people, she would be the wife of a pastor of a Presbyterian Church in the growing community of Bloomington, Minnesota. Oak Grove Presbyterian Church had been founded by Gideon Pond when he and his brother Samuel had decided to not follow the Dakota to the reservations and continue their work as missionaries in 1851. Neither of them believed that the reservation system would benefit the Dakota and they became pastors to congregations more specifically established for the white settlers who were pouring into Minnesota.

Gideon was the founding pastor of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church on September 19, 1855. The church was originally located in what is now Bloomington Cemetery at 104th and Lyndale. It was moved (by two horses and four oxen) to the congregation's present location at Old Shakopee Road and Penn Avenue in Bloomington in 1864.

Gideon was the founding pastor of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church on September 19, 1855. The church was originally located in what is now Bloomington Cemetery at 104th and Lyndale. It was moved (by two horses and four oxen) to the congregation’s present location at Old Shakopee Road and Penn Avenue in Bloomington in 1864. This photo was taken at the Old Shakopee Road location in about 1900.

Oak Grove, however, was always more than a traditional white Presbyterian Church. Many Dakota were permitted to remain with Gideon after the official removal of the Dakota from Minnesota and they became vital members of the new congregation. Agnes was thus able to experience not only the security of being the wife of a pastor but to also continue her work with the Dakota women and girls she had come to love at Traverse des Sioux.

Gideon was 43 years old when he and Agnes began their life together. Agnes was 28 and she was now stepmother to seven children and mother to her own remaining three. Twelve people were living in the little house at Oak Grove, but Gideon and Agnes’ family continued to grow. Herman Hine Pond was their first son together, born on October 15, 1855. A daughter, named after Agnes, was born on December 30, 1856, and another boy, named after Gideon, arrived on June 18, 1858. Frank Wilson Pond was born on August 18, 1860, and Dugald Stewart Pond came into the world on July 12 1863. Their youngest child, Scintlila Sexta Pond, known as Tillie, was born on December 16, 1864, when Gideon was 54 years old and Agnes was 39.

Agnes’ mother Fanny perhaps echoed the thoughts of many when she wrote to her daughter on January 17, 1865, from her home in Bloomingburg, Ohio:

“I was surprised to hear you had another babe. I was not looking for such an event. This makes your 11th almost twice my number. But it is all right I suppose and they may one day be a great blessing to you if you can only train them in wisdoms ways…Have you named the new baby? You are well off for nurses. How does Stewart like his little sissy? It is getting too dark to write so I will have to bid you adieu for this time. Mr. Pinkerton unites with me in much love to you all.”[6]

Agnes was really a remarkable woman, mother to eleven children, step-mother to seven, and single parent for the last 37 years of her life.

Agnes was really a remarkable woman, mother to eleven children, step-mother to seven, and single parent for the last 37 years of her life.

It is tempting, of course, to grant Agnes a reprieve here from the kind of heartbreak and grief which she had undergone so many times in her young life, but her years with Gideon were not spent in ease and leisure. Bearing 11 children over the course of 21 years is an incomprehensible physical challenge to most women today and Agnes was never particularly hardy. The couple also worked hard to support their large family. Samuel Pond wrote:

“His life knew much privation and hardship for his family was large and his income small, and his gifts to his Master’s work often more than he could well afford. His farm, on which he depended for a part of his support, was at that time unproductive, and a man of less ability and energy would have failed.

“His large family was governed with parental kindness but with military precision, and all around him were taught by precept and example to value, first of all, things spiritual. He was not exempt from family affliction. His second son, a boy of rare promise, lost a limb by the accidental discharge of a gun when about fourteen years of age. Having determined to enter the gospel ministry he went to Lane Seminary after graduating with honor from Marietta College. Just one month after entering the seminary he died, all alone, among strangers, of Asiatic cholera. His was one of the great afflictions of Mr. Pond’s life[7]

“He also conducted the affairs of a large farm, doing much of the work with his own hands… It is not strange that these arduous labors, continued for so long a period, somewhat prematurely wore out his magnificent constitution. The exposure and privation of his nineteen years of service among the Dakota and the heavy burdens of his twenty years of labor among the white settlers gradually undermined his strength, until not even his indomitable will could longer sustain him in his ceaseless labors.”[8]

Gideon died on January 20, 1878, at the age of 67 years; Agnes was 52. Most of the children were married by then and establishing their own families but Agnes was still living at home with Gideon’s daughter Jane who was 31 years old when Gideon died. Jane never married. Herman, Agnes and Gideon’s oldest son, was 22. He didn’t marry until September 1889. Gideon, Jr. was also still at home and was 21 years old when Gideon passed. He married in 1886. Frank was 17 at the time of Gideon’s death, Dugald, or Stewart, as he was known was 14 years old and Scintilla, known as Tillee, was 13.

The Gideon Pond House as it looked in 1934.

The Gideon Pond House as it looked in 1934.

Agnes lived for 37 years after Gideon died. She was 90 years old when she passed away a week before Christmas on December 17, 1915. She is buried alongside Gideon and Sarah in the historic Bloomington Cemetery in Bloomington, Minnesota. All around her are the graves of her step-children, her children and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of the most beautiful memories she has left to posterity is a poem she wrote when she was aged 70 in 1895:

“I am very old today

My three-score years and ten

Have long since passed.

I am feeble, old and deaf

And all my world is dark to me,

The things that once I loved so much,

The skies, the hills, the vales

The grass, so green –

All, all, are lost to me.

The dear delights of my loved friends,

The loving glance, the tender smile,

I never more can see.

And yet, amidst this gloom of mine

I have a beacon, fair and bright –

A precious boon, My Father’s promise true

Of everlasting life!

And when my life on earth is done

And I am no more here,

I’ll dwell with Him in realms above

And never more be blind.”[9]

Agnes’ and Gideon’s 16 children left a significant legacy in Bloomington, Minnesota, and beyond, while the two oldest served the Dakota mission and the Dakota people for another generation.

This four-generation picture includes, left to right: Agnes; Fanny Wilson Pond (Agnes' granddaughter); Fanny's daughter, Margaret Olive Williamson, born on July 13, 1899; and Mary Frances Hopkins, Agnes' oldest daughter, Fanny's mother and Margaret's grandmother.

This four-generation picture includes, left to right: Agnes; Fanny Wilson Pond (Agnes’ granddaughter); Fanny’s daughter, Margaret Olive Williamson, born on July 13, 1899; and Mary Frances Hopkins, Agnes’ oldest daughter, (Fanny’s mother and Margaret’s grandmother). (Photo Courtesy, Jeff Williamson)

Agnes’ oldest child, Mary Frances Hopkins, married Gideon’s oldest son, Edward Robert Pond, on July 28, 1864, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Edward had already made a commitment to the Dakota mission by that time and was working at the reservation at Crow Creek by the summer of 1863. After they married, Edward and Mary Frances went to Niobrara, Nebraska, where they worked with John Poage Williamson until the spring of 1870. They returned to Bloomington and Edward taught a Sunday School class at the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church for Dakota adults while Mary Frances taught the Dakota children in the Sunday School until 1891. They had eight children. Their third daughter, Fanny Wilson Pond (1869-1948) married Thomas Cornelius Williamson, the son of John Poage Williamson. Thomas and Fanny Williamson also had eight children. Their son, George (1910-1975) married Emma Krahn, and George and Emma’s son, Jeff Williamson, Agnes’ great-great-grandson, is one of the officers of the Pond Dakota Heritage Society, a non-profit agency that promotes the history, preservation and heritage of the Pond Mission site in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Generations of Pond descendants gathered at the Mission site for a reunion in about 1910.

Generations of Pond descendants gathered at the Mission site for a reunion in about 1910. (Photo Courtesy, Jeff Williamson)

Agnes’ oldest son, William Hopkins, married Charlotte Harrison on September 7, 1870, and lived in Bloomington. Agnes’ other surviving daughter, Sadie Hopkins, married Harleigh Saige Parker on July 27, 1872, and settled in Gilbert, Minnesota.

Agnes’ first child with Gideon, Herman Hine Pond, married Elizabeth Radcliffe Humphreys in 1889 and raised his family in Bloomington. Agnes and Gideon’s next child, Agnes Pond, married Joseph McElroy Moir in 1874 and raised eight children near the family’s Bloomington home. Gideon Hollister Pond, Agnes and Gideon’s third child together, married Winifred Goodrich in 1886, and had four children in Bloomington. After Winifred’s death in 1924, he wed Jessie Palmer. Frank Wilson Pond, Agnes and Gideon’s next son, married Muriel Acton in 1901. They had five children and settled in Ontario, Canada. Dugald Stewart Pond, Agnes and Gideon’s youngest son, married Effie Viola Dawes in 1903, and settled in Bloomington. Scintilla “Tillie” Pond, Gideon and Agnes’ youngest child, married Dr. Cyrus Kidd Ritchie in 1888, and raised her family in California.

Gideon and Agnes’ home in Bloomington, Minnesota, is open to the public as a historic site with tours offered on most Sunday afternoons at 1:30 p.m. and with special speakers on the third Sunday of the month at 2:00 p.m. To access the Society’s newsletter, go to http://bloomingtonmn.gov/main_top/2_facilities/rec_facility/pond/pondhous.html

Today Mission Park and the Gideon Pond House are historic properties operated by the City of Bloomington. The house is located at 401 East 104th Street. Signage throughout the park identifies the specific activities that took place at the Mission over the years.

Today Mission Park and the Gideon Pond House are historic properties operated by the City of Bloomington. The house is located at 401 East 104th Street. Signage throughout the park identifies the specific activities that took place at the Mission over the years.

You’ll also want to watch for occasions where Sheila Strobel Smith appears as Agnes. She does a marvelous job of telling Agnes’ story and is dressed in totally authentic hand-sewn garments like Agnes would have made and worn. Jay Ludwig, also a professional re-enactor, portrays Gideon Pond and gives tours of the house on a regular basis. They both bring Gideon and Agnes to life in remarkable ways.


[1] Pond, Agnes Carson Johnson [Hopkins], A Few Reminiscences of an Old Lady, 1908, Minnesota Biographies Collection,  Minnesota Historical Society, P939, (hereafter Reminiscences). Sadie is Sarah Jane Hopkins, born March 23, 1849. Agnes only mentions that the Riggs were along on this trip but she does say it was a large group. The Riggs had left most of their children in Minnesota with others but 12-year-old Bella and three-year-old Henry accompanied them to Ohio. We do know that Amanda Wilson, aka Sarah Willson, a young woman who had come out to the mission with Agnes and Robert when they returned from their trip home in 1849, was headed back  home to her parents in Ohio on this journey. We also know that Samuel and Cordelia Eggleston Pond and their four children took a trip back east at this same time and may have been part of the entourage at least as far as Michigan, when they stopped to visit Cordelia’s brothers who were living there.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pond, Samuel W., Jr., Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas or The Story of the Labors of Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society, 1893, pp. 254-455.

[4] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, July 12, 1853, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta, Ohio, Item 21, Folder 3.

[5] Reminiscences.

[6] http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Johnson-13001. Agnes Carson Johnson Hopkins Pond family tree on WikiTree.

[7] George Pond was born on April 24, 1843 at Fort Snelling, lost his leg when he was 13 years old and then died of cholera in 1866.

[8] Pond, Samuel W., Jr., Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas or The Story of the Labors of Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society, 1893, pp. 256-257.

[9] Jeff Williamson private collection, Rosemount, Minnesota

Posted in Agnes Johnson Hopkins Pond, Cordelia Eggleston Pond, Dakota Mission, Margaret Poage Williamson, Mission Park and Gideon Pond House, Oak Grove Presbyterian Church, Sarah Poage Pond, Traverse des Sioux, Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment