Explore the histories of three different Christian missions to Native groups in Northwest Ohio, including the Presbyterian Mission on the Maumee River, the Quaker mission at Wapakoneta, and the Methodist mission at Upper Sandusky. This exhibit draws upon personal diaries, correspondence letters, mission records, newspapers, nineteenth-century county histories, and more to tell the stories of the missions.
This welcome page includes important contextual information about the Mission movement in America and Native American history in Ohio. Please read first before exploring the history of the missions!
The Mission Movement in Early America
Christian missions to Native American settlements became prominent in the early 18th century during what is known as the First Great Awakening. The mission movement revitalized in the early 19th century during the Second Great Awakening. The Great Awakenings inspired more egalitarian approaches to Christianity and inspired people to make religion a bigger part of their daily lives. This spilled over into Native American communities as well with varying responses. Native American groups had their own religious views prior to their exposure to Christianity, therefore, their responses to Christian teachings were diverse and complex. Some rejected Christianity completely, some embraced it wholly, and others adapted only certain customs and beliefs. Conversions were not absolute, and many adopted Christian practices while maintaining their own faith traditions.[i]
Many Native Americans welcomed the missions even if they did
not see any benefit in learning Christianity. Author Linford D.
Fischer describes the mission movement in his book, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures
in Early America, stating, "In the 1720s and 1730s, Native communities in
Southern New England welcomed schoolteachers onto their lands, sent their
children to English schools, and generally took part in whatever material
benefits the missionaries offered, such as food, blankets, and clothing." The
same reasons apply for why some Native Americans welcomed the revival of missions
nearly a century later.[ii]
Politics also played a role in the mission movement. Thomas Jefferson instituted policies known as the Civilization Program. He envisioned gradually "civilizing" the Native Americans, privatizing their property, and attaining their land for further white settlement. The program provided funding to applicants, mainly missions and Indian Agents, to purchase agricultural tools, clothing, and other necessities. According to the National Park Service, "The civilization program promoted commercial agriculture, Christianity, an alteration in the gender-based divisions of labor among Indians, and, most importantly, private ownership of land." The government believed if Native Americans adapted to farming they would forgo their hunting traditions and be more willing to cede their surplus lands. Not all missions aquired funding from the civilization program, in fact, many operated solely on donations. Mission operations essentially mirrored those of the Civilization Program. Through donations and annuities, they purchased farming equipment, hogs and cattle, spinning wheels, and numerous other provisions. However, the end goals of the government Civilization Program and the end goals of the individual missions differed greatly. The government's main goal was land confiscation and territorial control. The government even encouraged local traders and merchants to run up Native American debt so that they would have to sell their lands as payment. The missionaries, however, were not interested in the Native's land. All three missions in this exhibit argued that spreading Christianity through teaching Native Americans English, and transforming their lifestyles to resemble white society was done to ensure their survival in Ohio. Native Americans, in turn, were reluctant to trust the motives of either entity. They feared losing their sense of cultural identity as well as losing their homes. Ultimately, the Native Americans lacked the military, political, and economic power to fight back against the powerful American government.[iii]
To understand the context under which the missions in Ohio operated it is important to review the history of conflict in the Ohio territory and the impact of land treaties. Prior to the Revolution, the Ohio territory was Native lands. French and British traders were present throughout the territory but the land was not yet accessible to homesteading settlers. Land opened to settlers in Ohio and the surrounding territories once the Northwest Ordinance passed in 1787. Numerous battles ensued in the following decades including the Battle of Wabash where a group of Native Americans defeated St. Clair's army. In response, Anthony Wayne attacked and defeated the Western Confederacy at Fallen Timbers which resulted in the Treaty of Greenville (1795). The treaty ceded all Native lands in Southern and Eastern Ohio to the United States as well as much of their lands in Indiana and Michigan territory.
A resistance movement arose shortly before the War of 1812 led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet. They preached Native American unity against white civilization and customs. Together they created a Native American Confederacy conprised of individuals from numerous Tribes throughout the old northwest all the way south to Florida. Their forces were defeated by William Henry Harrison's troops at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and Tecumseh’s confederacy temporarily dissapated. Tecumseh rallied an even larger confederacy during the War of 1812 and joined forces with the British against the Americans. After a series of battles, they were ultimately defeated at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. The remaining Native groups signed the treaties of Maumee Rapids (1817) and St. Mary's (1818) which further restricted their land holdings in Ohio. After the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, all Native groups remaining in Ohio were coerced into signing removal treaties and were forcibly relocated west of the Mississippi River by the year 1842. These battles and land grabs set the scene for the missions in Ohio. Native communities were constantly under the threat of losing their land and their cultural identity due to the opening of the Northwest territory to American settlers.[iv]
Many of the missionaries and the Native Americans did not believe removal was inevitable. They were aware of the possibility, however, many people were hopeful Native groups could remain as independent nations within the state of Ohio; interacting with American society but still permitted to govern themselves. The missions believed they were helping the Native Americans become permanent neighbors within their surrounding communities. The missionaries hoped that teaching Native Americans Christianity, the English language, and European farming methods would change their percieved 'uncivilized' image and allow them to remain. Essentially, they wanted them to resemble a white American society. Many Native Americans welcomed the mission's financial assistance and were willing to participate, especially if it meant potentially saving their homes. Unfortunately, the flood of new settlement increased the demand for farming lands and natural resources. The land grab mentality, combined with racial stereotyping and widespread distrust of Native Americans, dominated state and national politics. The federal government forced all remaining tribes in Ohio to relocate west. Although the Native Americans were ultimately forced to leave, the missions' work was not in vain. The skills the missions taught the Native Americans may have aided in their perseverance. Schooling helped them read and write in their own languages and engage in commerce. Farming helped them feed their families once hunting became no longer viable due to the shortage of game caused by the influx of white settlement. However, the vast losses to their families, their culture, and their identity cannot be overshadowed.
Note: Most of what we know today about the interactions between missionaries and Ohio's Indian population comes from documents that contain the cultural biases of missionaries. A majority of the surviving primary source documents were recorded by the missionaries themselves. Therefore, these brief histories of the three missions tell the stories of their intentions, but not how the Native Americans themselves felt about the missions or how it affected their culture.
Many of the pictures on the website are linked to their original sources! Click on the pictures to learn more. The links to the Historical Markers Database are especially helpful in order to understand where the missions were once approximately located. In most cases, the historical markers are all that remains today to remind us of the missions' presence, with the exception of cemeteries and replica buildings such as the Wyandot Mission Church.
[i] Linford D. Fisher and Ohio Library and Information Network. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Thomas H. Kiker, "The Relationship between Samuel J. Mills Jr. and the Influence of the Second Great Awakening on Missions and Evangelism." ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2009.
[ii] Linford D. Fisher and Ohio Library and Information Network. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
[iii] "'Civilizing' Native Peoples: American Policies to Remake Tribal Worlds (U.S. National Park Service)." Accessed February 6, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/articles/civilizing-native-people.htm; "President Jefferson and the Indian Nations." Monticello. Accessed February 6, 2021. https://www.monticello.org/thomas-jefferson/louisiana-lewis-clark/origins-of-the-expedition/jefferson-and-american-indians/president-jefferson-and-the-indian-nations/.
[iv] "American Indians." American Indians - Ohio History Central. Accessed February 6, 2021. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/American_Indians; "Treaty of the Maumee
Rapids (1817)," Ohio History Central, Accessed November 27, 2019. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Treaty_of_the_Maumee_Rapids_(1817);
Raymond Gillespie, 1994, Indians
along the Maumee River: Ottawa, Chippewa, Miami, Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot,
Wea, Mingo, Toledo, Ohio, 107, Exhibit AA.