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Past and Present
A Nation Born in a Day


Yes, so it was with the conversion of the native Indian tribes of Upper Canada to the Christian faith; particularly so with the Cnippeways. Perhaps, on the whole, there has not been a more extraordinary work since the apostolic age. It commenced about thirty-one or thirty-two years ago and in a very few years comprised all the tribes or bands within the “settlements on the borders of the Province. The work to all beholders by surprise, and gave a new impulse to the Methodist body, through whose instrumentality it was effected. It was the theme of conversation and the burden of prayer. The Indian converts visited our camp and quarterly meetings; and their altered appearance diffused a general joy. And well it might produce joy and thanksgiving in the minds of every pious and benevolent person. For a more degraded and miserable people than the Chippeway Indians, at least, could scarcely be imagined. They had no arts but the most rude and savage ones—no literature—no property—and it might be said, no houses, no home. When an Indian was asked where he lived, he responded, “All up the river.”

The writer has a lively recollection of the Mississagua tribe of the Chippeway nation^ which hovered about the town of York and its vicinity. They were drunkards to a man—their women totally devoid of virtue—and the whole of them sunk in poverty and filth beyond expression. At the time of their receiving their “annuities and presents,” which was in the town above named, a bacchanalian revel took place, which usually lasted many days, and issued in squandering every copper of money and selling or pawning every article they had received, for the deadly “firewaters,” and in the death of several, from exposure and violence. It was not uncommon to see a dozen of them engaged in one melee, tearing each other’s hair and flesh to pieces. In a word, they were so debased and even more than embruted, that for any one, at that period, to have expressed a belief of their being susceptible of religious ideas or emotions at all, would have been to expose himself to derision.

Still, it would appear, a few holy men revolved the desirableness and possibility of this event in their minds; among whom was the Rev. Mr. Case. The Rev. Joseph Sawyer, lately gone to his reward, some sixty years ago or more dedicated a little Indian boy, who then lived with a pious white family, to God in the Ordinance of Christian baptism, and gave him his own name “Joseph Sawyer.” This he told me with his own lips. And it is somewhat curious and interesting to know, that though that Indian boy soon broke away from the Oversight of the Christian gentleman under whose guardianship he then lived, and returned to the habits and haunts of 'savage life, yet his mind was the subject of strong solicitude on the subject of things divine and eternal; and he was thb very first of that tribe, after Peter Jones, to embrace Christianity, on the Gospel being preached to them in their own language. His influence was strenuously and successfully exerted in promoting the work among his countrymen. He still lives, the patriarch of his tribe, and efficiently fills, I believe, the offices of Leader and Local Preacher.

As has already been incidentally hinted, Peter Jones was the first of the Chippeways, and, I believe, the first Indian of any kind, converted to God in Upper Canada. There had been a few Mohawks on the Grand River brought into connection with what was then called “ The Established Church;” but their knowledge, experience, and practice of Christianity, all who knew them must confess to have been very deficient. The wisdom of God was shown in the selection of the first 'Vessel of mercy, through whom His truth and grace were to be r'made known to his countrymen. Peter seemed a eonrfecting link between the white man and both the Chippeways and Mohawks. The son of a Welshman, a surveyor; his mother a Chippeway of the Mississagua tribe, with whom he had lived 1 the whole of his boyhood in the woods; and subsequently domesticated under a Mohawk step-mother, some of whose language he is believed to have understood. No wonder, therefore, at the joy said to have been expressed by the devoted Elder Case, when the news was brought into the “Preachers’ tent,” at the Ancaster Camp Meeting, in 1823, (celebrated by that eventj) that Peter Jones was converted! “Glory be to God!” exclaimed the servant, of God, “a door is now open to the Indian tribes.” It is not the writer’s intention to present anything like a history of that work. He is by no means competent, and if he were ever so much so, it would be unseemly to foster one who is preparing to do so, and to whom the work naturally and properly belongs. All the writer intends to indulge in is a few reminiscences interesting to himself, and, the record of which may be so to those who were not privileged to witness the events to which they refer. There, are many now living who remember the joy felt and expressed, in the “Old Framed Meeting-House," when it was said the work of-conversion had commenced at the Credit; and that such men as the Herkimers, the Kishecos. Tobeco John, Governor Muskrat, and the desperate Blue Jay, were taught to bow before the truth and power of G;od. A more lively, lovely, happy and holy community than that Indian society at the Credit was for many years, I do not believe ever existed. To hear them sing and pray, although you could riot understand their language, was thrillingly delightful; and the displays of divine power manifested in their assemblies were truly wonderful. The rapidity with which the work went on at this place —the equally speedy manner in which the Belleville or Kingston Indians were converted—but especially the conversion of nearly all the Bice Lake tribe in one Sabbath day, during the session of the Conference in the "Old Chapel” back of Cobourg, township of Hamilton, in 1827, fully justifies the motto we have chosen. The writer will never forget the impression made on his boyish imagination by the conversion of a whole band or tribe in a few hours, which he had the happiness to witness, It must have been in June preceding the Conference just referred to. The Methodists of York and Yonge Street had prepared for a great camp meeting near Cummer’s Mill, The Indians from the Credit turned out to a man, woman and child. A band of pagans also, from the shores of Lake Simcoe somewhere, had heard that their brethren had found something which made them glad in their hearts and made them happy in other respects; for they had given up the firewater and were living like white folks. These had heard of this great meeting and had come into the neighbourhood a week beforehand, to make sure of being at it. The Yonge Street friends very kindly supplied them with food, and considerately prepared for their accommodation at the camp meeting. I shall never forget the solemnity with which they attended on the first service, on the afternoon of the first day. When the horn sounded for preaching, they came pouring out of their camp. The old bald-headed chief led the van, followed first by his warriors, and then by the women and children. They seated themselves on the left of the “ preachers'' stand,” prepared for the Indians, surrounded by converted ones of other tribes. The white people were first addressed by one of the preachers in English., Then the venerable Elder-Case arose, and began, to address the Indians through the youthful Peter Jacobs as his interpreter. He told them of the Great First Cause—of the creation—of the fall of man—of the flood5—of the incarnation of the Son of God—of his sufferings and death—of his resurrection and ascension to heaven—of his power and willingness to save; and told them that if they would lift up their hearts in prayer to the Great Spirit, he would have mercy, and pour out his Holy Spirit upon them. Solemnity sat upon every face from the first.. But soon the head of the old chief, and then of one and another was bowed in penitential sorrow, while tears channeled down the cheeks of those who had never wept before. Soon the power from above seemed greater and the agitation stronger; quaking, trembling, falling, were seen all through the Indian congregation. The preacher’s voice was drowned with strong cries and shouts of joy from the liberated. He ceased, and a prayer meeting began which lasted with very little intermission till morning* and the whole of the pagans were happily converted to God. This is but a specimen of the way in which the work took place at the Credit, at Belleville, at Rice Lake, Lake Simcoe, Munceytown, &c. The extraordinary physical agitations and effects above referred to characterized the work in every place on its first breaking out; and were calculated to remind one strongly of the surprising occurrences which attended the preaching of the early Methodists, as recorded especially in John Wesley’s journals; occurrences which have more or less marked all great revivals of the work of God.

The eloquence and power with which the native labourers, raised up in the work itself to promote it, prosecuted their efforts—some for a short time and in a limited sphere only, while others laboured more at large, and have continued their labours to the present time—was not the least remarkable feature of the work. A Jones, a Jacobs, a Sunday, a Herkimer, a Sickles; and for a short time, or to a limited extent to the present, a Beaver, a Toney, a Magee, a Doxtater, and many others, were characterised by an eloquence, judging from its effects, of the first order. Or was it not rather, that they preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven?

The mention of Doxtater, not now, I believe, connected with our church, reminds me of the sudden and gracious work among the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, or in the well-known “Indian Woods,” commenced by his instrumentality, which the writer, in connexion with his’ superintendent, had the pleasuri of assisting to promote, under circumstances of privation and “without fee or reward.” We connected the “ Woods ” wTith the Belleville circuit, which we were appointed to travel, and each went down once in four weeks, which gave them fortnightly preaching. The road from Salmon River to the Mission at that time, in spring and fall especially, I pronounce to have been the worst one to be called a road at all, that I ever travelled. The land was very low and level. It had once been cause wayed; but it was decayed, and the logs were all afloat; so that it was at the jeopard of a man’s life that he undertook to ride through some parts of it. My method was to drive my horse before me, and jump from log to log. It was a country, too, something like Cornwall, in England, in Wesley’s and John Nelson’s day, u an excellent place for getting an appetite, but the worst for getting anything to eat,” The Indians were miserably poor and poverty stricken, from the failure of their corn crop, the summer preceding.. So that we were in “fasting,” as well as “perils” the live-long day. Nor was there any after remuneration, except what we had in the pleasing reflection that we had been doing good for we had no missionary exchequer in those days, and no brother received anything for missionary labour unless it was exclusively such. But we never thought of complaining then; and do not complain now. The love and gratitude of these simple sons of the forest were an ample compensation. An invitation to a feast, the last time I went down, consisting of damaged corn and rusty salt pork, in which the dogs had stuck their noses sundry times while the kettles stood on the hearth during divine service, which preceded the dinner, was much the most formidable difficulty I had to dispose of the whole year. I am sure I would have chosen three days’ fasting, to one spoonful of that abominable soup. But I contrived to. beg off—wrote my name on the blank leaf of a book, at the request of the old chief, that they might not forget it—and left amid their tears and blessings.


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