The son of William and Elizabeth (Rice) McCoy, Isaac McCoy was born June 13, 1784, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when he was five, then a few years later to Shelby County, Kentucky, where his father served as a Baptist minister. The young McCoy was inspired to become a missionary to American Indians.
He married Christiana Polke in on October 6, 1803, in Shelby County, Kentucky. They had 14 children; only four survived into adulthood. McCoy became a part-time minister for the Silver Creek Baptist Church in 1808 in Vincennes, Indiana. The next year he was hired as paster of the maria Creek Church, and in 1810 he was ordained a Baptist minister. Seven years later he was sent by the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions to work with the Miami people, who were living on the Wabash River, 16 miles north of Terre Haute, Indiana.
McCoy established Carey Mission among the Potawatomis on the St. Joseph River in December 1822 near Niles, Michigan. Four years later he founded Thomas Mission among the Ottawas near present Grand Rapids. He felt the need for a permanent Indian country where tribes could be free from the "corrupting influences attending association with the frontier people of that early period." He suggested a removal of Eastern tribes to the unoccupied areas of the West. In June 1824 McCoy went to Washington to submit his proposal to the board, which was impressed with his ideas and suggested that he present them to the president. McCoy was unable to obtain an audience but he did have conversations with John C. Calhoun, the secretary of war, who was in charge of Indian affairs. Calhoun received McCoy's proposals with enthusiasm and became one of their strongest advocates.
Emigration of Eastern tribes to the territories west of the Mississippi had begun many years before. Members of the Shawnee and Delaware tribes settled in Louisiana Territory near Cape Girardeau as early as 1793. In 1809 a part of the Cherokee tribe located on the waters of the Arkansas and White rivers in Missouri territory while portions of the Choctaw and Creek tribes settled on the Arkansas and Red rivers. No official government action took place prior to McCoy's proposal.
In November 1827 McCoy again met with the board and he prepared a pamphlet for members of Congress and governmental departments. McCoy spent two months lobbying for a removal act. Opposition came from groups that felt the Indian people would be cheated of their ancestral homes and given instead an area considered by many to be nothing more than desert. Questions about slavery and white settlement north of the compromise line led to the removal proposal being defeated in 1828.
Exploration was approved and McCoy and George H. Kennedy of St. Louis were sent along with delegations of Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Potawatomis, and Ottawas to examine the country. On August 21, 1828, McCoy, Kennerly, and the Potawatomis and Ottawas left St. Louis for the Osage river. Following the Osage up to its headwaters, they crossed over to the Neosho, which they followed out to its source. Moving up to the Kansas River they then returned along its south bank to the Missouri boundary, visiting some new settlements of Shawnees in what is now Johnson County, Kansas.
McCoy gained an intimate knowledge of the country and noted it was "far better than I had expected." His report was submitted to the secretary of war in January 1829. The measure was approved on May 28, 1830. The Indian Removal act authorized the president "to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the River Mississippi, not included in any State or organized Territory, and to which the Indian title had been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other."
In fall 1829 McCoy made his third trip to the territory, visiting the Kansa people and exploring the surrounding area. After the bill passed McCoy closed his missions in the East and transferred them to the new territory in preparation for the move West. McCoy was joined by missionaries Jotham Meeker, Johnston Lykins, Robert Simerwell, and their wives.
For the next 10 years McCoy worked for the government in the Indian country, selecting and surveying locations for the immigrant Indians and establishing and maintaining missions and schools. In 1842 he moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to direct the American Indian Mission Association, a society that he himself had organized. He continued in this work until his death June 21 1846, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Entry: McCoy, Isaac
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2016
Date Modified: January 2016
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