Kansas Historical Quarterly - Some Background of Early Baptist Missions in Kansas
Based on Letters in the Pratt Collection of Manuscripts and Documents
by Esther Clark Hill
February 1932 Vol. 1, No. 2), pages 89 to 103
Transcribed by lhn; HTML editing by Tod Roberts
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
A PACKAGE of letters, some of them nearly a century old, that have lain in the vault of the Kansas Historical Society for almost twenty-five years, are an integral part of the foundation of the Baptist church in Kansas, if not its very corner stone. These letters belong to what is known as the Pratt collection, and those of the first decade (1837-1847) are mostly from the families and friends of the two young missionaries, John Gill Pratt and his wife, Olivia Evans Pratt.  All are of a deeply religious nature, but there is in the letters of Amos Evans, father of Mrs. Pratt, and Elizabeth Pratt, mother of John Gill Pratt, a keen note of parental solicitude that in places rises to real anguish in their contemplation of the perils and privations of the far-distant new country which seemed to have swallowed up their children.
At the time these letters were written the Indian missions were still in the pioneer stage in the United States. They had only a bare foothold in the Indian country to which the eastern tribes were being removed under the authority of the act of May 26, 1830. This location, selected by Isaac McCoy and two other commissioners for such tribes, lay west of Missouri and Arkansas, and between the Platte and Red rivers. Of emigrant tribes, the Shawnees had been the first to come, settling south of the Kaw river, just over the western Missouri boundary, directly after the treaty with the Kanzas and Osages in 1825. The *Delawares followed them, locating in the fork of the Kaw and Missouri rivers some five years later; and the Sac and Fox tribe, about the same time, took up land
90 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
north of the Delawares. The Kickapoos came in 1832 and held their ground between the Delawares and the Sac and Fox. And the Pottawatomies, coming in 1837, were the new settlers in what is now Miami and Linn counties (removing in 1846 to the lands northwest that have shrunken to their present holdings in Jackson county). This was the distribution of the more important tribes, up to about 1840, in what is now northeastern Kansas.
It was in 1817 that Isaac McCoy, at his own request, had been appointed the first Baptist missionary to the Indians.  His first charge was among the Miamis in Indiana, and later the Carey and Thomas stations among the Pottawatomies in Michigan. During his missionary years he had drawn to himself a group of younger men who, under his direction, were to lay the groundwork of the Baptist missions in the Missouri valley. The Shawanoe Baptist mission, opened July 7, 1831, was in charge of Johnston Lykins.  It was a log structure and stood about five miles of the west of the Shawanoe Methodist mission (built about the same time) in Johnson county, and an almost equal distance from the Shawanoe Quaker Mission, established in 1834, a mile southeast of Merriam, Kan.
In 1837 Ira D. Blanchard founded the Delaware Baptist Mission, where the town of Edwardsville (on the interurban line between Kansas City and Lawrence), in Wyandotte county, now stands.  (This mission building was swept away in the flood of 1844 and was rebuilt in 1848, by John G. Pratt, on higher ground.)
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 91
Jotham Meeker,  who had been a convert to missions under the preaching of Robert Simerwell  in the East, had arrived with him from Michigan at the Shawanoe Mission in 1833. Meeker was leaving that station in 1837 to found a similar one among the Ottawas on the Marais des Cygnes (Osage) river, south, where the town of Ottawa now stands. But he stayed at the Shawanoe Mission, along with another Baptist missionary, David B. Rollin (who seems to have been but a transient there), long enough to welcome the young Pratts and induct. them into the work they had undertaken. 
They had decided on this step only after much agonizing heart- searching and prayer, as is evidenced by their mutual letters. A sense of solemnest responsibility to God and man attended them. In a letter from Reading, Mass., dated October 5, 1836, Olivia Evans writes to young John G. Pratt at Andover Seminary (the same state)
"In regard to the state of my own mind, since I concluded to go with you to the far west, I think I can say I have enjoyed great peace."
And on December 21, 1836, from the Charlestown Female Seminary, a letter from her expresses the wish that
"that western valley become indeed the cultivated garden of the Lord. And shall we be the unworthy instruments of bearing these glad tidings to them? I feel it to be a glorious privilege to labour for God. I know that if we would labour among the Indians we must forego the enjoyment of friends and home, and deny ourselves-take up the cross daily."
No responsive letter from the sober young student at Andover Seminary appears in the collection; but her own to him, January 20, 1837, bears witness that he shared her exaltation:
5. Jotham Meeker, missionary-printer, was born November 8, 1804, in Hamilton county, Ohio, and received his training as printer in Cincinnati. In the summer of 1825 he came under the influence of Robert Simerwell, a Baptist missionary to the Indians in Michigan, who was touring the East, and the two were associated at the Carey and Thomas stations in Michigan until 1833, when they both came to the Indian Territory. In September, 1830, Jotham Meeker married Eleanor Richardson, a missionary teacher, in Cincinnati, and the two immediately took up work at the Shawanoe Baptist Mission, leaving it in 1837 in charge of the Pratts. In 1832 he began a daily entry in his remarkable journal, which has survived him, and kept it up until a week before his death at Ottawa, Kan., January 12, 1855. Mrs. Meeker, whose life was devoted with his to the cause of missions, survived him until March 15, 1856. His system of "writing Indian" opened a new world to those in his charge, and he did much patient translating for them.
92 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
"I rejoice in those feelings of devotion to [the] cause of God, which you express. I think much of our usefulness as well as happiness depends upon the state of feeling with which we enter upon this great work, and how very important [it is] that we should be entirely consecrated to the service of God. O how unworthy am I to engage in such a glorious work. How weak and insufficient am I in and of myself; but God is my helper."
In the meantime John G. Pratt had received a letter from Jotham Meeker, which he mentions in writing to Olivia Evans, January 31, 1837:
"He speaks of the resolution of the board to release him from his present field of labor on our arrival, with much feeling. `We thanked God and took courage.' . . . We [the Pratts] are . . . confidently expected soon.
With all my courage the work looks big with importance, and full of momentous consequences. I feel sensibly we shall both of us need divine assistance in every step of this great undertaking. Sometimes temptations strong and trying may fall in our way. On account of them shall we abandon the cause? . . . I hope you remember me at the throne of grace, where alone our mutual hope of success is centered."
he letter concludes unemotionally, "Yours in truth."
Before Olivia answers this serious communication she has received a letter dated December 11, 1836, from Mary Walton Blanchard, wife of Ira D. Blanchard, both in charge of the Delaware Baptist Mission, which is particularly illuminative of the missionary situation at that time:
"I have just received an intimation . . . that it is possible that I may have you for a neighbor in the spring. I do not know as more cheering inteligence could be received than that there is a sure prospect of a printer for Shawennoe, not even that of a much-needed laborer at this [the Delaware] station, for it does seem altogether wrong that brother Meeker, after having spent six years of hard labor in acquiring a knowledge of the Ottawa language, should be kept from them [the Ottawa Indians] by work that another could just as well perform while there is probably no man upon earth that can, without spending much time in conquering an unwritten language, fill his place among a people with whom he can converse and over whom he has gained an influence.
"I presume that you are expecting that it is at a distance from the abodes of civilized beings, that you must be deprived of all the conveniences and many of the comforts of life; but it is not so; it is but four miles to West Port, to which place steamboats commenced running last summer. When I came here, it was a dense harsh thicket with only two buildings on the site of the town, one of which was a P. O. I do not know the number of inhabitants it contains but there are at least four dry goods and grocery stores, any of which for a draft on the board are willing to put their goods at 30 per cent advance on their cost, which brings them to about St. Louis retail prices. The rooms that Mr. M[eeker] ocopies are a large one below and a small one (which was fited up for the press but not being large enough for two to work in, it has
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 93
been moved to the schoolhouse) and a half-story chamber with a small fireplace. I mention these things more to gratify your mother than yourself, for I hope that no such consideration would move you in your purpose, but perhaps you would like to know what things you cannot obtain here. Among these are beds and cabinet furniture, except at an enormous price. We have all procured ours at Cincinnati, but iron and crockery ware are plenty almost al kinds of clothing will be more easily obtained than to take more than a present suply as I know by experience that trunks are a great care in traveling; one thing however is very scarce woolen yarn I know not what I should have done had not our Ohio friends suplied us, but the setlers, most of whom are from the South, are begining to find that our winters are too cold for cotton or silk stockings, and are trying to raise sheep; our Indians talk of trying it, but wolves are too plenty, it will not however be so bad with you as it is here. We are 16 miles from Shawnee and the Kaw is i/4 mile wide between us, and the feriage for a single person 50 cents and for a wagon 2 dollars yet we are far better situated as to obtaining supplies than I had expected to be. I should think this the most healthy place I ever was acquainted with, this is a great thing for without health we cannot do much. There has been no regular school either here or among the Shawwenoes since I have been here but our's is to be commenced very soon. It seems as though little had been done here but what can one family do alone? Yet something has been accomplished; many have learned to read their own language and nearly half of the gospels' is ready for the press and the rest of it in a state of forwardness . . . . I feel anxious to see an English school commenced here; but I hardly see how it is to be kept up; it will be impossible for Sylvia or I to be much in school as you know that my health is not very good and I have a babe, and we shall have to cook dinners for all the children and ought to board at least three orphans children of deceased members of the church, who will otherwise be left without instruction as the relitives live at so great a distance that they cannot come daily; nor would it be satisfactory to the Indians at present for a female to teach as many who design to attend are young men. If Mr. B[lanchard] is confined to a school, who shall finish the translation of the gospel? Who shall visit from family to family as he has done? he will it is true have some time left for to devote to these subjects, but each seem to demand all his time. Oh, that some one of the hundreds of young men who have professed to give themselves to the Lord might feel it duty and be permited to labor for the poor Delawares. If they are needed more in other places how great indeed must be the want of labourers! . . . I have an opportunity to send to the ofice this morning and think of nothing but shoes, which you perhaps would think of, I thought I took a good suply but now have reason to regret I did not take more, there are plenty to be had, but I will not say of what quality."
Under date of February 8, 1837, Olivia comments happily upon the letter:
"It is indeed gratifying to hear from one so near the field of our future labors."
And in a very feminine "P. S." she writes:
94 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
"The young ladies of the seminary . . . frequently say `O, I wish I was going with you.'
Yes, say[s] one yesterday, `My soul exults for your happy fate thus to give all to Christ. Go. I would not wrest the privilege from you And though Nature frowns and foes surround, yet it will be sweet to suffer for Christ.'"
From Reading, March 2, 1837, Olivia writes to John Pratt, still at Andover Seminary. For all its high courage and resolution there is an undercurrent of youthful heartache at the prospect of leaving her familiar surroundings:
"Having bid adieu to the loved ones at Charlestown I have returned to my own dear home. I felt that the dear friends in C. were bound to my heart by the strong ties of affection, but I knew not how strong till the hour of separation arrived. If the ties of nature are stronger than those of friendship, I know not how painful it will be to rend them. I will not however, be overanxious about the parting hour . . . . Since my return, friends and home seem so dear that the wish to always stay with them has sometimes half intruded itself into my mind. But six hundred millions of precious souls are perishing . . . and shall I hesitate to leave friends and home, however dear, if I can in any way be instrumental to leading any to the knowledge of the truth? . . . . The glory of God and the salvation of these poor perishing souls is infinitely more important than my own personal feelings. Christ . . . is entitled to my all, and He shall have it. . . I cannot contemplate this great work upon which we are so soon to enter .without emotions of deep concern and intense anxiety; its responsibilities cause me to tremble . . it is arduous enough to task to the uttermost the noblest energies of man . . . . I have been told that it is indeed impracticable to go among those cruel and revengeful Indians who thirst for the blood of the white man-that it is an insalubrious clime that will surely deprive me of health and prevent my doing any good . . . that a mother's love is too dear to be sold for any other . . `yet none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself . . . For this glorious object would I live, for this labor, and for this die." . .
A scant "P. S." only is devoted to personal matters: "He [father] will attend to the publishment of our intentions, if you desire it." (Probably the publishing of the old-time "banns.")
This is the last of the letters of the collection that passed between Olivia Evans and John G. Pratt. The diary of Jotham Meeker (May 11, 1837) speaks briefly of their advent at the Shawnee Mission: "Mr. and Mrs. Pratt arrive from Massachusetts."
The slip of a girl who, with the young printer-and-theological student had "left all for Christ," was yet to "learn to bear the disappointments and trials of life with patience," as she had written him, December 27, 1836, and to find among "the cruel and revengeful Indians" some of the warmest friends of her after life. She is
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 95
said to have been a most attractive young woman at the time of her marriage, red-cheeked, black-eyed and with her hair worn in ringlets, as was the fashion for many of the young women of that day.
A picture of her that has come down with the collection shows her as she became in her last years-the black eyes still sparkling, and with glints of the humor in them for which she is said to have been noted, though none of it appears in her letters. The hair that was worn in ringlets on her wedding day is softly white and parted in the middle, above a face that all the sorrows of the lean missionary years could not make less than lovely. For she had borne seven children, at the different missions, and four of them had died-little Ann, the first, and Johnny and Eddie, all in childhood; only Lucius, the second born, had lived to manhood. He married Nannie, the daughter of Charles Journeycake.
It was June 24, 1837, before John G. Pratt made an informal report to the society that had sent him west, as its missionary-printer. Under that date he writes to Dr. Lucius Bolles, corresponding secretary, describing a fairly uneventful journey, and then proceeds to affairs nearer at hand:
"We met with a very kind reception at the mission house from our friends, Messrs. Rollin, Meeker and their families. Though much disappointed at the appearance of things in this wilderness and benighted country, it is agreeably so. The location of the mission buildings is elligible; being a little removed from the immense Prarie, health must be retained much better than in the more marshy and timbered lands. I have found scarcely one object to meet the expectations I had previously formed, except the great moral destitution. We are located where the principles of the Gospel are much wanting; and it is truly painful to us to notice the stupidity of these `sons of the forest,' in the reception of religious instruction. How was my heart pained the first Sabbath after we reached this place, to see so few attend religious exercises; four or five Indians, only, being present. Their inattention and disregard to the word preached was lamentable in the extreme. While in the room, instead of listening, they were diverting themselves with some object, which uniformaly kept them engaged; and when that ceased to engage their curiosity, they would rise and walk out of doors a few minutes and then return; all their actions seemed to say-`We desire not a knowledge of his ways.' And though faithfully informed of the blessedness of religion, and the love of Christ, as manifested on the cross towards others; by actions they replied `we will not have this man to reign over us.' We have previously felt for the condition of those without the Gospel, and destitute of its sanctifying influences, but when we now behold how degraded they are, and how unhappy in time and eternity they must be, we pity their case; we rejoice that God has directed our steps to this land of darkness, and pray that as those who love the blessed Saviour, we may shine as lights amid the Surrounding midnight; that these poor souls wandering they know not where,
96 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
may be induced to embrace the same Saviour, and become heirs, also, of the kingdom of Heaven. We feel that there is here abundant opportunity to try the effect of example; and excellent situation to live religion and show by works that there is a reality in the doctrines we profess to believe and teach them.
"In many respects we are tried, but not discouraged, though so far from home and earthly friends, we feel to adhere the closer to our friend in heaven, who we find in truth 'sticketh closer than a brother.' Leaving, as we have done, at an early age the land that gave us birth, and the friends and other enjoyments we had ever been accustomed to hold dear, it may not seem strange to you that we often think, and speak of what we have left behind; it is hard to realize how great the distance is which separates us from home, but [we] feel happy in the reflection that we are no farther from heaven and our kind parent above. We never for a moment suffer ourselves to be carried away with reflections on our present condition in comparison with what it was in Massachusetts; though deprived of many enjoyments we then possessed, still Christ is ours, and in him all our wants are supplied, and every needed comfort is granted us from his liberal hand; so that while health and the prospect of usefulness are ours, we remain happy and content.
"Brother Meeker left on the 17th for the Ottawa settlement with his family; the man who moved them has just returned and says they arrived in health and spirits. The missionaries are generally in health except my wife, who has been feeble and billious ever since we arrived. We have had for several weeks past almost daily much rain, accompanied with heavy thunder; everything is so wet and decaying, fevers are much feared. Whenever the sun appears, it is so scorching as to be almost unendurable in the open air. My health has uniformly been good thus far.
"I have been so much engaged since my arrival in preparing to fill Bro. Meeker's place, it has kept me out of the printing office more than was disirable. There has for some time past, been much work in the office, so that a man employed by Mr. Meeker before my arrival, is still with me, assisting in printing Mr. McCoy's Register, which is nearly finished.
Yrs. JOHN G. PRATT.''
This seems to be the letter proper; but. there is some additional matter on the last page:
"We have found much difficulty in preparing to keep house since Mr. Meeker's departure, every article is exorbitantly high, both of furniture and food. So that of the money left after paying for our journey we have spent 50 dollars for the house. We have purchased but few articles with the above sum, as few as we could get along with, and have nearly exhausted our first half year's salary, still our want of necessary articles in the house is very great. Much is needed to be done both in the house and printing office, before the winter months set in, to make them comfortable. Mr. Meeker feeling unsettled as to his stay at Shawanoe, has neglected repairs; the buildings all being made of log and the space in between each log filled with nothing but mud, the mud has fallen out, leaving large cracks for the admission even of rabbits. We have already been thoroughly drenched while in bed at night several times, and it cannot be conducive to health, especially as slender as is
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 97
that of my wife. It should be fixed with lime mortar, and in regard to it I hope you will remark, before winter sets in. The following is the state of my money affairs with the Board
Received for myself and wife before leaving Boston.............$115
Do. to defray expenses to this place .....................................185
Do. of Mr. Smith in Cincinnati an addition of...........................50
Expense of the journey was ...............................................$166
Paid for feathers at Louisville, Ky ..........................................29
For furniture and so forth at his place......................................50
In an unsigned, undated letter, evidently written about the same time, and to Dr. Bones, the young missionary speaks of the new field darkly, as "a land shaddowing with death."
"We are frequently compelled to lament that so little is or can be done for the religious advancement of these Indians. We sometimes think our usefulness might have been greater had we remained among friends at home, but we do not cherish such feelings; if God has sent us to thin part. of his vineyard and bid us occupy it, here we desire to remain until he in his wise providence shall make it plainly our duty to remove. We do not feel ourselves alone; Bro. Rollin and family are the kindest of friends; in their society and council we enjoy much. We look to them as our earthly guides in all matters of doubt, as those who have been over that part of the path of life which remains for us yet to travel.
"On the Sabbath, we as families, have resolved ourselves into a Bible class which we attend to after the public services are over. We feel happy in our situation, notwithstanding [we are] away from home and friends. The health of Mrs. Pratt has not been as good as formerly since our arrival; and so many persons frequently being with us considerably increases her labor. Many friends in Mass. have predicted we shall soon become unreconciled to our condition, because we were young, this has often been mentioned; but while Christ remains our hope; while we love him and his cause; while a field of usefulness remains open at this place we apprehand no disinclination to remain will be manifested by us."
There is an appealingly boyish anxiety in the "P. S.": "Will the magazine be sent to us?" Possibly this was some Baptist periodical.
A letter from the mother of John G. Pratt is a chronicle of the village happenings since the departure of the young missionaries, and voices a concern for their welfare:
"WOBURN, [Mass.] July 31, 1837.
"My Dear With deep feelings of emotion I now sit down to address an absent Child although Huge Mountains and deep valies separate us in person yet we have the privilege of communeicating our thoughts on paper and convey them to each other but their is another and still greater-we can meet at a Throne of Grace and there ask those blessings with will stand
98 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
in dayly need, in wich you share largely among your friends here. I cannot but rejoice that you have been permited to arive to your destined station without any accident after you left we heard of a great many Steamboat disasters wich caused me some anxiety but learning that most of them started on the Sabbath I was confident that you were not among them . . . . I will endeavor to give you an acount of the afaires here as for myself I have a verry pleasant situation and find Woburn people friendly and inteligent Louisa is with me yet [a daughter] Harrison [possibly a son] is still in North Reading has had but little Business . . . they have a son wich was born the 27 of May Olivia [Harrison's wife] got along verry comfortable for 2 weeks . . . Harrison at her solicitation and without the consent of her Nurs prepared and gave her some Bacon wich distressed her verry much she went into fits and continued to have them for 24 hours and did not sleep all that time continually talking upon every subject except religion she would repeatedly say John [G. Pratt] is Married is he not well I did not go to his wedding at other times she would say I did not have any of his Cake. she has since been to W [oburn] and appears very much herself they have a fine little boy they think of nameing John Gill or John Harrison I supose you will have no objection . . . . Wee attended meeting yesterday Saw George Evans [brother of Olivia Evans Pratt and a strong Abolitionist] he came to W [oburn] to attend an Antislaverry Lecture by W [endell] Philps he said he had not received a letter from Olivia he said he suposed you had not got your lugage yet was one reason . . . as neare as I can learn Olivia's mother did not break her heart about her [Olivia] leaving Brother Silas Richardson he called to see me the other day says that the Printing Business is verry dull. Mr. Gould has dismissed most of his printers . . . Mr. Clough has no painting . . . he has ben to Boston to seek imployment but could find none . . . Capn. West has failed and Esq. Funnall [?] Posted down to Martha's Vinyard to atach his property but it was all out of his power to find anything . . . W. O. Johnson your late teacher and principal of the Lattin Academy is no more . . . . Caleb Shute has resigned the office in the Sabbath School Depository and ben out of Business for 3 months . . . I do not know any one that does not Complain of the times Business of all kinds is stagnated Many that were rich have become poor and those that were poor have become distressed it verryly [is] serious times here in a Pecuniary point you are better of [f ] where you are . . . I have ben thus particular because you wanted to know all the particulars now I want you in return to tell me all the particulars and wheather you have got cured of the dispepsia and how Olivia's health is I feel sometimes that you were to young to go so far to labour among the Indians wich are so savage and a climate so uncongenial? I then ask myself the question was it an uncalled for Sacrifice . . . I have lived nearly 60 years in the pleasantest part of our Country, but have found it thus far but a vaste howling wilderness and a desart to the aspiring mind wich believes nothin true but Heaven.
"Yesterday we attended the ordination of Mr. Hoper and there I saw your Father and Mother Evans from them I received a letter to read from Olivia to Emily Mr. E[vans] said . . . he was verry anxious about you on
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 99
account of your leakey house he said he should see the board and have Something done
"I will now give you some information concerning our ministering brethren. Mr. Sayer of South Reading has ben found guilty of kissing his maidservant it took place some time since but of late the Editor of the Trumpit was applied to to publish it he desirous to know the fact aplyed to Sayer to know the truth of the story he acknowledged it but remarked that it was more disgraceful than wicked it was not published but the story is going the rounds amongh the Universalists the Church However has settled it with him and forgiven . . . Another case is that of Mr. Harris of Malden he has come out a Universalist and publickly acknowledged it before his Congregation and the consequence was that his people dismised him he has got up quite a flowerishing high Scool in M[alden] has contracted for a valuable Apperatus for the use of it he has also applied to several young ladies to become his Wife but has hitherto ben unsuccessful . . . Amasa [Brown, her son-in-law] is here he thinks much of you and prays fervantly for you. Louisa [Brown's wife] says she often imagines herself where you are and looks in to see what you are doing your Aunt Otterman wishes to be remembered to you with her best wishes and kind regards she thinks much of you Aunt Shute and family visited me this summer they tender the same love give my best love to Olivia and tell her to rite me verry soon I hope you will be suported under your various hardships and tryals to this end you must look to God he a lone is able to give you strength eaqual to your day to him I commend you ELIZABETH PRATT to John G. Pratt."
The faint warning of the struggle to come a quarter of a century later, in the reference to Wendell Phillips' antislavery lecture, deepens in tone in the letters from George Evans himself, several years later. But on the whole the New England correspondents were more concerned with the Indian perils to which their young family in the new territory were subjected. Elizabeth Pratt's letters, in their fidelity to homely detail, must have somewhat appeased the human hunger for home news; and for all their rather bleakly maternal note the "deep feelings of emotion" are there.
A calamitous strain runs through much of the eastern news, reflecting an economic depression similar to that of our own times. An undated letter with those of 1837, from Catherine Wellington, contains the intelligence that
"L. Wyman of Woburn has faild and commenced bisness again at Hudson faild again and tryed to hang himself B. Brooks in company with Darius has taken the bankruptcy law and now they are looking him up, so you see we all have a share."
Another letter of this period, undated and signed only "M. L. L.," swings away from the religious line a bit in confessing:
"I suppose that some time hence I may leave the home of my youth and cast my lot with another, but do you keep this hint & not let any one know
100 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
that ever I gave it to you. that person is a relative although a distant one, a person that you never saw, my friends like him. there may be something to prevent on further acquaintance, but I hope my heavenly father will direct me." There is a marginal note: "Burn this." O faithless Olivia!
Another letter from young Pratt to Dr. Bolles, September 22, 1837, complains of receiving no word from the Society to which he was responsible, and contains the news that Mrs. Pratt "has been very sick for some weeks past."
"The disease appears to have been brought on" he writes "by the change of climate and working beyond her strength . . . . The labor is too severe for her feeble constitution and help is not easily obtained `in these ends of the earth."'
Again the appealing postscript: "Can we have the magazine?"
Before Dr. Bolles has answered this, the third of John G. Pratt's letters to him, in the collection, comes one to his "Beloved Children" from Amos Evans, under date, Reading, October 23, 1837:
"We have heard some thing respecting the hostile appearance of the Osage Indians" the anxious father says. "We hope & pray that the Lord will preserve you from all harm & restore your health that you may labor for him. But we ask, if the Indians appear quarrelsome & have lost confidence in the whites & are not disposed to receive the truth from you or hear your words, does not prudence & duty require you to leave them? We know God can preserve us amid the greatest dangers, but can there be any confidence placed in the specious appearance of friendship of the Indians, when their jealousies are aroused against our people? . . . Dr. Bolles read your letter sent to us, said that he did not believe it was required that you do so much for other missionaries, to labour excessively & destroy your health, or to continue there for any considerable time if it is evident you cannot enjoy health in that climate . . . We hope your house will be made comfortable should you be directed in the providence of God, & spared to labour there Mr. Pratt's mother & brother have recently called on us . . . We all exchange letters which are sent from you
"Business is dull with us, we think the labouring class of the community anticipate a harder winter than we have been wont to see. We live in an extravagant world, & at an extravagant age; and we must now learn by experience that we do not really need (as you have expressed it in your letter) so much as we have been in the habit of thinking. And now as to the little church, you requested me to write all about it. As to our outward sircumstances the state of business is such that I think we shall not be able at present to pay the Debt on the Meeting] house, the notes on those pews which were just sold are now due, & altho 20 per cent was paid at the sale yet some say they had rather give up their pews than to be compelled to pay the remainder at this time; for notwithstanding the scarcity of money & the want of employment every article of food bears a high price. Yet we are waiting for brighter prospects, & would not repine under these adverse providences, but pray that. they may all work for our good.
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 101
"I feel I am not half awake, & that I do not feel a hundredth part as I ought upon the subject [of religion.] I sometimes think I wish to feel so as to prevent my usual repose, that I may offer up my supplications with strong crying & tears to him who is able & willing to answer the prayer of faith. But Alas, it is too often otherwise with me."
On the same sheet, George Evans, Olivia's brother, wrote:
"In one of Olivia's letters she mentioned about Amos [another brother] and me thinking of the West . . . This emigrating is not what it is cracked up to be. I have seen a great many from there who do not give very favorable accounts of the country and the people."
It is in his short letter, too, that "little Rosetta," a younger sister, makes her first appearance:
"She says she should like to slip her hand into a large pan of red plums and I don't doubt it."
On November 20, 1837, Dr. Bolles, of Boston, writes the long- looked-for letter:
"My DEAR BROTHER-We are concerned to hear of the sickness of your amiable companion & hope you will take measures without delay to afford her some relief. If no faithful assistant can be obtained for her for a time, she must decline serving others than her own family, as I perceive from her letters to the friends in Reading, she has accustomed herself to do. Strangers have no claim to crowd themselves on your hospitality, when your wife is actually too feeble to serve them, nor shd. you hesitate under such circumstances to excuse her, & request them to seek accommodations elsewhere. The house which you occupy must be made tight & comfortable, & we wish, if it has not been done, that you will take immediate measures to make it so, when this reaches you. You will exercise a sound discretion as to the amount of repairs, & see that they are obtained on the best terms & report the same to us. For the expense so incurred, presuming it will not be large, you will be at liberty to draw on our Treasurer."
It must have warmed the hearts and cheered the failing spirits of the youthful missionaries, so recently transplanted from New England soil, to know that the Society in Boston was really concerned for their earthly as well as their spiritual welfare. Anxiety over the health of Olivia Pratt spread through both families in the East, as well as to their friends, and occasioned much perplexity as to what Divine Providence expected of its young emissaries under the trying circumstances. That they were both homesick to the genuine impairment of their health, is apparent. The eastern contingent of the blood might advise and caution, as they assuredly did in their letters, but seldom was anything that might be construed as a command to return ever given. The New England Baptist did not trifle with the Higher Will, nor question it too rigidly. In spite of the
102 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
very natural forebodings of Olivia's mother and father, and the mother of John G. Pratt, there seems to have been a feeling among them all that the very finger of God was pointing to the west, and that His hand was overshadowing His bewildered children in "that Western Valley" where young, untried Olivia Evans (while still in the shelter of Charlestown Seminary) had expressed herself as willing to "labor" and if necessary, "to die."
But she lived to see much of it "the cultivated garden of the Lord" under the ministrations of John G. Pratt and herself, though not until they had both found in a welter of hardships and disappointments-and in times of stress when the Society in Boston seemingly had failed them that "there is no discharge in that war."
"Our prayer is," Elizabeth Pratt once wrote to her much-tried son (Nov. 22, 1837), "that you may come out of the furness as gold tryed in the fire."
They could hardly have done that had it not been for the wholesome cheer of the home letters, burdened though they are, for the most part, with deep religious solemnity in contemplating the ultimate salvation, not only of the western savages but of themselves. The quaint expression, "indulging a hope," occurs in almost every letter, even in an undated and unsigned one: "Sarah Williams has lately spoke of a hope."
The friendly, heart-warming gossip of Elizabeth Pratt's letters is conscientiously toned down before their close. On November 22, 1837, she writes:
"Joseph Shute has returned and appears . . . much improved in his manners at least. I should think he had returned from an Acadimy instead of a man of Wars vessel. he bids fair to make a stidey man Ebens wife has become pios and James wife also I hope their Husbands will soon follow their example . . . I need tryals and the Lord knows how to try me."
There are but two letters from Catherine Evans, the mother of Olivia, one a scant half page to "Ever Remembered Olivia," under date April 16, 1838, after the arrival at Shawanoe Baptist Mission of little Ann Eliza Pratt, to whom brief reference is made: "Rosett says you must kiss Ann for she and Jonas."
But some years later, from the pen of the same young Rosett (February 13, 1841), we have an appealing picture of the mother:
"She says . . . I must write for her . . . She cannot tell you how much she wants to see you all. when she thinks of you for awhile the great big tears would roll down her cheeks . . . she hopes she shall see Ann before she grows so large she shall not know her she has got the little chair all painted up green ready for her when she comes."
HILL: EARLY BAPTIST MISSIONS 103
From Catherine Evans herself, in the second letter (September 14, 1843)
"Do write very soon. I feel as if I could not wait one day longer. How I long to see them little children [Ann and Lucius] do kiss them for me. Tell Ann she cant tell how much I do want to see her and ask her if she thinks she shall ever see me again."
The sweet and shadowy figures of the two children, especially little Ann, run in and out of the letters; but sometime before 1848 she fades from the picture; but not until she had made one or two visits to the East with her parents, since on March 4, 1844, from Reading, Mary Evans, the sister of Olivia, writes:
"It seems but yesterday that I saw Ann in grandma's garden picking posies to carry to meeting."
There is nothing in the letters more poignant than the picture that simple sentence draws, unless it is of a contented little Ann sitting by the loving-hearted Catherine Evans, in the little green-painted chair.
It is to be regretted that there are so few letters in the collection from John G. Pratt himself, and none from Olivia Pratt after her marriage. There are scores of letters from the East; human, wholesome, intelligent, for all the depressing character of their somberly religious content. They are valuable as well for the faithful delineation of the sturdy life of New England in that period, from which so much of the actual life of Kansas was drawn; and which, in its hard idealism, was no doubt the mainspring of the fanatical Puritanism of which Kansas stands accused at times. There is prima facie evidence that the letters did much to keep alive two valiant young souls who had chosen the Indian service as their portion until the hardy faith of the early Baptists, somewhat modified of its primitive sternness, had taken unmistakable root in the Missouri valley. The Baptist church in Kansas was founded on a rock, no less that of Israel because human hands in New England helped in the laying of it.
1. John Gill Pratt was born September 9 1814, at Hingham, Mass., and after a period in Wakefield Academy, Reading, he graduated from Andover Seminary 1836, completing the entire course, including the theological. On March 29, 1837, he married Olivia Evans, of South Reading, and they almost immediately started for the Indian Territory, where Pratt was to succeed Jotham Meeker as missionary-printer at Shawanoe Baptist Mission. In 1844 he left that point to take charge of the Stockbridge Baptist Mission, which was abandoned in 1848, Pratt going directly to the Delaware Baptist Mission. He was made United States Indian agent to the Delawares in 1864, serving until 1868, when the tribe removed into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Mrs. Pratt was closely associated with all his missionary work, and after his death, April 23, 1900, she survived him only two years.
2. Isaac McCoy, government surveyor, missionary, preacher, was born June 13, 1784, in Fayette county, Pennsylvania. He married Christianna Polke, October 6, 1803, and she was ever after that associated with his missionary life. After his first years as missionary to the Miami's and other tribes in Indiana he entered the service in Michigan at the Carey and Thomas stations leaving them to establish missions in the newly opened Indian Territory in the Missouri valley, after the passage of the act of May 26, 1830. It was McCoy's idea to give the Indians a permanent home in the territory, with a seat of government and eventually ask for admission of the territory as a state. He was known as "the Apostle Paul of the Baptist denomination to the Indians of Kansas Territory"and his work among them continued until the last four years of his life, which were spent in editing a Baptist magazine at Louisville, Ky., where he died, June 21, 1846.
3. Johnston Lykins was born April 15, 1800 in Franklin county, Virginia, and his association with Isaac McCoy began when he was 19 as teacher among the Weas and Kickapoos on the Wabash river. He followed McCoy into Michigan and married Delilah McCoy, February 27, 1827. She lived but a few years. Lykins Founded the Shawanoe Baptist Mission, in the Indian Territory, in 1831, and later did much translating of the Indian language. He was associated with Jotham Meeker in the publication of the first newspaper in Kansas, in the Indian language, the Shawanoe Sun, which lasted from 1836 until 1842. Lykins was one of the founders of Kansas City, Kan., building its first mansion" and being its first full-term mayor. He was a practicing physician at the time of his death in Kansas City, Mo., August 15, 1876.
4. Ira D. Blanchard first entered missionary work as a teacher under Isaac McCoy, in the Indian Territory in 1833. In 1835 he married Mary Walton, a missionary teacher, and they founded the Delaware Baptist Mission, at Grinter's crossing of the Kaw river, in 1837. He did a valuable work on the Indian alphabet and syllabary, and in his translation of the Harmony of the Gospel, the original compilation of Rev. Zeisberger, of the Moravian mission farther south. The Blanchards left the missionary field in January, 1848, and retired to a farm in Iowa.
6. Robert Simerwell's association with missions, under Isaac McCoy, began in 1824, when Simerwell came to the Carey station, in Michigan. On March 17, 1825, he married Fannie Goodridge, a missionary teacher there. Simerwell was a practical blacksmith and farmer, and turned his hand cheerfully to these duties in the missionary field. He spent some time in the early 1830's at the Shawanoe Baptist Mission, but later devoted his time wholly to the Pottawatomies, beginning at the mission five miles west of Topeka, in 1848. This is said to have been the equivalent of a modern training school. It is claimed the youngest daughter of the Simerwells was the first white girl born in Kansas. The family has several descendants in Shawnee county.
7. David B. Rollin and his wife were workers among the Creek Indians in 1834, and following some disturbances in that nation they came to the McCoy home in Westport, November 4, 1836. They spent some time at Shawanoe Mission, being there on the arrival of the Pratts in 1837. Rollin was then in failing health and left missionary work in 1839, dying at the home of his wife's father in Michigan, April 11, the same year.