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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 1
March, 1939

By Roland Hinds

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Early Christian mission work among the Creeks in their original homes in Georgia and the territory which later became the State of Alabama was very difficult for a number of reasons. The second war between the United States and Great Britain had only recently terminated in a treaty which left the Creeks, who had been friendly to Great Britain, under the authority of the unfriendly Government of the United States. That Government had forced large land cessions upon the Creeks and was urging the whole people to remove beyond the Mississippi River. The fact that warriors then living in the Creek country had lost relatives in the recent war was of added bitterness because the conflict had assumed the character of a civil war. Furthermore, the probable indignation among the Indians over the growing encroachments of white hunters was instrumental in causing a considerable exodus of Creek hunters to the land beyond the Mississippi River during the period 1815-1830.1 That the Creeks had had bitter experience with the encroachments of white men upon their territory even before 1825 is evidenced by Article Eight of the treaty under which the Lower Creeks traded their lands for lands in the West.2 There was, therefore, little to encourage the various interested religious groups who surveyed the frontier for situations where fruitful work might be done.

Only a few years after the war, however, Reverend Cyrus Kingsbury and Reverend Cyrus Byington made an offer to the Creek chiefs to establish schools and to preach to the people.3

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Their offer was, after consideration, rejected.4 On December 17, 1819, the Mission Board of the Georgia Baptist Association resolved to attempt to establish a mission in the Creek country.5 Evidence points to the fact that the Creek country had already been visited by Baptist missionaries, who had made a few converts, but it was not until 1822 that Reverend Lee Compere, of South Carolina, came among the Creeks.6 Reverend Lee Compere entered into the work at a place called Withington, which was on the Chattahoochee River.

In 1827 a Government appropriation of one thousand dollars was secured by Colonel M'Kinney, United States Indian Agent, for the education of the Creeks.7 This money was given to the mission schools, as there were no purely Governmental schools.8 The missions, however, did not prosper among the Creeks because of the troubled condition of the country. Some of the Creeks' negro slaves were severely beaten for attending the services at the missions, and in 1828 or 1829 the station under Compere was abandoned.9 The Asbury mission of the South Carolina Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, was begun in 1822 under supervision of Reverend William Capers and abandoned in 1830.10 The Methodist mission had won seventy-one persons by 1829.11 Yet, briefly as these missions existed, they seem to have sowed the seeds of Christianity among the Creeks, and later at Tuckabatchee, twelve miles above the North Fork in the Creek Nation, Reverend Sidney Dyer found a group of worshipping Christians who claimed their beginning from the

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period of Creek residence in the South.12 John Davis and his wife who served as assistants at Ebenezer, a school which was transferred from Georgia to a point near Fort Gibson in 1830,13 were Creeks who had been converted during the troubled times in the South. They kept the school functioning for two years before a white missionary arrived to take charge.14

Ebenezer was first put under the charge of Reverend David Lewis, in 1832.15 In the same year Isaac McCoy arrived to take up his labors at the mission, and he was present at the formation of the first church, in 1832.16 This church was known as the Muscogee Baptist Church.17 A daughter of McIntosh was baptized in 1832.18 In 1833 a meeting house was built fifteen miles west of Cantonment Gibson and three miles north of the Arkansas River.19 Lewis gave up his work in 1834,20 and when Reverend David Rollin arrived, with two lady assistants, they found the church disorganized.21 The membership was composed then of six white persons, twenty-two Indians, and fifty-four negroes.22 Nine persons were excluded from the church in 1835.23

Soon after the Creeks arrived in the West, two Presbyterian preachers, William Vail and William Montgomery, came over from Union Mission and organized a church.24 Reverend John Flemming and his wife were sent to the Creeks by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Dr. R. L. Dodge relieved Doctor Weed in 1835.25

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In 1835 there were three Christian denominations working among the Creek—Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians.26 In September, 1935, the charges of misconduct brought against the missionaries by Roley McIntosh and other chiefs caused the Creek Agent to order all of them out of the nation.27 It was alleged that the missionaries preached against slavery,28 and it was a fact that they received negroes into the churches, some of whom became leaders in the local groups.29 There is some evidence that white men resident in the Creek Nation influenced the chiefs to make the request for removal of the missionaries.30 McCoy goes so far as to say that these instigators were two traders and a white man married to a Creek woman.31 The Creek chiefs, meeting about the last of September at Ebenezer, exonerated Rollin from all the charges brought against him.32 The opposition which the Creek chiefs generally showed has been attributed to the fear that their authority over the people would be lessened and their ancient customs destroyed by Christianity.33 Dodge attributed the troubles of the missionaries to the dissensions within the Creek Nation, the unpleasant nature of their relations to the United States, the influence of white men residing near them, and the fact that missionaries of three denominations were laboring in close proximity to each other.34

Whatever the motives behind the actions of the Creek chiefs may have been, it is probable that the United States officials felt that there was considerable peril to the missionaries in the arrival of the lately hostile Creeks in 1836. These people had resisted the Georgia militia with force and were removed in chains by the United States Army.35 In May, 1837, the Commis-

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sioner of Indian Affairs, C. A. Harris, wrote to the acting superintendent approving his action in expelling the missionaries, but saying that he saw no reason for keeping them out, as they were authorized to be in the Indian country.36 Evidently proceeding upon the assumption that the expulsion was only temporary, the Baptist General Convention appointed Reverend Charles P. Kellam in 1836, but he was prevented by the disorders in the Creek Nation from assuming his duties and was thus forced to remain at a Choctaw mission.37 Rollin, although he had been exonerated by the Creek Chiefs, upon attempting to return to the nation, was refused admittance by the council.38 The Creeks, or at least a portion of the Creeks,39 passed a law forbidding preaching.40 This law was not a legal restriction upon white men as Creek laws were not binding upon citizens of the United States, but the violation of it could be made the basis for a request by the Creeks to the United States officials for the removal of a troublesome missionary.

In 1837 Kellam was admitted to the Creek Nation as a Government teacher.41 Settling at Ebenezer, he established meetings, and, in 1838, Reverend James Mason was invited to come to the nation to teach. After his arrival, he was summoned before the national council and with difficulty induced them to allow him to remain. In 1838 Kellam was deprived of his position as a Government teacher.42 In 1840 an Indian fired at Mason and another Indian pursued him with a knife.43 Shortly thereafter, feeling that he and his family were unsafe in the Creek

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Nation, Mason left.44 Missionaries from the Cherokee Nation visited the Creek Christians from time to time,45 and eventually the latter began going to the adjacent nations for worship.46 Reverend Eber Tucker, whose station was in the Cherokee Nation, helped organize the Canadian River Baptist Church with two hundred twenty members.47 The Seminoles refused to accept the Creek law against preaching, and it was possible to conduct meetings in their part of the Creek Nation.48 By 1842 there were a number of prominent men among the Creeks who favored missions, and some of them went so far as to offer to construct mission houses in the Cherokee Nation if missionaries should be appointed.49

In 1841 Reverend R. M. Loughridge came to the Creek council and proposed that he be allowed to establish a school and preach in the Creek Nation. The chiefs told him they would take the matter into consideration in about three weeks. When the council considered his proposition, they wanted Loughridge to teach but not to preach. He reported that an old chief said, "We want a school, but we don't want any preaching; for we find that preaching breaks up all our old customs . . . our feasts, ball plays, and dances . . . which we want to keep up."50 Loughridge told them he was a preacher and would not come to their nation unless they would let him preach. The council compromised with him, allowing him to preach at his school house. He was a little doubtful about accepting this until Ben Marshall urged upon him the consideration that he might acquire more liberty when the Indians became better acquainted with him. However, it was not until 1843 that Loughridge, with M'Kinney, who soon left, located twenty-six miles from Fort

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Gibson, at Coweta. He found that the church organized by Vail and Montgomery had dissolved.51

The Creek Agent, J. L. Dawson, reported in 1842 that Roley McIntosh and Ben Marshall requested that a preacher of some denomination be sent among them.52 Dawson recommended that if the Creeks enlarged their school fund sufficiently, a manual labor school should be established with a preacher as head teacher. He said that it was represented to the chiefs that it was not fitting that an important subject such as religion was should be left wholly in the hands of uneducated negroes.53 Dawson said he thought that the moral condition of the Creeks was injured by their lack of religion, and that such preaching as was carried on by negroes was measurably effective in checking the general licentiousness.54

In 1842, largely through the efforts of Isaac McCoy,55 the American Indian Mission Association was organized with headquarters at Louisville, Kentucky. The first appointment under the new association was Reverend Johnston Lykins, son-in-law of Isaac McCoy. The second appointment was Reverend Sidney Dyer who stayed only a few months because of ill health.56 It seems that Dyer's work was successful, however, in spite of its short duration, because his preaching led to the conversion of Joseph Islands,57 who proved to be very influential among the Creek people.

In 1844 Agent Logan reported that Loughridge was winning the confidence of the people.58 In that year John Limber arrived to assist Loughridge.59 It was in 1844 that the council's

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law against preaching and praying in public was suspended.60 Religious societies extended their activities.61 W. D. Collins, Methodist, reported the appointment of three local preachers, Pete Harrison, Cornelius Perryman, and Samuel Checote.62 Persecution had not altogether died out,63 however, and in 1845 two persons were given fifty lashes for preaching, and Peter Harrison was threatened.64

The elevation of Ben Marshall to be second chief of the lower towns in 1846 promised to be a beneficial event from the point of view of the missionaries, as Marshall was friendly toward missions. In October, 1846, Loughridge notified the council that inasmuch as other preachers of other denominations were being permitted to speak freely throughout the nation, he felt there should be no objection to his doing the same, and that he would proceed on the assumption that his restriction to preaching only at the mission had been removed unless they should forbid it. The council made no objections, and Loughridge from that time on preached wherever he could.65 On February 17, 1846 John Lilley and his family arrived at Kowetah (Coweta), and Reverend John Limber left for Texas.66

In 1847, Reverend H. F. Buckner came to the Creek Nation to preach. The council did not consent to his presence, although he was allowed to remain.67 A letter from Buckner (December 17, 1848) records the founding of the Big Spring Baptist Church,68 with James Perryman, a Creek, as its first pastor. The Little

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River Mission to the Seminoles, under Reverend James Essex, Methodist, established in the Creek country, reported considerable opposition in 1848.69 They had a school of fifteen children, a Sunday School of twenty, and one society with sixteen Indian and four colored members.

For some time preceding December, 1847, the Baptists had had no white missionaries among the Creeks. Preaching was carried on by Indians who proved remarkably successful. By 1848 several of the chiefs had become Christians.70 By 1848, the Methodists, whose work had been carried on largely by visitors from the surrounding nations, had divided the Creek Nation into three districts and had appointed missionaries in charge of each district.71 T. B. Ruble headed the Muskogee District, W. D. Collins and Daniel Asbury headed the North Fork and Little River District, and W. A. Cobb was in charge of the Creek Agency Mission. Mr. Ruble reported little opposition to religion.72 The good standing of religion may be judged by the fact that Roley McIntosh attended a meeting held by H. F. Buckner, in 1849.73 Buckner mentions the licensing of D. N. McIntosh, Creek, in 1850.74

The United States entered into contracts with the Methodist and Presbyterian Boards for the establishment of two manual labor schools at different and convenient points in the Creek Nation in 1847.75 According to the report of Thomas B. Ruble, Superintendent of the Asbury Manual Labor School,76 the manual labor schools were constructed jointly by Creek Nation funds which were administered by the United States and the denomination's board. In the case of the Asbury School, the Govern-

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ment spent five thousand dollars to the Methodist Church, South's, four thousand dollars. Ruble mentions the difficulty of transportation which was experienced in the construction of this school. There were few roads and no railways in the Creek Nation then.

For several years after 1849, a controversy raged as to the comparative value of the manual labor schools and of the neighborhood schools in educating the Indian youth properly. Both types of schools were in charge of missionary teachers. The manual labor schools probably kept the Indian children under the influence of the missionaries longer, and thus gave the children more opportunity to forget Indian mores and superstitions. Another point raised against the system as a whole was that too little attention was paid to the mechanical arts.77 This was a point which touched the missionaries in a vital spot. They were primarily interested in teaching the Indians religion, and they reasoned that a liberal type of education was more likely to result in the absorption of Bible knowledge than mechanical training was. Then, too, most of the missionaries were not capable of giving the students mechanical training.

It is difficult to estimate the importance of these schools to the Creeks. The teachers were quite commonly preachers who went out into the rural communities and preached, not only bringing the Christian message, but also causing social gatherings where singing was done from the Creek hymnals which they had translated into the various Creek languages.78 Sometimes the people moved their places of residence in order that they might be near a school.79 Evidently they had grown to appreciate the advantages of education and religion. As the Creeks became better educated, many of them became school teachers, as well as preachers. These avenues of advancement doubtless influenced the quality of scholarship and the esteem with which education

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and good character were regarded. At the same time, the growth of economic opportunity in the teaching profession, and the lessening of the pioneering hardships, may have produced a lower average of character and religious enthusiasm among the teachers.80 Apparently teachers whose religious affiliations differed from those of their patrons were sometimes appointed as the number of schools and churches multiplied.81

In 1849, the Baptists had in the Creek Nation six preachers, Reverend H. F. Buckner, at the Creek Agency, Reverend Americus L. Hay, at North Fork, Reverend James Perryman, at Big Spring, Reverend Chilly McIntosh, at North Fork, Reverend William McIntosh, at North Fork, Reverend Yar-too-chee, at Broken Arrow, and Reverend Andrew Frazier, at Elk Creek.82

The efforts of the missionaries may safely be credited, according to the evidence, with no small portion of the responsibility for a considerable growth of sobriety and morality among the Creeks. Until 1847, most of the witnesses who have left their observations on record speak of the moral condition of the Creek people as being very low, except where Christianity was being taught. In 1847, James Logan, Creek Agent, said that the liquor laws were being violated almost exclusively by Indians.83 Logan said that he worked hard to get the Creeks to suppress the traffic, and that they finally passed a law drastic enough to suppress the trade, if it had been honestly enforced. However, the high prices resulting from the efforts to enforce this law excited the cupidity of the chiefs themselves, with the result that they entered into the trade and for a time maintained a monopoly, until it became known to those who had formerly made their living by the sale of spiritous liquor. Duvall, the Seminole sub-agent, said that it was impossible to keep whiskey out as long as the Indians wished to bring it in.84 In 1849, Phillip

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H. Raiford reported that the Creeks were as sober and industrious as any other people.85 He attributed this to the restrictions of the chiefs who had caught the spirit of reform.86 In his report for 1853, Loughridge said that at the last annual meeting of the National Temperance Society, the chief took a decided stand in behalf of temperance, signing the pledge to abstain from strong drink as an example to the people.87 Ben Marshall's efforts in behalf of temperance involved him in dissensions at that time, as the people were greatly aroused by the fact that law violators were being punished twice for the same offense, once by the Creek authorities and once by the United States.88 Marshall took no slight risk by insisting upon the enforcement of the Creek law.

The cause of temperance continued to advance through more efficient enforcement of the laws and through the influence of temperance societies.89 In 1858, the matter of enforcement of liquor laws was practically up to the Creeks, who, through their police, called light-horse, were confiscating and spilling liquor and bringing offenders before their courts to be fined four dollars a gallon for all the liquor found in their possession.90 This vigorous effort to enforce their laws doubtless emanated from chiefs who were moral Christians, and from an enlightened public opinion which gave the chiefs moral support. The United States had abandoned Fort Gibson, and the Creeks were unassisted by the military forces. The Creek chiefs wanted a post established on the Arkansas to assist them in suppression of the liquor traffic.91

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The schools continued to grow during the period 1850-1860. This growth is illustrated by that of the Presbyterian Manual Labor School at Kowetah, under the superintendency of R. M. Loughridge. In 1853, this school employed, besides the superintendent, six other full time workers. Their qualifications were probably better, on the average, than their predecessors had been. The members of the faculty were: W. S. Robertson, A. M., principal; Mrs. A. E. Robertson, Miss C. W. Eddy, Miss N. Thompson, Mrs. E. Reid. The sixth employee was Alexander McCune, steward and farmer. The school enrolled eighty pupils and taught the same subjects that were in the curriculum in the States.92

Probably the missionaries would have been as successful in the Creek Nation as any other preachers elsewhere had it not been for the growing bitterness engendered by the slavery issue which was sweeping the whole United States. A year or two before the Civil War the missionaries from the North began to find their positions precarious. They began to abandon the country. It is probable that Elias Rector, Southern Superintendent, and the pro-slavery United States officials would have liked nothing better than to remove the anti-slavery missionaries on the ground that they were interfering with the domestic institutions of the tribes.93

Unfortunately the Creeks were unfavorably situated for the development of Christian fellowship with the white Christians in the East. Lingering prejudices and social conflicts placed the Creeks in almost as unfavorable a position in the West. To these difficulties should be added those of isolation and an unhealthy climate which terminated the work of many missionaries before they were well oriented in the field. Yet one must acknowledge that the missionaries, beset with difficulties as they were, achieved works worthy of their cause. Since spiritual contributions are

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impossible to evaluate, their works can be judged only by their material contributions. Much of the education of the Creek people proceeded through missionary channels. Much of the temperance work done among the Creeks was carried on by missionaries and their Creek and negro proselytes,94 and intemperance was certainly a great evil among these people.95 Government efforts to stop the liquor traffic were unsuccessful until the Creeks themselves became convinced that drinking was an evil. It was observed that, even in the discouraging days of active persecution, many of the Christians observed a strict temperance.96 The temperance societies were credited by Loughridge with the aroused public opinion which led to more strenuous efforts on the part of the Creeks to enforce their laws against introducing liquor.97 Furthermore, several of the greatest leaders of the Creeks were schooled for that leadership in the Christian ministry. Three of the sons of General McIntosh became Baptist preachers,98 and to these should be added the names of these illustrious in the annals of the Methodist Church, Peter Harrison, Cornelius Perryman, and Samuel Checote.99

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