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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 3
September, 1933
An Early Chickasaw School


Page 912

A mission school was established in 1820, near Cotton Gin Port, Mississippi, by Rev. Robert Bell, under the auspices of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, for the education of Chickasaw children. It was called Charity Hall and doubtless the name was taken from the Indian Charity School established by Rev. Eleazer Wheelock at Lebanon, Connecticut in 1754. The Chickasaw Charity Hall, where most of his younger children were educated, was located within a mile and a half of the residence of Maj. Levi Colbert.1

Cotton Gin Port was a historic old settlement, in Monroe County and the oldest abandoned town in Northeast Mississippi. Its site was on the east bank of the Tombigbee River, a little over a mile below its junction with Town Creek.

"The old public road, from the settlements on the Tennessee River, built by George S. Gaines, brother of Gen. E. P. Gaines, and known as 'Gaines' Trace,' ran through Cotton Gin Port, due west for ten miles to the home of Major Levi Colbert, where it forked, one branch running northeast and connecting at Pontotoc with the Natchez Trace, the other branch running southeast to the home of John Pitchlun, on the Tombigbee..."2

The United States Government had built a cotton gin at this place to encourage the growing of cotton by the Chickasaw Indians. It was also the location of the ancient "council tree" of the Indians. This immense oak tree, near the cotton gin, has long since been destroyed.

Page 913

Rev. Mr. Bell, in compliance with the regulations relative to the distribution of the fund appropriated by the Government for the education of the Indian children, reported to John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War that there "has been twenty one Schoollars coming to School this year, consisting of fifteen boys, & six girls, the most of whom have made considerable proficiency in learning, and have been dutiful, and industrious in their working hours; Several who attended the last year I suppose on account of their not being able to board themselves from home; and [as] we were not prepared to board them [they] did not return this year. One living near Eliot in the Choctaw Nation, is going to that School. Three others wishing to be entirely among the white people, with my consent are going to School in Tennessee State."3

The amount of the property belonging to the Missionary Board at the school was valued at about seventeen hundred dollars and consisted of twenty-two or three acres of improved land with the crop, cattle, farming utensils and the buildings which were about three-fourths finished.

Owing to the general scarcity of money the Board adopted "the method of receiving donations in produce, such as live pork, Cattle, and linnen; Articles that can be disposed of, so as to answer the purposes of the School, but which cannot be collected, and disposed of, till towards Christmas. Consequently the funds to be applied to the use of the School the ensuing year, cannot at present be ascertained, but agreeably to the best calculations that can now be made, it will be between seven hundred, and one thousand dollars; And as this Sum will not be sufficient to enable the Board to admit into the School, near all the Indian Children whom their parents wish to be taken in, and boarded: therefore the Board request the aid of the Government in the amount of five hundred dollars. We trust it would be applied to as much advantage as it could be at any other School under your notice, as this School is convenient to navigation, and flourishing Settlements of the white people so that Supplies can be obtained on reasonable terms."4

Page 914

"The children have been orderly and attentive to their studies, and particularly so to moral and religious instruction; and have volunteered to work a part of their time, and choose rather to take the time from their play than their books."5

The expense of the School for the year 1823 was $608.00, of which $400.00 was advanced by the United States as tuition for twenty-one students.6 The next year there were thirty-one pupils in Charity Hall and fourteen "teachers" which Thomas L. McKenney explained was intended to embrace every person connected with the mission family, including children.7

"The Indian students under my tuition at this Establishment improv'd in Spelling, reading, writing & arithmetic, and in working & talking English, since my last report to you, in a degree highly gratifying to me, untill in the Summer at which time, notwithstanding the former healthiness of this place, since our first Settlement here, we were Visited with inflamatary fever, which terminated in the death of Mr. Andrew Pickens and his daughter, Ms. Jane Pickens, instructor of the Female Students, in Sewing, Spinning, &C. My Son, Robert Bell, Junr. also departed this life on the 15th. of Sept. But an all wise & gracious Providence has in a good degree restor'd the surviving part of our familis to health again.
"On account of the above visitation, a vacation of the School was thought advisable, untill the health of our families would be restor'd, which took place on the 16th. of July, and the School appointed to commence again, on the 13th. of Sept. But Sickness here not having entirely Subsided, and some of the Students having the hooping cough at home, they did not return . . but I am daily expecting them to come. They have generally enjoy'd good health, and appear to be well Satisfied when at School, and some of them express

Page 915

their unwillingness to leave the School to go home to visit their friends.
"Sixteen of those who first attended this School, have long since left it; eight of that number could read distinctly, Six could write an eligible [sic] hand, & two of them had made considerable progress in Arithmetic, three others of them could read tolerably well, & the rest of them were in their Spelling books. Seven of the above, wishing to be entirely among the whites at School, notwithstanding they, or most of them, had not fully compleated their course here, with my consent they left this School, and went to School in the States of Tennessee & Alabama. Two young men of them have become the profess'd subjects of experimental Religion, & one of them has written to his father & family, a very religious & affecting letter exhorting them to attend on the preaching of Gods word, and praying the Lord to have mercy on their Souls.
"Of the thirty-one in number who have been this year at this School, ten can read distinctly, & eight can write an eligible hand, several others can read tolerably well, & the balance are progressing in their Spelling books. Altho some of them excel the rest in learning, & some are the most agreeable in their tempers & dispositions of any Children that I have ever taught of any complection, yet I can not say that there is any one of them whose progress is so remarkable as to merit the particular attention of the public.
"The Indians manifest the most friendly disposition towards this School, and are anxious to have their children educated, (especially the poorer class) as far as my knowledge in the case extends. Altho they have not contributed any thing to its support except a few cows & calves, but I have not made any application for further assistance from them, and in consequence of the United States Agents expressing to me, his wish that the missionaries should not ask the nation for any assistance, nor have any from them, lest they should

Page 916

claim the direction of the Schools. I did not attend their Council last Spring by which the appropriation was made for the education of their children, therefore no part of it was committed to my care or management.
"The Rev. J. C. Smith continued to teach, untill the 12th of Jan. Since that time I have taught myself; Ms. Smith & John Bell & families have left the Establishment. Mr Haynes & family continue here. Mr. Andrew Pickens (now deceas'd) & family consisting of eight in number, have been living at this place since the 10th of Dec. last, but the surviving part of his family are about to remove.
"The property belonging to the Board consists of the Building, fifty seven Acres of an improvement, a valuable Crop, perhaps 260 barrels of corn, 10000 Weight of Seed cotton, Sweet & Irish Potatoes & peas, hogs, & a few cattle, farming Utensils, Kitchen & table furniture, a wagon, three horses, several milck Cows, Beds & furniture & Kitchen furniture, which are private property have been applied to, the use of the Establishment Gratis, and will still be applied as long as necessary.
"I have not received any part of the allowance of the Government for tuition this year . . . I am at present in great need of funds, and would feel grateful to receive whatever Allowance may have been made for this Institution, . . . and as the Agent Major Smith, will probably not be at the Agency for some months hence, I would wish the remittances for this place in future, to be made directly to me, and directed to the post office in Cotton Gin port, Monroe County, Mississippi State . . I should be glad to have the next years allowance in advance, for the purpose of laying in a stock of hides for the Tan Yard, as the want of funds to procure this article, renders the yard unprofitable which otherwise might enable us considerably to enlarge the School."8

Page 917

Under the same date Mr. Bell wrote to Thomas L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, that owing to "The hurry of business in saving the crop, having personally to labour, and attend the Sick day & night, for two or three Months past" he had not been able to make his report to the Secretary of War. He states that there are other missionaries who have made great progress in acquiring a knowledge of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tongues, particularly in the Choctaw Nation; that the "dialect of the two Nations is the same with a slight difference in a very few words. And some of them, I understand, are making the Language of the Nation their particular study . . . It, however, appears to me that the English Alphabet will suit to Spell, and give the sound & pronunciation of the words in the Chickasaw tongue, as far as I am acquainted with their dialect . . . "9

In the files of the Indian Office is a letter to McKenney from Robert Donnell, P. C. M. B. written at "Mooresville, Limestone Cty. State of Alabamay, March 11th, 1825:

"The missionary School under the direction of the Cumberland Missionary Board and superintendence of the Rev. Robert Bell is still progressing with success and an addition of several students have been admitted the present year, notwithstanding the embarrassed state of our funds, in consequence of the scarcity of money and the involved state of many by the purchas of publick lands and debt in this western country.
"Mr. Bell informs me that he has not received any part or proportion of the appropriation of the Government for the education of the Indians for the last year or for this and that he is much straitened for the want of funds, and that if the President think proper he would wish it to be remitted to him and directed to the Post office at Cotton Gin Port . . .
"Dr sir I am persuaded Charity Hall establishment is conducted as well as any other in any Nation agreeable to its age and the state of its funds. Bro

Page 918

James B. Porter and myself visited the Institution last May, and were much pleased indeed with the improvement of the Institution. Mr. Bell is extremely industrious [and] had in good cultivation an excellent farm say fifty or sixty acres, a plesent Mission family and an attentive number of Indian children to moral and Literary instruction.
"May heaven prosper the government which fosters so many of the Tawny sons and Daughters of the woods, with a View to obtain for them that knowledge which will make them lovers of man and lovers of God the prospect of gathering the fruit of Virtue and Piety off those Tender branches, will more than make amends for present labour. . . "
Mr. Bell's report to the Indian Office in 1826 contains the information that there were eight teachers and twenty-six pupils at Charity Hall. Six children who had attended the previous year were kept at home by their people to work. . . The number of students . . . 21 to 31, but some of them have attended very irregular, which circumstance has very much retarded their progress and a good many others who had made some small progress in reading. But notwithstanding these disadvantages 34 have learned to read tolerably, some of them very correct, 27 can write a legible hand, Three have progressed as far as the rule of practice, in Arithmetic, & 2 have made considerable progress in the English Grammer.
"Twenty is the number allowd to be boarded & clothd gratis at the Establishment by the Missionary Board . . . . Major Levi Colbert has boarded his own Children & some of his connections, which has been an enlargement to the School. Ten of those who formerly attended this school went to different parts among the white people to finish their education, with my consent, as I believed that when but one or two are boarded at a house among the whites, they will much sooner acquire a knowledge of the English Language,

Page 919

& will improve much faster in Civilization, than where many of them are boarded together at one house, either in the. white settlements, or in the Indian Nation. . .
"Mr. Moore, Mr. Gray & Mr. Haynes & families, have removd from the Establishment, Mr. Israel Pickens, Mrs. Pickens & three children, Mr. William Dodd, a young man employed in the farm & myself & family are all the white persons living at the Institution.
"The Property . . consists of the buildings, a Tan Yard, Fifty acres of improved land, a waggon, Cattle, hogs, Farming utensils . . upwards of 200 barrels of corn & a quantity of potatoes, estimated at about $2900.00
"A boy has been at school a short time with me, about twelve years old, a native of this Nation, a fall blooded Indian, (if I am not mistaken) who far excells any boy that has come to this School in learning to spell & read, altho he could not understand a word of English when he first came. He is robust & healthy, I think that he posesses an extraordinary Genius for learning. In compliance with your instructions, in such cases, I have given you information of him . . "

It is a great pity that the name of the boy was omitted as it would be interesting to know if he became a leader in his Nation.

In 1829 there were five teachers and fifteen students at Charity Hall. Bell took in five or six extra pupils to make up for the irregular attendance of the boarders. $359 was expended for hands to cultivate the farm, for salt for stock and for iron smith work.

"Sir, At the annual meeting of the Cumberland Missionary Board last Oct. I was directed to continue the operation of this school only three months this year, on the account of the Board being in arrearages several hundred dollars for the means of suporting it . . .
"Consequently I appointed the school to commence on the first of March, but through the spring season

Page 920

there did not a sufficient number of students come on, to justify my attending to them, perhaps on account of the Measles prevailing in Cotton Gin Port . . . put off the school till the first of Sept. . . but at which time, & since, most of the Children that compose this school have actually had the Measles, and Maj. Levi Colbert's son Daugherty has lain low in the fever several weeks past, which has prevented him & some of his connections from sending their children to school.
"There is no family living here but my own at present William & Samuel Dodd, are employed in the farm, & other business pertaining to the Establishment, Samuel Rayburn occassionally assists me in the school . . buildings & improvements (going somewhat out of repair) about forty five head of Cattle, near as many head of hogs, Farming utensils, Kitchen & table furniture, & a tolerable crop of corn, oats, & Potatoes . . . I have clearly seen with you, that this compliance with the Measures of Government, on the subject of their removal over the Mississippi, is the only means that can secure their future prosperity & happiness . . . Robert Bell, Supt."10

The Rev. Mr. Bell sent a report dated September 29th, 1832 to Hon. Elbert Herring, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D. C., which was in reply to a letter of May 28th from the Commissioner. He communicates that the school commenced operations on the 13th of November, 1820. According to him the school was "situated three miles from Cotton Gin Port, one mile from the Tombigba River below s, d. Town . . ." "Cotton-Gin Port, a little log town on the east of the Tombigbee, and about a mile, in a direct line, from Colberts, whose house occupies an eminence on the opposite side of that river, and in full view of Cotton-Gin Port . . . "11

The land upon which the school was located was a "Farm consisting of between fifty & sixty acres, and a few small lots" where there were enclosures and stables for the work horses and milch cows. The buildings first erected were:

Page 921

"One Dining room & Kitchen at $400.00
One Dwelling house at 200.00
One   Do.   Do. at 160.00
One School house at 160.00
One Band horse mill at 200.00
Five Cabins for the Students to lodge in, fifty      
dollars each
One Smoke house at 30.00"

For three years Charity Hall was supported by funds furnished by the Missionary Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1821 the sum of $630.00 was expended; in 1822, $608.00; and $745.00 in 1823. The expenditures in 1824 had increased to $1094.00 and that sum was augmented by $400.00 of government funds.

In Society funds    Government funds
1825         928.00    400.00
1826 272.00    700.00
1827 581.00    287.50
1828 423.00    250.00
1829 75.00    287.50
1830 142.00    225.00

These sums were "exclusive of the expence of erecting the buildings, and exclusive of provisions, forrage, & articles of clothing raised & made at the establishment, except in the years 1824 and 1825.

"The sums received & expended for education are included in the sums applied for the support of the school. . . The amount allowed to the teachers of this School has been at the rate of $250, per year and they have boarded themselves & also their families if they had any, unless their families were employed in some business for the School.

"The teachers had to labor with the Schollars in the farm and at other business Mornings, & evenings, & on Saturdays, & in the time of a vacation."

The teachers and other persons employed at Charity Hall were:

Page 922

"Date   Teachers        Farmers &c.      Sewing
Spinning &c.   
Cooking &
1821 Robt. Bell Myself & Students
& Son Robt. Bell
Mrs. Bell Mrs. Bell &
1822 Robt. Bell Do. Do. Do.
1823 John C. Smith Jams Barker
Henry Reed
John Pickard
Mrs. Smith Mrs. Smith
& Black Girl
1824 John C.Smith
Robert Bell
One at a time
And. Pickens
Benj. Bell
John Gilley
John Tigert
Ms. Jane
Mrs. Pickens
Isza     "
1825 Robt Bell
Robt. Molloy
one at a time
Wm Dodd
Edm. Carter &
one at a time
Mrs. Gray
Mrs. Bell
Mrs. Bell
& Black
1826 Robt Bell Wm Dodd
Israel Pickens
& Blackman
Mrs. Pickens Mrs. Pickens
Black Girl
1827 Robt. Bell Wm. Dodd
Saml. Dodd
Mrs. Pickens Mrs. Pickens
& Black Girl
1828 John L. Craig Francis Mirer
Saml Dodd
Mrs. Pickens Mrs. Pickens
& Black Girl
1829 Robt Bell Wm. Dodd
Saml Dodd
Mrs. Bell Mrs. Bell
& Black Girl
1830 Robt Bell Matt. Vernon
David Vaugn
Mrs. Bell Mrs. Bell
& Black Girl

"The pay of the teachers as above, For white men & Black, to work in the farm &c. from ten to twelve dollars and a half pr. month, For Black Girls from five to eight dollars pr month, White females employed were generally those who had small families, their families or Children were Boarded for them for their attention to sewing Cooking &c. and sometimes a small additional remuniration were allowed them.

"There were other persons employed a few days at a time not included in the above list."

Page 923

Mr. Bell also gives a list of the students "that have been taught at this school that I now recollect


1. Alexander Colbert      22. Joseph Putnam *
2. Charles Colbert      23. Shehunah Matubbee
3. Adam Colbert      24. Thomas Calhoon
4. Daugherty Colbert      25. Iokatubba
5. George Colbert *      26. Ionochatubba
6. George Washington      27. Samuel King
7. Christopher Columbus      28. James Jefferson
8. Robert Donnel      29. James Walker
9. William Barnitt      30. John Pettis
10. Robinson James      31. Wilson James
11. Finis Ewing      32. Booker James
12. Davis James      33. James Farr
13. Peter Pitchlyn      34. Adam Barnitt
14. James Porter      35. James Reed
15. Lemual Colbert      36. Lewis Colbert
16. Commodore Colbert      37. Abijah Colbert
17. Robert Bell      38. Nowattah
18. Silis Anderson      39. Silas Pitchlyn
19. Benjamin Franklin      40. Alexander Pitchlyn
20. Rufus Perry      41. John Smith *
21. Isaac Newton       


1. Charity Colbert      11. Nicey Jefferson
2. Phelistia Colbert    12. Jane Jefferson
3. Vecy Colbert    13. Margaret Burris
4. Susan Colbert    14. Dorathy Smith *
5. Betsey Porter    15. Molley
6. Silva Porter*    16. Sally Pickens
7. Caroline Smelt*    17. Ticky Burris
8. Delila Brown    18. Molley Ewing
9. Acy Colbert    19. Mariah Colbert
10. Lucy James    20. Sytha Brown

"Those marked thus * are now deceased."12

Page 924

The Chickasaw Chief Levi Colbert had twelve sons, six of whom attended Charity Hall. They were Alexander, Charles, Adam, Daugherty, Commodore and Abijah. He had eight daughters and several of them also commenced their schooling under the Rev. Mr. Bell — they were Charity, Philistia and Maria. Although Chief Colbert signed his name with his mark he sent his children to school.

Several Charity Hall students afterward attended school at Col. R. M. Johnson's Choctaw Academy in Kentucky. Daugherty Colbert went there in 1828; George Colbert attended the Kentucky school from 1835 to 1838; Benjamin Franklin was there in 1838 when he was twenty years old.

Silas Pitchlynn was also a pupil at the Academy. Peter P. Pitchlynn, who was fourteen years old when Charity Hall was opened, subsequently became the head of the Choctaw Academy for a short time and he was one of the most useful and distinguished men of his nation.

"The branches of Knowledge taught have been, reading, Writing, Arrithmetic, & the English grammer, other Branches would have been taught, had the students proceeded on. Their attendance at School was for the most part very irregular, and frequently what they would learn while at school they would almost forget at home before they returned. Many of them apt to learn, & amiable in their dispositions, yet living at a distance from the school, were loth to leave their parents & associates at home, and Indian Parents are genarally indulgent to their Children and seldom control them. However twenty-one of the first on the above list 14 Males & 7 females could read well when the[y] left this school, and could also write a good hand. Ten or eleven of the Ballance were reading but not well, some of them were also writing. The rest of them had made various progress in spelling, but some of them, the most apt of any that had been at this School had not long attended — several who came but a short time to School, are not included in the above list. Several included have since they left this school, been at School

Page 925

among the Whites, and made further proficiency in their education.
"Many of them have expressed great anxiety to go to School among the Whites that they might learn to talk and understand English more perfectly . . .
"Relative to the capacities of the students of this School for usefulness, some of them possess these in a good degree but they are so much under the control of Indian habits & customs that my brightest prospects have often been blasted since I have been endeavoring to instruct them. There are however five young men or lads that I would recommend to your notice who are of sober habits, and anxious for improvement (to wit) William Barnitt, Robinson James, Davis James, Christopher Columbus & Robert Donnel, the first of these I mentioned to Col. McKenny some years past in my Report. Respectfully your Obt. Svt. Robert Bell.13
"In consequence of the aid of the Government being suspended, and the embarrasment of the society for the lack of funds, being involved in expense in establishing & supporting a Colledge near Princeton, Kentucky, together with the state of suspense relative to the removal of the Indians, on these several accounts, the Missionary Board suspended the Operations of this school at the close of the year 1830, altho we have had two boys in Kentucky at school from May 1830 till May 1832.
"I have not been informed of the intentions of the Cumberland Missionary Board with respect to further operations should a removal of the Indians be affected."14
"I erected a Tan Yard on a small scale at my own expense for the use of the school, which the Board did

Page 926

not occupy, for the want of funds & lest it might not be profitable, being inconvenient to the white settlements & the Indians make but little use of taned Leather. I, however occupyd [sic] it a few years at my own expense by permission of the Board, in order toy make the expense of erecting it, but found it unprofitable for the above reasons, it is much impaired & of but little value.
"The amount of debt at the close of the year 1830, and from which time the Operations of the School have been suspended was $623.00 for which amount I was responsible to the Creditors. A Committee was appointed by the Missionary Board to settle the debts incured, with whom I agreed to pay the debts for the property belonging to the Board consisting of about thirty head of cattle young and old, a few hogs, one horse, & a few farming utensils, 75 dollars due from the Government at the close of the year 1830 and the use of as much of the farm as I might chuse to cultivate as long as I might wish, or be permitted to stay, or until the Board should renew the school.15

The estimation in which the Rev. Mr. Bell was held by persons who knew him is expressed as follows:

"He was a Cumberland Presbyterian and done a great deal of good towards advancing little boys and girls in the way of education and the customs of the white people . . .
"Loved and venerated by all who knew [him, Mr. Bell] did more good towards Christianizing and imparting the Christian religion into the minds of the Indians than all others who lived contiguous to them.
" 'Old Father Bell' as we called him has been dead many years; none of his family now lives, all have followed him to his long home."16

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