Thinking–Fulbright Program

Thinking…

I have done a lot of thinking on, and have become a scholar of, American Indian history. I backed into this field of intellectual endeavor by taking a job at Bacone College, where I began to have many Indian students and where as chair of the general studies division I needed someone to teach American Indian History and so assigned myself the task. I have edited several encyclopedia and so when asked by one, ABC-Clio, if I would edit an Encyclopedia on American Indian Issues Today, I agreed, notwithstanding that I felt somewhat inadequate for the task. But having engaged in this project for about four years, which led to its publication in 2013, I learned a lot, and if I am not an expert on American Indians, I do know quite a bit about their history and experiences.

As I learned more about American Indians, I learned more about some of the historical issues that have confronted them, such as the exploitation of tribes by the US government over the years, the destruction of Indian lives and lands, the epidemic diseases brought to Indians by European explorers, and the attempts by outsiders to eradicate Indian culture.

Some of these threads of thought in my academic life were sewn together by means of the Fulbright program. In studying European and American scientists and explorers of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, I learned a lot about American Indians, and European and American assumptions about Indians. Many of these explorers—for example the 19th century English botanist Thomas Nuttall, who journeyed throughout America, including Oklahoma, in 1819—studied American Indian culture and science, and not from the point of view of aggressors, rather as empathetic observers. Often these scientist/explorers that I studied and wrote about—for example the 18th century New Hampshire scientist, historian, and minister Jeremy Belknap—were also missionaries. I believed, in studying them, that they likewise did not have an aggressive, rather a limited empathetic, point of view toward Indians.

I knew that there were many missionaries and scientists who had gone among the American Indians of Canada, studying and proselytizing, and decided that this would be a natural area of investigation for myself. I was fortunate to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Ontario and spend a semester there studying missionaries and Indians. I did this in the fall of 2010.

The Fulbright Program was established to promote cultural and intellectual exchange between different people of different countries. I believe it enhances the understanding of peoples across space and time and promotes goodwill throughout the world. It is for the scholar a personally enriching and profound academic experience. While in Ontario, I lived in St. Catharines, a port city on Lake Ontario, in a house right in the city, which helped me to understand Canadian life and culture. Although my Fulbright was a research grant, the people at Brock University wanted me to teach a course on the History of the First Nations. The course, which involved lecture and seminar, really helped me to know what Canadians are like and to fine-tune my knowledge on American Indian history. Getting to know the Canadian students at Brock was a good experience. Preparing lectures on the First Nations helped me to understand Canadian life, culture, and history.

Research on my project involved learning more about Protestant missionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Upper Canada, which involved research primarily into Anglican missionaries but also Methodists, Congregationalists, Moravians, and Catholics. The general research into the topic required me to read a lot of books and visit places associated with missionary work in Upper Canada. Missionary work took place during a time of political change in late 18th and early 19th century Canada, as Upper Canada (Ontario) was being established and settled in part by refugees from the War for American Independence. Some of these refugees included Anglican priests who had stayed loyal to the King during the American Revolution and finally had to flee during and after the war to Canada. Some of these Anglican refugees, such as Samuel Andrews of Connecticut, fled to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I spent some time looking at the life and work of people like Rev. Andrews, but only through published works. Other refugees traveled to Upper Canada. These included John Stuart, an Anglican priest of New York who became Commissary of Upper Canada and a missionary to the Mohawks, and his friend the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, who had converted to Anglicanism, fought in the war for England, and after the war led his people to Brantford on the Grand River in Ontario. To research Brant and Stuart I relied in part on published books found in libraries at Brock University and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Niagara Historical Museum at Niagara-on-the-Lake provided a wonderful array of resources, including the Ontario Historical Quarterly, which helped me a lot in my research. I also traveled to the Anglican Church Synod offices in Toronto, which had manuscripts about John Stuart. The Synod office also had important resources about another Anglican missionary to the Mohawks that I researched, John Ogilvie. Finding manuscript resources on Joseph Brant was a bit more difficult, as the historical museums in Burlington and Brantford had little and the Historical Society in Brantford at least, was reluctant to tell me what they did have. However, I did find out some information about Brant and the Mohawks indirectly by researching the life and work of missionary Robert Addison, who was rector at St. Mark’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake. I found manuscripts on Addison at the Niagara Historical Museum and at the Diocesan archives, McMaster University. I was disappointed to find that most of the Diocesan archives, besides the Diocese of Niagara at McMaster, had little information to suit my purposes. However, I did find a good collection of manuscripts at Victoria University, which had the journals of the Methodist missionary and Ojibwa Peter Jones. I also visited some different places related to my research, such as the Mohawk Chapel, Brantford, and some of the forts in the Niagara region. I attended Anglican services in several cities in the Niagara region, which informed me about the Canadian religious experience.

After returning home, I applied to the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church for a research grant, which I received during the summer of 2011, which enabled me to journey to Boston, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, where I researched the papers of Mather Byles, Jr., an Anglican priest who, during the War for Independence, fled Boston for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and the papers of New York priest Charles Inglis, who also fled during the war, ending up as Bishop of Nova Scotia.

I once had a professor at OSU who told me that research is the exciting part, writing based on what one has learned is the chore. I actually don’t agree. Research is one part of the act of thinking; writing is another part. The former, research, requires activity, travel, organization, investigation, analysis, forming hypotheses and arriving at conclusions. The latter, writing, requires putting bits and pieces into a whole, and a whole that not only me, the researcher, can understand, but what you, the listener or reader, have to be able to understand. Writing requires analysis and examination, but also empathy and evocation—to recreate a past world, past thoughts, past feelings, to put oneself in the lives of others, those similar, like, for me, the missionaries, or different, which would be, for me, the Indians. Thinking requires a pursuit of truth, because conscious falsehood is not thinking, but deceiving. Thought, as St. Augustine one argued, presupposes a larger Thought (with a capital T), which is God. God cannot be deceived. Hence the act of thinking must involve the pursuit of the truth.

But as Pontius Pilate so famously asked Jesus in the Gospel of John, “what is truth?” Therein lies the rub. Especially when we are dealing with a topic that brings out so many fears and anxieties, bad memories and feelings, misunderstandings—purposeful and accidental. What was the missionary experience to the Indians of North America? Was it good or bad, a blessing or a curse? Different groups over time have argued differently. Scholars are often pictured as up in the clouds, lost in thought, unable to deal with reality, naïve in a philosopher’s sort of way. I could be accused of this. After researching the works and activities of Protestant missionaries to the First Nations, I came to the conclusion that missionaries were motivated not by hate, not by the desire to oppress, but by the desire to convert to the Christian belief, by the urge to love. I said as much in the Inaugural Fulbright Lecture at Brock University in October, 2010. I was Brock’s first Fulbright, and they were my first host institution. I did not quite expect what their attitude was toward me, and they did not quite expect my attitude toward them. The response by the faculty, administration, and local press, about my comments that missionaries were motivated by love, was not enthusiastic, indeed somewhat angry. The faculty did not seem to want to talk to me after my lecture. People wrote into local newspapers wondering why I could so blatantly distort the historical facts of the oppression of Indians. I was taken aback. But in the end, it inspired me to continue my research and writing, to see if I could discover what was, indeed, the truth. So I continued to think.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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