Anglicans on the Frontier



Russell M. Lawson

Captain John Smith was arguably the greatest of the English explorers, discoverers, and colonists of America. He was as well the first American historian. His human and natural histories include: A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned in Virginia Since the First Planting of that Collony, published in 1608; A Map of Virginia, published in 1612; the Description of New England, published in 1616; New Englands Trials, published in 1620; The True Travels, published in 1629; the Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, published in 1631; and his most ambitious effort, The General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, published in 1624. The General History has quite a story to tell, of journeys and battles, of harrowing escapes from enemies intent on torturing their captives, of explorers penetrating lands and waters hitherto unseen by Europeans, of dramatic episodes involving the American Indians. With so many possible themes—of adventure, romance, discovery—with which to open his book, it is instructive to see how Smith chose to open his General History.  The first paragraph reads:

“This plaine History humbly sheweth the truth; that our most royall King James hath place and opportunitie to inlarge his ancient Dominions without wronging any; (which is a condition most agreeable to his most just and pious resolutions:) and the Prince his Highness may see where to plant new Colonies. The gaining Provinces addeth to the Kings Crown: but the reducing Heathen people to civilitie and true Religion, bringeth honour to the King of Heaven.”[2]

            Contained in this first paragraph of the General History are the three fundamental assumptions that guided the life and activities of John Smith, and indeed of all the English explorers who journeyed to America in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, during the Elizabeth and Jacobean ages. Smith identified himself—as well as the English—as conqueror, colonizer, and commissioner: a conqueror who will “reduce heathen people,” a colonizer who will “plant new colonies,” and a commissioner who will “bringeth honour to the King of Heaven.”

            To use civilization and conversion as the ultimate ends to justify conquest and colonization seems disingenuous to say the least, a crass example of an expedient moral system that defends evil because it results in an ultimate good. Forcing others to convert to Christianity was not Smith’s style, and English discoverers anyway tended not to force religion down the throats of disbelieving Indians. Even so, it often appears that, of the three apparent reasons for European colonization, God, Glory, and Gold, God was least important, mere window-dressing, something that sounded good in theory but was in reality little practiced.

            If, however, the words of the English are allowed to explain their motives and assumptions, it appears that the narratives of English colonization repeatedly cite the Great Commission as the ultimate end for the means of conquest and colonization.

Captain Smith was not, of course, ordained and commissioned by the Anglican or any other Church to spread the Gospel according to the tenets of the Great Commission. But Smith did believe that Jesus’s commandment to his disciples to go, and spread the Gospel to all nations, applied to English colonizing efforts. Smith was an ad hoc commissioner who, because of his Anglican beliefs, felt compelled not only to journey to America and colonize the land, but to do so because the Great Commission commanded it, and, as a consequence, to bring knowledge of the teachings of Christ to the American Indians. Smith was joined in this endeavor by other explorers, colonizers, and scientists, such as the voyagers who founded Roanoke in the 1580s, and the men of the Martin Frobisher, Humfrey Gilbert, and George Waymouth voyages. Smith is the best known of the early American explorers, and a person that on the surface would not appear to be inclined toward the concerns of the missionary to spread the knowledge of Christianity to others. But the Anglican worldview had quite an impact on Smith, and he responded with a strong sense of the importance of the Great Commission in the work of colonization.[3]

            During Smith’s time, scholars and theologians took the words of the Great Commission literally, at face value. Jesus’s Commission required commissioners who were willing to travel, explore, discover, and engage the peoples and places of hitherto unknown lands. Commissioners spread the word to an unknown people in an unknown world of unknown geography, flora, fauna, and natural history. Some were commissioned by monastic orders or church agencies. Others were ad hoc, commissioners who in the process of exploring, discovering, fighting, investigating, and studying also spread the teachings of Jesus.[4]

            The Church of England was involved in the Great Commission from the true beginning of English activities in North America under Queen Elizabeth I. The Church commissioned some missionaries to go to America in an official capacity; yet many other missionaries were self-appointed, commissioners simply because they were Anglicans.[5] Martin Frobisher, for example, soldier and adventurer, made three voyages to North America in the 1570s seeking the Northwest Passage. He made contact, and had pitched battles, with the native Inuit people. One contemporary account of his second, 1577, voyage, explained that Frobisher and his men sought, “that by our Christian study and endeavour, those barbarous people trained up in paganism, and infidelity, might be reduced to the knowledge of true religion, and to the hope of salvation in Christ our Redeemer.” The ordained agent in this goal of spreading the Christian message was Robert Wolfall, an Anglican priest, who was chaplain and missionary with the Frobisher voyage to Canada in 1578. Wolfall, according to contemporary chronicler Richard Hakluyt, “being well seated and settled at home in his owne countrey, with a good and large living, having a good, honest woman to wife, and very towardly children, being of good reputation amongst the best, refused not to take in hand this paineful voyage, for the onely care he had to save soules and to reforme these infidels, if it were possible, to Christianitie.” Wolfull was busy on the voyage with homilies, prayers, and communion: “Wolfall,” Hakluyt wrote, “made sermons, and celebrated the Communion at sundry other times in severall and sundry ships, because the whole company could never meet together at any one place.” There is no record that Wolfull actually converted any of the Inuit to Christianity, though he did counsel Frobisher’s men and performed the “divine mystery” for the crew.[6]

            Wolfull was by and large a chaplain, and the relations between the English and the Inuit were more of conflict than peace. A decade later, however, in another part of North America, another commissioner, not ordained but ad hoc, had friendlier relations with the Native peoples, and enjoyed more positive results. Scientist Thomas Hariot accompanied the Grenville voyage, sponsored by Walter Raleigh, to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, in 1585. Hariot wrote A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, of the Commodities and of the Nature and Manners of the Naturall Inhabitants: Discouered bÿ the English Colony there seated by Sir Richard Greinuile Knight In the yeere 1585. Hariot was a naturalist and mathematician, a learned man who communicated, through interpreters, with the native Algonquians about their religious beliefs and tried to impart his knowledge of Anglicanism in turn. He described the Indians as intelligent, having an anthropomorphic and a polytheistic system, including a belief in Heaven and Hell. They were, he wrote, quick to abandon their beliefs in the face of more compelling ideas. Christianity and the Bible fascinated them. “Through conversing with us,” Hariot wrote, “they were brought into great doubts of their owne [religion], and no small admiration of ours, with earnest desire in many, to learne more than we had meanes for want of perfect utterance in their language to expresse.” Hariot, not a priest but devoted to the Great Commission, wrote:

manie times and in every towne where I came, according as I was able, I made declaration of the contentes of the Bible; that therein was set foorth the true and onelie GOD, and his mightie woorkes, that therein was contayned the true doctrine of salvation through Christ, which manie particularities of Miracles and chiefe poyntes of religion, as I was able then to utter, and thought fitte for the time. And although I told them the booke materially & of itself was not of anie such vertue, as I thought they did conceive, but onely the doctrine therein contained; yet would many be glad to touch it, to embrace it, to kisse it, to hold it to their brests and heades, and stroke over all their bodie with it; to shew their hungrie desire of that knowledge which was spoken of.[7]

            Hariot believed that the Indians were attracted to Christianity in part because English science and technology so impressed them that they admired all of the possessions and beliefs of the English. That the Indians succumbed to diseases of which the English appeared to be immune was also impressive. The chief “called ‘Wingina’, and many of his people would be glad many times to be with us at our praiers, and many times call upon us both in his owne towne, as also in others whither he sometimes accompanied us, to pray and sing Psalmes; hoping thereby to bee partaker in the same effectes which wee by that meanes also expected.”[8]

            Hariot’s Briefe and True Report implies the interaction of two cultures imparting godly knowledge, one to the other. Of course, one was attempting to colonize, to discover, to exploit, while the other was attempting to survive and thrive in a place they already possessed. During the reign of Elizabeth, the English turned from exploration to colonization, from bringing the Gospel to pagan peoples during voyages of discovery to settling among them and Christianizing them. Such a process was marred by sin. The promoter of colonization and Anglican priest Richard Hakluyt wrote in the Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation that the English failed to establish the colony at Roanoke because they were driven away by “the hand of God,” which “came upon them for the cruelty and outrages committed by some of them against the native inhabitants of that country.”[9]

            Such was the typical response of an Elizabethan Christian who believed in God’s active Providence. Failure was obviously a product of God’s will, and failure could best be explained by sin.  Hakluyt’s comment implied a larger question: Was it valid to conquer, colonize, and bring the Great Commission to the indigenous inhabitants of America?

            The English answered in the affirmative, in part because the Elizabethan and Jacobean English believed that England was an Elect nation, in part because of their tremendous sense of God’s Providence at work in their own lives and in the world at large. The English Reformation and founding of the Church of England under Henry VIII, its repression under Mary Tudor, and growth under Elizabeth I, had convinced many English that God particularly blessed England, which would carry out His will.[10] God’s providential role in English voyages of discovery and the English assumption that the Great Commission was of necessity the driver of such voyages can be seen in many of the narratives of voyages of discovery from that time. Edward Hayes, for example, who wrote the account of the 1583 voyage of Sir Humfrey Gilbert, argued that planting “the seed of Christian religion . . . must be the chiefe intent of such as shall make any attempt that way”—“whatsoever is builded upon other foundation shall never obtaine happy successe nor continuance.” He admonished adventurers who prosecuted such voyages to beware such journeys for material rather than spiritual gain. Hayes associated the fulfillment of the Great Commission to all corners of the world with the Second Coming of Christ; hence he believed that God had chosen the Elizabethan age as the time to begin to prosecute the Commission in earnest. Likewise, a contemporary of Smith, James Rosier, who voyaged with and penned accounts of the journeys of Bartholomew Gosnold and George Waymouth, wrote of the ultimate goal of the Waymouth voyage: “a publique good, and true zeale of promulgating Gods holy Church, by planting Christianity, [was] the sole intent of the Honourable setters foorth of this discovery.”[11]

            Captain John Smith’s actions and writings reveal that he agreed that England, the Elect Nation, had a particular role to play in the Great Commission of converting a people ignorant of Christ. He defended the English conquest and colonization of America in his book Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England: “Many good religious devout men,” Smith wrote, “have made it a great question, as a matter in conscience, by what warrant they might goe to possesse those Countries, which are none of theirs, but the poore Salvages. Which poore curiosity will answer it selfe; for God did make the world to be inhabited with mankind, and to have his name knowne to all Nations, and from generation to generation: as the people increased they dispersed themselves into such Countries as they found most convenient.”[12] To Smith, the Great Commission is a historical plan, a commandment of the past guiding people in the present and into the future. Jesus came to earth when the population was not great enough, at that time in the first century, to spread the message of the Gospel to all people. But as time passes and the world’s population increases—and England’s population increases—people have the human and material resources to carry out the Commission. The English colonization of America is therefore part of a great plan. Not to journey to other lands, not to extend the Gospel to other peoples, is to disobey God, indeed to reject God’s plan for history, which in Smith’s time was an even greater sin than using intimidation and violence by which to bring about God’s will.

            Part of God’s historical plan is civilizing the human race. Smith wrote, in Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, that, “had the seed of Abraham, our Saviour Christ Jesus and his Apostles, exposed themselves to no more dangers to plant the gospell wee so much professe, than we, even we our selves had at this present beene as Salvages, and as miserable as the most barbarous Salvage, yet uncivilized.”[13] It took the courage of other great men, sojourners like Abraham and the Son of Man himself, Jesus, to conform to God’s plan in the face of great danger, even death. Smith and his contemporaries referred to the Indians as salvages, meaning forest-dwellers. Smith believed that the Great Commission would take the salvages from primitive forest existence to the civilized existence of English Christianity.

            How actively involved was Smith himself in bringing the Gospel to the Indians?   There are many examples in Smith’s writings of his attempts to convince the American Indians of the truth of the Christian God. “Our order was daily to have Prayer,” he wrote, “with a Psalme, at which solemnitie the poore Salvages much wondered.” “To divert them from . . . [their] blind Idolatry,” Smith and his companions

did our best endevours, chiefly with the Werowance of Quiyoughcohanock, whose devotion, apprehension, and good disposition, much exceeded any in those Countries, with whom although we could not as yet prevaile, to God as much exceeded theirs, as our Gunnes did their Bowes & Arrowes, and many times did send to me to James Towne, intreating me to pray to my God for raine, for their Gods would not send them any. And in this lamentable ignorance doe these poore soules sacrifice themselves to the Devill, not knowing their Creator; and we had not language sufficient, so plainly to expresse it as make them understand it; which God grant they may.

Smith believed that his words and actions illustrated the power of God in his life, as he wrote: “That God that created all things they knew he [Smith] adored for his God: they would also in their discourses terme the God of Captaine Smith. ‘Thus the Almightie was the bringer on, The guide, path, terme, all which was God alone’.”[14]

            Smith supported the New England Puritans in their work to establish religious societies and convert the natives. God has decided, he wrote, “to stirre up some good mindes, that I hope, will produce glory to God, honour to His Majesty, and profit to his kingdom.” Smith had himself journeyed along the coast of New England in 1614 and believed that the land was reserved by God for some special purpose, that is, English colonization and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. He thought it was possible that God had purposefully spread disease throughout New England prior to the Pilgrims’s coming, preparing the way for the Lord, as it were. The surviving natives of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts would benefit from the English goal of “civilizing barbarous and inhumane nations to civility and humanity.” Indeed, the English owed this work to the New England Indians; it would otherwise be a “want of charity to those poore Salvages, whose Countries we challenge, use, and possesse.” Personally, Smith felt that it was his Christian duty to pursue this work. “Our good deeds or bad,” he wrote in Advertisements, “by faith in Christs merits, is all wee have to carry our soules to heaven or hell.”[15]

            Smith wrote Advertisements toward the end of his life, when he was reflective about his accomplishments and role in history and considered what were his greatest achievements. Significantly, he dedicated Advertisements to the archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York. He wished to show his dedication to the Anglican Church and proclaimed his desire that the New England colonies result in “the increase of God’s Church, converting Salvages, and enlarging the Kings Dominions.” He called the two archbishops his “Fathers and Protectors unexpectedly.” Smith felt compelled to defend himself for doing whatever he could to begin and sustain the Anglican Church in Virginia during the two years he was there. He wrote: “Now because I have spoke so much of the body, give me leave to say something of the soul, and the rather because I have been often demanded by so many how we began to preach the Gospel in Virginia, and by what authority, what churches we had, our order of service, and maintenance of our ministers, therefore I think it not amiss to satisfy their demands, it being the mother of all our plantations.” The Jamestown colonists established Church as they knew it the best way they knew how: “When I first went to Virginia, I well remember, we did hang an awning (which is an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun, our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut planks; our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees; in foul weather we shifted into an old rotten tent, for we had few better.” “This was our church, till we built a homely thing like a barn, set upon cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge and earth; so was also the walls; the best of our houses (were) of the like curiosity, but the most part far much worse workmanship, that neither could well defend wind nor rain, yet we had daily Common Prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months the holy Communion, till our minister died. But our prayers daily with an homily on Sundays, we continued two or three years after, till more preachers came.”[16]

            Surveying from afar the continuing growth of Anglicanism in England, Smith worried that such would not be the case in New England, and counseled readers of his Advertisements in what he considered to be the true approach to Christianity, both in England and in America. Smith thought that the strength of Christianity lay in its unity to a common creed and unified authority, both of which were found only in “one God, one Christ, one Church”—of England of course. Dissensions from the church splintered the belief, making it prey to non-Christians.[17]

            His books, at least, especially those toward the end of his life, inform us that he believed his own life was guided by the will of God. “If you but truly consider how many strange accidents have befallen those plantations and my self,” he wrote in Advertisements, [you] “cannot but conceive Gods infinite mercy both to them and me.” Smith saw himself as a playing an important role in acting upon the Great Commission. God’s “omnipotent power onely delivered me to doe the utmost of my best to make his name knowne in those remote parts of the world.”[18]

            Smith wrote a short apology, as it were, for English colonization, in the General History:

But we chanced in a Land even as God made it, where we found onely an idle, improvident, scattered people, ignorant of the knowledge of gold or silver, or any commodities, and carelesse of any thing but from hand to mouth, except bables of no worth; nothing to incourage us, but what accidentally we found Nature afforded. Which ere we could bring to recompence our paines, defray our charges, and satisfie our Adventurers; we were to discover the Countrey, subdue the people, bring them to be tractable, civill, and industrious, and teach them trades, that the fruits of their labours might make us some recompence, or plant such Colonies of our owne, that must first make provision how to live of themselves, ere they can bring to perfection the commodities of the Country:[19]

            The Stuart kings who granted charters for colonies agreed with Smith that the Great Commission should be a priority of colonization. For example, when James I granted Virginia a new charter in 1612, he granted the charter “for the Propagation of Christian Religion, and Reclaiming of People barbarous, to Civility and Humanity.”[20] A tract published by the Virginia Company titled True and Sincere Declaration of the Purposes and Ends of the Plantation declared that a motivating purpose of the endeavor was, “First to preach and baptize into Christian religion and by the propagation the Gospel, to recover out of the arms of the devil a number of poor and miserable souls wrapped up unto death in almost invincible ignorance; to endeavor the fulfilling and accomplishments of the number of the elect which shall be gathered from out of all corners of the earth; and add to our myte the treasury of heaven.”[21] Alexander Whitaker, the “Apostle of Virginia,” who baptized Pocahontas and married Rolfe and Pocahontas, wrote in his 1613 tract, Good News from Virginia, that “the promise of God . . . is without respect of person”—humans are equal before God.[22] As the English were centuries before able to be converted from their ignorance to Christ, so too could the Indians of America.

            John Smith’s goal to conquer, colonize, and commission ultimately bore fruit in America. The Anglican Church took root throughout the colonies, and slowly the work of the Great Commission was pursued by self-appointed and ordained commissioners. The Anglican worldview, shared by Smith, that colonization coexisted with civilizing and converting the Indians, could not be accomplished quickly, rather was long and draw out, an encumbrance to which was the inability of Indians to read the Gospel. As a result, either missionaries had to teach English or translate the Bible in the Indian vernacular. This was precisely the aim of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, often called the New England Company, an organization comprised of Anglicans as well as dissenters who collected and invested funds, from which they supported and paid missionaries and schoolteachers and supplied them with books, sermons, and Bibles by which to educate and convert the Native inhabitants. One of the founders of the New England Company, Anglican and scientist Robert Boyle, wrote, in On Theology: “But neither the fundamental doctrine of Christianity nor that of the powers and effects of matter and motion, seems to be more than an epicycle . . . of the great and universal system of God’s contrivances, and makes but a part of the more general theory of things, knowable by the light of nature, improved by the information of the scriptures: so that both these doctrines . . . seem to be but members of the universal hypothesis, whose objects I conceive to be the nature, counsels, and works of God, so far as they are discoverable by us . . . in this life.”[23]

Further south, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), formed in 1701 after founder Thomas Bray spent some time in Maryland, embraced the theory of converting by civilizing. Bray and the SPG also believed that white settlers living on the frontier needed the Gospel as much as their Indian neighbors. In A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion, on the Continent of America, addressed to the archbishop of Canterbury, Bray castigated the Church of England for not responding vigorously to the missionary efforts of the dissenters in New England, the Quakers in the Middle Colonies, and the Catholics in New France. He advocated that the SPG send missionaries who were bachelors without children and possessed uncommon zeal. SPG missionaries such as Bray distributed books and Bibles, and promoted schools and libraries, among Indians and whites. Bray himself was lauded by the SPG for his initial efforts and expenditures of funds for “divers ministers” send to America and for “many Parochial Libraries” established in the colonies.[24]

Bray and others in the SPG, such as George Berkeley, believed that the Great Commission must extend to all peoples in the colonies. Berkeley promoted in a 1724 pamphlet that a school should be opened in Bermuda for American Indians to prepare native missionaries to engage in work among their own people.[25] In the first anniversary sermon of founding of SPG in 1702, the speaker, the dean of Lincoln, proclaimed that an important goal was “the breeding up of Persons to understand the great variety of Languages of those Countries in order to be able to Converse with the Natives, and Preach the Gospel to them . . . ; especially this may be a great Charity to souls of many of those poor Natives who may by this be converted from that state of Barbarism and Idolatry in which they now live, and be brought into the sheepfold of are blessed Saviour.”[26] SPG missionaries worked up and down the coast, ministering to colonists, slaves, and Indians. Thomas Bray worked in the early 1730s to encourage the SPG to establish schools on plantations to educate and inculcate Christianity in African-American slave families.[27] The SPG helped to establish King’s College in New York in 1758; part of the aim of the college was to train messengers to interact with and teach all people.[28] Missionaries to Indians were taught that the natural religion of Indians would help them to understand Holy Scripture. One of the first tribes so tested was the Mohawk of New York.[29] French Franciscans and Jesuits had long been at work among the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes of the east coast, Great Lakes, and Canada. The French had better personal relations with Indians, but the English had more wares and better opportunities for trade.

            The focal point for Anglican missionary work during the eighteenth century before the War for Independence was at Fort Hunter, which was up the Mohawk River from Schenectady. Anglican missionaries such as Thomas Barclay and William Andrews began to bring the Gospel message to the Mohawks in the early 1700s. A Mohawk prayer book appeared in 1715, published by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, under William Andrews’ supervision. Henry Barclay, son of Thomas, was missionary at Fort Hunter from 1735 to 1746, when he became rector of Trinity Church, New York. John Ogilvie succeeded Barclay at Fort Hunter, serving from 1750 to 1760.[30]

            The Rev. John Ogilvie was an accomplished scholar and missionary, educated at Yale, ordained at London in 1748, and assigned to Fort Hunter in 1749. He worked out of Albany. He knew Dutch and Mohawk by which to converse with the local inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley. He revised William Andrew’s Mohawk prayer book, believing that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was the greatest strength that the English had to combat French Catholicism among the Indians. Upon his arrival at Fort Hunter, he was quickly disillusioned by the job before him. “I wish I could be more sanguine in my Hopes of Success,” he wrote, “but the want of Missionaries & Schoolmasters; the Opposition of the Romish Priest; the Ill examples of Christian professors; the Indians strong Propension to strong Liquors, are such Impediments to this Glorious Work, as fills me with very dark Apprehensions; but I’m somewhat relieved when I consider whose Cause I have in Hand; even His, who is exalted at God’s Right Hand to be a Prince & Saviour, who is Lord of all; who has promised to be with his Ministers to support & assist them in accomplishing the Purposes of his Grace.”[31]

            Ogilvie met with the British superintendent of Indians in the northern colonies, William Johnson, who believed that the Iroquois responded better to the more serious-minded Anglican missionaries rather than the more enthusiastic-minded Methodists.[32] There was a battle, as it were, during the years between King George’s War, which ended in 1749, and the onset of the French-Indian War in 1755, over the hearts and minds of the Iroquois. Anglican missionaries such as Ogilvie were pitted against French missionaries from Upper Canada and Quebec, who were moving about the Mohawk Valley, trying to woo the Indians to the “French interest.” Besides Fort Hunter, the English had located another fort at the Indian village of Canajohaire, west up the Mohawk River. Fortunately, Ogilvie found an ally in “a very pious Indian whose name is Abraham. This Indian has for some time past intirely [sic] neglected his hunting, in order to instruct his brethren in the principles of Religion, & to keep up divine service among the good people & children whilst the others are in the woods. He has likewise visited some of the upper [Iroquois] Nations to instruct them & seems intirely [sic] devoted to the interest of Religion.” To assist Abraham in these efforts, Ogilvie arranged for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to pay him £5.[33]

            With Abraham’s help, and working with thirteen Christian Indians already converted by his predecessors, Ogilvie preached every Sunday in Mohawk to the Mohawks at Fort Hunter, and had an interpreter read the liturgy while Ogilvie performed Holy Eucharist. Of the thirteen Indians, some “have preserved some sense of religion on their minds, & have behaved very soberly since.” During his first year, Ogilvie baptized nine children: six whites and three Indians. He catechized adults and children alike, and even had a separate class for black slaves. Ogilvie also found time to hold school, “instructing the native children himself” in reading and writing. Abraham’s son, Petrus Paulus, also a committed Mohawk Christian, assisted Ogilvie, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel recompensed him to be a “schoolmaster to the Mohawks.”[34]

            Like other eighteenth-century Protestant messengers, Ogilvie believed wholeheartedly that civilization must accompany Christianization for success to occur. He wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1751: “I am verily persuaded ’till some scheme be concerted for the education of the children [of the Mohawks], this generous work will proceed very slowly. I mean such a scheme as will, by the Blessing of God, change their whole Habit of thinking & acting & tend to form them into the condition of a Civil Industrious people so that the principles of Virtue & Piety may be instilled into their minds in such a way, as will be most likely to make the most lasting impression upon them, and withal introduce the English language among them instead of their own barbarous dialect.” To change their thinking, to change their fundamental assumptions about life, their assumptions about learning, acting, therefore to be a civil, industrious people in the Anglican mode, required thoughtful, serious people, which Ogilvie believed he had found among the Mohawks.[35]

            One of the biggest challenges facing Anglican missionaries was the influx of intoxicating liquors among the Mohawks and other Iroquois of New York. More, the scoundrels who sold the alcohol to Indians were the worst examples of the impact of Christianity upon white civilization. Most whites, Ogilvie proclaimed, who are

Professors of Christianity, who have any considerable dealings with the Indians by [their] Conduct give the most convincing proof that they regard them only as meer [sic] Machines to promote [their] secular interest; & not as [their] fellow creatures, rational & immortal agents, equally dear to the Father of spirits, capable of the same Improv’ments in Virtue, & the purchase of the same precious Blood; in short, the salt of the earth hath (in these parts) lost its savour; & [there is] not one thing that I can mention, as a circumstance of encouragement, in this momentous undertaking. I have made use of everything that had the least probability of being serviceable to the main end. I’ve only been (as it were) rowing against [the] stream, & have not been able to stem the torrent by reason of the extravagant quantities of rum, that is [sic] daily sold to those poor creatures.

Although the Mohawks had, Ogilvie believed, the same intellectual and moral capabilities as whites, they nevertheless, like their white counterparts, often fell into the path of sin. Whenever he returned to Albany, the Mohawks “fell to drinking in ye excess.”[36]

            Ogilvie’s successor, John Stuart, experienced some success that had evaded his predecessor. Upon Ogilvie’s departure in 1760 during the French-Indian War, missionary work among the Mohawk languished until the coming of Stuart, a native Pennsylvanian and former Presbyterian, who arrived under the authority of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1770. Stuart worked with the Mohawks at Fort Hunter and at nearby Canajoharie. At Canajoharie Stuart met Joseph Brant, whose Mohawk name was Thayendanegea. Brant had embraced Anglicanism under the influence of Ogilvie and collaborated with Stuart in translating the Gospel of Mark into Mohawk. This collaboration was cut short, however, by the coming of war. The Mohawks and most New York Anglicans stayed with the English against the American rebels. While Brant led Mohawks in battle, Stuart was put under arrest, and lived an imprisoned lifestyle at Schenectady until he was part of a swap of prisoners in 1781.[37]

Indeed, many Loyalists and Anglicans departed their homeland for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Upper Canada (what is generally, today, Ontario) during and after the war. Their loyalty to the king was twofold: loyalty to his majesty as head of state and loyalty to his role as head of the Church of England. There were no American bishops of the Church of England, so Anglicans during the seventeenth and eighteenth century always had to look to London for direction and holy orders.[38] It was natural for Anglicans, then, who had never experienced the independence of Congregationalism, to yearn for the order and direction of the Church of England not only in religion but in politics and institutions as well.

            Loyalists were not convinced that the disorder of revolution would in any way or form be preferable to the order of the British Constitution. Such a person was Samuel Andrews, an Anglican minister in Connecticut, who fled the disorder of revolution to travel north to the British dominions of Canada. Andrews was a member of the SPG in Connecticut and continued his association with the society upon his arrival in New Brunswick in 1786. Andrews became rector of a small parish of St. Andrews on the Passamaquoddy Bay; the town had been settled by Loyalists in recent years. Andrews believed he worked from the same Commission and for the same goals as the first apostles. Missionaries were agents of God teaching others, whites and Indians, to be agents of God as well. “What we understand by an agent is, a being capable of instruction,” he wrote, “or able to understand, and to be governed by laws, or to be influenced by the sanctions of law.” Messengers have the awesome responsibility to teach not only the Gospel but the ability to live according to human and divine law. Andrews believed that God, by giving us the choice, free will, to decide to live or not according to His laws, and by giving us grace to help us in our weakness, has embraced humans as His agents, and is working with us in his scheme of redemption.[39]

            Samuel Andrews was clearly influenced by Richard Hooker, the great Elizabethan theologian, who stressed that the focus of the church should not be about condemnation but redemption, not about sin but forgiveness, not about expiating guilt but work on behalf of God’s kingdom. Human agents work to spread God’s kingdom even though said agents are often held back by sin; sin is weakness, but God works with us to make this weakness a strength through Him, which allows us to continue our work on His behalf rather than sinking beneath the weight of guilt.

            With such theology girding their belts, Anglican messengers arrived throughout Canada intent on establishing the Church of England among wayward whites and suspicious American Indians alike. John Stuart, for example, spent four years in Montreal, serving as chaplain in the 2nd battalion of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York during and after the American Revolution. Stuart traveled to Upper Canada to Niagara-on-the-Lake (Newark) at the mouth of the Niagara River in 1784 to minister to Loyalist settlers and Mohawks. At this time, the 1780s, there were no settled parishes in the region west of the Niagara River and south of Lake Ontario. There were many Catholics, Lutherans, and Congregationalists attempting to reach out to the refugees from the thirteen colonies and the native inhabitants. Into this quagmire of uncertainty, Stuart entered and labored. From here, he relocated to the northern shores of Lake Ontario at Kingston (Cataraqui), where he ministered to the Bay of Quinte Indians. His church for many years was a log cabin. He traveled to Brantford, where Brant had brought his people, on the Grand River (north of Lake Erie) in 1785, and was appointed chaplain of the legislative council by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1792. The Anglican bishop of Quebec, Jacob Mountain, appointed Stuart Bishop’s commissary in Upper Canada from 1789 to his death in 1811. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel named him “Missionary to the Mohawks.”[40]

             Bishop Mountain, who according to Stuart “is a Scholar, Gentleman, Orator & Zealous Churchman” and of whom “we expect great Things from . . . ; especially, that he will rescue our Church from the Contempt into which it is fallen, by the Prudence & Wisdom of his Counsels & the Splendor of his Example,” worked to “promote Literature by establishing an University” in Ontario, which according to Stuart was much desired by the people, whites and Indians.[41] Indeed, when Bishop Mountain traveled from Montreal to Kingston, then along the northern, western, and southern shores of Lake Ontario, in 1794, he was perplexed that “Religious Instruction” is “truly deplorable.” “From Montreal to Kingston, a distance of 200 miles, there is not one Clergyman of the church of England: nor any house of religious worship except one small Chapel belonging to the Lutherans, & one, or perhaps two, belonging to the Presbyterians. The public worship of God is entirely suspended, or performed in a manner which can neither tend to improve the people in Religious Truth, nor to render them useful members of society.” Mountain knew that Upper Canada needed Anglican missionaries to influence the people and win them back from other denominations, or worse, no religion at all.

In my whole progress of my visitation I found the better part of the people extremely unhappy under the privation of Religious Instruction, & to the last degree earnest in their entreaties that I would use the power, which they supposed me to possess, of sending Ministers of the Church of England among them; They represented in the strongest terms not only the uneasiness which the more serious and reflecting persons among them feel, for themselves & for their families; but the dreadful consequences which follow a total want of Religious principles among some of the lowest orders of the people; whose ignorance, profligacy, & barbarism, they represent as being more shameful, & degrading, than those of the savages, by whom they are surrounded, & whom they affect to despise.[42]

            Such was the environment of, in the bishop’s words, savages of all sorts—whites and Indians—to which Robert Addison arrived in 1791. Addison, a missionary appointed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, came to Newark, as Niagara-on-the-Lake was then called, in the spring of 1792. Addison, according to a memoir found in the archives of the Diocese of Niagara, “had the blessing of being the son of parents whose circumstances enabled them to give him a liberal education.” He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and excelled in the classics and mathematics, though he was constantly challenged, in the words of one of his mentors, “to overcome the natural indolence and diffidence of his character.”  This intelligent, humble man, lacking in self-confidence, recruited by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, found himself in 1792 in a small village from which he was to minister to the people of the Niagara peninsula and beyond, including the Mohawks living along the Grand River. Addison was the only Anglican minister in the Niagara Peninsula extending west to Detroit.[43]

            Observers of the time commented on Addison’s patience, commitment, and zeal. “The Reverend Robert Addison was Invited to this Country by the principal Inhabitants, thro’ the aid of the Bishop of Nova Scotia, prior to the division of the Provinces of Canada” wrote one in 1797; “he was induced to Accept of this Invitation, by a promise of an annual Subscription from the Settlers, to be continued till Government should otherwise provide for the established Clergy.” A person cannot, however, survive on good intentions. “Mr. Addison has born his disappointment with a manly Fortitude that evinces his Merit. Ever since he has resided among us, he has performed all the Public offices of his Station with becoming Regularity, and with decent zeal; when called into our families for the Exercise of the private functions of a Clergyman we have ever found him attentive, kind, & Humane.” The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel paid Addison £50 per annum, though he was promised £250-300 from the local inhabitants. Another £100 had been promised for a church building, but upon the arrival of a “Presbyterian Clergyman . . . from Scotland the Inhabitants of all denominations built a place of Worship, so that I apprehend very little assistance will be expected from them in the Erection of the Episcopal Church.”[44]

            The bishop of Quebec stepped into this situation, requesting that “Rations” be allowed “to Mr. Addison as a Missionary to the Indians.” He agreed with Peter Russell that “the stationing a resident Missionary in every Indian Village has my most hearty concurrence, but more especially in the Settlement of the five Nations on the Grand River, where there is a very decent Church, and the Indians attend Divine service with exemplary Piety.—Mr. Addisons [sic] Mission is more peculiarly appropriated to that Settlement than to any other, and he is I believe as regular in his attendance to that part of his Duty as the distance of his residence and his other Ministerial duties can permit him.” Eventually Addison was presented with a grant of land at Four Mile Creek south of Lake Ontario.[45]

            Bishop Mountain reported in 1795 that “at Niagara there is a Minister, but no Church. The service is performed sometimes in the Chamber of the Legislative Council, & sometimes at Free Mason’s Hall, a house of public entertainment. The congregation is numerous & respectable.”[46] Eventually a parish building was begun in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in 1805; the congregation raised £1200 for the purpose. Before and after the erection of the parish building, Rev. Addison performed the typical duties of a parish priest. In 1800, he baptized “Peggy a Mulatto (filia populi),” a year later, in 1801, he baptized “David Son of Isaac a Mohawk Indian,” in 1804, “Cloe’ a Mulattoe,” and in 1813, “Catherine Wife of Captn Norton a Mohawk Chief.” As soon as Addison arrived he married Captain James Hamilton to Louisa “his Wife . . . they had been married by some Commanding officer or Magistrate and thought it more decent to have the office repeated” by an Anglican priest. In 1793 Addison presided over the burial of “A Sergeant of the 5th Regt. Shot for Desertion. He was attended a good while before he sufferd—he behav’d well.” In 1802 “Cut.Nose Johnson a Mohawk Chief,” was buried. Addison performed many burials from 1812 to 1815 during the War of 1812. When the United States invaded in 1812, the parish church, St. Mark’s, was occupied and burned. American soldiers spared Rev. Addison’s property, including his library, considered to be the best in Upper Canada. Nevertheless, he wrote the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel that he had been “plundered made prisoner of war, & harrassed till he was dangerously ill.” Once the Americans evacuated, “on our reoccupying Niagara in winter ’13-14, it was again taken possession of by the public and made a provision store of, and continued so until I think 1816, when application was made to His Majesty’s Government for some aid toward putting it into a state to perform Divine service in.”[47]

            Rev. Addison possessed the compulsion, found in many of these Protestant messengers, to reach out, which leads to an awareness of, an empathy toward, others. Addison felt that Christians had a responsibility of stewardship toward others, the unfortunate, including indigenous people. He encouraged his parishioners to help others, friends as well as foes: “to relieve the necesitious [sic], tho the object should be unworthy of bounty this would not detract from our virtue. If we err let us err on the side of a Mercy, and leave the Justice and Judgment to Heaven. . . . Alas! Such is the uncertainty of Human life and every thing connected with it so thin the partition between happiness and Misery life and Death that in one short moment the whole Scene can be changed, and sadly reversed. To day all Joy and Sunshine, tomorrow affliction and Clouds, and which of us can say, even the most affluent, that such reverse of Fate is not impending over and ready to burst upon our head.”[48]

            Twice a year, for decades, Addison journeyed throughout Upper Canada to bring the Message to all inhabitants. His itinerary included south of Niagara-on-the-Lake (Newark) to the soldiers at Butler’s Barracks, along the river to the falls, then south to Fort Erie, which guarded the entrance to the Niagara, across from Buffalo. Addison visited York, across Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake, and at the southwestern corner of the lake, the small hamlet of Hamilton, west of which, on the Grand River, was the Mohawk town of Brant’s Ford, Brantford. There, Addison conducted services in St. Paul’s Chapel, later called the Mohawk Chapel. He was convinced that his labors would lead to the probable conclusion “that other tribes might be induced by the example of the Mohawks to profess Christianity.” He convinced many Indians to act as missionaries in neighboring villages. Addison never learned Mohawk but relied on Joseph Brant and another Mohawk chief, Captain John Norton, to translate. Among the archives of the local parish at Niagara-on-the-Lake is this record from 1813: “The Mohawk chief Captain Norton was married to his Wife Catherine on the 27th July when she was baptised; and Jacob Johnson another Mohawk Chief was married to his Wife Mary on the 21st August this Year.” On every visit to Brantford and the Mohawk Chapel, he baptized about twenty, and only those who “seemed to offer themselves from a persuasion of the truth and value of our holy faith, without which he had no wish to baptize any of them.”[49]             Addison appears to have not been terribly sanguine about his efforts in this regard. Anglicanism taught, then as now, that the Christian journey toward redemption is a long journey, and transformation does not occur in an instant. Anglican conversion, indeed, is lifelong, and one rarely finds an Anglican who experiences the blinding light of the Apostle Paul on the roa

[1]     This essay is in part the fruits of research enabled through the generosity of a grant provided for the author in 2011 by the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church. The author was also assisted by a grant from Fulbright Canada in 2010.

This essay was originally published in the journal Anglican and Episcopal History.

[2]     John Smith, General History, in Works, 1608-1631, Edward Arber, ed. (Birmingham, 1884), 278.

[3]     For Smith’s Anglican beliefs, see Russell M. Lawson, The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith’s Voyage to New England         (Hanover, New Hampshire: 2015).

[4]     This was James Rosier’s view about the George Waymouth voyage of 1605. See the account at “A True Relation of the         Voyage of Captaine George Waymouth, 1605, by James Rosier,” in Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly          from Hakluyt, 1534-1608, ed., Henry S. Burrage (New York, 1906).

[5]     Thomas Hariot was such a self-appointed apostle, as revealed in Thomas Hariot, A briefe and true report of the new          found land of Virginia, of the commodities and of the nature and manners of the naturall inhabitants: Discouered          bÿ the English Colony there seated by Sir Richard Greinuile Knight In the yeere 1585. Project Gutenberg Etext/

[6]     William Stevens Perry, The History of the American Episcopal Church 1587-1883, vol 1 (Boston: 1885), 7.

[7]     Hariot, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia.

[8]     Ibid.

[9]     Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (London: 1589).

[10]   William Haller, The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ (New York, 1963).

[11]   Rosier, “A True Relation of the Voyage of Captaine George Waymouth,” and “A Report of the Voyage of Sir Humfrey         Gilbert, Knight, 1583, by Master Edward Haies” Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-      1608, ed., Henry S. Burrage (New York, 1906), 180, 181, 183, 388.

[12]   John Smith, Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters, in Works, 1608-1631, Arber, ed. (Birmingham, 1884), 934.

[13]   Ibid, 935.

[14]   General History, 76, 105, 126.

[15]   Advertisements, 926, 935- 36

[16]   Ibid., 957-58

[17]   Ibid., 959.

[18]   Ibid., 944-45.

[19]   General History, 464-65.

[20]   Quoted in Conrad H. Moehlman, The American Constitutions and Religion (Clark, New Jersey: 2007), 22

[21]   Ibid., 21.

[22]   Alexander Whitaker, Good News from Virginia (London, 1613), 25.

[23]   See William Kellaway, The New England Company, 1649-1776: Missionary Society to the American Indians (New          York, 1961; Robert Boyle, “Of Theology,” in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, vol. 4 (London:       Johnston,, 1772), 19.

[24]   Thomas Bray, A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion, on the Continent of America (London, 1700); C.    F. Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S. P. G.: An Historical Account of the Society for the Propagation of the           Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900, vol. 1 (London, 1901), 6.

[25]     Daniel O’Connor,, Three Centuries of Mission: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (London,       2000), 20-21.

[26]   Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S. P. G., 7-8.

[27]   O’Connor, Three Centuries of Mission, 21-22.

[28]   Ibid., 25.

[29]   Ibid., 31-32.

[30]   Owanah Anderson, “Anglican Mission among the Mohawk,” in O’Connor, Three Centuries of Mission, 235-48.

[31]   John Ogilvie’s Journal, New York State Library, quoted in Peter M. Doll, Revolution, Religion, and National Identity: Imperial Anglicanism in British North America, 1745-1795 (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2000), 74. See also A. H. Young, “The Revd. John Ogilvie D.D., an Army Chaplain at Fort Niagara and Montreal, 1759-1760,” Ontario History 22 (1925).

[32]   Young, “John Ogilvie.”

[33]   Ogilvie, Journal.

[34]   Ibid.

[35]   Ibid.

[36]   Quoted in John W. Lydekker, The Faithful Mohawks (Cambridge: University Press, 1938), 72, 73.

[37]   T. R. Millman, “John Stuart,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

[38]   James B. Bell, “Anglican Clergy in Colonial America ordained by Bishops of London:

[39]   Samuel Andrews, A Discourse on St. Mark. XVI. 15. 16. “And He said unto them, Go ye,” &c (New Haven: Daniel,          1787).

[40]   John Stuart Papers, General Synod Archives, Anglican Church of Canada.

[41]   The Correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe, 5 vols., ed. Ernest A. Cruikshank (Toronto, 1923), 2:147.

[42]   Ibid., 3:91-92.

[43]   Diocese of Niagara Archives, Hamilton University.

[44]   The Correspondence of the Honourable Peter Russell with Allied Documents…, vol 1, ed. Ernest A. Cruikshank and         Hunter (Toronto, 1932), 127-128; Simcoe Correspondence, vol. 4, 135.

[45]   Russell Correspondence, 2:62-63, 98-99; Simcoe Correspondence, 4:320-21.

[46]   Simcoe Correspondence, 3:91.

[47]   Diocese of Niagara Archives, Hamilton University; Robert Addison’s Library: A Short-Title Catalogue of the Books         Brought to Upper Canada in 1792 by the First Missionary Sent Out to the Niagara Frontier by the Society for the         Propagation of the Gospel, compiled by William J. Cameron and George McKnight  (Hamilton, 1967).

[48]   Robert Addison Papers, Niagara Historical Society.

[49]   Diocese of Niagara Archives. See also Ernest Hawkins, Annals of the Diocese of Toronto (London: Society for    Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1848), 45-57.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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