The Spirit of Missions

In the nineteenth century, various churches attempted to convert the First Nations across North America to their particular brand of Christianity. With the retreat of the Jesuits, along with the conquest of New France, Protestant churches moved in attempting to convert those who still followed traditional beliefs alongside those who had converted to Catholicism. Among them was the Protestant Episcopal Church, the American arm of the Anglican church, who commissioned The Spirit of Missions Volumes One and Two with the goal of reporting on their progress in attempting to liberate everyone they could from what they viewed as the corrupting power of the Roman Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad.[1] These books were meant to replace their earlier journal with the same goal which had been less successful than they had hoped.[2] These books were written in Burlington, New Jersey in 1896 by the Missionary Press for the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

While The Spirit of Missions does not mention missions to Upper Canada or to the Anishinaabe people, who would have been known to them as either the Ojibwe or Chippewa, this book still proves useful to researchers for 4202F: Confronting Colonialism and 3801E: Historian’s Craft. It provides a general overview of the Board of Missions’ means of executing their mission statement in Michigan State, it refers to the manner in which land was parceled to the Oneida people, there are reports of funds raised within Episcopal congregations and their purpose, and it provides insight into how the First Nations peoples were viewed by this missionary organization. All of this can be used to place our understanding of Land, Literacy and Learning as a colonial tool of assimilation in Upper Canada, and Southwestern Ontario in particular, in the broader context of the region. From this, researchers can compare the tactics of these different missions and begin asking questions about Upper Canada’s role in the changing landscape of Upper Canada.

The Michigan Mission is the most closely geographically related mission in The Spirit of Missions, making it the most relevant to the research project. It is rarely mentioned in the first volume, which is unsurprising considering the mission only began in 1821 and was still in the process of establishing itself in the period these books were written.[3] The most detailed account of the Mission can be found on pages 138 to 143 of the second volume, where a brief history of the mission is provided. In it, it names the most influential missionaries to arrive in the region, mentions the construction of the first church and when education became available to people in the region. [4] The missions, located at Troy, Duck Creek and Romeo, served eighty communities in total, including the city of Detroit. The Episcopal Church considered itself to be largely successful by 1837 when this history was written.[5] This history, and the reports dotted throughout the texts, will provide a researcher with context for the goings on in the region which can then be compared with Upper Canada. It should be mentioned that these missions are mentioned specifically at various points throughout the third quarter of the first volume and throughout the second volume, although who exactly they are trying to covert remains unclear most of the time. Prior to this, they are all referred to under the general heading of Michigan. It should also be noted that, since Michigan became a state in 1836, it is considered a foreign mission in the text until that date.[6]

Land is also a matter discussed by missionaries in Michigan in relation both the church and the Oneida people in general. Reverend Solomon Davis, a missionary to the Oneida at Duck Creek reported on the 30th of September, 1836 that the Oneida were living on 500,000 acre tract owned commonly by the Six Nations of New York.[7] In addition to this, he reports that 90,000 acres was given to them by the US commissioners West of the Mississippi which the missionaries felt would be their permanent home, with this land came 30,000 dollars.[8] As the division of land in Upper Canada is important to understanding the changing landscape of indigenous peoples’ way of life, so too must researchers look at the changing land in the United States if they are to compare the missions.

Donations also play an important role in understanding these movements. From this, one can draw conclusions about the support network in place for missionaries, and an understanding of what these donors viewed as useful to their missionary organization. Each month, represented by a chapter, lists are made to record which communities from which state have raised money and the goals for that money, often to send it to missions within the state or even abroad. This shows the power of the movement, since some of these records show thousands of dollars being raised for these projects and the emphasis people in the United States placed on religion and the importance of bringing their culture to people they wished to influence. From these lists, researchers will be able to compare donations in Upper Canada and/or England, to see how important the English saw conversion of First Nations peoples and compare the roles the powers backing these missions played in the success or failure of these missions.

Sadly, there is very little on education in this resource. Part of the limitations of this source is that it is extremely general in its approach. In most of Volume 1 it is often very unclear who the missionaries are attempting to convert as they seem reluctant to give group names. Statements are brief, often limited to whether or not there are a large or small number of attendees of mass and Sunday school and whether or not the attendees are enthusiastic towards their new religion. Even when both state and people are mentioned, there is the problem that the specifics of what is being learned are limited to the mention of the establishment of schools and churches. Researchers will have to find further resources to help them understand what is being taught and how this compares with the curriculums of missions in Upper Canada. However, this does provide insight into how missionaries viewed those they were converting. As a result, researchers can take away an understanding of how indigenous cultures were viewed and will be able to use this information to contextualize the European view of their new subjects. While further research is required surrounding education, there is a great deal to be learned about land and the interactions between the Oneida and Episcopal Church that can be used as reference.

While The Spirit of Missions may not be directly related to the research being done by Confronting Colonialism and Historian’s Craft, it does provide context and raises questions about the role of missions in Upper Canada. By looking at the mission to the Oneida, the re-division of land in Michigan, the donations of the community to the Board of Missions and the reports being sent to the Board of Missions by missionaries in the field we gain a deeper understanding of the role of Upper Canadian missions in the region and discover new questions to ask of ourselves.

[1] Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 1. (Burlington, New Jersey: Missionary Press). 1896 p. 3

[2] Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 1 p. 3

[3] Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 2. (Burlington, New Jersey: Missionary Press). 1896 p. 139

[4] Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 2 p. 202

[5] Ibid p. 202-205

[6] Ibid p. 138

[7] Ibid p. 7

[8]  Ibid


Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 1. (Burlington, New Jersey: Missionary Press). 1896

Board of Missions, ed. The Spirit of Missions Volume 2. (Burlington, New Jersey: Missionary Press). 1896

For Further Information:

Brewer, Clifton Hartwell. A History of Religious Education in the Episcopal church to 1835. New York: Arno Press Inc., 1969

Brewer’s book will provide information about the ideas doctrines of the clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church beginning with the arrival of the Church of England in America until 1835. Although the book does warn that many of the ideas and doctrines are now out of date, this book will answer researchers’ questions raised by the primary source about the role of education in missionary projects. Sections that will be particularly useful to the researcher will be “Efforst towards the Religious Education of Indians and Negroes”, “Materials of Religious Education used by the Church of England in the Colonies” “Provisions for Educating a Native Clergy” and “The Rise of Sunday Schools”, all of which will be useful in helping a researcher explore the role of education in First Nations communities as it pertains to literacy and assimilation.

Podmore, Colin. “A Tale of Two Churches: The Ecclesiologies of The Episcopal Church and the Church of England    Compared”. International journal for the Study of the Christian Church (2008) p. 124-154

This article compares the Episcopal and Anglican Churches in regards to their structure and ideologies. This article is particularly useful as it will help researchers to understand the ideological differences between the Episcopal and Anglican Churches that would affect the running of missions in Michigan. The section titled “High-Church developments: 1811-1839” will be of particular use as it refers to edicts from the bishop of the Episcopal Church that would have affected missions at this time such as the practice of installing a bishop in a region, then founding a church, possibly making it more palatable to those who had already been converted in Michigan by Jesuit priests.

Stinson, Richard L. “The Development of Indian Mission Policy and Practice in the National Period”. Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1968) p. 51-65

The Development of Indian Mission Policy is an article that explores the evolution of policies surrounding interactions between the Episcopal Church and the First Nations Peoples they encountered. This article points out the successes and failures of the Episcopal Church in in understanding and relating to the societies they were attempting to convert. The overview is very general, but it will enable researchers to understand the role of the Episcopal Church in the process of assimilating the First Nations.

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