Project Canterbury

Missions to the Oneidas

By Susan Fenimore Cooper

Serialized in The Living Church

Conclusion. June 5, 1886, page 155.

The Oneidas have been happy in their Father in God. Bishop Armitage, who succeeded the venerable Bishop Kemper, in the diocese of Wisconsin, soon acquired their confidence and affection. But he lived only a short time, until 1873. Two years later, in 1875, the new diocese of Fond du Lac was formed from a portion of the diocese of Wisconsin, including Brown County, and the Oneida Reservation. In December of the same year, the Rev. John Henry Hobart Brown was consecrated Bishop of Fond du Lac. The Oneidas found in him another kind and wise counsellor and friend.

The people were now very much occupied with the work for the new stone church, which they had planned many years earlier. Their serious troubles with agents and traders had not led them to abandon this work. As a people they had always been much interested in the building, which was for them the House of God. They had repeatedly given freely of their labor and money for repairs on the wooden church built in 1839. And now they were very anxious to build a substantial stone church of good architectural design, and large enough to accommodate eight hundred people. For years the men had given one day in every week to the labor of preparing the lumber and quarrying the stone needed for the new building, while the women, and even the children were bringing their small earnings to the missionary to be added to the church fund. The men also raised about $200 in money every year, to be given to the fund. This money was invested at interest, in the Savings Bank, at Green Bay. An excellent plan was prepared by the Rev. Charles Babcock, the architect, as a gift to the mission. The church was to be in the early English style, with low massive walls, heavy buttresses, and a steep roof. It was to be 48 by 68 exclusive of porch and chancel.

Bishop Brown felt a deep interest in the plan for the new church, and the sympathy with the Oneidas increased throughout the diocese. In June, 1883, the following appeared in the diocesan paper, at Fond du Lac:

FOND DU LAC, June 11, 1883

I cordially commend the statement and appeal of the Oneida Indians and their missionary, whose thirty years of service prove his devotion to their welfare, to the kindly consideration of Churchmen in the diocese and elsewhere.

Some of the tribe, members of the Church, were encouraged by Bishop Hobart about fifty years ago, to seek a home for themselves in Wisconsin. They succeeded by purchase and treaty in acquiring a common interest in the Menominee territory. When the Indian rights to the soil of Wisconsin were bought by the United States government, one of the stipulations made by the Oneidas was, that the United States should build them on their Reservation a church, costing four thousand dollars. This they named Hobart church, in honor of their venerated friend. It is a structure of wood, too small for the use of the tribe, out of repair and unsafe. The Oneidas have slowly increased in number. There are now about fourteen hundred in all, of whom about nine hundred are baptized children of the Church. These steadily improve in Christian character and in the arts of civilization; forming a community much respected for honesty, industry and general morality. They are lovers of divine worship, and are reverent, patient and docile. Old and young, men and women, throng the church in such numbers that they require a building both commodious and strong. A suitable plan has been made for the church by the Rev. Charles Babcock, professor of architecture, Cornell University. The case of these Oneidas appeals strongly to the hearts of Churchmen. I do not doubt that their simple faith in their heavenly Father's power, and their confidence in the love and liberality of their brethren will be vindicated and rewarded.

Bishop of Fond du Lac.

Early in the spring of 1884 statements were handed to the Bishop, showing that the amount of the building fund was at that date $6,000. A contract was then drawn up with a responsible firm, who engaged to complete the new church for $7,878, providing all but the stone and sand. The contract was signed by the Bishop and the missionary. Only a few weeks later the savings bank, in which the earnings of the Oneidas had been deposited, failed! Their money had vanished! This was a hard blow indeed. But the people bore it with admirable Christian courage. They never faltered, but encouraged each other to continue their efforts to build the new church for the Lord's service, and the good of the tribe. The Bishop was greatly grieved at this failure after eleven years of patient, self-denying toil. He told the Oneidas that "their faith was now being tried, their patience must be perfected, their zeal must be proved, their courage tested, and that they must continue this good work undertaken in the fear and love of their Heavenly Father." And in this dark hour he issued another earnest appeal.

Much sympathy was shown to the Oneidas in this sore trial. Within two years the new fund amounted to $5,000. And now it is greatly hoped that the first steps in building, may be taken this summer, 1886. The men after nearly fifteen years of faithful labor, are still at work, and they give every Monday to this task and have quarried and drawn more than 100 cords of stone to the site of the new church. They are also busy in drawing sand, and the material furnished by the builders.

The condition of the people is satisfactory. They are considered good farmers. They advance steadily in civilization. They are generally temperate, honest and industrious. There are several carpenters, sled-makers, a blacksmith, several shoe-makers, and one or two small stores on the Reservation. There are three or four threshing machines, many seeders, mowers and reapers, and horse-rakes, owned and worked by the Oneidas. Most of the principal women have good sewing machines, and are neat sewers, and good housekeepers. Many families have good kitchen and flower gardens. The Oneidas raise winter and spring wheat, oats, barley, rye, maize and potatoes. Teams and wagons have increased greatly, especially horse teams. Cattle have not increased as much as horses, owing to the difficulty of providing for them during the long winters of Wisconsin. For the same reason there are but few sheep. There are no saloons, or drinking places on the Reservation. The women are generally modest in manner, and chaste in character.

The population has doubled in the last forty years. It is now more than 1500. Among them are some very aged people: William Antone, Tyo-girl-art or Black Squirrel, is 97; Mary Hill, Oya-go-dent, Benevolence, is 90; Jacob Cornelius, Eus-quien, Foremost, is 89; his sister, Mrs. Meteseu, Tay-kar-kas-yous, Distributer, is 91.

The parish of Hobart church numbers about 900 souls; Baptized persons 841, Baptisms last year, 41 infants, confirmed 12. Confirmations this year 25, communicants 168, Sunday scholars 149, parish school 126, offerings $551.47.

May these our brethren of the Oneida Mission, continue to "flee from that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good." May they move steadfastly onward in the blessed path of God's holy commandments! Amen.

Project Canterbury