Project Canterbury

Some American Churchmen

By Frederic Cook Morehouse

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1892.

Chapter VII. Jackon Kemper, First Bishop of Wisconsin

A NEW era opened before the American Church in 1835. It was in that year that she first entered upon real missionary work, by consecrating Bishop Kemper for the great and almost unknown Northwest.

Jackson Kemper was born in New York State, December 24th, 1789, and was a disciple of Bishop Hobart, under whom he studied Theology. Ordained deacon by Bishop White in 1811, and priest in 1814, he early entered into missionary work, making tours of Western Pennsylvania as far as the Ohio border. During the exciting days of the Onderdonk election in Pennsylvania, touched on in the article on Bishop Hopkins, Mr. Kemper was an ardent supporter of Bishop White, and voted with his friends for Bishop Onderdonk.

From 1831, until his elevation to the episcopate, he was rector of S. Paul's Church, Norwalk, Connecticut.

In 1885, Mr. Kemper was elected and consecrated Missionary Bishop of Missouri and Indiana, with jurisdiction all through the Northwest. Illinois had already elected Bishop Chase to its episcopate, and the few scattered congregations in Michigan territory had placed themselves under the charge of Bishop McIlvaine, of Ohio. Thus, the title of Bishop Kemper's wide field was intended to cover everything else west of Ohio.

He was a tireless missionary. Travelling slowly through Indiana, and visiting the several stations in that State, he finally reached St. Louis on the 19th of December, 1835, nearly three months after he had started from Philadelphia. Here he made his home, and became rector of Christ Church, which had already been established.

In his parochial work he was aided by assistants. In his missionary work, travelling by stage or by river, between rude settlements at long distances apart, he was a constant laborer.

It was almost impossible to get any clergy to cross the Mississippi river into Missouri. The difficulty was so great that in the year after his consecration Bishop Kemper visited the East in search of funds, with which to establish a missionary seminary.

A considerable amount was raised. Accordingly, the Bishop bought a tract of 125 acres within five miles of St. Louis, and there Kemper College was built, and was named for the Bishop in his absence, and without his knowledge.

For a few years the work prospered. Students increased--so did the debt. By the first of March, 1845, the debt was $17,500. The college was closed on the first of April, and soon after, the whole property was sold for the debt. That property is now within the city limits of St. Louis, and is probably worth well up into the millions. It might have been an endowment for the whole diocese, if only the Church had sustained it!

In 1837, Bishop Kemper travelled through the Indian country, Kansas and Western Missouri.

The great Southwest was in charge of Bishop Otey, of Tennessee. Early in 1838, the latter proposed to Bishop Kemper that they should jointly make a trip down the Mississippi, and so through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. The Bishop consented. On reaching Memphis, he received news of the illness of Bishop Otey, with a request that he would himself make the visitation alone. Thus he boarded the steamer "Tuskina" and proceeded down the Mississippi. He notes in his diary that he found a number of Church people at Memphis, with neither church nor minister. He held services at the school-house, at the Presbyterian church, and at a private house. At Vicksburg he found a clergyman settled, at which he expresses surprise. He describes the city as "a very busy, nourishing place, greatly improved in morals, although still a pretty bad place." At Natchez he ordained a Mr. Pinching, and then travelled on by carriage, over muddy roads and through swamps. He ordained and confirmed at Woodville, Mississippi, consecrated a church at St. Francisville, Louisiana, and finally reached New Orleans.

From thence the Bishop moved eastward, confirming many persons, including some slaves. He travelled by rail to Mobile, up the Tombig-bee river to Columbus, Mississippi, thence by land across Alabama to Columbus, Georgia; down the Chattahoochie river to the town bearing the same name; thence to Tallahassee and back to Chattahoochie again, finally reaching Pensacola. March and April were spent in travelling through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, with innumerable adventures. Early in May he reached New Orleans, and proceeded back to St. Louis up the Mississippi river.

After such a trip extending over four months, all of which was spent in "roughing it," it would seem as though the Bishop was entitled to a rest. But no! He now turns northward and spends the summer of 1838, in his first visitation of Wisconsin. Two years before, the territory of Wisconsin had been formed, including not only the present State of that name, but Iowa and Minnesota also. Into that territory large numbers of emigrants were now flocking, and a mission had been established at Milwaukee by the Rev. Isaac Hallam, rector of S. James' Church, Chicago. There was a resident clergyman at Fort Crawford, near Green Bay, the Rev. Richard F. Cadle.

All through this immense territory Bishop Kemper travelled and held services, mainly at forts near the Indian reserves, and at small frontier settlements. Having thus spent the summer, he went to Philadelphia to the General Convention, which was in session in September. Returning to his work again, he started out in search of a tribe of Mohawk Indians who, he had heard, were Christians, and were using a Prayer Book. He had travelled by stage and on horseback through Missouri, stopping at Boonville and other places.

Here is Bishop Kemper's description of one of the nights of this trip:

"There were two rooms, or rather two log huts connected together, into one of which we and another traveller were placed. It had no window, consequently the door was left open for light. Some newspapers were nailed on the logs, perhaps for ornament, or perhaps to keep out some of the air which rushed in through many an aperture. Every ten minutes two young men rushed in, with shoes covered with snow, to warm themselves, and thereby kept the floor and hearth wet. At our meals, the door was wide open to let in the light, and then we were chilled to the heart and shaking while we were eating. Six of us slept in this miserable room, two in a bed." [From Bishop Kemper's Diary, published in the Nashotah Scholiast, 1884-85.]

At another time he notes that he was one of eleven to sleep in one log room, of whom one was a negro.

The Mohawk Christianity proved to he of a weak character. Services had once been held by a man named Bowles, and afterward by an Indian named George Hill, but both had died, and services had been discontinued for four years. Hill's widow was a drunkard, but through her, Bishop Kemper obtained, for five dollars, a copy of the Prayer Book that had been used. It had been printed in England. One page was Mohawk and the next English. There were eighteen engravings, with a frontispiece representing George III. and his queen, surrounded by Bishops and nobles, presenting Prayer Books to two Mohawks, who were kneeling, while a party of the same Indians was in the distance.

It was in this year that Bishop Kemper declined the episcopate of Maryland, to which he had been elected, choosing rather the hard work upon the Western frontier.

In the summer of 1840, Bishop Kemper again visited the East, and spoke before the students of the General Theological Seminary upon the need of men and money for the West. As a result of this talk, seconded by a powerful sermon from Professor Whittingham, then Bishop-elect of Maryland, four young men offered themselves for the work of an associate mission, and so, two years later, Nashotah was founded in Wisconsin territory.

Why Nashotah succeeded when so many other efforts to found missionary seminaries to train men for the ministry in the far West failed, would be an interesting study. Perhaps one reason was that it was an associate mission, designed to do real missionary work after the style of the primitive Church. Be that as it may, Nashotah succeeded, and in a few years Bishop Kemper removed his home to that place.

The work of the succeeding years was similar to this. Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, were successively formed into independent dioceses, and elected Bishops of their own. Wisconsin had been a diocese since 1847, and had, at its primary convention, elected Bishop Kemper as its diocesan. He declined, and remained the Missionary Bishop of the Northwest, having charge also of Wisconsin, until 1859. In that year he was again elected Bishop of Wisconsin, and accepted his election, retaining his old home at Nashotah.

Wisconsin was still missionary ground for many years to come, and gave Bishop Kemper ample scope for the exercise of his missionary spirit. As a diocese it was rapidly becoming well known in the councils of the Church. By 1865, there were sixty clergymen in the State. The great DeKoven was at Racine, the faculty at Nashotah included the noble Dr. Cole, Dr. Adams, one of its original founders, Dr. Kemper, the Bishop's own son, and Dr. Thompson, afterward Bishop of Mississippi. Wisconsin was preparing for an important part in the history of the Church in the next decade.

Wisconsin is prominent in the American Church for the high standing of its several institutions. The establishment of Nashotah and Racine, while yet the State was missionary ground, brought to the diocese men of ability and talents seldom found on the frontier. Another institution, for the planting of which the initial steps were taken during Bishop Kemper's administration, was the Cathedral.

There were at that time no Cathedrals in the American Church. There were dioceses and there were Bishops, but the idea of a central point from which the work of the diocese I might proceed was lost sight of. A Bishop I should have his own church wherein he can perform his official functions as by right. This should be the center from which should radiate the missionary work of the diocese. It should be in the city, the center of population, and its working staff should be active men with true missionary zeal. It should, in short, be a central missionary agency, with the Bishop at the head. This is the idea of a Cathedral as it early existed in Wisconsin.

For a time, when yet Wisconsin was a wilderness, Nashotah served as such a center. Organized as an associate mission, it became, ere many years had passed away, the home of the Bishop. From Nashotah emanated the missionary work of the diocese. Her clerical staff planted the standards of the Cross everywhere within a radius of more than two hundred miles. The missionary and educational interests were one. All were served under the same head. While Wisconsin was without cities, Nashotah was a Western adaptation of the Cathedral idea set into practice.

But the tendency of population is toward cities. Missionary work must be most active where there are the most people. The center of missionary work must be the greatest cities, which are the centers of learning, of arts, and of civilization generally.

Milwaukee was now a city of some consequence. As compared with other towns in Wisconsin, it was many times larger, and it was growing rapidly. That Milwaukee was destined to be the metropolis of the State, was an evident fact.

Following upon this, was the certainty that in time the administration of the diocese must be from Milwaukee and not from Nashotah. It was not so by the arbitrary will of any one. Indeed, Bishop Kemper's home remained at Nashotah until the day of his death. It was, however, the irresistible tendency of the times It was therefore clear that the future Cathedral of Wisconsin, must be organized in Milwaukee. Bishop Kemper was not blind to the fact. In 1866, he said in his annual address to the council:

"I shall venture (perhaps from long habit) to view the whole Diocese as missionary ground, and shall probably continue so to do while bodily and mental strength are bestowed upon me. This view of duty, I must urge as an apology for not calling your attention to a Cathedral, an episcopal residence, and a fund for the support of your Bishop."

Acting on the urgent request of the Bishop, who was now in his seventy-sixth year, the council at that same session, went into the election of an Assistant Bishop. The choice fell on the Rev. William Edmond Armitage, rector of S. John's Church, Detroit, who accordingly received consecration, December 6th, 1866.

One of the leading features of the work assigned by Bishop Kemper to his Assistant, was the development of the Cathedral system in Milwaukee. It was work which Bishop Armitage's youth and talents especially fitted him for, while Bishop Kemper, with his increasing years, and his residence at Nashotah, felt himself unequal to it.

Bishop Armitage, acting under his superior, applied himself energetically to the work. There was, in Milwaukee, a weak organization known as Trinity Church, which was almost on the verge of failure. This Bishop Armitage took, changed the name to All Saints, and, arranging with the rector, wardens and vestry of S. Paul's Church, the nearest parish, as to boundary lines, made it the pro-Cathedral of the diocese. By 1868, he had obtained a more suitable location for the work, and proceeded to build thereon a small church edifice, which afterward became the chapel of the present Cathedral, and was torn down a few years since to make room for the new school and guild buildings.

So favorably was this pro-Cathedral work received by the Bishop and the diocese, though it was also not without opposition, particularly in the see city, that the council of 1868 addressed to General Convention a memorial on the subject of cathedrals, of which the following are some extracts:

"The Church in the State of Wisconsin, assembled in convention in the City of Milwaukee, with the Bishops, clergy and laity, do respectfully represent:

"First, that the episcopate is the Missionary Order of the Church, and has been so constitutionally from the beginning; Bishops being not only successors of the Apostles, but themselves Apostles. *****

"And furthermore, that it is evident that from the earliest time, after the miraculous powers of the first band of the Apostles of Christ, those chosen by Himself, came to an end, the place for the Apostle or Bishop was in the city, as the center of population, of wealth, of intelligence, and all progress of doctrine and propagation of ideas. ******* And in the city was the Bishop's Church or Cathedral, the Mother Church of the whole diocese, and the Bishop's residence at the center of his work, the very focus of all influences whereby the propagation of the Gospel can be organized, pressed on, or facilitated.

"The Church in Wisconsin, being convinced that these facts are true, and that they make the only basis whereupon the Church can be organized so as to have her full power to do the work that God has placed before her in this great land, * * * * requests of the General Convention to enact an article with these provisions:

"First. Recognizing the principle of the See, and providing that there should be ultimately a Bishop of the Church, with his Bishop's Church or Cathedral in every city of the land," etc."

That Bishop Kemper was in full sympathy with this Cathedral work, is shown, among other ways, by the following extract from Bishop Armitage's address in 1869:

"I may be expected to speak of the progress of the work intrusted to me by the Bishop and virtually by the convention, on my first coming to the diocese, viz., the establishment of the See principle, the gradual erection of Milwaukee into the See of Wisconsin * * * * * * with the Bishop's approval in every important step, and with his kind confidence throughout. * ******* Two years in All Saints' Church, the congregation of which has been forced reluctantly to organize as a parish, have furnished valuable experience towards a Bishop's Church or Cathedral, when the time shall come for that."

On All Saints' Day of that same year, 1869, Bishop Kemper laid the corner stone of All Saints' Church--the chapel before referred to, which stood, when first erected, at the head of Division street (now Juneau avenue), overlooking the blue waters of Lake Michigan, and was afterward removed to the block now occupied by the Cathedral property, on the same street.

But Bishop Kemper's days were fast drawing to an end. He died at his home near Nashotah, May 24th, 1870, and was buried in the cemetery of Nashotah. When, later, Kemper Hall was founded at Kenosha, as a memorial to the first Bishop of Wisconsin, the 24th of May was set apart as a memorial day to its founders, and to the memory of Bishop Kemper. "Founders' Day" it remains to-day.

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