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Some American Churchmen

By Frederic Cook Morehouse

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1892.

Chapter IX. James Lloyd Breck, One of the Founders of Nashotah

THE story of the founding of Nashotah! It reads like a chapter from the history of the days of romance and poetry, of knights and of crusaders.

It originated with a small band of students at the General Theological Seminary, after hearing an eloquent appeal of Bishop Kemper for men to go into the West and claim it for Christ. Among the students were James Lloyd Breck, the subject of this paper; John Henry Hobart, a son of the great Bishop of New York; William Adams, whom Breck described in a letter as "a young Irishman of very quick parts," and James W. Miles, of South Carolina.

James Lloyd Breck was born within the present limits of the city of Philadelphia, and received his education under Dr. Muhlenberg at the Flushing Institute. When, therefore, he took up theological studies at the General Seminary, he was tired with some of Dr. Muhlenberg's zeal for the spread of Christ's kingdom.

After Bishop Kemper's visit, the four young men named, resolved to unite in an associate mission, to be established under that Bishop, the members to live a religious life together, with suitable daily devotions, and to do active missionary work from their mission, as well as to train up for the ministry, such young men of the West as might be useful. Dr. Muhlenberg was in full sympathy with the plan, as was also Bishop B. T. Onderdonk, of New York; and Professor Whittingham, then Bishop-elect of Maryland, and closing up his work at the Seminary, assisted them with his advice. A private manual of prayers was prepared for their use by Dr. Whittingham. The Missionary Board approved the plan, and granted them small stipends. The young missioners resolved that their habit should be a cassock, of coarse cloth in winter, and of lighter material in summer. As the religious life of a brotherhood is one of strict rule and obedience, the choice of a Superior was important. The Rev. J. B. Kerfoot, Dr. Muhlenberg's most trusted assistant, afterward Bishop of Pittsburgh, was importuned to go, but could not leave his educational work. At the recommendation of Bishop Kemper, therefore, the Rev. Richard V. Cadle, who was about to resign a chaplaincy in the United States Army, and who was stationed at Fort Crawford, near Green Bay, in Wisconsin territory, was invited to become the Superior of the Order, and he accepted.

But then difficulties arose. Deacons are subject entirely to their Bishops. The Bishop of South Carolina, Dr. Gadsden, declined peremptorily to allow Mr. Miles to go, saying South Carolina needed him. Mr. Breck and Mr. Hobart belonged to Pennsylvania. Bishop Kemper had already secured from the Bishop of Pennsylvania (H. U. Onderdonk), his promise to transfer Mr. Breck to the Northwest mission. To Mr. Hobart, however, he declared that he wholly disapproved of the mission, thought Hobart ought not to go, and desired him also to express his disapproval to Mr. Breck.

Phases of Churchmanship have changed very much since then. Bishop Onderdonk had been elected in Pennsylvania as an "extreme" High Churchman, and was one of the leaders of that wing. His election had filled the Low Churchmen with serious alarm. But the plans for Nashotah seemed the wildest deviations from the commonplace. An associate mission of celibate priests in the Episcopal Church? Cassocks for the daily garb, a daily office of prayer, life under a Superior? Why, that could only be the rising of a new order of Jesuits in the Episcopal Church, reasoned Bishop Onderdonk, the High-Church leader. What wonder, then, that Nashotah was almost the synonym of Popery to the Low-Church mind?

Bishop Otey, of Tennessee, also visited the Seminary, and discouraged the plan. Bishop Onderdonk, however, finally allowed his two deacons to go, and they, with Mr. Adams, placed themselves under Bishop Kemper and Father Cadle, their Superior.

Wisconsin was fixed upon by Bishop Kemper as the place for the associate mission. Mr. Hobart went on in advance. On Wednesday night, September 1st, 1841, Messrs. Breck and Adams, having already been ordained to the diaconate, left New York City for what was then the far West. Twenty-four hours later, they had just reached Syracuse. There they boarded a canal-boat, and by Friday morning were in Oswego. All day was spent there, and at 6 P. M. they started in a thunder-storm by steamer on Lake Ontario, and experienced the sensations of travelling on a turbulent lake. It was nearly noon of Saturday, when they reached Lewiston, at the west end of the lake. Horse cars took them from thence to Niagara Falls, twelve miles distant. Here, after travelling three days and three nights, all within the State of New York, they rested over Sunday, preaching at the church for the rector, the Rev. Mr. Porter--Mr. Adams in the morning and Mr. Breck at night.

On Monday morning at six o'clock, the mission ers resumed their journey, travelling by rail to Buffalo. They made an early call on the llev. Dr. Shelton, and at eleven o'clock, embarked by steamer on Lake Erie. Here, much to their surprise, they were joined by their Superior, Father Cadle, who had been East, and started to return a few days in advance of his younger associates, but missed the boat in Buffalo and had to wait three days for the next. By Tuesday morning, the boat touched Cleveland. Tuesday night was spent in the steamboat calmly lying off the dock at Detroit. Next morning, after passing into Lake Huron, Mr. Breck notes that a storm arose, and he was "taken sick with a bilious attack"--not an uncommon symptom. "Even Mr. Adams'' was sick, Mr. Breck adds. The steamboat was obliged to put in at harbor, and remain a few hours. Mackinaw was reached in the night. On Thursday and Friday, little progress was made, owing to the storm. At midnight of Saturday, Milwaukee was reached, and after travelling more than ten days from New York, the weary travellers were at the end of the first part of their journey.

At Milwaukee, the Rev. Lemuel B. Hull was rector of S. Paul's, the only church. He was doubtless glad to receive his clerical visitors, and Father Cadle preached in the morning, Mr. Adams in the afternoon, and Mr. Breck at night. Mr. Hobart joined them next day, having walked in from Prairieville (now Waukesha) in which village, then young and "booming," he had held service. He reported that there was no room of any sort for them there, where they were to locate. After waiting a week or more, they went on to Prairieville, and located temporarily in a small room adjoining the post-office.

The associate mission of Nashotah was originally founded upon something like monastic principles. T he missioners were united together for religious, devotional, and missionary work. Their poverty was assured by the conditions of the work, each was unmarried, and their jointly working together was a substitute (which proved inadequate) for the obedience in a monastic order. Their first Superior, Father Cadle, remained with them only the first winter, before Nashotah itself had been founded. Mr. Breck, who succeeded him, was young and inexperienced, but was thoroughly devoted to the system in vogue. At the same time, there had been no formal vows of any sort.

For a time the three young men worked together in perfect unison, and Bishop Kemper was much with them. In 1844, he removed his residence to Nashotah. He, however, was away from home more, even, than is usual for a Bishop of to-day. Travelling was slow, and his territory was vast and was growing, as the hardy pioneers pushed on into the Western wilderness.

Mr. Hobart returned after the first year, to the East. Mr. Adams also left Nashotah, but returned again in 1844. The educational aspect of the work was becoming more important, and the demands on Mr. Breck's time and resources were great. Then a board of trustees was formed, and the missioners were made subject to them. Mr. Breck complained that all the work of the "religious system" other than the purely educational work, was left to him. About this time, Mr. Adams, his co-worker, married a daughter of Bishop Kemper.

In 1850, Mr. Breck returned for the first time to the East, to solicit funds. He was enthusiastically received everywhere, Nashotah's fame having been well spread. He accomplished his purpose to some extent, but concluded finally that the system under which he desired to work could no longer be tried at Nashotah. Still believing in the system, and anxious to do more work for the Church, he resolved, with the permission of Bishop Kemper, to resign his work there, and to penetrate still further West, into the territory of Minnesota, which was under the same Bishop. Only one clergyman of the Church was then in the territory--the Rev. Mr. Gear, chaplain at Fort Snelling.

So a new associate mission was formed, the Rev. Timothy Wilcoxsen, of Connecticut, and the Rev. John Austin Merrick, of Philadelphia, uniting with Mr. Breck. They made a short stay at Nashotah, where a touching farewell service was held, and then pushed on. Sunday, June 23d, 1850, was spent at La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River, where was held the first Church service ever celebrated there. Next morning, they crossed over into Minnesota territory, where they reared a rustic cross and celebrated the Holy Eucharist.

The missioners located at Saint Paul, and at once purchased two acres of land overlooking the city, for which Mr. Breck notes that they paid "the extravagant cost of ยง50 per acre." The tract is now in the heart of the city, and is worth a fabulous amount. From their headquarters at Saint Paul, they made missionary journeys to all the country around, and established the Church everywhere, extending their care even as far as La Crosse, two hundred miles distant by river. On Good Friday, 1851, Mr. Breck notes with thankfulness, that "there are now eight communicants in Saint Paul." They had also built a little church, which Bishop Kemper consecrated in August.

In 1852, work was commenced among the Indians--principally Chippewas. So promising did this become, that Mr. Brock removed from Saint Paul, and went among the Indians, locating his home at Kahgeeashkoonsikag--which seems a euphonious and easy name, when we learn that another mission was planted at Kahsahgawsquahjeomokag, and that Mr. Breck frequently dated his letters from Nigigwaunowahsahgahigaw! A number of churches were founded in the Indian field, and many converts made. Mr. Breck finally retired altogether from the white field, and leaving that to others, he gave his whole attention to the work among the Indians. In 1855, Mr. Breck married Miss Jane Maria Mills, a worker, like himself, among the Indians.

The practically unrestricted sale of whisky among the Indians, and the withdrawal of troops by the United States government, nearly caused all traces of the missions to be wiped out. Unruly and drunken Indians made much trouble. Finally, his life and the lives of his family being in imminent danger, Mr. Breck withdrew from the Indian country, in 1857, and settled at Faribault.

No theological work had heretofore been attempted in Minnesota, owing to a wish of Dr. Breck, not to appear to antagonize Nashotah in any way. But now the time seemed ripe when young men might be gathered in Minnesota and be instructed for the Church's ministry. Accordingly, the educational institutions of Faribault were founded. With these in view, Mr. Breck again visited the East. He organized in Faribault, a university and theological seminary, and also kept the oversight of the work among the Indians. Bishop Whipple was consecrated as Bishop of Minnesota in 1859, and was heartily interested in Faribault, establishing his Cathedral there. Mr. Breck became a D. D. in 1860.

The Indian missions reached their crisis in 1862, when the Indians took advantage of the Civil War to perform horrible massacres and devastation. The Christian Indians suffered terrible persecution. All the missionaries escaped, some of them by a hair's breadth. It was a terrible chapter in the history of Minnesota. The reality of the conversion of many was proved, however, in that they stood firm in the day of trial.

Once again Dr. Breck moved on to the extreme Western frontier. He had now spent twenty-five years in pioneer work, and the restraints of civilization all around him were not easy to bear. So, again, the devoted missionary looked toward the setting sun, and took up his work. In the fall of 1867, he sailed from New York for California, by way of the Isthmus of Panama. After a voyage of twenty-four days, the party arrived in San Francisco, on November 3d.

California had already been under a Bishop, the venerable Bishop Kip, for fourteen years. Where, at Bishop Kip's coming in 1853, there was only one clergyman, now there were thirty-eight. But these were for the most part men ordained in the East, and there was no training school for candidates for orders on the whole Pacific coast.

At this time the buildings, furniture and site, of the "Benicia Collegiate Institute" were offered for sale at a low price. They were situated at Benicia, comprised thirty-five acres, and were within thirty miles of San Francisco. At Benicia, therefore, Dr. Breck founded the "Missionary College of S. Augustine," purchasing the buildings already erected. The main building was devoted to theological studies, and was called Epiphany Hall. In four months Epiphany Hall had eight students. There was also a grammar school in operation. By 1870, the boys' school had eighty-five boarding scholars and fifteen day scholars. There was a weekly celebration of the Holy Communion, and a surpliced choir, at the chapel.

From the first, Dr. Breck had been ambitious to found a Church school for girls, in connection with a missionary foundation. At length, in 1871, he was successful, and S. Mary's-of-the-Pacific was opened.

In this year, 1871, Dr. Breck was elected a deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of California. He was also cordially invited by Dr. Cole to preach at Nashotah, at the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the mission. Dr. Cole was Dr. Breck's successor as president of Nashotah, and had proved himself eminently worthy of the trust reposed in him.

In order to accept these appointments, therefore, Dr. Breck started for the East, visiting his former work at Faribault, and then proceeding to Milwaukee. Here, however, he was taken ill, and was cared for by his former pupil, the Rev. Dr. Keene, at S. John's Rectory. He was too ill to be at Nasbotah on S. Michael and All Angels' Day, the day of his appointment, so his sermon, or address, was read by another. He remained some time in Milwaukee, and then went on to the East, but too late for General Convention. Early the next year, 1872, Dr. Breck was again in California.

His remaining years were spent in his work in California, in which he was always faithful. The end came suddenly, in 1876. His last sermon, preached on Quinquagesima Sunday, was on the Preparation made by Christ for His death. He fainted one afternoon soon after, while saying Evening Prayer in the school chapel. He did not rally as hoped, and on the Third Sunday in Lent, he was unable to receive the Blessed Sacrament, which Bishop Wing-field, who had been consecrated Missionary Bishop of Northern California, was ready to give him. His viaticum wras received on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. A week later, he breathed his last.

He was buried at Benicia; the venerable Bishop Kip, assisted by Bishop Wingfield, reading the service, and celebrating the Holy Communion.

If one could imagine Bishop Chase and Dr. Muhlenberg blended into one, with the Church-manship and fervor of Bishop Hobart added, he would have a man somewhat like Dr. Breck. Earnest, straightforward, anxious for the hard instead of the easy work, for the work of sowing instead of reaping, he was the image of Bishop Chase. Devout in worship, anxious to show forth the beauty of holiness in the adornments of the altar and the service, he was an apt pupil of his former teacher, Dr. Muhlen-berg. His conception of Churchmanship was truer and clearer than that of either of those. He labored earnestly to establish and to vindicate the catholicity of the Church of his birth. The Anglican communion was not ripe for religious communities of men, when Nashotah was founded. Dr. Breck was a great deal behind, or a great deal ahead, of his age, in supposing that a modernized, Anglican monastery could be founded in Wisconsin territory at that time. A man of intense--almost ascetic--fervor, he had thrown all his faculties into the development of his "system.'" That it would not succeed was as certain as was his intensity in working for it. A religious order requires absolute conformity to its thi'eefold rule of poverty, chastity and obedience. The vow was not taken by the Nashotah missioners, and therefore the collapse of the system was inevitable. Nor was the second attempt in Minnesota more favorable. Indeed, Dr. Breck's marriage shows that he himself had given up all hope for its success.

But if he failed in the foundation of a new order, which seems to have been Dr. Breck's first ambition, he was yet eminently successful in laying the foundations in the West, of the educational and missionary institutions which he was instrumental in building. The influence of Nashotah on the American Church would be an interesting topic did time and space warrant its consideration. In Minnesota, again, and in California, the associate mission idea ripened into much fruit. Dr. Breck's work was pre-eminently that of a founder. He was neither the first, nor the last, but he was one of the greatest of those pioneers who, under God, made the Western wilderness to blossom as a rose.

Nor may we forget the valuable work of his colleagues and successors in this development. The learning and scholarship of Dr. Adams, and the eminent clearheadedness of Dr. Cole, were, no less than the fervor of Dr. Breck, necessary factors in the making of Nashotah.

Men sometimes succeed, in places where their self-conceived plans fail. Not every structure is built according to the plans of its founders. Columbus sailed from Spain to find the Indies,, and he became forever famous as the discoverer of America. Colonial patriots, in 1775, protested against an act of British taxation, and they became the founders of a new nation. Lincoln asserted the integrity of the American Constitution, and he became the emancipator of four millions of slaves. Bishop Chase's work at Gambier, Bishop Doane's work in New Jersey, Dr. DeKoven's work in General Convention, were all examples of ultimate success on a broader scale, from immediate failures. Dr. Breck's experience was the same. What does it all prove, but that a Higher Power uses the work of men's hands, fashioning not according to men's plans, but according to a plan that looks, not necessarily to the realization of each conception of the workman, but to a vast, eternal, glorious purpose, even the building of the heavenly Jerusalem, after the divine pattern!

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