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The Minnesota Mission

From The Colonial Church Chronicle, and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV (June 1851), pages 446-453.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


Two years have now elapsed since the attention of our readers was invited [Footnote: (1) See Col. Church Chron. vol. ii. p. 446.] to the remarkable missionary operations which were being carried on in the diocese of Wisconsin by the Rev. J. L. Breck, of Nashotah. In 1849, after eight years of successful labour, Mr. Breck left Nashotah to the guidance of his friend and associate, the Rev. A. D. Cole, and proceeded with some chosen companions to plant the standard of the Church in the border-land of civilized life in the west--the territory of Minnesota. In the journal of the last general Convention, Bishop Kemper gives the following report of this region and of Mr. Breck's first services there:--

"The territory of Minnesota consists of that part of our country which formed the northern portions of Wisconsin and Iowa, before they became States. Here the Rev. E. G. Gear has resided for some years, as Chaplain to the garrison at Fort Snelling, and has occasionally communicated to the Church, information of great interest concerning the Red River settlements and the aborigines. For a year or two the Rev. Mr. Greenleaf, now of Kenosha, in Wisconsin, officiated as a Missionary at Stillwater, on the St. Croix, and during his [446/447] acceptable ministrations, four persons were confirmed. A few months since the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, accompanied by the Rev. Timothy Wilcoxson, of Connecticut, and the Rev. J. A. Merrick, of Pennsylvania,--all of whom have been transferred to my jurisdiction as Missionary Bishop--proceeded to this new territory, and commenced an associated mission. They have visited part of Northern Wisconsin, and established three stations within that Diocese, viz: Prairie La Crosse, Willowriver settlement, and the Falls of St. Croix. In Minnesota they have established the following, at which they have regular service, viz: St. Paul's, Stillwater, Cottage Grove, Point Douglas, Marine Mills, and Falls of St. Anthony. On Thursday, the 5th of September, the corner-stone of the first Church in Minnesota, was laid at St. Paul's, and named Christ Church. It is to cost 1,275 dollars, and to be out of debt when completed. There is reason to believe that small temporary churches will likewise be built this present season at the Falls of St. Anthony and Stillwater. At the opening of navigation next spring, these devoted and self-sacrificing Missionaries will, in all probability, be prepared to present a large number of persons for the solemn rite of laying on of hands, especially if their labours are blessed by the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, as the labours of Mr. Breck were blest when, seven years since, he travelled on foot throughout a large portion of Wisconsin."

The following interesting letters, published in the Gospel Messenger, from Mr. Breck himself, and from Mr. Gear, will enable our readers to form a notion of the present state of this interesting, and, to all appearance, most successful Mission.

St. Paul, Min. Nov. 9, 1850.

REV. AND DEAR BROTHER,--The Rev. Mr. Gear has shown me your most kind letter of the 14th, which you wrote to him in reply to his solicitations for this humble Mission in Minnesota. He perhaps informed you that his letter was founded upon his own promptings. Brother Gear is deeply interested in our work, and he is to be excused in doing that, which I should not feel at liberty to do, unless I were invited so to do by my brethren.--It has always been a principle with us at Nashotah, and now again in Minnesota, not to make pulpit appeals, or to traverse the Church for funds to carry on the work we have had in hand, believing that the great Head of the Church would do for us all that was necessary, provided we worked on in faith obediently.--And were we to suffer want in doing His work, it must be His will, and then we should be honoured by suffering along with Him. There is nothing in which the great Apostle to the Gentiles more constantly gloried in than in "tribulations" and all manner of sufferings for Christ Jesus, insomuch that he judged he was filling up that which remained behind of the sufferings of Christ; and is there not a remnant of these things to the Church militant, in all time until the Lord doth come again? But, my dear Brother, I must not occupy your time thus, for we are far otherwise ourselves [447/448] than being thus honoured, for we have no trials here that are worthy of a comparison, even with the sufferings of the Apostles, much less those of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our desire, dear Brother, is to prepare this ground for the coming in of the Parochial Clergy. We regard this mission as the forerunner of the settled Clergyman and the permanent establishment of the Church in this country. We have now gone over the entire of those parts of Minnesota inhabited by the whites. And it is our happiness to assure our brethren of the good-will of those people towards us, in not only extending diligent hospitality towards the supply of our necessities when travelling, but in giving ear to the word preached. We have not failed in planting a Station, for the regular ministrations of the Church, in any point of the territory where there are white people. These are at present thirteen in number. The Church is now by our system not only represented at every village and settlement where any denomination (of Religionists) preach, but at others where the Church is the only voice of God to the people. The Church is at length on the frontier of this extreme north-west, and may she ever keep her place there, where she ought to have been years and years ago. I refer to what has been the frontier country from time to time. The experience had at Nashotah in Wisconsin, has been of the very greatest importance to us in Minnesota. We have ourselves the fullest confidence in the system. It is no longer an experiment. I mean an experiment for the Church in this age and country--for we take nothing to ourselves as though we had invented it--had such been the case, it would have been the strongest reason for our having nothing to do with it. We believe it to be the great missionary system of the early Church and of the purest ages of Christianity--and the only open question has been, will the Church receive it in the present day, that is, is the Church sufficiently in earnest to admit of a system of self-denial and self-sacrifice (entire unselfishness,) for the cause of Christ? This has been the question, and my heart is greatly encouraged to think that the great Head of the Church will prepare and fit in this our day, not only labourers of this spirit for His work, but by the Holy Spirit will awaken many of the Clergy and Laity to a deep sense of the share that they have and can take in it by their prayers and alms. I neither believe that Nashotah would ever have survived its third year, nor Minnesota seen the sun, had not the faithful, through the Church, been praying continually for it. This had been so truly the case to my knowledge, by many whom I had never seen, and never expected to see in this life, that I dare not withdraw from a work that had so strong support in the Lord. We are therefore beginning again, my dear brother, in a new and barren field, and look to the Lord of the Harvest to bless our planting, and also to raise up labourers in due time to this field also when it shall have become white unto the harvest. We find a few Church people almost everywhere, but they are too frequently as sheep lost or strayed away very far from the fold; nevertheless, in this even, we find a delightful work, which reminds us of the teaching of [448/449] the Gospel, whereby we may (under God) make angels in heaven rejoice. We judge the school-house and private house worship should as speedily as possible give way to the solemn services of the sanctuary. The people hear all sorts of doctrine from the school-house platform--we feel the great necessity of a church edifice at every station as soon as practicable. But a difficulty at once arises--the people are too few and too poor to erect a complete church for themselves, and it cannot be expected of the faithful in the east to build these churches for them, and yet a church they must have, where they can be made one body in Christ by the unity of the faith. We do, therefore, resort to the following method for the accomplishment of this first object. We select two or three plans of churches that shall be in simple style, but in as close agreement as possible with the best rules of church architecture, and these we divide up into two, three, or four sections, and then propose to the people to build such a section or sections, as their members require, their pecuniary and other ability will admit of, added to the help that we can give them. There is scarcely a settlement where such a proposition cannot be met within a year after it has been organized into a station, and some much earlier than this. We have then a little church; it may be and is small, but nevertheless a church in appearance and in intent, and one admitting of enlargement, and inviting to enlargement, by the very manner in which it was begun. We can then organize the people into a body; and thereafter by the weekly offering, we can teach them the duty of supporting the ministry, and then as soon as they can, one by one, (or two parishes together,) maintain the parish clergyman, we shall withdraw, that such may thereafter enter upon their labours, exclusively as the parochial ministers of these people. Such is the great purpose of our Mission. And we believe it will introduce the Church to the frontier country speedily, effectually, and universally, having the blessing of God accompanying our every endeavour. Permit me to give you one instance whereby the above system of Church building has already succeeded. I refer not to St. Paul, where the earnest labours of Father Gear had been bestowed for some time previous to our coming into the territory, and where the little Church (complete in itself, except a transept, which may be added at any time hereafter) is already enclosed, and promising to be ready for occupancy by Christmas--built of plank, in the early pointed style--but to the settlement at the Falls of St. Anthony, where we could not upon our arrival, learn of a single Churchman being there, or of any one interested in the Church, where now already the corner stone of the "Church of the Holy Trinity" has been laid, and the first section of a plank Church is to be built at once, and paid for by the people, excepting the aid of one hundred dollars specially donated to it by the friends of the Mission in Trinity Church, New Haven. This is a beautiful instance of the strength of this system to do the work of the Church in the newly settled parts of our land.

It will afford me much pleasure to inform you, Rev. and dear brother, from time to time, of our poor labours for Christ, if they will [449/450] be of any satisfaction to you or to your good people. I should at this time inform you of the mode whereby candidates for the sacraments are prepared, that is, by disciplines, if my time would permit it. With much love and gratitude for your good-will towards us, begging a constant interest in your prayers, I remain your fellow-labourer and brother in Christ's Church,

Rev. Dr. Ayrault.

Fort Snelling, Jan. 3, 1851.

REV. AND DEAR SIR,--In my last letter I promised to keep our friends informed of the labours and success of the Rev. Mr. Breck and his associates, in planting the Church in this broad and beautiful land, believing them not to be without interest. I therefore take up my pen at this early period in the new year, to fulfil my promise.

Our brethren continued to live in the tent which they pitched on their arrival, for several weeks, while their house was in progress of building. In this situation I often visited them, and once or twice tarried with them over night, in the tent, and in "the sweet hour of prime," under the oaks, joined them in their devotions, in that "form of sound words," not less appropriate in the grove than in the temple. As soon as the house was enclosed, they moved into it, and continued in it until late in the fall, when it became necessary to remove into a cabin, or shanty, constructed of rough boards, until the house could be plastered and fitted for winter. During all this time their cooking and washing was done, as at the first, in the open air under the trees. They have now, however, better arrangements for these things. They have added a wing to the main building, of twelve feet square, which is used not only for cooking, but for an eating room, while the shanty is turned into a laundry, leaving the original part of the establishment, a room twelve by seventeen feet, for a parlour, library, study, and chapel, with the dormitory up stairs. On the whole, they are comfortably fixed for the winter, though everything is in the most simple and inexpensive style possible. I am thus particular in this description, with the hope that it may attract the attention of some who live in costly mansions, and can spare something of the abundance with which they are blessed, for the cause of Christ and His Church in this new territory, and induce them to bestow it without diminishing their other charities, or overlooking the wants of the Church in their own neighbourhoods.

These brethren arrived in Minnesota in June last, and they have already accomplished much. They have established fifteen stations in different parts of the territory and on the borders of Wisconsin. At all these places they regularly perform Divine service, and feel much encouraged to persevere in the good work they have commenced. In no one instance have they failed to meet their appointments. In consequence of this punctuality, the people are attentive to hear them; and it is to be hoped that many of them will ultimately be gathered into the bosom of the Church, who are now strangers to her doctrines and principles, and are living without God in the world. Up to the [450/451] present time, in fulfilling their appointments at these fifteen stations, they have travelled on foot three thousand and thirty-two miles; and otherwise, by sailing or riding, sixteen hundred and seven miles, making in all, four thousand six hundred and thirty-nine miles. These are formidable distances in a new country, without bridges, bad roads, and oftentimes no roads at all. Once, two of them missed their way, and remained all night in the woods, without means of kindling a fire, and exposed to a violent storm. At another time, one of them in returning from a distant station, got lost among the hills and valleys, and in his wanderings, stumbled on the lair of a wolf, who gave him a parting grip upon his foot, but fortunately it was protected by a boot, and he received no harm. It would probably be difficult to decide in this encounter, which was the most frightened, the wolf or the wanderer. I mention these things, to show our brethren in more favourable circumstances, the toils, and fatigues, and exposures necessarily incident to the planting of the Church in the West, and particularly in this new and distant territory. But I am happy to add, that none of these things move these devoted men, nor do they appear to count their lives dear unto themselves.

Your readers are probably aware that we have commenced building churches at the two most important points in this Territory, St. Paul and the Falls of St. Anthony. The corner stone of the latter was laid as late as the 30th of October. It is intended that this edifice shall be, when completed, twenty-four feet wide by sixty feet long besides a chance of the requisite proportions, and in the early pointed style. But from the want of means, only a section of twenty-four feet has been commenced, which must answer for the present, unless a few liberal men from the more favoured portions of our Zion will lend a helping hand. It occupies a beautiful and commanding site, and near the place where I saw eleven years ago, a camp of a party of the Sioux, which had left a day or two before on a war expedition into the country of the Chippewas. This camp was an object of considerable interest, and suggested many reflections upon the manners and customs of that peculiar and mysterious people. It consisted of a large number of booths, extending in a straight line of several hundred yards, perpendicular to the river, and opposite to the passage between two beautiful islands above the Falls. In most of these lodges were evidences of their rites and ceremonies preparatory to war, and at the head of the column was a dead dog, bedaubed with various colours, suspended from a tall pole, by the neck, with his face looking to the north, and which had been sacrificed on the occasion to propitiate the Great Spirit. Nothing but the roar of the neighbouring cataract disturbed the solitude and stillness of the place which had so recently witnessed those dark and gloomy superstitions. It was, therefore, with no ordinary emotions of pleasure that I assisted at the ceremony of laying the corner stone of "the Church of the Holy Trinity," in a place associated in my mind with this wild and savage scene.

The church at the village of St. Paul, though not finished, was [451/452] from the necessity of the case, opened for Divine service about the middle of last month. We hope to have it in readiness for consecration early in the spring, or as soon as Bishop Kemper can make it convenient to visit this distant part of his Diocese. This edifice when completed, will be neat and beautiful, and an ornament to the village, though some men of small wit, "over the way," amuse themselves and others at its antique appearance. It is of small dimensions, being only twenty by forty feet, with a chancel nine by twelve, and a steeple six feet square, which when finished, will be fifty-two feet high, ornamented by the emblem of our holy religion. It is covered with plank and battens, and is only ten feet from the under pinning to the spring of the roof, which is open. Our friend, the Rev. Montgomery Schulyer, of Buffalo, has presented us with a window for the chancel, of stained glass, which is now on its way, and which we hope to receive when the navigation opens in the spring. This window is a simple cone in its shape, four feet and a half in width, by eleven feet high, of brown matted glass, with a blue border, and a large crimson cross in the centre. It may be proper, perhaps, to mention, that the writer commenced giving service at St. Paul, five or six years ago, and continued to do so at intervals, until the arrival of Mr. Breck and his associates, in the Territory; and that some preliminary steps had been taken towards the erection of a church at that place. The Rev. A. B. Patterson, of Princeton, N. J., when on a visit here, summer before last, promised five or six hundred dollars towards the good work, which promise he has nobly redeemed. With this sum, together with subscriptions in St. Paul, and the offerings of friends in the vicinity, and at a distance, we have one decent and becoming place of divine worship in Minnesota. I was present and preached on the formal opening of it, and again last Sunday, by exchange with one of the brethren, and met large and interesting congregations. The responses were made with great fervour and devotion. Should this statement meet the eye or attract the attention of those friends to whom I have privately applied for assistance to build this little temple, I would inform them that I am still looking for the fruits of their liberality, and anxious to record their names among the contributors to the first Protestant Episcopal Church in Minnesota.

Although I have spun out this letter to a greater length than I intended when I sat down, I cannot conclude without giving you some incidents of the journey of the Rev. M. Taylor, who stopped with us on his way from Newfoundland to Red River, last summer, gathered from his letters while on his route, and after he reached his destination. He left here on the 2d of August, and arrived at Prince Rupert's Land on the l5th of September, making four months from the time of his departure from Newfoundland. The journey was performed from this point in a cart drawn by a single horse, and of most primitive construction, and would be a curiosity in any other part of the world. Circumstances prevented his leaving Fort Snelling for the Falls of St. Anthony, where he was to meet the companions of his journey, a distance of eight miles, until quite late in the [452/453] evening. "We got over the first marsh," he says, "very well, and the horse pulled along with much spirit, but on coming to a short steep hill, with a bog at the bottom, and not out of sight of the Fort, the horse 'stogged,' as they say in Newfoundland. I tried all sorts of means to move him, but he would not stir." After many efforts without effect to go ahead or return, darkness closed around him and his good lady, and they came to the conclusion to sit in the cart until morning. "I unharnessed the horse and tied him with a long rope, and as we heard the band at the Fort playing the tattoo, we seated ourselves for the night, commending ourselves to Him who taketh care of His people at all times and in all circumstances, we composed our minds and feelings under our misfortune." They spent a miserable night, as may be most readily conceived, almost devoured by the mosquitos, and after a full chapter of accidents the next day, they finally arrived at the Falls, and the day after, pursued their journey to the Sauk Rapid, where they re-crossed the Mississippi, and took their departure to the Red River. Soon after his arrival in September, he had an opportunity, and sent me a long and interesting letter, detailing many amusing incidents "of flood and field," and the cordial welcome he met with among his new friends. "We are not molested" he says, "by any Indian bands, though we found that they were near us, and constantly had an eye to our movements. We were often charmed at the wide stretch of the prairie land, the "beautiful flowers and the waving grass. The lakes and woods had also a charm, and often did they revive and cheer our spirits." He speaks in high terms of commendation of Bishop Anderson. He had returned from his visitation, and was employed among other duties in attending to the academy, which he purposed to do, until the arrival of the gentlemen who were on their way from England to take the charge of that institution. He mentions, also, that the Bishop had several candidates for holy orders, at his residence, and that he would hold an ordination in October. But I must hasten to subscribe myself most faithfully,

Your friend and brother in Christ, E. G. GEAR.

The success which seems to attend Mr. Breck's peculiar method of missionary operations suggests, we think, two questions to those of our own countrymen who are engaged directly or indirectly in the same work: 1, Do we act wisely in sending out, contrary to ancient usage, a single labourer to any destitute mission-field? and, 2, Is it really necessary for us to lavish the resources of the Church, sometimes for more than one generation, upon the same unfruitful and helpless spot? In the last Report of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, we read (p. xxxv) of a parish which has had "the benefit of the Society's care ninety-seven years." The same parish now, apparently (p. xxxix), contributes but 35l. towards the support of its clergyman. Surely such a fact needs explanation.

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