Case 13: Missionaries
Missionary work in North America began as early as the 16th century, with Spanish missions in present-day Mexico and the American Southwest. French Jesuit missionaries first arrived in Canada in the 17th century. Throughout the early history of the United States, Christian missionaries of various denominations attempted to convert different groups of Native Americans.
While missionaries sometimes positioned themselves as advocates of Indian welfare, they were primarily focused on assimilation and the eradication of indigenous cultural practices and religious beliefs. This section of the exhibit focuses on American missionary activities in the 19th century, providing a sampling of different texts related to these efforts.
Items within this Case
American Indian Mission Association, Memorial of the American Indian Mission Association, Praying the Adoption of Measures for Promoting the Permanent Welfare of the Various Indian Tribes. January 30, 1845. 28th Congress, 2d Session, Senate.
John G. Shea, History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854. New York: E. Dunigan & Brother, 1855.
Eugene Vetromile, Ahiamihewintuhangan: The Prayer Song. New York: E. Dunigan & Brother, 1858. Illustration: “Anda Dakkabin, Anda Skudewhambu. No Rum, No Fire-Water.”
Eugene Vetromile was a Jesuit missionary to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine, beginning in the 1850s.
Cherokee Writing System
Sequoya began developing a written Cherokee syllabary in 1809, believing that improving long-distance communication would help to reunite the Cherokee Nation. Developing a written language took Sequoya over a decade, with his first syllabary published in 1821. Instantly popular, both Cherokee and missionaries learned and used the syllabary. Sequoya’s syllabary has undergone multiple revisions, and is still used today.
Cherokee Alphabet : Characters as Arranged by the Inventor. Circa 1860. Language: Cherokee (Tsalagi).
Printed guides of Sequoya’s syllabary, found in the papers of a New England missionary, were used by missionaries and others in contact with the Cherokees.
From the Blandina Diedrich Collection.