Originally Published in 2003 ...
This is an excerpt taken from the historical novel, "Isaac
McCoy & the American Indians," written by
Carol Layman and published in 2003. For extended excerpts,
information on the author and ordering information
follow this link to the Isaac McCoy website:
Isaac McCoy & the American Indians
Author Introduction .
McCoy (1784-1846), a frontier Baptist preacher in
southern Indiana Territory after the War of 1812,
witnessed daily the deteriorating condition of local
Indians. His increasing defense of their rights put
him in some tense situations. In 1817, he realized
his call to minister to the natives.
He established his initial station near present-day
Terre Haute, where his was the first white family
to settle. A lack of help forced him to hire two non-believers
The McCoys moved to Fort Wayne, in northeastern Indiana.
Here Isaac almost abandoned the work after an Indian
attacked his eight-year-old daughter. An agnostic
agent persuaded him to remain.
Because the Indians were absent on hunting expeditions
a good part of the year, the mission station quickly
became a boarding school. Isaac's helpmate wife, Christiana,
was away only while giving birth in white settlements.
In a continuous effort to get away from the negative
effects of white immigration, the McCoys left Indiana
During the next six years, Isaac operated two stations
simultaneously in Michigan Territory. The first, named
Carey and located near present-day Niles, grew to
resemble a village. The second, Thomas, sat at present-day
The following chapter from the biographical novel
Isaac McCoy and the American Indians takes place while
the McCoys are located in Michigan Territory, before
they moved to the West. At this time their older children
are being schooled in diverse places. The two older
boys attend Columbian College, founded by the Baptists
in Washington, D. C. It is now George Washington University.
Isaac McCoy narrates.
Isaac McCoy & the American Indians / Excerpt .
oldest daughter, Delilah, age "fifteen and three
quarters," was home with us that summer. Her
presence was especially helpful when Carey became
overrun with various illnesses. By mid-July, my office
area had been turned into a sick room. I was there
at my writing desk doing some paper-work while she
was over at the dining table penning a letter to her
older brothers at Columbian. To entertain her younger
sisters, she read her words aloud as she wrote. Soon,
instead of concentrating on my own work, I found myself
listening to her and imagining the boys' reaction
to the letter.
"Mother is ironing in my place while I write,"
she was saying. "Someone is working in the kitchen
with Old George, who has a new trumpet to awaken us
at four in the morning. Nancy and I love the pocketbooks
Josephus sent. Little Isaac is fat and ugly just like
his brother Rice used to be. Somebody is starching,
somebody is stacking wheat, somebody is grinding.
The new gristmill, powered by four horses, was finished
"We have a neighbor who feels as big as a governor.
He has a horse and gig and is taking girls a riding.
He looks like a Cincinnati dandy in his too-big Wellington
boots and his too-tight nankeen pantaloons. All our
men are invited to a raising on Saturday. We milk
forty cows. Mr. Daily thinks nobody can do it without
"Father is in his office busily engaged as usual,
with the ill lying all about him. He requested that
I not say anything about his old bombazette coat,
but I shall. The back is almost gone, the skirt is
hanging in rags, and were it not for the lining, I
fear it would not hang very long at. . . ."
"Delilah," I interrupted, and she finished
her letter in whispers.
William Polke left Carey on July 21. The prayer of
the mission family that evening, the mission family
so in need of helpers, was that brother and sister
Polke should be blessed with happy and tranquil lives.
Our son John Calvin unexpectedly came home from Troy,
Ohio, at the end of the month. "Some people are
trying to destroy the whole town!" he announced.
"How?" we asked.
"With fire, but I don't know why." He said
the valuable row of houses directly across the street
from Mr. John's store, where he slept, were destroyed.
"While the men were trying to save the stable,
a dwelling in another part of town was torched. Corbly
and other men, two at a time, are patrolling the town
every night from dark till daybreak. Sometimes,"
Calvin said, his half-boy, half-man voice cracking,
"almost all the men are out, carrying weapons
of death. I volunteered to walk with them at night,
but instead they sent me home."
That summer Robert Simerwell, Johnston Lykins, and
I alternately made tours of several days' duration
among the Indian villages. We were treated respectfully,
but could see that the whiskey was pulling the Indians
down faster than we could build them up. Settlements
of white people in our neighborhood were now multiplying
In August, Gosa brought down a message about trouble
at the Thomas station on Grand River. The smith and
the laborers, two brothers named Mettiz, were requesting
permission to abandon that station because of widespread
intoxication. Local Ottawas had returned from Detroit
two weeks earlier and had been drinking ever since.
Gosa had taken his family and sought refuge in the
smith's house. The whole lot remained watchful all
night. "We were afraid they would break open
the house," Gosa told me.
In his letter, Charles Mettiz said the drunk Indians
had shot one of our oxen, but it was not seriously
hurt. Somebody stabbed Gosa's cow with a fishing spear
and it had to be killed. Mettiz said Gosa fought with
the man and the man shot at Gosa, who ran "half
bent" toward the man and disarmed him. Then this
Indian's friends came and took the gun back. "Some
sober Indians told us not to come out of our houses
until the others sobered up," Mettiz wrote. "I
do not want to stay here much longer."
Gosa also carried a message from the Ottawas themselves,
who were afraid the mission would be abandoned. They
promised better manners in the future. Their excuse
was that their young men had been told the missionaries
would rob them of their annuities and would induce
white settlement. Confined to my room with illness,
I sent word to the Ottawas that I would visit them
as soon as able.
Noaquett and I, and a Frenchman, eventually went to
Thomas, driving five head of cattle in front of us.
As soon as we arrived, I instructed the work hands
to begin construction of more log buildings so the
Indians could see promises come true.
During our stay at Thomas, Noaquett and I also visited
some Ottawas thirty miles away. We had scarcely pitched
our tent in their neighborhood before all the men
and some boys gathered at our camp for conversation.
No company ever was more pleasant and friendly. They
smoked and we talked until late in the night.
On Sunday, Noonday and all the inhabitants of his
village assembled and listened to preaching with remarkable
decorum and attention. In the afternoon I went to
Chief Blackskin's village. We had not met before.
He affectionately invited me to his house, one of
many bark huts sitting close together.
Noaquett and I waited at Blackskin's house while he
gathered his people. In glancing around, my attention
was arrested by a small, soot-blackened kettle hanging
on a crane shoved to the side of a smoldering fireplace.
Upon stepping closer and seeing its interior, I spotted
copper showing between blotches of stuck-on food.
I took it off the crane and turned it over. Yes, something
was etched on the bottom. I grabbed a handful of weeds,
sat down on a peeled-log bench, and began polishing
the area around the scratches. The still-blackened
letters became easily discernable. By now Noaquett
was curious as to why I was smiling.
"This says 'McCoy,'" I said. "Josephus
scratched it on here when he was a little boy."
I put it back on the crane. "It was at our house
for a while."
Blackskin was cautious in summoning his people, assuring
them this would not be a council. At the end he did
not voice any objections to my proposals, but I knew
that to an Indian, saying nothing is a polite way
of saying no. The next day, however, when I went to
Noonday's village, some of Blackskin's people were
there. They and other Ottawas expressed a high opinion
of our efforts.
The Ottawas were eager to begin farming. They listened
to me so attentively, no matter of what I spoke, I
was deeply impressed with their potential. Yet I was
filled with regret because I knew the improvements
here - everywhere in Michigan Territory - would be
temporary at best.
Before I left Grand River, Noonday and Blackskin approached
me and told me they wanted a school. Noonday said,
"We are both growing old. Before our deaths,
we desire very much to see our children enjoying the
advantages we hope will be made through your means."
My return to Carey coincided with that of a packet
of mail, some of which appeared to have traveled all
over the United States before reaching us. We opened
the letters from our sons at Columbian first. Rice
said the enrollment was up to 120 and the facilities
were being doubled in size at a cost of over $15,000,
despite rumors the college was already in bankruptcy.
"Each boy," he wrote, "has several
rows of potatoes he hoes in his leisure hours. We
can take two books out of the library every Wednesday.
We have the opportunity of reading the history of
any part of the world."
Rice and Josephus had witnessed the launching of a
ship at the Navy Yard. "It is the one that is
to convey Lafayette to France. The president named
her Brandywine as a token of respect to the general,
that being the place where he first shed blood in
the American cause of liberty. The evening of his
arrival rockets were set off and citizens illuminated
their houses as brightly as they could. At the main
college building we lit the eastern, southern, and
western fronts several hundred candles coming on at
the same time. Then, at ten o'clock, all the candles
were extinguished as suddenly as we had lighted them."
Having seen the high location of that building, I
could imagine the spectacle it presented.
And what an education our sons were getting. They
were allowed to hear debates in Congress and arguments
in the Supreme Court. They had attended the inauguration
of John Quincy Adams. "Because of the crowd,
we were unable to get close enough to see him."
"Listen to this, Christiana," I said, "The
boys have been to the president's house."
"The president of the college or the United States?"
"Let's see. Rice says, 'On the fourth of July
most of the students went to the president's levee.
It is customary for the president of the United States
to give it on that day.'"
"President Adams!" Christiana squealed,
clutching her throat.
I continued reading Rice's letter aloud. "'It
was our first time in the Big House. It's a superb
building to view the outside, but nothing to compare
with the magnificence of the interior. People stood
on chairs to look over the heads of others and see
"They were inside the president's house?"
"They met President Adams." I said, raising
my hand. "Listen. 'My brother and myself were
introduced to the president. It was amusing to see
the gaping rustics crowding to see a man who, like
themselves, was dressed in domestic manufactures.
His dress is as plain as anyone's. He looks very little
like the chief magistrate of the greatest nation on
Rice wanted an Ohio newspaper so he could read the
western news. He said there was no truth to the rumor
that Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson had fought a duel.
"But it is true that President Adams takes his
baths in the Potomac. We saw him."
Letters from Josephus were included in the packet
and they were much neater now. In one letter dated
December 16, 1824, he told us about the first commencement
of Columbian College, in the liberal arts and science
departments only. "It was held in Dr. Laurie's
meeting house on F Street, between Fourteenth and
Fifteenth, a Presbyterian church that seats over six
hundred. The procession formed at the college at nine-thirty
in the morning. When we arrived at the church, we
underclassmen formed a double line through which the
"General Lafayette and suite attended. He is
a tiny old man and wears a powdered wig. President
Adams, the members of the Cabinet, and several members
of Congress were there, too. The United States Marine
Band provided the music."
According to the program Josephus sent, all three
members of the graduating class spoke. Four underclassmen
gave speeches also. Some of the speech titles were
quite intriguing: "The Superiority of Grecian
over Roman Literature," "Timoleon and Washington,"
"The Influence of Mathematics on the Mind,"
and "The Philosophy of the Active Powers of Man."
The next letter told of Josephus and Rice attending
another of Mrs. Adams's levees and taking glasses
of lemonade. "President Adams was there. People
of both sexes and all classes were mixing together,"
Josephus wrote. "We shook hands with Lafayette.
His departure, I expect, will be very splendid and
I expect we shall watch it." Josephus also sent
a note to his little sisters saying he was reading
a lot and studying French, Latin, and Greek. He included
a line of Greek to show them what he was learning.
"And I expect I will be something pretty considerable
by the time you see me next."
Christiana groaned. "Josephus expects a lot,
According to Josephus's letter, the boys were boarding
off campus this summer, near a creek they swam in
every day. "Delilah spoke of your milking a good
many cows, which makes me almost wish I was there.
We have seldom tasted milk since we came to Washington
At Chebass's request, I went to Chicago in October
with him, Topenebe, and some other Potawatomis to
collect their annuities. We slept five nights in the
wilderness, finding very little game on the way. Once
again I was struck by the extreme poverty of the Indians,
and of the changing times.
The number gathered in the Chicago council room was
greater than the population of the whole town, which
was still a hamlet of fewer than fifty souls. Topenebe
and Chebass were among forty chiefs in attendance.
An appalling number of traders waited outside, ready
to give the Indians goods for their money or money
for their goods, neither at an advantage to the natives.
Some traders, clutching lists of real or invented
debts, were ready to pounce on particular chiefs when
the proceedings ended.
Inside the council house, the silver dollars were
counted first and laid out on large tables in piles.
A loud voice called forward each principal chief to
receive one of these piles. Upon accepting his money,
every chief was detained by the agent's secretary,
who held up a pen. Expecting these chiefs to take
the pen and inscribe the customary X to the document,
I was surprised when the first one touched his finger
to the tip. Each one did this, then touched a place
on the document pointed out to him by the secretary.
One chief, after receiving his dollars, gathered his
heads of families around him and threw each a coin
until his supply was exhausted. After the coins were
distributed, tools were given to the Indians-tools
of inferior quality.
I conversed with many chiefs I had never met. Quite
a few gave me the hand of friendship. One said, "Brother,
we join our hands; our hearts also are united."
At the invitation of the agent, I addressed the Indians
on the subject of missions. I told them of my hopes
that the Indians would someday fill their own pulpits
and teach their own schools. I preached there on October
9, 1825, afterwards being told mine was the first
sermon delivered in English at or near Chicago.
I carried home a poor little outcast boy, a full Potawatomi
about ten, who rode behind me on my horse. He would
be named Richard Clements. The next month a white
man brought his two children to us; their Indian mother
had died. The boy, Jean Baptiste, was less than four
years old and the girl, Charlotte, was only seventeen
months. The father's name was Jerome Claremont, but
he signed his name with an X.
Seventy scholars were now enrolled at Carey-fifty
males and twenty females. The girls kept the spinning
wheel humming and the loom shuttle flying. They manufactured
208 yards of cloth that year. Fourteen Indian children
had advanced to the study of arithmetic; and during
the last year four boys completed their courses and
left the mission. Two became blacksmith apprentices
and one a shoemaker's apprentice.
The Carey station was now a full village. It included
six dwellings, most of them two-story, a dining hall,
store-house, school-house, smithy, stable, wash house,
milk house, sheep house, meat house, the grist mill,
and two other outbuildings for livestock. By Christmas,
we had a two-story building at the Thomas station,
twenty by twenty-eight feet. Thomas station also included
a kitchen building, a schoolhouse and three small
Still firm in my conviction that qualified Indians
could be more useful among their people than could
white men of equal training, I had written to the
board in July. I had supposed that because Columbian
College was under the management of the mission board,
it would be the ideal place to send some of the more
promising Indian boys graduating from Carey.
In an impassioned appeal, I had asked admission for
only seven boys, baptized Christian boys who had expressed
a strong desire to be useful to their less fortunate
brothers. "If all cannot obtain situations in
your excellent institution, can you not make room
for some of them? But how can we separate them? To
which of the seven must we say you cannot go? My heart,
my eyes, are affected by this thought. I persuade
myself that a secret whisper says Heaven will smile
upon this our humble petition to you. We will not
say we offer them to you; they are your own pupils,
fruit of your own labors, a gift of God. To us is
reserved only the pleasure of reporting them ready
to be promoted by your charities. The boys are willing
and eager to go."
Receiving no answer, I took matters into my own hands,
writing to several colleges and theological institutions
in the East. From Professor Daniel Hascall of the
Baptist Literary and Theological Seminary at Hamilton,
New York, I received an answer that five of the boys
could find board, clothing, and tuition there. They
would stay for three years, studying English grammar,
arithmetic, geography, history, rhetoric, natural
and moral philosophy, logic, astronomy, composition,
and declamation. New Jersey's college at Princeton
offered room for two boys, and Rebecca Blaine, our
generous supporter in Washington, Pennsylvania, wanted
to take in two Indian girls for education.
I wrote and told her we would send our two Betsys
after we had the Indian boys situated in their schools.
"Betsy Ash is half-Potawatomi, dark-skinned,
child-like, and small for her seventeen years. She
was one of the first children to join us when we moved
to Fort Wayne. Her father, now dead, was a white man
who had been captured by Potawatomis. Her mother earns
money helping with the laundry here. Both Betsy Ash
and her mother speak English well.
"Betsy Plummer's parents were both dead before
she came to us at age twelve in 1819, at our first
station. She is one quarter Miami but looks to be
white, is fair-headed. Now eighteen, she speaks English
only, but has picked up some Potawatomi."
I finally heard from Luther Rice. The issue of sending
the boys to Columbian was "before the board,"
he said. He encouraged me to bring them on. "I
am considering educating my namesake myself."
"I guess we'd better start calling Noaquett 'Luther
Rice,' Christiana said. She was correct; we hadn't
been doing that, and he hadn't been calling himself
Because Christiana and I attached so much importance
to the education of these youths, we believed others
would view the subject in the same light. We proceeded
with our plans in the faith that funds would be forthcoming.
No money lay at Carey to buy the boys suitable clothing
or to pay traveling expenses. I sent a message to
Detroit requesting overdue government payments, but
the government sent back word that the money was not
ready for delivery.
Not long before our departure, I received another
letter from the Luther Rice in the East, asking me
to write to all the men I knew in Congress and solicit
$20,000 for furnishing the new edifice at Columbian.
"More scrap paper," I said, and handed it
On January 16, 1826, I departed Carey with Noaquett-Luther
Rice, that is and eight other Indian boys who comprised
quite a mixture of skin color and background.
Peter Langlois (Kenozahqua) was tall, dark complected,
and half-Miami, the son of a French trader. He was
twenty-one now and had finished our school before
we left Fort Wayne. I had sent him a letter about
furthering his education in the East and he appeared
on our threshold not long after receiving it. He said
his father had offered him his own business, but the
business included selling whiskey to the Indians,
and Peter didn't like that. He said, "If I return
to my Father's, I know I shall be gone. I cannot return
to that place again." Peter stayed on at Carey
while we planned our trip.
Joseph Bourassa was half-Ottawa, but we had found
him among the Potawatomis. He was now seventeen, his
complexion fair, and his appearance still boyish.
Ottawa was his main language, but he spoke Potawatomi,
French and English well. He could read, write, and
was good in arithmetic.
John Saline was only thirteen, small, and fair. His
mother was Chippewa but lived with the Potawatomis.
His French trader father was dead. John's main language
was Potawatomi, but he could speak broken English
and read and write.
John Jones I expected to be successful in life. Even
now, at age seventeen, a determined look rested in
his eyes. Born in Canada, John Jones was the son of
an English officer and a Chippewa woman. His Indian
heritage was clearly evident in his features and dark
skin. When John was quite young he was taken to live
on the island of Mackinac with his sister and her
blacksmith husband. While still small, John often
went aboard vessels stopped at the island.
A Captain Conner took a fancy to little John and asked
him if he wanted to go to Detroit. Without getting
his sister's permission, John sailed away at the age
of ten. Living in the Irishman's family, John learned
the English and French languages and forgot his own.
The captain became a drunkard a few years after his
wife died. He threw John out of the house and John
took a job at a brickyard. Not long after that he
came to Carey, where in two years he learned to converse
in Ottawa and Potawatomi.
Nuko was a full Potawatomi, age fourteen and dark-skinned.
His English name was Andrew Fuller. He read and wrote
imperfect English. He often led in prayer at Carey.
I derived a special pleasure in seeing Charles Dick
with our group. He had been our very first Indian
scholar; now he was going to school in the East.
The remaining two boys were the Beaubien brothers,
Charles and Madore, eighteen and sixteen. They were
the older sons of General Jean Baptiste Beaubien,
a Frenchman who ran John Jacob Astor's Chicago trading-post.
Madore favored their Potawatomi mother's side of the
family more than Charles did. They both spoke French,
Potawatomi, and English plainly, and read and wrote
tolerably. Their father had sent two horses for their
trip, and $80 for clothing.
After some inner debate, and discussions with Christiana
and others at Carey, I told the boys the truth. "I
still haven't heard from the board." We left
home hoping to borrow the necessary money in Ohio.
Image Credit: Kansas Historical Society