Monthly Archives: January 2013

The John Dunbar Papers: Writings from the Western Frontier (1834-1836)

On May 5, 1834, Rev. John Dunbar set out with two other men for a missionary exploration of the unknown region beyond the Rocky Mountains, on behalf of the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca, NY.  The mission was to be called "The Oregon Mission."  Eighteen days later, however, when the men arrived in St. Louis, they discovered that the party of traders with whom they had planned to travel had already left six weeks prior.  Without the traders, Dunbar and his party had no way of proceeding, since they did not know how to travel the terrain or how to sustain themselves on the way.  They were forced to abandon the undertaking. Dunbar traveled to Liberty, Missouri and then on to Bellevue, Nebraska, where he tried to connect with the natives, learn their language, and find passage to the far regions of the west. 

At various points in his journal, Dunbar writes rather contemptuously about the traders, not only for their unwillingness to aid the missionaries or share the information they have about the territories, but for their overall lack of propriety and for selling whiskey to the natives.  He writes,

At this time no missionaries…had penetrated the Indian country farther than [Bellevue, Nebraska].  The traders and others who have heretofore traversed this immense region have almost without an exception kept the knowledge they have acquired of the country and its inhabitants to themselves, or communicated it only to their fellow traders…Those engaged in trade in this country may deem it to be for their interest to keep the world in ignorance of the geography and inhabitants of this extensive portion of our continent.  Certainly the conduct of many white men who live in, and of others who occasionally visit this county needs only to be known to be condemned in any decent society.  Their deeds are deeds of darkness, and cannot bear the light of civilization. 

Once during the time of our delay I made arrangements to accompany a wretched half-starved party of Otoes, who had come down to the Cantonment to beg provisions…when I went to their camp in the early part of the day on which they had assured me they would set out on their return, they informed me they had determined to pay their friends the Konzas a visit and it would be several weeks before they would reach their place of residence on the Platte.  The true reason however of their not wishing my company was that they were desirous to take home with them a quantity of whiskey, and they were fearful they might get into trouble about it should I be in the company.  The next day I saw some of them coming up from the settlements in the border of the state having with them 6 or 8 horses laden with the water of death to the Indian.  Some white man with a devil’s heart had for a little paltry gain furnished these creatures, already sufficiently wretched, with that which is speedily working their destruction.

In spite of Dunbar’s concern for the well-being of the natives, he uses the word “wretched” six times to describe them within the nine handwritten pages of his journal.  Later that year in October of 1834, Rev. Dunbar eventually finds a way to travel beyond Bellevue to live with the Grand Pawnee tribe, hosted by the second chief of the Pawnee nation.  After two years and four hunting tours, traveling nearly 3000 miles with the Pawnee, one can sense in his writing a deep ambivalence about them:

All of us who have lived with them are constrained to say they are a kindhearted, liberal people. But they are heathen, dark-minded heathen.

Describing the scene during one of his hunting tours, he writes:

When they have traveled all day, and just at night come to the camping ground a scene usually ensues that beggars description.  The horses are fretful and uneasy, the children, cold and hungry, the women, vexed and weary, the men ill-natured and impervious.  The dogs yelp and howl, the horses whinny, the mules and asses bray, the children cry, the boys halloo, the women scold, the men chide and threaten, no one hears and everything goes wrong.  Tongue and ears at such a time are of but little use. 

One of Dunbar’s greatest concerns is the station and treatment of women among the Pawnees, who seem to him to be like slaves, doing all of the work for little or no reward.  In the polygamous marriage traditions of the Pawnee, “the eldest sister is the principle wife, and commands the younger, who seem to be little more than domestic slaves.…How little to be desired is the condition of the youngest sisters in a Pawnee family and particularly of the youngest.”  Dunbar cannot seem to reconcile this state of affairs with his own conception of women as members of a delicate and inferior class.

In the afternoon of the third day, we rode into the village and came to the old chiefs lodge.  He dismounted and walked directly into his dwelling.  Forthwith his daughter, a young woman of 22 made her appearance to unsaddle our horses and bring in our luggage.  The young woman unsaddled and unbridled her father’s horse, then attempted to do the same to mine.  But my horse seemed to have a more just sense of propriety in this respect than prevails among the Pawnees.  She did not succeed and I willingly removed the saddle and bridle myself.

It frequently occurs, when they are travelling, that a horse gets frightened, jumps about, breaks away from its leader, kicks till it has divested itself of everything that was put on it, and then runs off at full speed.  The unfortunate wife must now follow her horse till she can catch it, bring it back, gather up her scattered utensils, replace them on her horse, then follow the train.  All the recompense she receives for her trouble is a severe chiding from her lazy husband, who may have been a witness to the whole transaction without having offered at all to assist his inferior half. 

The men say their appropriate employments are hunting (taking the buffalo), and war.  Consequently, everything else that is to be done is the appropriate business of the women.  The women are very laborious, but most abject slaves.  One educated in our privileged land can scarcely form a conception of the ignorance, wretchedness and degraded servitude of the Pawnee females.  We cannot contemplate the condition of these wretched creatures without being led to feel deeply that for all that is better in the condition of females in Christian lands, they are indebted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The female, no matter who she is, that makes light of the Christian religion, trifles with that which makes her to differ from the most abject slave and degraded heathen.

Isabel Chapin Barrows: Love and Tragedy in the 19th Century

It was late summer.  The year was 1862.  William Wilberforce Chapin, a young seminary student at Andover, writes to Miss Katie Belle Hayes in New Hampshire:

Dear Miss Hayes.  When I bode you goodbye at Andover I was expecting to spend the first week of vacation in making a tour through Vermont and Canada.  Therefore I told you not to expect a letter from me for some time.  But Secretary Stanton’s anti-emigration order with sundry other reasons has cut me off from my anticipated flee and has given me an opportunity of writing you some days earlier than I had expected.  Well.  Secretary Stanton might have done a worse thing for me, and perhaps you will not feel like calling him hard names for what he has done…

The letter is signed "Your sincere friend, William W. Chapin."  Over the course of the next year the salutations would become increasingly more affectionate:

With growing esteem,
As ever yours,
Your more than friend,

In November he writes:

My dear Bella.  Every time I commence a letter to you I feel dissatisfied with the customary form of address.  The words do not seem strong enough.  Long use has taken away their force.  As I can think of no better form of address, the old one must still be used, but you must always think of the second word as being greatly intensified, as though it were underscored four or five times.

This real-life love story from the mid 19th-century is told through over 150 pages of letters written by William Wilberforce Chapin and Katherine Isabel Hayes, addressed to one another during the time of their courtship and engagement.  The letters are part of the WW Chapin Papers, held in the Missionary Research Library at the Burke Library.

Could you so tantalize me as to tell about that moonlight boat ride? I might be pardoned for feeling a little envious and hoping that you did not have a very pleasant time, but I will be generous, and hope you enjoyed it first rate.

Tantalize you sir? It is fortunate for you that you shared some generous emotion, for in my heart I hate selfish people.

In the fall of 1863, the year of his graduation from Andover Theological Seminary, William was ordained as a Congregationalist minister.  Two days later, he and Katie Belle were married, though the happy event of their wedding was sadly followed by the death of Belle’s mother two weeks later.

On Voyage to India
In January 1864, after four months of preparations, the couple set sail out of Boston harbor for a four-month journey to India, where they would serve as missionaries under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.  They kept a journal together of their long voyage at sea:

March 14th
Katie Belle: While William was skinning the albatrosses we caught Saturday, Farley fixed the line and told me to try my hand.  No sooner had I taken the line than one swallowed the bait, hook and all, and forthwith I drew him up all myself!  He is a splendid fellow, next to the handsomest taken.  [a side note indicates the magnificent bird had a wingspan of approximately 10 feet, nearly twice the size of Belle]
William:  After I had this specimen nicely stuffed I carried it to our room and placed it in one of the berths for safe-keeping, thinking she would be delighted to see it!  Instead of this she raised a great outcry over it, said it smelled musky, fishy, etc etc and insisted on its being put out of the room.  I reasoned the matter with her while I tried to prove to her that the odor was rather agreeable, but could not bring her to regard it in the same light.  So yielding the point I carried the bird away; then getting her cologne bottle I sprinkled myself with it freely and sat down by her side.  She was almost as much overcome in the latter as in the former.  Truly she is hard to please!

May 11th
William: A pretty little swallow came on board at noon.  We caught and looked at him a little while and let him go.  But towards night he came again, nestled down in a corner on deck, put his head under his wing and slept a long time.  He was evidently glad of a resting place after his long flight.
Katie Belle: In the morning the little swallow was dead.  Poor little thing!

This sad omen marked their arrival in Bombay, India.  Within three months, William became ill with fever, and though he recovered, he continued to have fevers off and on for almost two years while performing preaching tours across India.

Belle’s father was a physician to whom she wrote frequently for medical advice, but in November 1864 she received the sad news that her father had passed away, leaving her without both her parents.  In a letter to William she writes,

I long to see you – to hear you and to lay my aching head on that dear shoulder which has so often pillowed it.  You can’t think how I miss you, but for my sake do not hurry.  Above all do not be careless of your own health.  Oh! be careful, if not for your sake, then for mine.  What if the Lord should take you too!  I dare not think of it.  Surely he will have mercy and spare my husband.

Sadly, when William finally returned to her the following March, his health began to take a turn for the worse.  Belle's journal tells the tragic tale:

The second week of March I was very sick with diphtheria.  God spared my life.  How tenderly [William] took me in from the sun’s glare and called me ‘little Wifie’.  Hardly was he seated before I saw he was burning up with fever.  Naturally I was alarmed, but he said ‘It is nothing; I have had the like a hundred times.’  [Friday] the fever returned with sore throat.  I begged him to come into Nuggur but he thought me over-anxious.  Monday as it was only too evident that disease was making progress he consented to set out on our weary journey.

The couple had been living in a mud hut in a rural outpost called Pimplus.  The closest town with a medical doctor was Ahmednuggur, where William's sister and brother-in-law lived, but the journey was 50 miles, and the only transportation was a bullock cart.  The couple rode through the night, trying to avoid the heat.  Of that ride Belle writes,

My heart was breaking.  Each moment I knew might be his last.  Yet for his sake I tried to be cheerful.  When he was awake I sang to him and read him much from the pen of the beloved disciple.  When he dozed I wept bitterly.

By the time they finally arrived at the house of William’s sister and called for the doctor, it was clear that William had an advanced case of diphtheria and would soon die.  In her final journal entry Bella wrote,

Kneeling by his side with an arm thrown round my waist and my head on his shoulder I heard all his dying messages – I received his last words to me.  Ah, I cannot write of it.  Too sad, too sweet, too sacred.

Those heartbreaking last words exchanged between Belle and her beloved husband William were recorded by his sister in a letter to her sons in America:

Belle asked, “Aren’t you going to get well?”
He said, “How can I live?  My heart has ceased to beat.”
She asked, “Are you willing to go if God calls you?  Can you trust in Christ?”
“Yes,” William answered, “I have always trusted in him and he will not forsake me.  It is hard to leave you.  How will you live?”
“Do not feel anxious, the Lord will provide for me.”
“I want you to stay here and work for the heathen.  I want you to work with all your strength because the Messenger is taking me away.”
“What, here in India?” asked Belle.
“Yes, if you can.”
“If not, shall I go home?”
“Yes, and wherever you are, live for Christ because the Messenger calls me away.  When you go home, tell them all to be good to you.”  Then he asked, “Will you dig me a little grave?”
“Where,” Belle asked, “in Pimplus?”
“No,” he answered.  “In the graveyard by the old meeting house," meaning the one in Somers, Connecticut, where he grew up.
At one point William clasped Belle in his arms and said, “The Messenger has made a mistake in separating us.  I will take you with me!”  But Belle comforted and encouraged him, saying that she would let him go.  When she saw that he was fading she drew close to him and asked, “Who is this?”
“Wifey,” he replied.
“Are you glad to go to Christ?”
“Yes deary.”

These were his last words.  William was only 28 years old.

"I want you to work with all your strength…"
Belle was just 19 when she found herself in rural India both an orphan and a widow.  But this tragic tale of a life and a love cut short is not the end of the story.  Isabel did go on to work and live with a fervor and a strength uncommon for a woman of her station and situation living in the 19th century.  She continued her mission to teach women in rural India to read and write for ten months before traveling on a long, lonely voyage back to the United States.  Her intention was to become a physician like her father and then return to India to practice medicine there, but in 1867, two years after William's death, she was married a second time, to a man named Samuel Barrows who worked as a congressional stenographer in Washington, D. C.

When Samuel became too ill to work, Isabel took his place, and thus became the first women ever to work for the U. S. State Department.  She graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1869, and then traveled to the University of Vienna Medical School to become one of the first female ophthalmologists, a vocation perhaps inspired by her late husband William, who often complained about his eyes, and affectionately expressed concern for hers in those early letters.  She also became the first woman to have her own private practice in Washington, D.C.

In 1880, Isabel gave up her medical practice to become the Associate Editor of The Christian Register.  She worked as both a journalist and editor covering controversial issues and supported international human rights as a social activist.  Isabel collaborated with Alice Stone Blackwell in editing The Little Grandmother of the Russian Revolution, and she was overseas attempting to win freedom for the Russian revolutionary Catherine Breshkovsky when her second husband died in 1909.  She subsequently took his place that year at the International Prison Congress in Paris, and continued to work for women’s prison reform and other social causes until her own death in 1913.

Smug Musings and Humble Landing Places

Sometimes when I am processing archival materials, I muse smugly to myself, “Oh, you silly people from the early 1900’s. Whatever were you thinking! How grand it is to live in more enlightened times.”

At times, such lofty musings are founded, say the time when I opened up a folder housing pictures of missionaries in black face, or that other time when I found a document describing the inferiority of the female gender and how to accommodate this on the mission field. Smug musings were duly appropriate in both instances.

Today, the opposite experience happened when I opened a pamphlet titled, The Memorandum on the Further Development and Expansion of Christianity in India, written by the Christo Samaj in 1921 to J.H. Oldham, the secretary of the International Missionary Conference (IMC). This pamphlet is part of the Missionary Research Library Archives, series 3: South Asia.

As I browsed the pamphlet searching for historical information to write the finding aid for this single-item collection, I came across ideas, phrases, critiques, and suggestions that could be heard in a Union Theological Seminary theology course addressing liberation theology, racism, Western imperialism, and other such themes (though these express terms are not used within the document). I could hear voices similar to that of my doctoral adviser, Brigitte Kahl, a New Testament scholar who specializes in critical re-imagination and empire-critical methodologies, speaking against the economic and ideological imprisonment experienced by indigenous Christians at the hands of Western Imperial Christianity.

I kept glancing at the date of this well-written, brilliantly articulated document, 1921, and wondering why these same sentiments continue to serve as novelties and mind-blowing conceptions for first-year Master’s students coming to learn about liberation theology in New York City, 2013. Church fathers in Madras a hundred years ago were talking about colonialism, racism, white, Western paternalism, and the dangers of imparting fractured systems of Western denominationalism into indigenous non-Western cultures. Church fathers in Madras were complaining of the socio-economic disparity between white missionaries and indigenous persons, demanding that missionaries live as those they serve, also highlighting the subpar nature of many missionaries as persons who were not employable in Western culture, so were farmed out overseas, bringing their idiosyncrasies and issues with them onto the mission field.

The question I want an answer to is this: why is this the first time I am hearing about the Christo Samaj? As a doctoral student who has a Master of Divinity degree, and one who engages in frequent conversations with peers regarding social justice issues, liberation theology and the like, this pamphlet holds the seedlings to undercurrents and movements giving rise to postcolonialism in India and should be treated as a source document for studies surrounding postcolonialism and theology. I am happy to report that the item is now processed and available for everyone to access, and I certainly hope that many, many people find the precious time to do so.

Post-Internship Thoughts

On the first day of my internship at Burke, Brigette, my internship supervisor, asked if I would write a blog post discussing what I expect from my internship and the overall experience. Would I want to be a processing archivist once the next few months were over? Not having had any experience processing a collection from start to finish (I always seemed to come in the middle of things) or having any experience writing a finding aid, I will admit that I was just a tad apprehensive going into it. On top of that, I was worried that not knowing any of the subject matter or terminology (I’m Jewish) would hinder my work in some way.

Side note: I now know the definition of “Ecumenism” with confidence!

Fast forward about four months later and I have four collections under my belt, with the accompanying finding aids to prove it. I thought the whole process was going to be harder than it actually was for some reason or another, but I’m glad to have been proven wrong. Granted, that is not to say that processing these collections was easy for me. It took me some time to get used to the way an archivist needs to think — how do I organize this? Should there be any series? Subseries? How do I put it all together in a way that will make it easy for the researcher to have access to these materials? There’s so much to think about and to consider, that oftentimes I found myself getting bogged down by all the details instead of doing what needed to be done.

Things got easier for me as I went through my first collection, which was around 10 boxes or so. I transitioned into a one-box collection, and made it all the way up to a 19-box collection in the end. This may not seem daunting for those archivists who have processed 100+ box collections, but for someone with little experience doing so I have to say it was a pretty good feeling. Each collection had its issues, however, and sometimes I found myself doubting all of the knowledge that I had gained thus far. Thank goodness Brigette was always there to help me snap out of my doubts, giving me the confidence to go with my instincts. After all, every archivist does things differently.

This internship provided me with the confidence to do the work of a processing archivist and (hopefully!) do it well. Yes, there will always be stumbling blocks and new things to learn along the way, but now I know that not only am I capable of processing archival collections, but I really enjoy it!