Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Peter Jones - Sacred Feathers - and the Mississauga Indians (4)

Written by Rev. Ken Herfst
This is the final instalment in a series on Peter Jones, an Ojibway Indian, who became a preacher of the Gospel and died in Brantford, Ontario. See the September 2004 issue of The Messenger for the previous instalment.
Marriage to Eliza Field
Peter Jones married Eliza Field in New York on September 8th, 1832. Even major New York papers carried articles of their marriage. The articles were anything but supportive. Most whites viewed natives as an inferior race. Newspapers throughout Upper Canada picked up the story. Some argued that it was against the CreatorÕs will. Only the Niagara Gleaner came to the young coupleÕs defense and assured the public that Eliza would be well provided for by the Christian native farmers of New Credit. Eliza hated all this attention. Peter, too, struggled with anger against the whites for opposing his marriage to Eliza. For a time he was even hesitant to preach to them.

Yet, it was not only the opposition of the white man that proved to be a challenge for Eliza. She had grown up with considerable comfort and privilege. Now she had to adjust to the cold Canadian winters without the customary servants to prepare meals and stoke fires. More to the point, as the New Credit band had only embraced Christianity some ten years before, some of the older community members were still living in a world shaped by their ancestorsÕ beliefs. Remedies for illness, beliefs about forests, rivers and aspects of day-to-day life would have seemed strange to her.

Years at New Credit
Upon their arrival at New Credit, Peter and Eliza settled into their one-room log cabin. They were met by a group of Christians; among them, PeterÕs sister-in-law, Christiana who soon became a trusted friend. ElizaÕs strength of character is what first attracted her to Peter and in the weeks and months that followed, he was impressed with her strength time and again. Despite the opposition, she knew clearly that it was love for Peter and love for the LordÕs work that drew them together. She never wavered from those convictions. Nevertheless, it is interesting to read her comments after living among the MississaugaÕs for two months. She began to struggle with a lack of privacy and other cultural differences, and the inability to speak Ojibwa. Today missiologists would recognize this to be nothing more than Òculture shockÓ--a normal transition as one moves from one culture to another.

About six months after settling in, Peter left on his first missionary tour. All during the spring, summer, and early fall, a mosquito-borne illness plagued the community. Some died from an unknown illness. During PeterÕs absence, Christiana, ElizaÕs newfound friend and sister-in-law, became ill after giving birth. Eliza had never witnessed these kinds of trials before. Her friend was deathly ill with fever and infection and her brother-in-law who was plagued with an infected finger lay on the floor all night, writhing with pain. In addition, the four-day old baby cried incessantly. After attempting to help for a night, Eliza went home at 5:20 a.m. completely exhausted and discouraged. Christiana died later that same day. Two days later ChristianaÕs newborn son died too.

Eliza was unable to write anything in her diary for some days. About two weeks later, however, she wrote: ÒI am where my God hath led me & althoÕ very far from so many loved ones, I have a kind husband and many undeserved comforts--& if I have but the love of God in my heart all must be well.Ó ElizaÕs commitment to her new people was reciprocal. They called her Kecheahgahmequa, Òthe lady from beyond the blue waters.Ó

Between 1834 and 1836 she suffered two miscarriages and two stillborn babies. One member of the native band offered her own daughter to Eliza for adoption. Eliza, however still hoped to bear children, and declined the offer. After about two years, Eliza wrote: ÒMany of the people in this country do not seem to know what good manners mean, they have nothing like the natural refinement & delicacy and modesty of Indian women.Ó

Peter leaned heavily on Eliza as he continued his work in the ministry. Sensitive to the kind of discrimination she faced, she was equally critical of the way that the Methodist Church treated her husband. From an organizational perspective, the Methodist Church made a number of serious administrative blunders. They appointed a new man to supervise the work among the native Indians. This man had no understanding of their culture and could not even speak their language. Tensions arose when the Missionary society commissioned James Evans, a young English immigrant who had a gift in linguistics to retranslate hymns that Peter had prepared. This was done without consulting Jones. Evans proposed a new alphabet as well.

By 1836, Jones questioned his role in the church. Other trials took their toll as well. His father had built a grist and sawmill at his farm on GovernorÕs Road. This put him in a tight financial situation, and being in his seventies and in poor health, he died. Jones felt his fatherÕs death keenly and sensed his responsibility to care for his stepmother and stepbrothers. Once again, the struggle dealt with the land issue. The JonesÕ family laid claim to land grants of thirteen hundred acres along the Credit River. The Council of Upper Canada disputed this.

It is not possible to do justice to this whole issue without going into detail. Suffice it to say that Peter Jones eventually brought the bandÕs request for land to Queen Victoria in England. Although she was sympathetic, her support meant very little as Canadian officials were unyielding.

Divisions and Discouragements
These were not the only struggles Jones faced. Within the band, factions developed. Some MississaugaÕs felt that Jones acted too much like a white man. Some left the New Credit area and joined a former convert who returned to traditional ways.

The remaining band members may be divided into three groups: the reformers, the traditionalists, and the moderates. The traditionalists lived on the reserve, followed the old ways and did not attend church. The moderates were faithful church members, but they resisted the introduction of any more white practices. The reformers tried to ÒEuropeanizeÓ the band. Language remained a formidable challenge to reform. The old worldview still persisted among the elderly natives and they took it upon themselves to ensure that their children learned the beliefs of their grandparents. It was hard to convince some that thunder was not caused by the great thunderbird flapping his wings, or that the earth was a globe.

Death wiped out key men who, like Jones, promoted the white manÕs way of life. Some died just as they approached adulthood. Some had gone to receive theological training in the United States and Upper Canada, only to succumb to diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox. In one family no less than seven of its members died within a two-year period. All of this was discouraging, not only for Jones, but also for the band.

Church Conflicts and Factions
Within the Methodist Church, other challenges presented themselves with unrelenting regularity. Divisions and factions within the church undermined much of the ministry. Egerton Ryerson and a number of Canadian preachers resented the fact that the British Wesleyans held all the power in the church. This conflict intensified and by 1840, Canadian and British church leaders were courting native allies. The threat of a break-up of the Methodist church confused the native Christians. Some were Ògreatly puzzled to know why there should be two kinds of Methodists.Ó Some saw no real difference between the two denominations and wondered what the fuss was all about. David Sawyer, a Mississauga who had accompanied missionaries on their treks complained: Òthe preachers in Canada are as proud as the British. They love ease and are afraid to go into the backwoods for fear of getting their feet wet.Ó

Although the native band was indecisive, JonesÕ allegiance was with Egerton Ryerson. Their friendship went back some fifteen years and it was due to this friendship that Jones had initially joined the Canadian Conference of the Methodist Church. Jones tried to consolidate the natives. At Oakville, for example, Peter preached at the opening of the new Methodist church building. Jones took his text from the eighty-ninth Psalm: ÒBlessed is the people that know the joyful sound.Ó He tried to rally the people, but he could not change reality.

Two weeks later, the Canadian Conference and the British Wesleyans dissolved their union. The split caused damage to the congregation at Oakville and in 1841 the church was sold to Anglicans. Increased rivalry among the Methodists did nothing to foster mission work. The re-entry of Jesuits in the 1840Õs effectively stonewalled any proposed advances on the northern shores of Lake Huron. The Jesuits were thoroughly trained, learned Ojibwa, and soon became the MethodistsÕ strongest and most persistent rivals.

Similarly, the Anglicans took advantage of the weakness caused by the strife in the Methodist church and recruited influential church leaders. To make matters worse, a fellow member of the Canadian Council of the Methodist Church took it upon himself to discredit Peter JonesÕ ministry, translation and leadership. Thomas Hurlburt resented the evident place of honour that Jones occupied among the Methodists. Non-native linguists were called in to examine JonesÕ work. They unequivocally gave Jones their support. But Hurlburt would not be convinced and published an address given to the Toronto branch of the Missionary Society in which he criticized the natives as an inferior race who were Òdestitute of fellow-feeling, superstitious, immoral, imbecile in mind and degraded in social habits.Ó He went so far as to accuse the native Indians of being cannibals. Such accusations startled Peter Jones and he defended his people with a series of counter articles.

One can imagine that these troubles caused considerable disillusionment for Jones. Other native Christians expressed frustration at the continual disputes that divided the church. Some left the church altogether. One of JonesÕ half brothers later joined the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, all of this was disheartening for Peter Jones. Eventually, it affected his health. By 1844, he was released from the rigours of his itinerant ministry. He still helped as able, but traveled less.

Tireless Labours
Thankfully, Peter and Eliza also knew times of joy. In April 1839, Eliza gave birth to a son, Charles Augustus. In 1841, Frederick was born. In 1843, they were blessed with a third son, Peter Edmund. During this time, they moved to Munceytown, some thirty kilometers southwest of London, Ontario. Here Jones devoted his time to teaching and evangelizing. Munceytown was the centre for about 1,000 first nations people--the majority of them proving to be resistant to the gospel. Jones was not deterred. He wrote: Òthere is very much to do amongst these Indians, and there will be no danger of want of employment. I feel I am where I ought to be.Ó

Jones did not limit his efforts to Munceytown. He laboured tirelessly to improve education for first nation children. Once again, he made a British tour to find financial support for a residential school. Ill health prevented him from becoming superintendent of the school and the leadership of the school fell to Rev. Samuel Rose. Rose had no understanding of the native Indians, although he had worked as a missionary in 1831. Contrary to JonesÕ dream, the education was conducted entirely in English and it failed to produce the native leaders that Jones prayed for. By 1857 the school became an Indian orphan asylum. It was a failure.

Last Years
Peter and Eliza Jones spent their final years at a home they built for themselves at Echo Place, which now is part of Brantford. Prior to their move, in 1850, their youngest child, Arthur Field, died. He was only fourteen months old. In 1851 they settled in at Echo Villa. Jones could now give more time to reading and writing. He also helped with Methodist church work as needed. From Brantford it was a relatively close commute to the New Credit Reserve near Ohsweken. He was on hand for the dedication of a new church building in 1852.

By 1856 Peter JonesÕ health deteriorated rapidly. His doctors in Toronto discovered that he suffered from a kidney disease. Friends from all over came to visit him. One recorded: ÒHe is thin and sunken both in countenance and spirit, and is dying of consumption. But love to Christ and to the churches in England beamed from his dark eyes, and irradiated his tawny face, as he said to us, ÔTell my friends in England that I die triumphing in the blood of a crucified Redeemer.Õ Ó

By special arrangement Peter was carried to the train station in Toronto. The train made an unusual stop about a kilometre from his home and on June 17th, the dying man reached Echo Villa. Within weeks he lost his eyesight. Mississauga Christians came and they sang hymns that he had translated for them. On June 29th he went to be with his Saviour.

The Toronto Globe carried a story of the funeral and noted that Òmore than eighty carriages besides a great number of white people and Indians on footÓ was the largest ever witnessed in Brantford. Eighteen clergymen of various denominations attended the funeral. His faithful friend, Egerton Ryerson, preached the sermon.

After JonesÕ death, zeal for work among the MississaugaÕs diminished. There was no one of Peter JonesÕ calibre to continue the work. The Methodists no longer saw the need for native clergy. In fact, some church leaders felt that the first nations people should always be under the oversight of the white man.

PeterÕs vision for his people never came to fruition, although his son Peter Edmund Jones became a doctor. Some time after PeterÕs death, Eliza married John Carey, a former friend of her husband. However, the marriage proved to be a mistake and Eliza devoted much of her time and energies in publishing JonesÕ works. She died at eighty-six years of age.

If you travel to the New Credit Reserve, south of Ohsweken, you will find the original church built in 1852. A memorial to Peter JonesÕ memory can be found inside. Just east of the church you will find the band offices. Two plaques commemorate JonesÕ legacy there. In BrantfordÕs Public Cemetery a marble monument was erected in honour of Peter Jones. More importantly, however, is the fact that there are still churches on the New Credit Reserve and Ohsweken. Only the Last Day will reveal the extensive influence and legacy of this unique, First Nation man of God.

1. JonesÕ home is located just one block away from the Brantford Free Reformed Church on Colborne Street. A plaque in front of it honours Peter JonesÕ ministry.

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