1834: Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to Charlotte (Williams) Porter

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1847)

This letter was written by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), the son of Lawrence Schoolcraft and Anne Barbara (Rowe) Schoolcraft. “He entered Union College at age fifteen and later attended Middlebury College. He was especially interested in geology and mineralogy. His father was a glassmaker, and Henry initially studied and worked in the same industry. Schoolcraft wrote his first paper on the topic, Vitreology (1817). After working in several glass works in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, the young Schoolcraft left the family business at age twenty-five to explore the western frontier.

From November 1818 to February 1819, Schoolcraft and his companion Levi Pettibone made an expedition from Potosi, Missouri to what is now Springfield. They traveled further down the White River into Arkansas, making a survey of the geography, geology, and mineralogy of the area. Schoolcraft published this study in A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819). In this book he correctly identified the potential for lead deposits in the region; Missouri eventually became the number one lead-producing state. He also published Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw (1821), the first written account of an exploration of the Ozarks.

This expedition and his resulting publications brought Schoolcraft to the attention of the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, who saw him as “a man of industry, ambition, and insatiable curiosity.” Calhoun recommended him to the Michigan Territorial Governor, Lewis Cass, for a position on an expedition led by Cass to explore the wilderness region of Lake Superior and the lands west to the Mississippi River. Beginning in the spring of 1820, Schoolcraft served as a geologist on the Lewis Cass expedition. Beginning in Detroit, they traveled nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) along Lake Huron and Lake Superior, west to the Mississippi River, down the river to present-day Iowa, and then returning to Detroit after tracing the shores of Lake Michigan.

The expedition was intended to establish the source of the Mississippi River, and in part to settle the question of an undetermined boundary between the United States and British Canada. The expedition traveled as far upstream as Upper Red Cedar Lake in present-day Minnesota. Since low water precluded navigating farther upstream, the lake was designated the river’s headwaters, and renamed in honor of Cass. (Schoolcraft however noted that locals informed the expedition that it was possible to navigate by canoe farther upstream earlier in the year, when water levels were higher.) Schoolcraft’s account of the expedition was published as A Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions…to the Sources of the Mississippi River (1821).

In 1821 he was a member of another government expedition that traveled through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In 1832, he led a second expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Arriving a month earlier than the 1820 expedition, he was able to take advantage of higher water to navigate to Lake Itasca.

Schoolcraft met his first wife soon after being assigned in 1822 to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan as its first US Indian Agent. Two years before, the government had built Fort Brady and wanted to establish an official presence to forestall any renewed British threat following the War of 1812. The government tried to ensure against British agitation of the Ojibwa.

Jane (Johnston) Schoolcraft

Schoolcraft married Jane Johnston, eldest daughter of John Johnston, a prominent Scots-Irish fur trader, and his wife Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Susan Johnston), daughter of a leading Ojibwe chief, Waubojeeg. The Johnstons had eight children, and their cultured, wealthy family was well known in the area.

Schoolcraft was elected to the legislature of the Michigan Territory, where he served from 1828 to 1832. In 1832, he traveled again to the upper reaches of the Mississippi to settle continuing troubles between the Ojibwa and Dakota (Sioux) nations. After his territory was greatly increased in 1833, Schoolcraft and his wife Jane moved to Mackinac Island, the new headquarters of his administration. In 1836, he was instrumental in settling land disputes with the Chippewa. He worked with them to accomplish the Treaty of Washington (1836), by which they ceded to the United States a vast territory of more than 13 million acres (53,000 km²)—worth many millions of dollars. He believed that the Chippewa would be better off learning to farm and giving up their wide hunting lands. The government agreed to pay subsidies and provide supplies while the Chippewa made a transition to a new way of living, but their provision of the promised subsidies was often late and underfunded.

In 1839 Schoolcraft was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department. He began a series of Native American studies later published as the Algic Researches (2 vols., 1839). These included his collection of Native American stories and legends, many of which his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft told him or translated for him from her culture.” [Source: Wikipedia]

Henry Schoolcraft wrote this letter to Mrs. Charlotte (Williams) Porter (1770-1842), the wife of William P. Porter (1763-1847). Their son, Rev. Jeremiah Porter (1804-1893) married Eliza Emily Chappell in Chicago in 1833 — the same year he arrived in Illinois. She was Chicago’s first public school teacher. He is credited with being Chicago’s first reformer. He was “a Yankee Presbyterian evangelist, originally from Hadley, Massachusetts.” He was educated at Hopkins Academy and Williams College after which he attended the Princeton Theological Seminary and found employment with the Home Missionary Society. His first missionary work was at Fort Brady in Sault St. Marie, Michigan Territory, where he formed the acquaintance of Henry Schoolcraft. In May 1833, he relocated to Chicago, accompanying a detachment of the garrison at Fort Brady to Fort Dearborne, and “organized the first permanent Protestant Church, and dedicated the First Presbyterian Church at Clark and Lake on January 4, 1834. Later that year he began a campaign to eradicate gambling, which would fail fairly quickly.” During the Civil War, Jeremiah and Eliza played important roles serving in the U. S. Sanitary Commission.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Charlotte Porter, Hadley, Massachusetts

Michilimackinac [Michigan]
May 26th 1834

Dear Madam,

I had almost said mother, for there are so many maternal associations connected with my knowledge of you & yours, through your son Jeremiah, that it seems to me that the duty which I have now the pleasure to perform is more akin to that which I owe to a mother than to a friend. Friendship is indeed, but a poor term to use when there is at hand the dearer & more appropriate one, of Christian. As such, I must ever cherish a love for you & yours. Although it may not be our privilege to meet this side the grave, there is a cheering & consolatory promise to all who love the Redeemer to meet in that abode “eternal in the heavens” where there shall be no causes for the sorrows, strifes, & losses which are the portion of mortality here.

I had an interview with your friends on the morning of their departure for Chicago. They came into the harbour on the Sabbath. But I did not hear of their being on board the vessel until Monday morning when I went on board to bring them all to my house, where Mrs. Schoolcraft was anxiously awaiting them with the expectation of their passing the day. This was on the 19th. But the wind at that moment springing up, the Captain determined to proceed immediately, & I bid them adieu. Mr. Williams, the younger, & lady, Mr. Williams, the elder, Miss Howe, & Dr. Porter composed the party whom I saw — Mrs. Porter being confined by sickness in the cabin.

I have recently received a letter from your son Jeremiah whose labours at Chicago appear again to have been blessed. Several are rejoicing in the hope of the pardoning love of a Savior. And there is reason to believe that the work of which these are the fruits may spread so as to embrace others in that place.

With us here, I can only say that the friends of the gospel have much to contend with. Roman Catholicism is like a raging lion in our midst. Infidelity has also her votaries here. And wherever there is vice lurking in the heart of any, these are sure to be drawn to one, or the other side. Religion has to combat with all, and she has combatted against fearful odds during the last season. Some few — very few — have made the determination to choose Christ. Two persons only, however, have made a profession of faith, one of whom is a man in years — the amiable Mr. Davis Stuart, late of Quebec. The Church has also had peculiar trials so far, as in one case, to be obliged to proceed after long & painful efforts, to purify its own brow, by the excision of a member.

From the Sault — my own dear Sault [Ste. Marie], the accounts of the state of religion have been favorable. Many of the soldiers & two of the officers in the garrison have found a Redeemer. There is no particular excitement in piety at present, but there is no reason to despond. The Presbyterian Church has no preacher at present, but the members worship with the Methodist society. All who remain there, of former profession, endure. Many are, however, departed —  some to Chicago — some elsewhere. We have reason only to fear for some of the Christian soldiers who went off in 1832, of whom reports of intemperance have prevailed.

The Johnston family are well, and Maria who has just reached us on a visit, unites with Mrs. Schoolcraft in presenting our joint regards to yourself & to your household in all its branches.

I am, dear Madam, in the bonds of a common faith in Christ, very sincerely your devoted servant, — Henry R. Schoolcraft

I find I have said nothing of the “Algic Society” ¹ whose proceedings I will, however, forward to you.


¹ Henry R. Schoolcraft founded the “Algic Society” in 1832 which was dedicated to encouraging missionary efforts in evangelizing the north western tribes, and “promoting education, agriculture, peace, and temperance among them.” Schoolcraft subscribed to the popular theory that Native Americans were degenerate and that they could be “saved” by Christianizing them. His book, “algic Researches” was published in 1839 but it was a financial failure.


One response to “1834: Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to Charlotte (Williams) Porter

  • Linda Bryan

    Wow! This letter shows the context of the Mackinaw Mission, which is covered in another listing on Spared & Shared #3 with Martin Heydenburk. As Indian Agent, Schoolcraft controlled the access of whites (except military) to the entire Lake Superior region.

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