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Wesleyan Mission

Allusion has been made in a former chapter to the Company's encouragement of Missionaries; I shall now add a few facts by way of illustration.

The Rev. Mr. Evans, a man no less remarkable for genuine piety than for energy and decision of character, had been present at several of the annual meetings of the Indians at Manitoulin Island, and had felt his sympathy deeply awakened by the sight of their degradation and spiritual destitution. While thus affected, he received an invitation from the American Episcopal Methodists to go as a Missionary among the Indians resident in the Union. Feeling, however, that his services were rather due to his fellow-subjects, he resolved to devote his labors and his life to the tribes residing in the Hudson's Bay territory. Having made known his intentions to this Canada Conference, he, together with Messrs. Thomas Hurlburt, and Peter Jacobs, was by them appointed a Missionary, and at their charges sent to that territory. No application was made to the Company, and neither encouragement nor support was expected from them. Mr. E. and his brother Missionaries began their operations by raising with their own hands, unassisted, a house at the Pic; themselves cutting and hauling the timber on the ice. They obtained, indeed, a temporary lodging at Fort Michipicoton, but they not only found their own provisions, but the comforts of the establishment were materially increased by Mr. E.'s and his interpreter's success in fishing and hunting. Late in the fall, accompanied by two Indian boys in a small canoe, Mr. E. made a voyage to Sault Ste. Marie for provisions: and on this expedition, rendered doubly hazardous by the lateness of the season, and the inexperience of his companions, he more than once narrowly escaped being lost.

Returning next season to Canada for his family, he met Sir G. Simpson, on Lake Superior. Having learned that the Mission was already established, and likely to succeed, Sir George received him with the utmost urbanity, treating him not only with kindness but with distinction; he expressed the highest satisfaction at the establishment of the Mission, promised him his utmost support, and at length proposed that arrangement, which, however apparently auspicious for the infant Mission, was ultimately found to be very prejudicial to it.

The caution of Mr. E. was completely lulled asleep by the apparent kindness of the Governor, and the hearty warmth with which he seemed to enter into his views. Sir George proposed that the Missionaries should hold the same rank and receive the same allowance as the wintering partners, or commissioned officers; and that canoes, or other means of conveyance, should be furnished to the Missionaries for their expeditions; nor did it seem unreasonable to stipulate that in return for these substantial benefits, they should say or do nothing prejudicial to the Company's interests either among the natives, or in their Reports to the Conference in England, to whose jurisdiction the Mission was transferred. The great evil of this arrangement was, that the Missionaries, from being the servants of God, accountable to Him alone, became the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, dependent on, and amenable to them; and the Committee were of course to be the sole judges of what was, or was not, prejudicial to their interests. Still, it is impossible to blame very severely either Mr. E. or the Conference for accepting offers apparently so advantageous, or even for consenting to certain restrictions in publishing their Reports:—with the assistance and co-operation of the Company great good might be effected;—with the hostility of a Corporation all but omnipotent within its own domain, and among the Indians, the post might not be tenable.

For some time matters went on smoothly: by the indefatigable exertions of Mr. E. and his fellow-workers, aided also by Mrs. E., who devoted much of her time and labor to the instruction of the females, a great reformation was effected in the habits and morals of the Indians. But Mr. Evans soon perceived that without books printed in the Indian language, little permanent good would be realized: he therefore wrote to the London Conference to send him a printing press and types, with characters of a simple phonetic kind, which he himself had invented, and of which he gave them a copy. The press was procured without delay, but was detained in London by the Governor and Committee; and though they were again and again petitioned to forward it, they flatly refused. Mr. E., however, was not a man to be turned aside from his purpose. With his characteristic energy he set to work, and having invented an alphabet of a more simple kind, he with his penknife cut the types, and formed the letters from musket bullets; he constructed a rude sort of press; and aided by Mrs. E. as compositor, he at length succeeded in printing prayers, and hymns, and passages of Scripture for the use of the Indians. Finding their object in detaining the press thus baffled, the Governor and Committee deemed it expedient to forward it; but with the express stipulation, that every thing printed should be sent to the commander of the post as censor, before it was published among the Indians. This was among the first causes of distrust and dissatisfaction.

Another source of dissatisfaction was Mr. E.'s faithfulness in regard to the observance of the sabbath. As the Indians became more enlightened they ceased to hunt and fish, and even to carry home game on the sabbath day; and, as a matter of course, they would no longer work for the Company on that day. But Mr. E. was guilty of equal faithfulness in remonstrating with those gentlemen in the service with whom he was on terms of intimacy in regard to this point of the Divine law; and several gentlemen, convinced by his arguments, determined to cease from working and traveling on the sabbath.

One of them, Mr. C——l, while on a distant expedition, acted in accordance with his convictions, and rested on the sabbath. The voyage turned out unusually stormy, and the water in the rivers was low, so that it occupied several days longer than it had formerly done; and the loss of time, which was really owing to the adverse weather, was charged on his keeping of the sabbath. From that day forth, the encouragement given to the Missionaries began to be withdrawn; obstacles were thrown in their way, and although nothing was openly done to injure the Missions already in operation, it would seem that it was determined that, if the Company could prevent it, no new stations should be occupied—at least by Protestant Missionaries.

Not long after, Mr. E., finding that the Missions he had hitherto superintended were in such a state of progress that he might safely leave them to the care of his fellow laborers, resolved to proceed to Athabasca and establish a mission there. Having gone, as usual, to the Commander of the post to obtain the necessary provisions, and a canoe and boatmen, he was received with unusual coldness. He asked provisions, none could be given; he offered to purchase them, the commander refused to sell him any. He begged a canoe, it was denied him; and finally, when he intreated that, if he should be able to procure those necessaries elsewhere, he might at least be allowed a couple of men to assist him on the voyage, he was answered that none would be allowed to go on that service. Deeply grieved, but nothing daunted, Mr. E. procured those necessaries from private resources, and proceeded on his voyage. But a sad calamity put a stop to it; in handing his gun to the interpreter it accidentally went off, and the charge lodging in his breast killed him instantaneously. He was thus compelled to return, in a state of mind bordering on distraction.

Mr. E.'s zeal and piety promised the best results to the spiritual and eternal interests of his Indian brethren. His talents, energy, and fertility of resource, which seemed to rise with every obstacle, had the happiest effects on their temporal well being; and his mild and winning manners greatly endeared him to all the Indians. But his useful and honorable career was drawing to a close. The mournful accident already alluded to had affected his health, and he now received his deathblow.

Yet, obnoxious as he had become to the Company, and formidable to their interests as they might deem one of his talents and indomitable resolution to be, the blow was not struck by them. It was dealt by a false brother; by one who had eaten of his bread: by a "familiar friend, with whom he had taken sweet counsel." Charges affecting his character, both as a man and a minister, of the foulest and blackest kind, were transmitted to the Conference by a brother Missionary. To answer these charges, as false as they were foul, he was compelled to leave the churches he had planted and watered, to bid adieu to the people whose salvation had been for years the sole object of his life, and to undertake a voyage of 5,000 miles to appear before his brethren as a criminal. As a criminal, indeed, he was received; yet after an investigation, begun and carried on in no very friendly spirit to him, truth prevailed. He was declared innocent, and the right hand of fellowship was again extended to him. He made a short tour through England, and was everywhere received with respect, and affection, and sympathy.

But anxiety, and grief, and shame had done their work. Scarce three weeks had elapsed, when, having spent the evening along with Mrs. E. in the family of a friend, whose guest he was, with some of his wonted cheerfulness, Mrs. E. having retired but a few minutes, she was summoned to the room where she had left him in time to see him pass into that land where "the wicked cease from troubling." The cause of his death was an affection of the heart. And that man the slanderer the murderer of this martyred Missionary what punishment was inflicted on him? He is to this day unpunished! and yet lives in the Hudson's Bay territory, the disgrace and opprobrium of his profession and his church.

Such are a few facts connected with the establishment of the Wesleyan Mission in the Hudson's Bay territory, and illustrative of the sort of encouragement given by the Committee to Protestant Missionaries. By way of rider to these, I may just remind the reader that Roman Catholic Missionaries have since been freely permitted to plant churches wherever they pleased, even in districts where Protestant Missions were already established.

After all, this is not much to be wondered at, since Sir G. Simpson openly avowed to Mr. Evans his preference of Roman Catholic Missionaries; one reason for this preference being, that these never interfered with the Company's servants, nor troubled them with any precise or puritanical notions about the moral law.

Notes of a Twenty-Five Years Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory, 1849


Notes on Hudson Bay Territory


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