During the latter part of the winter and in the spring many of the students became deeply serious, manifesting an increasing interest in the services of religion; they were very eager to read and understand the teachings of the New Testament. Mr. Page would converse, sing, and pray with them in their own language. His services were of incalculable value, very far surpassing those of an ordinary interpreter; for he was himself a minister with a good understanding of the saving truths of the Gospel. If we failed to present the truth in terms suited to their but partially enlightened minds he could give the necessary explanation and answer all the questions propounded by them. We bad not yet admitted any of them to membership, although we were led to hope and trust that there was a genuine work of grace in the hearts of a few of them. In the absence of Mr. Page they commenced to have prayers in their own rooms, and, finally, to take a part in our Thursday evening prayer meetings, taking up the cross voluntarily and praying in the native language. After watching them closely, and conversing with them, it was thought proper to admit six of them to membership; the ordinance of baptism was administered to them by Rev. W. H. Goode, and they were permitted to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
It had been arranged by the joint Board of chiefs and Trustees that the schools should be taught ten months, at the end of which term there should be a vacation of two months. It was agreed that the session should commence on the first day of October and close with the last of July; the lads should then have permission to go home and spend the vacation with their friends. As our first session was about to close we gave an invitation to the chiefs, Trustees, distinguished men, and the parents of the lads to come and witness a public examination of the classes. Major Armstrong, the Agent, Wm. Riddle, the United States Interpreter, and two of the Trustees, together with a number of the parents, were present. Nearly all the lads had learned to read, a majority were beginning to write, and all had made considerable proficiency. The friends were much gratified with the advancement made, and the Agent and Trustees gave an unqualified approbation of what had been accomplished.
Our cook had prepared a good dinner for all our guests, which made a very favorable impression upon the minds of our Indian visitors, who have a high appreciation of a well-spread table. All left in excellent humor, giving us the cordial shake of the hand as they departed. There were three students who were orphans, and, having no friends to visit, they asked permission to remain with us during the vacation, which was readily granted.
We felt deeply solicitous for the lads as they returned to their homes, where the influences might serve to dissipate or neutralize all the good impressions which had been made upon their hearts; we were especially anxious in regard to those who had professed conversion.
We now had a season of rest from the labors and cares of teaching and looking after so large a family. August was excessively warm, dry, and sultry, the thermometer ranging from ninety-eight to one hundred and three degrees in the shade. Having no heavy outdoor labor to perform we prudently kept in the shade during the heat of the day, occasionally refreshing the outer man with a comfortable siesta after dinner.
Mrs. B. and myself, having a special invitation, made a visit to Massard, where we spent two Sabbaths and the intervening week. We had two services each Sunday, and received four persons into the Church on probation.
While spending a day at the residence of Mr. G. I was requested to admonish and reprove his servant woman, who had become somewhat disrespectful to her mistress. At first I declined saying a word to her, not having any experience in negro discipline, and but little relish for or sympathy with the “peculiar institution.” “But,” said Mr. G., “I never whip my servant whatever her conduct may be. Minerva is generally an obedient and faithful girl, but of late she is growing saucy; and, as you are the parson, and received her into the Church, she will hear you and will do whatever you direct.” If Minerva would become truly pious and conscientious she would then be respectful and obedient and altogether a better slave; and so I went to the kitchen to quote the apostle’s language to the poor bondwoman, ” Servants, be obedient unto your own masters.” I endeavored to enforce patience and obedience from the teachings of God’s word; it was my first and only effort in that particular department of missionary labor.
Before leaving I made inquiry of Mr. G., ” Has your servant, Minerva, a husband?”
“No,” said he, “she has not.”
“Has she never been married?”
“Well, yes; she took up with Mr. S.’s man, Pete, and called him her husband for a year or two; and I treated him well, giving him the privilege of the yard and kitchen on Saturday nights and Sundays, but the impudent nigger got too lazy to cut the wood and make the fires, and so I caned him off of the premises and told him never to return.”
“How long is it, Mr. G., since Pete has visited Minerva?”
“About two years,” was the reply.
Here was a precious specimen of the practical workings of the “peculiar institution.” Mr. G., his wife, and his slave were all members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Pete’s mistress was also a member of the same Church. With the consent of owners Pete and Minerva had become husband and wife, a relation which had been recognized by all the parties; but, after the lapse of two or three years, as Minerva was not blessed with any progeny, Mr. G. concluded that it was not profitable to give Pete his Sunday board; so he drove him from his premises, upon the pretext that the “nigger was saucy and lazy!” Thus the marriage tie was sundered by the master, who received no censure from the Church; all the parties were still regarded as good Christians, meeting regularly together at the Lord’s table.
Late in the month of August I went to assist in a meeting held a short distance east of Fort Smith. The services were held in a school-house, and was designed mainly for the benefit of the colored population. It was numerously attended on Saturday evening and Sunday by the slaves of the neighborhood. They manifested a deep interest in the preaching, were very prompt in their responses; but the hearty and unctuous amen was sometimes given in the wrong place.
On Sunday afternoon a number of them came to be baptized, nearly all of them preferring to be immersed. As they came forward for examination, each one would present a paper containing the master’s consent for the slave to receive the ordinance. Without such note of permission we could not safely administer the ordinance to any of them. One paper lead as follows:
“DEAR SIR,–Joe wishes to be dipped; he thinks it will make him a better boy. I have no objection to the experiment.
” Van Buren, Arkansas, August –“
Returning to Fort Coffee, on the following Saturday I went in company with Mr. Goode to an appointment at the residence of Mrs. James on the south fork of the Poteau. The congregation numbered about thirty, the most of them belonging to the family of Mrs. James her children and servants.
Mrs. J. was a Chickasaw woman, about fifty years of age, with a family of grown-up sons and daughters, the most of whom were married and residing in the immediate vicinity of the mother. She was a widow of good character, and in comfortable circumstances. And though she understood the most that we said, yet she declined conversing in the English language. One of her sons served as interpreter in the conversation we had with her. Her children were all educated to some extent, and conversed readily in English.
Mrs. J. was a Christian woman, and manifested a lively interest in the success of the mission and. the school. She visited us at Fort Coffee repeatedly, but could not place any of her children in the Academy;
for being Chickasaws they had no privileges in the schools founded and sustained by Choctaw annuities. She had a nephew in the Academy, who was a sprightly and promising youth, whose father was a Choctaw and his mother a Chickasaw.
It is proper to mention that the Chickasaws, although an integral portion of the Choctaw nation, still retained the right to manage their own local interests, of which their schools, elections, and courts were the most important. They were rich in annuities.