In 1816, Congregational ministers founded the Foreign Mission School
in Cornwall, Connecticut, to “…bring heathen into contact with Christians,
and exhibit heathen manners, as a living and impressive spectacle….”
1. Adam Hodgson, tourist from Liverpool, letter to the Christian Observer
Six horses dragged our heavy sleigh
through waist-high drifts, up steep inclines.
Ice chapped our faces, froze my beard.
At dusk we glimpsed the white church steeple
next to the Foreign Mission School.
These missionaries savor gospel,
collect some dozens of pagan youths
from different corners of the world,
teach them to speak God’s news back home.
I woke to a demanding bell
at six for early prayer. By eight,
Reverend Daggett unrolled his chart —
the nouns, the verbs, in our own English,
the nouns, the verbs in the sixteen tongues
of all the pupils in his care.
Hawaiians, Cherokees can learn
religion, mathematics, Shakespeare.
One calculates a lunar eclipse!
I asked this boy, “Just how will you
well-educated converts differ
from other Christian gentlemen?”
He could not say. I wondered if
these heathen boys might wish to court
the town’s young girls—for Deacon Gold
has several daughters, Mrs. Northrup,
one who works as her assistant.
I dared not state the obvious,
proximity could breed attachment.
As we were leaving, Herman Daggett
passed me the 19th Psalm in Mohegan:
“Their line has gone out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.”
2. Reverend Herman Daggett, Foreign Mission School, Cornwall, to Timothy Dwight, President, Yale College
Thank you for your kind donation.
Offerings pour in every day,
cash, a hog, three loads of hay
give us cause for celebration.
People send us many things:
heifers, cider, rakes, and hoes,
silage for the winter snows,
knitted socks and golden rings,
Bibles, inkwells, quills, a hen,
planks for housing heathen men,
notebooks for their Christian words.
Missions to the world we form,
catechism shapes our rule,
languages flow through our school,
tongues will trump the devil’s charm.
3. Roll Call, Owhyhee Boys Receive Christian Names
Tamoree---George P. (He is a prince.)
4. Narrative of John Johnson
My half-English, half-Hindu father waved
and my half-Black, half-Jewish mother cried
as my ship left Calcutta for England.
I went on board with two suits
and all my old schoolbooks.
An American privateer captured us,
a British frigate recaptured us,
refitted us in Halifax,
an American frigate seized us again.
I was chained in the hold with seven others.
Six died of yellow fever,
the captain bade his men abandon me.
They wrapped me in a blanket,
rolled me, sweating and puking,
under a palm on a beach in Barbados.
I cried for my parents, I prayed to Allah
(for I have chosen the religion of Mohammed).
A sea captain of New Haven heard my tongues,
he paid gold. He got his investment back,
he sold me to a preacher in Woodbridge,
who traded me to a judge in Goshen,
who took me to the Foreign Mission School.
The schoolroom smells of chalk and sweat,
dinner is mutton and cornbread.
After a week in this iced-up village
with two grist mills and four distilleries,
they ordered me to translate catechism into Hindi.
Talking to the townspeople
in any tongue is not permitted
unless we have found Christ,
then we may talk of Him.
I wish I had stayed in Barbados.
Reverend Daggett wants to dismiss me,
complains I am lazy, lacking in piety.
I plan to run away to the New York docks.
5. Roll Call, Cherokees and Choctaws Receive Christian Names and Report Cards
A-wih---David (“helped prepare a spelling book”)
Fields, James (“part white,” “considerable property”)
Folsom, Israel (son of a white man, “pious”)
Folsom, McKee (“helped prepare a Choctaw alphabet”)
Hicks, Leonard (“half-breed,” “inattentive”)
Kul-la-gee-nuh (took the name Elias Boudinot, “looked the Indian”)
Mackey, Miles (“half-breed,” “dismissed for a proposed matrimonial union”)
Ridge, John (“rich,” “handsome, graceful,” “did not look the Indian”)
Ta-wah---David (son of a white captive who married a Cherokee, “dismissed”)
Taweheechy---David (“unstable in character”)
Terrell, James (“irreligious in influence,” “questionable when out of sight,” “dismissed for a proposed matrimonial union”)
Tsa-nih—John (“fretful, obscene, of moderate talents”)
Vann, John (son of a white man and a convert, “disaffected”)
6. Mrs. John P. Northrup, Steward of the Mission School, Cornwall, to John Ridge of the Cherokee Nation
John Ridge, you have born an illness bravely.
My Sarah nursed you well. Go home to Georgia.
In two years’ time, if you love Sarah still,
if you can walk, then I will see you wed.
7. Sarah B. Northrup, Cornwall, to John Ridge, New Echota, Georgia
My mother begged my aunt,
“Do organize some parties.”
I find New Haven dreary.
I find the Yale boys boring.
Do roses bloom in Georgia?
Can you walk? And can you run?
8. John Ridge, New Echota, Georgia, to Sarah B. Northrup
I will come for you.
I think of you by the river,
Beyond the mountain place
eight strands of water speak,
the Shepaug and the Williams,
the Naugatuck and Still,
the Pomperaug and Ten Mile,
the Konkapot and Green.
May our lines be one,
just as the Indian names
braid with the English names
in the fast-running waters.
9. Isaiah Bunce, Editor, Litchfield Eagle, open letter
You announce a wedding?
Surely there’s been kissing,
slackness at the school,
chaperones gone missing,
heathens and our daughters
parties, winter sleigh rides,
picnics at the farm--
Deacons Gold and Carter,
Captains Clark and Miles…
THIS MUST STOP!
Sarah needs a whipping.
Drown her mother in the
river. Ridge wants stripping--
for the GALLOWS.
10. Harriet Gold, Cornwall, to her sister, Mary Gold Brinsmade
Sister, I promised word about the wedding.
John Ridge returned. His father wore gold lace
and white top-boots, he charmed the town with talk
of the Great Spirit he worships every Sunday.
Two six-foot Negro slaves in livery
drove their high carriage pulled by four white stallions.
Who has ever seen a coach so grand?
Sarah and John will live in Georgia.
You always said my turn would come, sister,
Kilkeenah calls himself “Elias Boudinot,”
John’s cousin shares my Christian fervor,
we smiled, we prayed at John and Sarah’s nuptials.
Color is nothing to me; his soul is as white
as mine. But Father hesitates, he fears
to let me live among the Cherokee--
working for Christ to enter pagan souls,
so far away from Mother and from you.
With all fourteen of us, his darling children,
he can spare one. The problem is not Father,
I know that I can talk him round. But Mary,
our brother Stephen’s simply lost his head—
last night he swore he’d see Elias dead.
11. Isaiah Bunce, Editor, Litchfield Eagle, open letter
Why pretend to civilize?
These rich young red men roam the town.
You claim they find their way to Christ—
they find a girl in a summer gown.
Our farmers lack for willing wives.
The Heathen School should be shut down.
12. Reverend Herman Vaill, Assistant Head of the Foreign Mission School, to Harriet Gold
The whisper of another marriage here
will be the end of our experiment.
God wreak his vengeance on your selfish head!
I had no warning of your rashness though
surely your conduct threatens my career.
You are confused about our foreign missions.
Your passion is not serving Christ, you've found
another object. You might as well be dead.
13. Deacon Benjamin Gold, Cornwall, to the Trustees of the Foreign Mission School
Some argue that a variance of complexion
prevents a matrimonial connection--
but when a treaty binds two sovereign powers,
marrying daughters is high diplomacy.
The sons of ordinary working men
and sons of chiefs and princes walk across
our village green to worship Christ with us.
They purse their lips, they twist their tongues, sound out
the syllables, over and over they test
our words, our alphabet, our pieties,
for Cornwall chose to welcome all their worlds.
And we shall ally with the Cherokee nation,
I do approve our Harriet’s engagement.
14. Harriet Gold, Cornwall, to Mary Gold Brinsmade (in haste)
Father gave his blessing.
Mother tried to smile.
Church bells tolled at dusk,
tolled all evening.
Crowds came, viewed a painting:
Mrs. Northrup, a red-faced
Indian, and me!
Mother whispered, “Flee!”
Father barred their door,
Uncle sheltered me,
trembling, watching, weeping.
John C. hauled the tar,
Rufus, the effigy.
Stephen lit the match!
Flames consumed my corpse.
This was not the end,
sister. Sunday came,
churchly people shunned me,
ones I’ve known for years
would not meet my eyes.
“Animal! Animal feelings!”
hissed a close old friend.
wailed another. “Satan!”
“Ruin the school,” “Sport with
sacred interests,” “Hellfire,” Etc.
15. Mary Gold Brinsmade to Harriet Gold
Have courage. Mother said to me,
“Herman mailed us a fiery sermon.
So glad that he had paid the postage,
it was not worth a reading.” Right.
Father owns land from here to Litchfield,
you know Father will have his way.
And Father truly likes Elias,
no matter what Herman may say.
16. Harriet Gold Boudinot, Cornwall, to Sarah Northrup Ridge, New Echota, Georgia
Elias rode to Cornwall--
disguised--so many threats,
and one man drew a gallows.
My family rallied here.
Father brooked no trouble
(he hates rude interference),
bade Herman(!) “Marry them.”
Dear Mary stood as bridesmaid.
My parents' friends sent gifts
(none from those who torched us,
finding my courtship wanting).
The school has lost its reason.
And the town. Sarah,
I hear you dress in silk,
mistress of thirty servants.
Soon I will be your neighbor.
Bid me bring anything
you need or want to remember
our joy when the mission school
was a new experiment
in our remote, romantic valley.
Note: Yale University encouraged ministers interested in training missionaries to start the school for “heathens” in a remote town. The school closed in 1827. Yale did not admit its first Native American student, Henry Roe Cloud, until 1906. Usi-a-di-en ek—Housatonic River, runs through the town. “Elias Boudinot”—some of the students, including Kilkeenah, took as Christian names the full names of well-known men. Elias Boudinot, lawyer and statesman, was President of the Continental Congress, 1782-3.
From Dolores Hayden, Nymph, Dun, and Spinner. First published in Raritan, republished in Poemeleon.