Saturday, January 26, 2019

Restoration Missionaries among the Indians, Pre-1830 (6)

Before and during the War of 1812, most American Indians sided with the British against Americans. In places like Indiana Territory, they sometimes targeted white civilians as well as American soldiers. Many years after the war, Elizabeth Boyd Martindale recalled the fear she and other settlers felt for as long as the fighting continued. She remembered that seeing an Indian
even in time of peace would send a thrill of terror to the heart of those unaccustomed to the sight; but when . . . they were daily in search of some poor white emigrant that might fall victim to their scalping knife, then the sight was terrible indeed.[1]
Those realities make the post-war evangelistic work of Samuel Boyd, Elizabeth's father, that much more impressive. Sometime after the war ended in 1814, at least some of the white people living along the frontier realized that they had failed to reach out to the Indians. The Indians, with their former allies, the British, no longer in the U.S., likely understood their need to establish better relations with Americans. A new opportunity emerged. At that point, "many of the early pioneer preachers of Indiana went and labored among them and were successful in implanting Bible truths in their minds and hearts."[2]

Among these missionaries was Samuel Boyd. In fact, Boyd established "a number of preaching places among the Indians." His favorite place was an Indian village called Strawtown, near present-day Alexandria, Indiana. There the Indians "greeted him with warm hearts and listened while he tried to expound to them the way of life."[3]

These were Indians of the Delaware tribe, known to themselves as Lenape or Lenni Lenape. For countless generations, their ancestors had lived on the American east coast, along the Delaware River and the lower part of the Hudson River. But like so many other tribal groups, their encounters with Euro-Americans had forced them westward. The Unami Delaware, a subgroup set off by a distinctive homeland and dialect, lived in Indiana from roughly 1800 to 1820.[4]

Boyd preached at Strawtown, one of several Lenape villages along the west fork of the White River, on many occasions. But this led to yet another harrowing experience and sad memory. During one of his visits, Boyd took with him another preacher named Logan. The two men arrived after a long and difficult trip. So they rested in a hut while dinner was being prepared. Nearby, some Indian children were playing. One of them touched a keg of powder with the smoldering end of a stick.
A terrific explosion followed; the hut was partly demolished and the children were all killed. The ministers escaped being killed; but one hardly knew how. Boyd had lain down on a cot and it whirled upside down and was set on fire. He was too much stunned to extricate himself, and before any one could help him he was badly burned, especially his feet.[5]
Such were the experiences and sacrifices of some believers who attempted to bring the gospel, the message of salvation, to those who had not yet heard and understood.


[1] Elijah Martindale, Autobiography and Sermons of Elder Elijah Martindale, also Pioneer History of the Boyd Family, by Belle Stanford (Indianapolis: Carlon & Hollenbeck, 1892), 131-32.

[2] Ibid., 136-37.

[3] Ibid., 137.

[4] For Strawtown as one of several villages of the Unami Delaware in Indiana, see Chris Flook, Native Americans of East-Central Indiana (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2016), 107-08. For a good overview of the larger group and its history, see Jay Miller, "Delaware," in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, ed. Frederick E. Hoxie (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 157-159.

[5] Autobiography and Sermons of Elder Elijah Martindale, 137-38.

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