Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
INDIAN DEPARTMENT AT ALBION COLLEGE
Unpublished, October 12, 2000
Coming up on October in Jackson on October 21 and 22 will be the Native American Land of Falling Waters 7th annual Pow-Wow at Jackson Parkside Middle School, in which there will be several Albion participants. Doors open at 11 a.m. each day, For more information call (517) 250-1857. Albion’s history with its native Potawatomie population is particularly interesting. Did you know that Albion College (then called the Wesleyan Seminary) had an official Indian Department which operated from the fall term 1844 through the spring of 1851? It was first headed by Rev. Joseph S. Sutton, whose purpose was to educate “those Indians who are expected to become Preachers, Interpreters, or Teachers of Schools among their Aboriginal Brethren of the West,” according to the 1844-45 school catalog. In an Io Triumphe article “Albion’s Copper-Colored Sons of the Forest,” (1973) M. John Fox wrote, “Those were idealistic...days [when] it was considered right and proper to invite the children of nearby Indian tribes to join the white man’s culture, learning his ways, his language, and his religion.”
The Michigan Pioneer Collections, Volume 15, autumn 1931 mentions a first-hand account of Albion’s native students in an article written by a former white student who had visited the Seminary in the late 1840s as a child and attended in the 1850s. Although written anonomously and published a year after his death, the writer was Charles Henry Comstock (1840-1930), whom we’ll write about in a future column. Comstock relates his own personal recollections about the Indians at Albion College, which are excerpted here. “In 1848, I was visiting my brothers, then students in Albion Seminary, and event clearly remembered by two incidents...seeing and mingling with a score or more of young full-blooded Indian students, gamboling on the college campus.”
He continues: “Apparently originating in the brain of some zealous devotees of the Methodist persuasion, Albion Seminary had been founded with a view, primarily, of the advanced education of the sons and daughters of their fellow coadjutors, with an especial view to the ecclesiastical training of young men. This purpose, with added philantrophy, a desire to aid and elevate by education, the nearer at home heathen, now wards of the state and nation. It was these impulses that inspired this gathering of some twenty or more of the young bucks of this tribe from the regions of Lake Superior.”
“It was here I first saw the Indian text book in use for the education of these students. But in intercourse with my brothers, who possessed them, I soon acquired a remembrance of its make-up and the dialects of the two supposed tribes which I, after these many years, will attempt to reproduce...”
“The Indian text books, arranged as remembered, contained several pages for reading and spelling exercises, mostly made up from the writings of Longfellow, with some pages of a glossary arranged in three parallel columns. The center column contained the English words alphabetically arranged. At the right, its equivalent in Chippewa. At its left the equivalent in Ojibway dialect, the three headed in capital letters as follows: Ojibway-pokamin; English-cranberry; Chippewa-stigamin (Using but one word for illustration).”
Today, this is the extent of my Indian vocabulary, but years agone it consisted of a score or more examples in both dialects. I am aware that some historians and dialecticians claim these were but a single tribe, Ojibways, but that did not seem the view of Albion college authorities.” Thus wrote Charles H. Comstock.
The native students were housed in the 1842-built Bell House, the first structure erected at Albion College. It served as a dormitory and classroom until 1891, and was located just east of the Central Building (later Robinson Hall) along S. Hannah St. The structure was moved in 1892 to the Wilder’s Lumber Yard on the south side of the rail siding on the west side of S. Monroe St., where it was used for storage until its demolition in the early 1970s. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the Bell House, the dormitory home of native students here, as it appeared in the 1890s after it was moved to S. Monroe St.
Indian Studies at Albion College
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic