Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, January 17, 2002, pgs. 10, 11
Albion College (once known as the Wesleyan Seminary) once had an official so-called “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 Methodist Church established an Indian Mission called the “Nottawa Mission” near Athens, where some students were recruited. At the time the mission was built, John Moguago was the tribal chief of the Huron Potawatomi tribe headquartered there. His son Mandoka became a student at Albion’s Indian Department as well as his wife Mary. The native-Americans who attended Albion Seminary were given Christian names, i.e. John B. Chrisman and Mary Jennings, respectively for the aformentioned duo. It is estimated there at least 30 native-Americans were educated in the Indian Department at Albion Seminary.
The Church and Seminary, then closely associated, recruited native-American students from throughout the state from various tribes. One, Daniel Wheaton was a member of the Chippewa tribe in Saginaw County. He was educated in Albion and was taught the principles of the Methodist church. Wheaton became a Methodist minister at the Indian church at Taymouth on the Flint River 15 miles from Saginaw. He was still active in the ministry at age 84, as related in a story published about him in the October 12, 1910 edition of the Albion Recorder.
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, internal clues in the article itself indicate the writer was Charles Henry Comstock (1840-1930). Charles and his brothers Isaac and Addison operated a drugstore here during the Civil War. Comstock relates his own personal recollections about the native-Americans at Albion College, which are excerpted here in the original language and spellings:
“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, contained 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 1841-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 1893 to the west side of S. Monroe St. It was located south of the rail siding across the street from Wilder’s Lumber Yard. The building was used for storage until its demolition in the early 1970s. From the Archives this week (courtesy of the Albion College Archives) we present a photograph of the Bell House, the dormitory home of native students here, as it appeared along S. Monroe St. a century ago.
Albion College Bell House
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic