1832: David Greene to Martin Heydenburk

This letter was written by David Greene (1797-1866), one of the Corresponding Secretaries of the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions. David was charged by the Committee to handle the affairs of the Indian Missions and to serve as the editor of the Missionary Herald. He filled this role from 1832 until 1847 when he was injured in a railroad accident causing him to resign the following year.

This letter was addressed to Martin Heydenburk (1798-18xx), the son of John and Hannah Heydenburk of Hempstead, Long Island. Martin became a school teacher to the Mission at Mackinac, Michigan Territory, in 1824. He married Huldah W. Warner in 1827 and continued to work at the Mission until 1833. He is credited with building the Mission House and church on Mackinaw Island in 1825 under the direction of Presbyterian minister, Rev. William M. Ferry. [Source: Michigan Historical Collections, Vol. 3]

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Martin Heydenburk, Mackinaw, Michigan Territory

Missionary Rooms, Boston
August 10th 1832

Mr. Martin Heydenburk
My Dear Sir,

Your letters of June 17th & 26th were both received during my absence. The state of my eyes from the 1st of June last has not permitted me to read or write; otherwise your communications would not have been so long neglected. Although your letters do not represent the state of things at Mackinaw very different from what I supposed it to be, yet they are such as to occasion a good deal of anxiety. I knew before I went to Mackinaw, and have been more fully convinced since, that that Mission cannot be successfully managed without great difficulty. Indeed, of all our Indian Missions — which are generally embarrassing enough — none have occasioned more perplexity than this. Still it is not easy to see how any considerable change can be made in its plan and method of operating, without breaking down the whole structure.

Our committee have hitherto, therefore, suspended acting on the subject decisively until they should see what can be done for the Indians in the interior. If the way should be opened for the establishment of several smaller stations in the Indian country where preachers and catechists & school teachers might be stationed, we should hope that our operations in that quarter might tend more directly to promote the spiritual good of the Indians, and that the Mackinaw establishment might be greatly diminished and the station receive a more decidedly missionary character.

William T. Boutwell

William T. Boutwell

We hope that Mr. [Sherman] Hall & Mr. [William T.] Boutwell ¹ will open the way for somewhat extended operations in that quarter and that other doors may be opened in other directions. And if we had a good man to send to the Grand Traverse, I think our Committee would not hesitate to send him. But it is exceedingly doubtful when we shall be able to procure such a man. I do not see how you can be well spared from Mackinaw for the present.

I am very sorry that we shall probably be unable to get Mr. Clary ² as a teacher. I called on him during my absence from Boston and conversed with him freely on the subject. He has now a considerably large estate on his hands, left by his father, and somewhat embarrassed, which he is to settle. He has also been planning out a school for himself which he has already commenced with very favorable prospects. His friends all tell him that his influence in Conway [Massachusetts] is exceedingly important and he cannot be spared. On the whole, he gave me little encouragement. He was to write me if he could see it to be his duty to go and as I have heard nothing from him, I concluded he would not go.

Indeed, we are almost discouraged in looking for good teachers. Very few persons who profess enterprise, piety, and good ability to teach are willing to engage in this work for life. Almost all other persons who do engage in teaching do it for a year or two to defray the expenses of their own education.

In regard to several topics contained in your last letter, I shall write to Mr. [William] Ferry ³ as soon as I can get the Committee to give thorough attention to them, which I hope will not be long. I will also write you if after my interview with the Committee I should have any occasion. I sincerely hope that something will be done to improve the mission in those respects where it now seems to you objectionable. If it is practicable, we will make some arrangements so that a family may go to Grand Traverse this fall. I should think Mr. Mitchell’s family might be of great service there.

With affectionate regards to all your fellow laborers and the friends of the mission on the island.

I remain yours truly, — David Greene

Old Mission House built by Henry in 1825. Photograph by William Henry Jackson

Old Mission House built by Heydenburk in 1825. Photograph by William Henry Jackson


¹ Sherman Hall (1800-1879) and William Thurston Boutwell (1803-1890) were missionaries to the Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwa).

² Dexter Clary (1798-1874) was an evangelist for the Congregational Church in Upper New York  and Canada until settling in Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1840. He later served as Home Missionary Agent for Wisconsin and was one of the first trustees of Beloit College.

³ The Reverend William Montague Ferry founded the mission on Mackinac Island on land now known as Mission Point in 1823. Two years later he and his wife, Amanda, erected a Mission House which served as a boarding school for Indian children. In 1827, 112 students attended the school. The majority of the resident pupils were metis — children of Indian and Euro-American parents. The mission closed in 1837.


5 responses to “1832: David Greene to Martin Heydenburk

  • Linda Bryan

    I am absolutely thrilled to find this letter online. May I quote from it?

    I’m studying the missionaries who came to Minnesota and Wisconsin as a result of the project described in this letter. The paucity of volunteers really frustrated Greene and the rest of the ABCFM in Boston as well as the pioneering staff (Boutwell and Hall included) who went to Ojibwe country assuming that more help would follow, which proved to be mostly a false assumption. The lack of sufficient volunteers, the Dakota-Ojibwe feud, and the Panic of 1837 were terrific obstacles.

    • Griff

      I’m glad the letter was useful to you in your research. The owner of this letter sold it on e-bay some time ago but gave me the opportunity to transcribe it and authority to publish it here before it was sold. If you quote the letter, suggest you reference the blogsite and provide date you saw it published. — Griff

  • Linda Bryan

    You are very kind.

    I am reading your roster of letters now, seeking similar items. You and your readers may want to know what “concert” means in the religious context; it’s an agreed-upon mutual time of worship in which people at a distance can feel the mutuality of religious worship in concert. The missionaries were especially eager to set a regularized concert date with the hope that this way they would not be forgotten by the people who sent them to sites far away. Having read a lot of missionary material from the Great Lakes region, I know how important the concerts were to them.

    Also, I suspect that if you look for a familial connection, you may find one between your 1834 Ferry letter from Granby, Mass. and Rev. Wm. G. Ferry who founded the Mackinaw Mission (and who later packed it in and went to Grand River in the lower peninsula of Michigan and became a lumber baron).

  • Griff

    Thanks for the clarification. You may also want search my other blogsites, Shared & Shared (one thru five) as there are hundreds of letters among all these sites. I believe there were Boutwell letters as well.

  • Linda Bryan

    I can’t wait! All that 19th century gossip, just waiting there for the modern reader to groove on! Thanks so much!

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