"Our fathers had religion of their own. They served God and were happy. That was before the White Man came. They worshipped with feasts and sacrifices, dances and rattles. They did what they thought was right. Our parents wished us to do good and they used to make us do good, and would sometimes correct us for doing evil. But a great while ago the French sent us a book by the Roman Priest and we listened to him. . . . We did what he told us. . . . At last he went away. Then we returned to our fathers' religion again. But then the Seneca prophet came and he said that he had talked to the Great Spirit, and he was told what the Indian ought to do. We listened to him and many followed him. But we found that he told us not to do things and then he did those things himself. So we were deceived. . . . Again we took up the religion of our fathers. But then the Shawnee prophet arose. We heard him and some of us followed him for awhile, but we had been de ceived so often that we watched him very closely, and soon found that he was like all the rest so we left him also.
"Then there was war between our fathers and the Presi dent and King George. . . . By the time the war was over we were all scattered and many killed and died. Our chiefs thought to get the nation together again. Then the Black Man, Stewart, our brother here (pointed to Stewart) came to us and told us he was sent by the Great Spirit to tell us the true and good way. But we thought he was like all the rest-that he too wanted to cheat us and get our money and land from us. He told us of our sins and that drinking was ruining us and that the Great Spirit was angry with us. He said that we must leave off these things. But we treated him ill and gave him little to eat, and trampled on him and were jealous of him for a whole year. Then we attended his meeting in the council house. We could find no fault with him. The Great Spirit came upon us so that all cried aloud. Some clapped their hands, some ran away, and some were angry. We held our meetings all night, sometimes singing, sometimes praying. By now we were convinced that God had sent him to us. Stewart is a good man."
There can be no doubt that John Stewart was a good man, a man called by God and listening ever to the voice of the Holy Spirit. A Black Man born of humble parents who suffered ill health and obtained only a common school education was hardly a promising prospect for greatness according to the standards of the world. But God saw fit to use him for a very special job in a very special way, for he started what was to become the first Methodist Mission in America.
John Stewart was born in Powhatten County, Virginia, in 1 786. His parents were free people of mixed blood, black, white, and Indian. They were of the Baptist faith and respected citizens of the community. He had a brother who became a Baptist min ister; this might indicate that there was some religious training in the home. John was more fortunate than most black boys of this time for his parents sent him to school and he received a common school education.
As he grew into manhood, he was frail and often sick. He weighed only one hundred and forty pounds and stood about five feet seven inches tall. His skin was light, for a Black Man. When his parents moved to Tennessee, John stayed behind in Virginia for he was unable to make the trip at the time. Here he learned the trade of blue-dying.
When he had saved some money, he started for Marietta, Ohio, intending to later go to his parents. On the way to Marietta, he was held up and robbed of all he had. Rev. Joseph Mitchell, who knew and worked with Stewart later at Upper Sandusky, recorded this part of Stewart's life soon after his death. Mitchell talked with William Walker and others who, too, came to know Stewart intimately, before writing his book entitled John Stewart, Missionary Pioneer printed in 1 827. Since this part of his life is so important-the time from sin to sal vation-it deserves a direct account.
"This circumstance (that of being robbed) brought him to reflect seriously on the state of his soul; but grief and vexa tion prevailed over hope and patience. The loss of his property, the distance from his friends, the idea of poverty and disgrace, together with the wretched situation of his mind on account of his soul's affairs, brought him to shock ing determination that he would immediately take measures to hasten his dissolution. And for this purpose he forthwith commenced a course of excessive drinking in a public house. This was continued until his nerves became much affected, his hands trembled so it was difficult for him to feed himself. In this practice and condition he remained for a considerable length of time, still fixed in the deter mination to destroy his life, and precipitate himself into ruin. His mischievous design was at length frustrated by his landlord, who discovered his intention and withheld liquor from him. This measure brought him more deliberately to reflect on his miserable condition, with a view of the awful state of his soul, which compelled him to cry out, 'Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me . . . ?' It was at this time that he passed on his mind the inquiry, which would give the least pain to his father's family; to hear that without property he was honestly striving to make his way through life, or that by intemperance he had hurried him self to an untimely grave. The result was, he resolved to abandon the service of the 'wicked one' and cast himself upon the mercy of God, for support and salvation. He then 'joined himself to a citizen of the place,' (Marietta, Ohio, where he was then) to assist in making sugar, a distance from town, in the woods. This situation afforded him a good opportunity for reading, meditation, prayer, and seeking the Lord in private. Soon, however, he had to quit his sequestered state and return to town, where, contrary to the most solemn vows and promises, which he had pre viously made to forsake sin and seek the Lord, he united with others in shameful acts of night revelling, which, instead of affording relief to his wounded spirit, only pro duced (in the moment of retirement and reflection) greater grief and distress. An occurrence here took place which much alarmed him: an intimate companion of his was suddenly called by death from time to eternity. With this individual he had made an appointment to spend one more night in sin; but death interfered and disappointed them both. Stewart's convictions of mind were thereupon greatly increased, and he began to despair of ever obtaining mercy at the hand of the Lord.
"One day while wandering along the banks of the Ohio, bewailing his wretched and undone condition, the arch enemy of souls suggested to him a remedy, which was to terminate the miseries he endured by leaping into the deep, and thereby putting an end to his existence. To this sug gestion, he at first felt a disposition to yield, but his attention was arrested by a voice, which he thought called him by name; when on looking around he could see no person, whereupon he desisted from the further prosecution of the desperate project. He then resolved to make another effort to seek mercy and pardon at the hand of God. Having hired a house for the purpose of carrying on his business (the blue-dying trade) he had another opportunity of being much alone, which privilege he improved in seeking the Lord 'carefully with tears.' The more he exercised himself in meditation and prayer, the more he was impressed with a sense of guilt. He now saw no way for him to escape the wrath to come-he felt that he deserved to be driven from the presence of the Most High into outer darkness. It was then that he was able to cast himself at the foot of the cross, and to lay hold by faith on the Saviour of sinners as his last and only refuge, crying 'Lord, same or I perish!' Then it was that the Lord was pleased to reveal his mercy and pardoning love to his fainting soul, causing him to burst forth from his closet in raptures of unspeakable joy, declar ing what the Lord had done for his poor soul! He now could truly say, 'Jesus all the day long, Is my joy and my song.' He could then rejoice in the Lord from a sense of 'love of God being shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost.' There being no Baptist church near, he did not join himself to any religious Society.
"In his youth he had imbibed strong prejudices against other denominations, particularly the Methodists, of whom he had a contemptible opinion. Thus, slighting and neg lecting the duties of the temple, it will not be surprising to hear that he soon neglected those of the closet also, which soon resulted in a dead and barren state of soul. He now began to again feel the pains and miseries from which the Lord had so recently delivered him. Whereupon, he began to doubt the reality and genuineness of his conversion, and this seems to have originated from the belief of a doctrine in which he had been educated, namely 'once in grace always in grace.' In this situation he remained for some time, bewailing his wretched case when, as he walked out one evening he heard the sound of singing and praying proceeding from a house at no great distance. It proved to be a Methodist prayer meeting. His prejudices at first for bade his going in but curiosity prompted him to venture a little nearer, and at length he resolved to enter and make known his case, which he did to the few who were in attendance. Here he was encouraged to seek with all his heart the lasting blessing. Soon after this he attended a Camp Meeting, here he remained for sometime with a heavy heart and disconsolate mind. He at length resolved to distinguish himself by taking a place among the mourn ers of the assembly, where he lay deploring his case all night, even until the break of day, at which time 'the sun of righteousness' broke into his dark bewildered soul. Peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit now succeeded, and he could shout 'Glory to God in the highest,' with the morning stars that witnessed his deliverance. Not until then were the deep rooted prejudices toward the people who called them selves Methodists removed from his mind. It was then that he united himself to the people whom he had formerly held in the greatest contempt-took their people to be his peo ple, and their God his God. For the space of three months he went on his way rejoicing, prosperously labouring for the body and soul. About this time, being one evening at private devotions, suddenly he heard a sound which much alarmed him: and a voice (as he thought) said to him- 'Thou shalt declare my counsel faithfully' at the same time a view seemed to open to him in a Northwest direction, and a strong impression was made on his mind, that he must go out that course into the world to declare the counsel of God. This singular event gave him much uneasiness and exercise of mind, and having mentioned the matter to a friend, he received an explanation which greatly increased his concern; for it was intimated that he might expect to be called upon to go abroad and preach the gospel, which to him was an afflicting consideration, having never before entertained the thought of such an undertaking. Judging himself entirely unqualified for such a work, he determined to avoid it if possible, and accordingly made plans to fol low his friends to the State of Tennessee. He was, however, prevented from taking this trip by a severe illness in which his life was despaired of. He still fancied he heard sounding in his ears the voice above mentioned, and the same im pression continued with respect to his traveling to the Northwest. At length he resolved that if it should please the Lord to spare his life, and restore him to health again, he would go out that course and see where he should be conducted, although he feared he should be killed by the first Indians he should meet with. He was restored to health, and according to the determination he had entered into before with God, he set out without credentials, directions of the way, money or bread, crossed the Muskingum River for the first time, and traveled a northwest course, not knowing whither he went. As he proceeded he met with sundry persons who, having learned something of the nature of his undertaking, strove in vain to dissuade him from the pursuit. He urged on his way, keeping about the same course, which he was frequently informed would lead him into the Indian country on the Sandusky River, some times with, sometimes without a road, without a pilot, without fireworks, sometimes wading the waters and swim ming the rivers."
When Stewart reached Granville, Ohio, he sought out the home of the parents of E. C. Gavitt. After days of walking, his socks were worn out, and his feet were sore and blistered. These kind folks welcomed him. He, no doubt, soaked his feet in warm relaxing water, and applied healing salve to the blisters. He stayed in this home for three days before starting out again. The Gavitts gave him new socks and means to continue his journey.
After traveling about fifty miles, Stewart came to a small settlement of Delaware Indians under the control of Captain Pipe. He stayed here a few days, but he still felt that he had not reached the point to which he was called, so he journeyed on north untfl he came to the village of Upper Sandusky. Here he went to the home of the Indian sub-agent, William Walker, Sr. Mr. Walker at first believed him to be a run-away slave. Stewart was able, through the help of Mrs. Walker, to convince the sub agent that he had come to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the children of the forest. Realizing that Stewart could not speak the Wyandott language, Mr. Walker sent him to Jonothan Pointer, a black man who in his youth had been kidnapped by the Wyandotts, adopted into their tribe and had learned the Wyandott language. He was asked to serve as interpreter for Stewart when he preached. This he did well, but not wanting his friends to think that he believed, he ended each interpreta tion with a remark like, "These are his words, not mine." Later, however, Pointer was converted.
The William Walker family was a very outstanding family among the Wyandott nation. Mr. Walker was a white man, born in Virginia. When he was about eleven years old, he was helping his uncle plow. William rode the horse and his uncle walked along behind the old plow. It had been some time since there had been any trouble with Indians, so Mr. Walker had no fear as he guided the horse toward the edge of the field. The sun was bright, the birds were singing, and the smell of the earth so freshly turned in the furrows was a delight to him. Just as they reached the end of the field shots rang out. His uncle was hit in both arms. William slipped from the horse, and they both ran like a streak for the fort. Just when they had almost reached the safety of its walls, his uncle was struck and killed. William was grabbed and taken captive by a band of Delaware Indians.
Young William was taken from Greenbrier County, Virginia and brought to the Delaware settlement on the Whetstone Creek, now Delaware, Ohio. Here he was adopted into a family who treated him very well. It is not known just how long he remained with this family, but probably four or five years. The Delawares and the Wyandotts met in a large body at Detroit. Here a white man by the name of Adam Brown saw Walker and recognized him. He had known his family in Virginia, for Brown had been captured by the Wyandotts after he was a grown man, and had been adopted into the Wyandott Tribe. Brown decided to ransom young Walker from the Delawares. This took considerable time in negotiations, and some stretching of customary proceedings, but it was done. The family he had lived with was to get valuable presents from the King's store-blankets, clothes, guns, ammunition, etc. William Walker made his home with Adam Brown from then on until his marriage to Catherine Rankin.
Catherine Rankin Walker had a fine education. She had been a teacher before her marriage to William Walker. She showed great wisdom and influence in her support of the mission which was established among the Wyandotts. Even the neighboring tribes would seek her counsel before making important decisions. Rev. James B. Finley said of her,
"Mrs. Walker was a most amiable woman, of good education, and half Wyandott. She possessed great influence in the nation; and this whole family were his (Stewart's) hospitable friends, and the untiring friends of the mission which was afterwards established there. Her mind was well enlightened and she could expose the folly of their supersti tions better than anyone I knew."
She was a descendant of the French Montours and the Irish Rankin families. A French gentleman by the name of Montour came to Canada and settled there. He married a Huron Indian woman. Their daughter, Mary Montour, married James Rankin. She was of the Big Turtle clan of Wyandotts. Catherine was the daughter of Mary Montour and James Rankin.
It is not known just how she met William Walker, or when she came to Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Their eldest son, William, Jr. taught at the mission school, was the first postmaster of the village, and a chief and leader in his tribe. When the Wyandotts went west, he went with them, and became the first governor of the Provisional Government of the Nebraska Territory.
Catherine Walker died in 1844. Her stone is in the circle of markers above the Harrison Smith Park, along Fourth Street. Why she was buried in the old Indian cemetery is not known, for she was a member of the Wyandott Mission Church and entitled to burial at the Old Mission cemetery. Her husband had never joined the church, which was very new at the time of his death in 1824. It is not known where he was buried, but quite possibly it was in the old Indian burial ground. This might account for Catherine being buried there, for she wished to be near her husband in death as she had been in life.