It was the custom of the Wyandotts to leave their villages in the winter and go to their hunting lodges. These might be as much as twenty-five miles from their village. Hardin county was one of their favorite grounds for hunting. They would con struct crude shelters of poles and bark where the whole family lived for a few months, for they did not return to the villages until they had secured and dried hundreds of pounds of wild game, and heated many Pounds of bear Mt and Poured this into casings from the large animals. When the ground began to warm in February and March, they tapped sugar maple trees and gathered the sap which they boiled down into thick syrup and maple sugar. Rev. Finley in his book entitled, Life Among the Indians, tells of going to one of their winter lodges in search of Chief Between-the-Logs. Soon after he arrived supper was served. Etc was invited to eat with them for the Wyandotts were noted for their hospitality to strangers. Three fat racoons were taken from a large iron kettle that hung over the Open fire, and placed on the table. One of the squaws carved a hind leg from the racoon and handed it to Rev. Finley. Watching to see how they ate, he did as they did. Holding the leg in his hand, he dipped it into the large bowl of maple syrup which all shared. Then he lifted it, dripping to his mouth and ate off a large bite, and dipped again, and again until it was almost all eaten. When he slowed down and would have stopped, they insisted that he eat more, "it was such good fare." There was no salt, no bread hominy or potatoes served with the racoon.
When John Stewart returned to the Sandusky plains a few weeks after he had sent the letter to them. he found them back in the village engaging in the summer festivities, for that was the time when the feasts, the dances, all games, foot races, and horse races were held. Just as he feared, he found that the enemy had not been idle while he was away. Some, whom he had believed had become true followers of Christ, were active in the dances, painting their bodies, and drinking rum. Others had returned to worshipping idols, but a few had remained faithful. He tried to start in where he had left off, but not so many came to hear him preach, or asked him to have meetings in their homes. In August a general meeting was held at Fort Meigs, and all the Indians went there for that meeting. Stewart made another trip back to Marietta, for there seemed to be nothing he could do for them at that time.
New difficulties awaited him when he returned. There were some traveling missionaries going through to the North who stopped in the Wyandott village. They asked permission to preach to the Indians. They found that John Stewart had brought God's word to them already, and that they had great respect for him. The missionaries tried to get him to join with them and go around the country preaching to other tribes. Stewart refused to do as they asked. He felt that he was where God had called him to be, and he had no desire to join up with the traveling mis- sionaries. They then challenged his authority to act as a gospel minister, and as a Methodist missionary. He, of course, had no authority. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, for now he saw that he must present the facts to the Quarterly Conference and see if he could obtain a license. He was advised to continue on as he had until the meeting of the Ohio Conference. The follow ing letter of Rev. Moses Crume to James B. Finley tells of this event: "Dear Brother Finley: - It gives me extreme regret that I had not preserved memorandum of the licensing of John Stewart, who was emphatically God's missionary to the Wyandotts. It was in the month of March, 1819, when I presided on the Cincinnati District, that John met me in the town of Urbana; from which place he went to the Quar terly meeting accompanied by that man of God, Rev. Bishop George. Here we found Stewart with several of his Red Brethren, the Wyandotts, with a recommendation from the Chiefs that had been converted, earnestly desiring to have him licensed to preach the Gospel, according to the rule and order of our church. At the proper time, and by the advice of the venerable Bishop George, his case was brought before the conference, his recommendation read, and his brethren heard, who gave a good account of his life and labors in the conversion of many of their nation; those present testifying for themselves what God had done for them, through his instrumentality; and I think it was the unanimous vote of the respectable body of men, that he was licensed: all believing that they acted in conformity to the will of God.
"Thus I have given you a brief account of the above transaction, and I will add that no other official act of my ministry gives me greater satisfaction than to have been the honored instrument of licensing the first missionary to these poor benighted aboriginais of our favored country. When I view the whole matter, I am made to cry out with astonishment and say, 'The Lord seeth not as man seeth, nor are his thoughts our thoughts.' That instead of sending some of our honored literary ministers, he should fix upon this poor unlettered exhorter, and send him to commence that great work: Opening the great and effectual door of faith to our poor aboriginals It is the Lord's work, and to him be all the glory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Moses Crume"
The men of the conference could see that John Stewart had a big job, too big for one man. Until this time the white settle ments did not know that Stewart was working among the Wyan dotts, or that there was any religious excitement among these people. When Moses M. Henkle, a young man on the Mad River circuit who had just entered the ministry heard of it early in February, he went to the Wyandotts and spent some time laboring along with Stewart. His report to the conference sup- ported all that Stewart and the chiefs said. It was a great work that needed aid. However, it was six months before the Annual Meeting. Volunteers were called for. Moses Henkle, Sr., Joseph Mitchell, Robert Miller, Samuel llitt, James Montgomery, and Saul Henkle, local preachers on the Mad River Circuit, agreed to supply them with preaching once a month until conference time. After the conference Moses Henkle came once a month to assist and to preach for two years. John Stewart seemed more and more to commit his flock to Rev. Henkle, and appeared to consider himself only his assistant. When James B. Finley was sent by the conference in 1821, to start the mission school, John Stewart taught a class at the Big Springs Reserve.
According to the marriage records in the Crawford County Court House, John Stewart married Polly Carter on December 25, 1818, in Richland County. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Henry George, a Baptist minister. She was a woman of his own color. No report was ever made of their having had any children. Bishop MeKendree collected one hundred dollars to purchase a tract of land adjoining the Indian reservation. There were about sixty acres of land and some small improve ments had been made by the Indians. The money was given to Rev. James Finley to buy the land with the deed made out in Stewart's name. So it was that in 1821, Stewart was given a good farm. His health had been bad for some time, and he grew more and more unable to participate actively in the mission work. He told Rev. Finley that he believed his afflictions and feebleness of body resulted from his intemperance before he became a Christian. He felt that his former habits had ruined his health. He was afflicted with consumption when Finley first saw him, and it grew increasingly worse until his death December 18, 1823. Consumption was a respiratory disease, and it may have been tuberculosis, for that disease was quite common at that time.
John Stewart was only thirty-seven years old at the time of his death. Little did he realize the greatness of his work, or the extent to which it would reach. The mission church was built a year later. As the gray stones were laid one upon another, they must have cried forth the praises of this humble man of God. As the mortar between the stones hardened, so had God's love bound and sealed the lives of the Indians who had followed the teachings of this Black Man, the first missionary of the Metho dist Church in America.