Friday, August 5, 2016

Missions to the Western Indians by "Mellville" - 1 of 6

Herman Melville we know was baptized and brought up in the Dutch Reformed Church of his mother and the Gansevoort clan. Herman's father and the Boston Melvilles were Unitarians. The writer of this 1837-8 series on "Missions to the Western Indians" seems happily Baptist and writes for a Baptist newspaper over the pseudonym "Melville" (here spelled with an extra "L," "MELLVILLE, later corrected to "MELVILLE")" So I don't suppose evangelizing MELVILLE of the Christian Watchman can really be farmhand-schoolteacher Herman Melville at the age of 18. For the sake of my own inner peace, however, I would prefer that this "MELLVILLE" (whoever he is) had not wished anything from his "inmost soul." Or generalized so favorably about the "strong affection" of the native people he is trying to describe. sense of honor? Forget about it...

From the Christian Watchman [Boston, Massachusetts] Friday, November 10, 1837; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.

For the Watchman.

It is a very proper subject of gratulation for every disciple of the Saviour that the spirit of missions appears to be gaining a steady prevalence over the minds of the Christian community. The church evinces at least a disposition to act upon the conviction that [a responsibility], of which she cannot divest herself, invokes her immediate attention to the spiritual wants of the heathen. The communicative and benevolent nature of her creed inspires her with zeal to transmit to the poor idolater, wherever he may be found, a sweet hope of immortality and blessedness, founded on the precious faith of the gospel.

It is devoutly to be hoped that the church may continue to indulge this spirit, and to obey its impulses, till she shall behold the accomplishment of her glorious object in the evangelization of the world.

A laudable zeal is manifested for the conversion of the heathen in Burmah and other countries of Asia. This is precisely as it should be. Let not our interest in Eastern missions, however, cause us to forget the claims of our unfortunate brethren at the West. The Indians of our own country, I conceive, have peculiar claims on our Christian sympathy. We possess the inheritance of their ancestors. They have permitted our countrymen to advance step by step, while themselves have receded farther and farther towards the setting sun.

It is touching to consider how rapidly this brave and unfortunate people are dwindling and perishing before the encroachments of the whites. The pleasant hills of our own New-England, where the forest delights us with its calm and somber aspect, or a view of the golden harvest soothes us into tranquility and satisfaction; and our picturesque valleys, with their neat and modest villages, where the murmur of industry is constantly heard, are now the principal objects which meet the eye, in the survey of a country which was once the undisputed domain of the red man. The former inhabitants have mingled their dust with the earth which we tread or withdrawn beyond the pale of civilization, into the rude fastnesses of the West.

Rev. Isaac M’Coy, of the Shawanoe Baptist Mission, who has consecrated himself, with praiseworthy devotion, to the welfare of the Indians, estimated the whole number in North America, in 1836, at four and a half millions; and those within the United States at three hundred and thirty-one thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven. He ascertained the number of missionaries and assistants in the Indian Territory, at that time, to be eighty-two, of whom but twenty-two were Baptists. This fact affords our friends little reason for complacency in view of their past and present efforts for the Indians. Can the Baptist church furnish and sustain but a score of missionaries to these destitute tribes? Our denomination in the United States numbers nearly half a million. A comparison of these statistics will disclose the humiliating fact that we supply but a single missionary to more than fifteen thousand Indians.

I wish from my inmost soul the number of our missionaries to the Eastward might be increased an hundred fold. But it is to be observed that candidates for missionary labor have generally discovered a greater readiness to go to Burmah, or to some other of the Asiatic provinces, than to the forlorn tribes of our own frontiers. A state of things like this ought manifestly no longer to exist. A far greater share of attention and effort should be directed to the hapless survivors of the once powerful, the brave and interesting, but unfortunate people to whom we have referred. They are near our homes, and means expended for their benefit will go much farther than the same means appropriated to the distant idolaters of Asia. I trust I shall not be misapprehended. I desire not to be understood as saying that we should exert ourselves more to establish and sustain missions to the Indians than to convert the Burmese. I only mean to intimate that we should bestow greater attention than heretofore on missions to the former. We ought to do this and not leave the other undone.

Together with the blessing of God, which should be constantly invoked in the prosecution of this sacred enterprise, we want the men and the means. A requisition for the former must be made on the great body of our pious middle-aged and young men whom the Spirit and Providence of God may seem to designate for the work of evangelization, and especially on the pious members of our literary and theological institutions, together with those who have already received the advantages of these disciplinary establishments. Nor let the pious female consider herself excluded from this labor of love. A young lady with whom I was acquainted, after encountering and overcoming almost every conceivable disadvantage, in the ultimately successful pursuit of a respectable education, set out for one of our South-western States, selected a place for labor among the Indian inhabitants, I believe, and located herself there. The last I heard of her, she had a flourishing school of a hundred or more. I would here mention for the encouragement of some who may be destined to encounter similar trials, that this devoted young female, in addition to her other discouragements, was frequently met by coldness and incredulity, sometimes expressed in words, but more frequently exhibited in the plainer language of action, by not a few of her professedly Christian friends. But she did not waver and retire on account of their indifference; and in this she acted rightly. If we are to wait till our own hearts, the church, the world, and the devil, shall unite to countenance our benevolent efforts, we may as well fold our arms for the rest of our lives, at least, so far as it relates to any thing we might do in the cause of religion.

In conclusion, let me be permitted to say that I hope my youthful Christian friends will give this subject a candid and prayerful consideration. Let them seriously reflect whether the voice of Providence and of duty does not invite them to this sacred work. For the means to sustain them, they must rely on the blessing of God, and on the benevolence of the church. The Lord will smile on every disinterested effort to do good; and the church has certainly ample means, if they could be commanded. The country abounds in natural and commercial wealth; and it is but a comfortable maintenance that the missionaries would desire. This, under ordinary circumstances, would require but a small sum annually for each individual, as each would find it indispensable to use simplicity, industry and strict frugality, in this mode of life. The hundred thousand dollars which Madame Celeste gained with her heels, in this country, would support, for a year, a host of missionaries to the Indians. Most thankful should we be, if a tithe of this wasted wealth could be put into the missionary fund. But let not the parsimony of the church discourage those who burn with the spirit of evangelization. With unwavering resolution, let them proceed to the work. The shall find in the natives of our western wilds, a race possessing some of the noblest qualities which the fall of man has left to the world,—hospitality, generosity, strong affection, and a delicate sense of honor. Let the missionary, then, endeavor to impart to these children of nature that blessed gospel, which shall refine and crown all these estimable qualities. He shall assuredly find an inexhaustible fountain of consolation, and a sweet reward of his labor, in the consciousness of doing good, and in the beneficence of the Divine Being, who has promised that they who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever.


“two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale”
Related melvilliana posts:
I will try to give the rest of these as I can, with links eventually:


  1. Replies
    1. Good, thanks Bob! Evidently a friend of Eustace Carey. Melville's 1833 argument sounds so practical and sensible, without the heavy evangelical rhetoric of the 1838 series. Possibly a function of the different venues? since 1833 Melville's audience of Missionary Magazine readers is already sold on the value and importance of foreign missions. The reply to "Melville" keys on the coldness and even cruelty of one argument in particular: "if the missionary died after his return, the Board would be wholly absolved from the expense and care of the children."
      Sometimes "Melville" in 1833 sounds older and more calculating than "Melville" in 1837-8.