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  • MAYHEW MISSION TO THE CHOCTAW INDIANS


    By Libba Johnson

    In 1817 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions began to set up a series of mission stations among the Indians. The first of these stations was to the Cherokees at a station called Brainerd near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reverend Cyrus Kingsbury and Mr. L. S. Williams and wife were put in charge of this station.

    As soon as the Choctaws heard about this school at Brainerd, two Choctaw chiefs were sent to the Board to request a mission to the Choctaws. They said "…they wished their children taught the better way of life, which was found in the 'White Man's Book', that they were equally as worthy as the Cherokees .... that never had a white man's blood been shed by a Choctaw at war."

    Because of this petition, another station was set up at Eliot in 1818. Reverend Kingsbury, Mr. Williams and his wife left Brainerd, and Reverend Kingsbury became Superintendent of the Choctaw Missions. After one year Eliot was so successful that another station was established in 1820 on the Tombigbee River fifteen miles west of Plymouth. It was named Mayhew in honor of the two missionaries, Thomas Mayhew and son, who were very successful in preaching the gospel among the Indians in New England.

    Several new missionaries were sent from Massachusetts at this time: "Messrs. Byington and Hooper and Messrs. Cushman and Smith, together with their families, and also Misses Frissels, Varnum, Chase and Thatcher, from Pennsylvania.' Miss Varnum and Reverend Kingsbury had been previously engaged and were married immediately. They moved to Mayhew so that he could superintend the building and opening of the school.

    On April 30, 1820, the Mayhew school opened with twelve students. This school grew rapidly, and about six others were set up in other parts of the Choctaw nation. The pupils were taught Bible, reading, writing and arithmetic. The boys learned blacksmithing, carpentry, furniture making , bridge making, and farm work. The girls learned housekeeping, sewing knitting, weaving, butter and cheese making.

    The school was partially supported by the federal government and the church, but the Indians paid for most of it themselves. They not only gave gifts of livestock, etc., but allowed $6,000 a year in annuities due them for Indians lands sold by the Government. The students also assisted with the expenses by doing farm work and household work.

    On May 6, 1821, a church was organized at Mayhew which was named "The Church of Christ. Church membership grew rapidly as many Indians of all ages joined. In 1830, 145 people were received on profession of faith and in 1831, 134 became Christians. At a meeting in Columbus in January 1830 the Mayhew Church was received into the Tombigbee Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church.

    In November 1823 David Wright and 1st wife Lucinda Washburn Wright were sent to Mississippi by the Board. He was placed in immediate charge of the Mayhew Station in 1824. Their daughter Laura Emily Wright was born at Mayhew April 7, 1824,, and her mother died in 1826 and was buried in the Mission Cemetery,

    Mayhew continued to grow as a business and religious center, It was more easily accessible than the other stations and was the home of Cyrus Kingsbury, Superintendent over all the missions. It was also located near the Choctaw Agency where the Indians received part of their bounties from the U. S. Government. The importance of Mayhew and the other Indian Missions did not last, however. In 1830 through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the Indians were forced to cede all of their land in Mississippi to the United States in exchange for land west of the Mississippi River. Although they opposed this move, most of the Choctaws moved west accompanied, at their request, by most of the missionaries.

    Reverend David Wright was one of the few missionaries who remained in Columbus. After his first wife died, Reverend Wright married Eliza Abert Barry, widow of Dr. Barry Cox Barry Columbus’ first doctor. David Wright then moved into his wife’s Columbus home, and she became a devoted mother to Laura Emily.

    Although Mayhew Mission has disappeared, the small cemetery remains. Reverend Kingsbury's first wife who died in 1822 is buried there, along with Reverend Samuel Moseley, Susan Hutchens, Elizabeth Hodges, Horatio Nelson, Patience H. Perry, S. A. Shippey, and O.W.R. Shippey. Records show that Lucinda Washburn Wright, wife of Reverend David Wright, is also buried there, but no marker remains to mark her grave. The cemetery is surrounded by a fence, but it is grown up in weeds, and many of the markers are broken or sunken. This fence was erected by the Hic-a-sha-ba-ha Chapter of the DAR in Starkville, MS in 1934. A concrete cross inside the fence has the following inscription:

    Marking the site of the Mayhew Mission from 1820 to 1830. Erected by the Children of the American Revolution, Mayhew Mission Chapter, of Starkville, 3 May 1934.

    Outside of the fence is a monument dedicated in 1966 by State Presbyterians. It reads as follows:

    MAYHEW MISSION GRAVEYARD; BURIAL GROUNDS OF MAYHEW MISSION; FOUNDED IN 1818 BY PRESBYTERIANSUNDER CYRUS KINGSBURY OF MASSACHUSETTS, ONE OF FIRST OF A GROUP OF MISSIONS TO THE CHOCTAW INDIAN NATION; ERECTED 1965

    Next: Churches resulting from the Mayhew Mission


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