Cyrus Kingsbury and His Diary (1786-1870)
The history of the Choctaw tribe, the state of Oklahoma, America, and the Christian Church all proceeded far differently than they would have if not for the ceaseless devotion of New Hampshire native and graduate of Brown University and Andover Seminary, Rev. Dr. Cyrus Kingsbury. Not one in a thousand modern Oklahomans would recognize his name. Yet, history once bestowed upon him sobriquets such the “Prince of Indian Territory Missionaries” and “Father of the Missions” in Indian Territory.
The Choctaw people, who loved him as a father, called him “Limping Wolf,” as Kingsbury had been lame since childhood. He established the famed American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions’ first mission among the Natives in 1817, to the Cherokees, its first labors to the Choctaws in 1818, and the Southern Presbyterian Church’s first mission effort of any sort in 1861.
Historian Angie Debo described, in The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, how Kingsbury, his second wife Electa (Sarah, his first, died in 1822 amidst their service to the Choctaws in Mississippi), and their missionary colleagues impressed English observer Adam Hodgson with their courage and commitment:
“As the (Indian Territory mission) buildings were not yet completed, the teachers and their families were living in tents, with wolves howling and panthers screaming in the surrounding forest, and the men obliged to swim their horses over several streams every time they made a trip to the settlement for supplies; but they said they were enduring no more privations than any sailor, soldier, or frontier trader.”
Another devout man and one of Oklahoma’s greatest historians, former Southeastern Teachers College history professor and president W. B. Morrison, published for posterity Kingsbury’s 1853 diary. Morrison cited the strong ministry the Kingsburys had among not just whites and Natives, but African Americans, referred to in the diary by the idiom of the times as “colored.” The excerpts that follow provide a vivid window into this lionhearted Christ-bearer’s life and times as he labored among the Choctaws, their slaves, and others in present southeastern Oklahoma. Parenthetical text is the author’s.
Jan. 1, 1853. Another year has opened upon us under circumstances of great mercy. May I make a wise and profitable improvement of its precious privileges.
Jan. 4 (Sunday). I was able to preach in the morning. A delightful day and a good congregation.
Jan. 9. Went to see an old colored brother, Dennis Folsom. He is, we think, near death.
Jan. 16. Preached at Goodland. Audience attentive. Evening, returned to Capt. (Robert M.) Jones. Had a (worship/preaching) meeting with his own family and colored (black) people.
Jan. 23. Preached in the morning at Doaksville; P. M. at Towson; night at Doaksville. A deathlike stupidity seems to pervade this neighborhood. O Lord, revive Thy work.
Jan. 27. Visited in Doaksville. Heard the sad intelligence that Silas Garland, one of our most worthy citizens, was called out of his house and shot down dead! A most diabolical deed.
Feb. 4. Rode to Mr. Stark’s—20 miles. A very cold day. Found the family in comfortable health. Thankful for a comfortable lodging place.
Feb. 7. Returned to Pine Ridge. A pleasant winter day. Found the family well. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits. Not well myself.
Feb. 8. Some better this morning. May my spiritual state be improved. Lord revive Thy work in my heart.
Feb. 9. Have been reading Upham’s Interior Life. Hope I have received spiritual benefit. Called on (recent Christian convert) Dr. Edwards, and advised with him in regard to my health.
Feb. 11. Visited Mr. W. Collins in company with Dr. Hobbs. Found him very sick. Will probably not recover. Is unprepared for death. How sad is his state.
Feb. 13. Wesley Collins died last night about one o’clock. Poor man had neglected his soul. Buried this evening.
Feb. 14. Preached last night at Capt. Jones’s. Had no freedom. Alas, what poor preaching! Lord give Thine own word success!
Feb. 19. Took last night ten grs. Blue Mass and five grs. Calomel, and this morning 17 grs. of rhubarb and 20 of magnesia (for another illness). Pain still continues.
Feb. 27. Preached at Doaksville. P. M. preached the funeral of (both) Dennis (Folsom) and (his wife) Lydia. A large number of black people present.
April 1. Our dear Bro. (Alfred) Wright died last night between 11 and 12 o’clock. Was buried today in the afternoon.
June 10. Visited Iyanubi Seminary (Choctaw girls school). Whole number of scholars 35, under good discipline. Not advanced.
July 13. Commenced raising (building) the Presbyterian church in Doaksville, after having united in prayer. Proceeded slowly, but without any accident. Rain about noon, with high wind.
July 26. Staid last night at Mr. Bacon’s. A resting place for a weary pilgrim. Rode to Pine Ridge, 32 miles. Found the family all well. Praise the Lord for His abounding mercies.
Sept. 6. I have succeeded in collecting $700.00 for the liberation of Simon (Harrison) and family, that he may go as a missionary to Africa.*
Nov. 9. Visited the Chief and others at Doaksville. Proposed the enlargement of the (Choctaw mission) school at Pine Ridge.
Nov. 25. Had a meeting of the family with the (Harrison) emigrants in the dining room. Sang "Blest be the Tie that Binds," and had a prayer, after which Simon and his family and George left on their long journey to Africa’s sunny shores (Liberia).
Dec. 20. Rode from Mayhew to Pine Ridge. A cold day on the prairies, but I did not suffer much. Found my family well.
Dec. 21. Visited Mr. (Lewis) Garland twice. He is a very sick man. Prayed with him by his request.
Dec. 26. Confined to the house. Mr. Lowrie preached two excellent sermons. Lord, grant me healing and restoring mercies.
Dec. 31. The last day of another year. How great are my obligations to God for His abounding mercies to me and mine. What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?
* Morrison identified this man as Simon Harrison, a devout African American slave. Kingsbury’s purchase of his freedom and sponsoring his missionary endeavors to “the native land of his race” reveals more of the Kingsburys’ and their colleagues’ comprehensive efforts to build up everyone around them and extend the kingdom of Christ however and wherever they could.
“Lord revive Thy work in my heart.”
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