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The First Methodists in Kansas
by Linda Morgan Clark, MTh
"Missionary concern, like that for education, was indigenous to
Methodism from the beginning."
Though the Indians were closest neighbors to the American Methodists in
practically all the territories into which the circuit riding Methodist
preachers went, the work of evangelizing them was slow in starting. The
first instance of the conversion of an Indian by a Methodist preachers
took place as late as 1801 in Canada. A young boy was baptized,
probably in Credit River, and given the name of the preacher who baptized him
-- Joseph Sawyer.
The first really successful and sustained Methodist work among the
Native Peoples was with the Wyandotts in northern Ohio. The Mission was
established by a free-born mulatto, John Stewart, a poverty stricken,
alcoholic, who had been himself converted at a camp meeting in 1814.
Through a hired interpreter, he began preaching to the Wyndotts, resulting in
the conversion of his interpreter and several chiefs. He baptized,
performed marriages and administered the Sacraments, even though he was not
approved for licensing as a preacher until 1818. On August 7, 1819, the
Ohio Annual Conference established the first official Methodist mission
to the Indians and assigned James Montgomery, a local preacher, as its
It should be noted that in these early days of Methodist mission work,
that "missionary" and "preacher" were used almost interchangeably. That
is because the evangelistic aims of the Methodists in this early period
were generally the same as their missionary purpose. Thus, missionary
work, as a part of a wider program of evangelism, expanded primarily
through the work of Annual Conferences rather than a church-wide mission
When it is ascertained that there is a tract of country lying beyond
the limits of our regular itinerant work, with a population sufficient to
justify the employment of a missionary, one is selected, the field of
his labor is prescribed his instructions furnished him, and he is sent
forth to preach the gospel, raise societies, and form a circuit. Being
successful in this enterprise, he returns to the ensuing Conference, and
reports the results of his mission. The circuit thus formed is embraced
in the regular plan of appointments, and supports the ministry in the
...Bishop Joshua Joule, Seventh Annual Report of the Missionary
Society, 1825-26, p.45
The Mission Thrust into the Kansas Territory
In 1830, the new and relatively weak Missouri Annual Conference began
to assume responsibility for work among the Indians who had either
voluntarily moved westward from their homelands or were forcibly removed by
the United States government into the Kansas Territory. However, the
decision to assume this work did not occur spontaneously. It was preceded
by other events that some would call "providential."
It was due to Daniel Morgan Boone (aka Morgan Boone), son of the famed
western frontiersman, Daniel Boone, that the Methodists first became
interested in working with the Indians in Kansas. In 1825/26 he was
appointed as Government Farmer, by the U.S. government to act as an
agricultural adviser to the Indians in Kansas and located on the Kansas River
in present Jefferson County. Boone was part of an overall program
enacted in September 1819 -- The Civilization Bill -- by the US Congress to
"civilize" the Indians, i.e., turn them into farmers. The statute
authorized the President
to employ persons of good moral character, to instruct...[the Indians]
in the mode of agriculture suited to their situation; and for teaching
their children in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and performing such
other duties as may be enjoined, according to such instructions and
rules as the President may give and prescribe for the regulation of their
conduct, in the discharge of their duties.
Also, in numerous cases Indian treaties made the government the
custodian of funds procured from the sale of lands ceded by the tribes from
which annual annuities were to be paid them. From the funds, stipulations
in the treaties provided, appropriations might be made for schools. In
other cases, as an inducement to acceptance of the treaties by the
Indians, the government pledged itself to make appropriations for tribal
Sometime, probably in late 1829 or early 1830, Boone wrote a letter to
his brother-in-law, Rev. Alexander McAlister, urging the early
establishment of a mission to the Indians of Kansas. Rev. McAlister, a leading
member of the Missouri Conference, followed up the request by writing
to Jesse Greene, the Presiding Elder of the Missouri District, whose
region included the western frontier of Missouri.
Salurbia, April 2, 1830. Dear Bro. Greene: -- I have just time to write
a few lines by Bro. Perry, in which I wish to call you attention to the
Caw [sic] Indians, on your frontiers. Col. Daniel Boon, [sic] who is
the Government's Farmer among those Indians, married Mrs. McAlister's
sister, which circumstance has led to a correspondence between him and
myself and the Government Agent of those Indians. Boon is among them,
perhaps thirty or forty miles from Fort Osage. He promises to do all he can
for the support of a school among that tribe. The Agent also promises
to assist, as far as he can, and informs me that the Caw Indians,
according to the provision of a treaty with the Government, have a
considerable sum of money set apart to support schools among themselves, and the
Agent advises us to get in there immediately and secure that fund, and
improve it to their benefit. I think you might visit them, and know all
about it soon, and perhaps get some pious young man to go and !
commence school among them before Conference. In haste, your obedient
Servant, A. McAlister.
"Bro. Greene" acted quickly and went to Indian country where he met the
Agent, George Vashon, along with the Government Blacksmith, Harmon
Davis, and some of the Indian leaders. He may possibly have met with Boone
as well. He learned that Vashon had already requested the American
Board (an ecumenical mission agency of the Congregational, Presbyterian and
Dutch Reformed denominations) to start mission work but that they had
declined because of their limited resources. Vashon made a similar plea
to the Methodists through Greene, and put that request in writing,
either at the request of Greene, or at the urging of the Shawnee chief,
Indian Agency, near Kansas, July 1830. Reverend Sir: --
I have the pleasure now to make the communication which I promised,
when I had the happiness of conversing with you in my office, on the
subject of establishing a mission for the instruction of the hapless portion
of the human family entrusted to my care in this part of the agency....
And I now have the pleasure to inform you that I have this day been
requested by Fish, a Shawnee Chief, alias Wm. Jackson, a white man, raised
with the Shawnees, to make application for the establishment of a
mission among them, for the education of their children, and I most
earnestly solicit your attention to the subject.
Fish... has a son...Paskal, who was put to school when he was a boy; he
can speak english [sic] very well. He is a sober, steady, moral, good
man. He has an Indian family, and is industriously employed in farming,
and I think he would make the most efficient male interpreter that
could be procured.
Having freely and fully communicated what appeared to my mind as
necessary at this time upon this very interesting subject, permit me the
privilege of offering up my fervent prayers to Almighty God for the
influence and teaching of His Holy Spirit, to guide and direct the labors of
all the human family. With sentiments of the highest respect and esteem,
I remain, dear sire, Your most humble Servant, Geo. Vashon.
On September 10, 1830, at the 15th session of the Missouri Annual
Conference meeting in St. Louis, the members voted to accept Morgan Boone's
challenge, "to get in there immediately and secure that fund" for a
mission not just to the Caw (Kansas) Indians but also to establish one for
the Shawnees. A society was formed, the constitution of which set forth
The members of the Missouri conference, considering the great necessity
for missionary exertions, and feeling a willingness to aid in the great
work of sending the Gospel among all people, formed themselves into a
missionary society of the Methodist Episcopal church.
September 16, the closing day of the Conference, Bishop Robert R.
Roberts read the appointments of the preachers for the following year. They
included: "Shawnee Mission, Thomas Johnson; Kansas or Kaw Mission, Wm.
The Arrival in Kansas of the Rev. Thomas Johnson and his wife, Sarah;
Methodist Missionaries to the Shawnees
On November 20, Isaac McCoy, Baptist missionary and government agent
Messrs. McCalister & Johnson, Methodist preachers, arrived last night.
They purpose establishing a school &c. among the Kanzas [sic]. they or,
some others of that society had been here previously. I knew nothing of
their intentions until since I spoke to Clark [subagent] yesterday.
They have, also, a few days since, made proposals to the Shawanoes [sic]
to furnish them with a school, &c. I told them that our society had made
formal proposals to the Sec. War, a year and a half ago, to establish a
mission among the Kanzas. Also, that I had spoken to the Shawanoes on
my way up, & expected to receive their answer on my way down. But, I
wished not to throw any obstacle in their way. They united in supposing
there would be no disagreeing between them and us -- manifested no
solicitude about our propositions, and spoke with a good deal of confidence
relative to carrying forward their propositions...
The tension between Mr. McCoy and the new missionary endeavors of
Methodists was not so easily resolved, however. The main leadership of the
Shawnees were loyal to McCoy and wanted to accept the proposals he had
made to them for a school. McCoy wrote:
[The] chiefs, [Captain Cornstalk and Captain William Perry]...and most
of the Shawanoes, consented to my propositions rather through courtesy,
than on account of a desire really to enjoy the advantages of
education. Like most Indians, not much advanced in civilization, they felt
little desire for schools, and still less to hear preaching.
The matter was resolved, however, when the band of Shawnees led by
Fish, immediately accepted the Methodist proposal because, as McCoy wrote:
they appreciated in a good degree the [schools] and were favorably
inclined to the [preaching].
With the arrangements secured with the Fish Band, Rev. Thomas Johnson
returned to Missouri to fetch his bride, Sarah T. Davis, whom he had
married just days before (September 7, 1830 in Clarksville, Missouri)
being appointed to the Shawnee Mission. (Sarah was the daughter of Sarah
Rudell and Thomas Davis. Her parents had been captured in 1780 by the
British and Shawnees when they were both about 12 and lived among the
Shawnees for many years before being released and returning to Virginia
where they married.) He then brought his bride, she riding a horse and he
walking beside her, and they together become the first Methodists to
make their home in Kansas on the wooded bluffs of the Kansas River about
3/4 mile Southeast of the present town of Turner in what is now
Wyandotte County (the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter section 24,
township 11, range 24, Wyandotte county).
Monument marking site of first
Shawnee Methodist Mission and School.
Erected in 1916 by the
Kansas Methodist Historical Society.
The Johnson's log home, completed by Thomas in the Spring of 1831,
housed the original mission and school. Their living quarters were
in the east wing on the first floor. The west end was the schoolroom
and chapel and the upper floor was for employees and guests.
SARAH T. DAVIS was born June 22, 1810 in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and
married THOMAS JOHNSON September 7, 1830 in Clarksville, Missouri, just
11 days before her new husband was appointed as the missionary of the
Missouri Conference to the Shawnee Indians in Kansas Territory. She
worked beside her husband "as a faithful and valued worker" for more than
35 years. She was said to be a "most interesting wife" with "beautiful
children" as well as a "fit companion for [Thomas Johnson] in such a
work." She died September 26, 1873 in Kansas City, Missouri.
THOMAS JOHNSON (1802-1865), a Virginian, emigrated with his parents to
Missouri in 1825. He was admitted to the Missouri Conference on trial
in 1826 and appointed to the Mount Prairie Circuit, Arkansas District.
Beginning with his 1830 appointment, he served for eleven years in the
Indian mission work, much of the time as Superintendent. After a brief
period as a superannuate (1841-42; 1843-44), in the pastorate (1842-43;
1844-45), and in educational work (1845-47), he was appointed (1847) as
head of the Indian Manual Labor School in the Indian Mission Conference
of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, serving in that capacity
until his death. He was territorial delegate (Nebraska) to the 33d
Congress, elected by the slavery advocates. It was said of him, "He was a man
of principle...firm without being austere; generous, without
temporizing; liberal, without prodigality; and religious, without either
asceticism or bigotry." He was assassinated at his home by guerrillas dur!
ing the "Bloody Kansas" days.. For him Johnson County, Kansas, was
Children of SARAH DAVIS * and THOMAS JOHNSON * are:
i. ALEXANDER MCALLISTER JOHNSON, b. July 18, 1831, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. August 15, 1831, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas.
* (probably the first non-Indian child born in Kansas and may have died
as a result of being born during a smallpox outbreak in the area --
named after the Missouri clergyman who first learned of the possibility of
a mission from Col. Morgan Boone)
ii. ALEXANDER SOULE JOHNSON, b. July 11, 1832, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. 1904. Military: Civil War, Lt. Col. 13th Infantry,
Kansas Militia Occupation: Bet. 1858 - 1862, Assisted father in the Manual
Labor School at the Shawnee Mission (middle name after Joshua Soule, a
leader in the Methodist Church's first officially recognized missionary
society in 1819, later became Bishop. After a visit to the mission in
August 1833, he recommended that work also begin with the Kickapoo and
iii. ANDREW M. JOHNSON, b. Abt. 1833, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte,
iv. SARAH ELIZABETH JOHNSON, b. August 11, 1834, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. June 08, 1840, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas.
v. ELIZA S. JOHNSON, b. Abt. 1836, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas;
d. July 15, 1865, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas. m. J.B. Wornal *
vi. MARY CUMMINS JOHNSON, b. January 15, 1838, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. March 19, 1838, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas. *
(middle name after the Shawnee government agent, Richard Cummins)
vii. WILLIAM THOMAS JOHNSON, b. June 22, 1839, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. April 02, 1840, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas. *
viii. WILLIAM MCKENDREE JOHNSON, b. July 06, 1845, Shawnee Mission,
Wyandotte, Kansas; d. February 14, 1924; m. ELIZABETH PRICE. * (named for
Bishop William McKendree, a contemporary of Francis Asbury and the
driving force behind the Methodist Episcopal Church's mission work
throughout his episcopacy)
ix. LAURA L. JOHNSON, b. July 22, 1847, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte,
Kansas; d. February 12, 1884, Shawnee Mission, Wyandotte, Kansas; m.
unknown WATERMAN. *
x. CORA E. JOHNSON, b. Abt. 1850.
xi. EDNA JOHNSON, b. Abt. 1854.
* Buried in the Shawnee Methodist Mission Cemetery (also Sarah's
mother, Sarah Ruddell Davis, is buried there) Note the number of children who
died in infancy.