In its short 20 years of operations, the Brainerd Mission played an important role in influencing future Cherokee leaders and the history of our region.
Established in 1817 by Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, it was located on South Chickamauga Creek on land purchased from John McDonald, former Scots trader and grandfather of John Ross, the future principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The site was located on what is now Brainerd Village, Osborne Office Park and the Brainerd Walmart. All that remains of the mission is the cemetery which is cared for by the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution.
The goal of the mission and Lancastrian-style boarding school for Cherokee children was to educate and Christianize the Cherokees living in the area. Missionaries taught students to speak and read English and to read the Bible. Girls learned spinning, knitting, and sewing; and boys learned husbandry, farming and mechanical skills.
Students at Brainerd included: Elias Boudinot, who became editor of the Cherokee Phoenix and signer of the 1835 New Echota removal treaty; John Ridge, son of Major Ridge, who became a member of the National Council and a pro-removal leader; David Brown, who translated the New Testament from Greek to Cherokee; and Brown's sister Catharine, a pious instructor at the Creek Path school in Alabama.
The mission began with an old, dilapidated gristmill and a few buildings but quickly added a residence for missionaries, separate schoolhouses and dwellings for boys and girls, a cemetery, sawmill, blacksmith shop, wash house, meat house, corn house and stables. Within a year, more than 40 acres had been cleared, fenced and placed under cultivation.
Livestock included horses, oxen, cattle, sheep, hogs and pigs. In 1820, the missionaries decided to build a canal and dam to provide water for their rehabilitated mill. They also established a ferry and built a road to the Tennessee River. President James Monroe and Gen.Edmund P. Gaines visited the Brainerd Mission in May 1819. The president was so impressed with the mission that he pledged additional support for the school.
The missionaries traveled frequently and preached at various homes in the Cherokee Nation. They established new mission stations and schools at Candy's Creek, Red Clay, Runningwater, Amohee, Haweis, Creek Path, Hightower, Carmel and Wills-town in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Cherokee students like John Arch, who is buried in the mission cemetery, served as translators in both school and church. The mission established a separate school for blacks and allowed slaves to become members of the church.
The Brainerd missionaries knew many Cherokee leaders including John Ross, Major Ridge, Charles Hicks and Pathkiller. By 1831, most of the missionaries had become devoted to the Cherokee people and their fight against the Georgia government and removal.
One missionary, Rev. Samuel Worcester, first ministered at Brainerd in 1825 and later moved to New Echota to work with Elias Boudinot on a Cherokee version of the Bible. Worcester was involved in the purchase of a printing press for the Cherokee Nation and with Boudinot served as co-editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper published in both Cherokee and English.
Worcester raised the ire of Col. Thomas McKenney of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who accused him of writing inflammatory articles in the Phoenix.
Between 1835 and 1838, the missionaries reported many periods of illness in the area including deaths from influenza and a case of smallpox. Rev. Daniel S. Butrick developed a prolonged case of fever and dysentery. Mrs. Ainsworth Blunt suffered from bilious attacks and liver problems. The missionaries blamed the sluggish Chickamauga Creek for the frequency of illness and for causing a malarial environment because it often flooded the area for miles. At one point, the missionaries considered moving their operations to another area because of the unhealthy atmosphere.
The mission was officially closed on Oct. 2, 1838. As members prepared for the removal. Rev. Daniel Butrick, and several of the missionaries who served at Brainerd and her sister missions, went west with the Cherokees and continued their work in Oklahoma.
The next article in this series will discuss the important role played by the Brainerd Mission during the Cherokee Removal.
Dr. Vicki Rozema is secretary and newsletter editor for the Tennessee chapter of the Trail of Tears Association and the author of three books on Cherokee history, all published by John F. Blair in Winston-Salem, N.C. For more information visit TNTOTA.com and Chattahistoricalassoc.org or call LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.