LETTER FROM MR. JEWELL, ASSISTANT MISSIONARY, DATED OCT. 12, 1829
Schools for teaching the Native Language.
The prevailing desire manifested by the Choctaws to learn to read their own language, were noticed at pp. 12, 20, 22, of the last number. The following is the history of one attempt to establish schools for this purpose, and the result. The schools were in the southeastern part of the nation. If a similar feeling should prevail over the nation and be permanent, it is easy to see that the Choctaws would soon be a nation of readers.
Until the first of July, 1826, the people manifested the greatest indifference, not only towards religious instruction, but also towards learning to read their own language. About that time, a few living on the opposite side of the creek, about three miles from this place, requested that we should come over and teach them occasionally, as we had opportunity. We therefore established a Sabbath school; and upon a subsequent request from them we instructed on half day during the week. Sometime afterward I requested a young man, named Lewis Congar, who had been to the school about two years, and could read his own language very well, to take the charge of a school term, and also to teach others who might wish to learn. He commenced teaching, under our superintendence, the second week in February with eight scholars. They soon became quite interested in the school, and their books occupied most of their time when at home. Six of them had attended our Sabbath school during the summer and fall, and soon after the commencement of this school became able to read intelligibly. This had a happy influence on the minds of others, and they soon requested that the same young man might extend his instruction to two small villages in the Chikesahe: one about 12 miles and the other about 19 from us. He was accordingly employed to teach four half days in each week, and to divide his time as equally as possible, between the several villages.
The anxiety to learn to read soon became general, and the schools increased rapidly; so that by the first of July, they numbered about 90 scholars.
While the young man, just mentioned, was a member of the school at Emmaus, and a short time before he commenced teaching, we thought we discovered something like seriousness on his mind, and on that of an older brother. Some time in March, these two young men, with another Indian, came to Emmaus for the express purpose of receiving religious instruction. They had been at the pains of procuring an interpreter to come with them as they knew we had none at the time. I conversed with them at considerable length. Two of them appeared considerably impressed. From this time they frequently called to inquire more concerning the things which pertain to the salvation of the soul. They were not, however, so deeply impressed as we could have wished. About this time one thing occurred deserving of notice. In the village where one of the schools was taught, some vicious men from the neighboring white settlements assembled on Saturday night, bringing with them a quantity of whiskey, for the purpose of drinking, dancing, and other base conduct. The teacher was present, as in rotation he taught the school at that place Saturday afternoon and evening. He was invited to join them, which a short time before he would have been more than willing to do. But he now refused, and also objected to any of his scholars joining them, because he thought the conduct wrong in itself, and because it would be a violation of the Sabbath, which would dawn before they broke up. He told them that those who were engaged in learning to read the word of God, whatever others might do, should try to keep the Sabbath; and that, unless those of his scholars who belonged to that village would refuse to join in the present scene of wickedness, he would remove the school from them to a village four miles off, and all who wished to continue to learn must go that distance, for he could not consent to teach in a village where the people practiced such wickedness. Both himself and his brother have persevered in their regard to the Sabbath ever since.