Perishing Heathens: Stories of Protestant Missionaries and Christian Indians in Antebellum America

By Julius H. Rubin | Go to book overview

2
The Missionary Vocation of Miss D
A Life Broken by Disease and Disappointment

The Hartford Retreat, a small private asylum for the insane, was founded in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1821 and began admitting patients in April 1824. A little more than a year later, in May 1825, the retreat admitted a charity patient, a young woman, aged twenty-seven from Litchfield, Connecticut, who had recently returned from her work as a missionary “sister” at the Union Mission to the Osage in the Arkansas Territory.1 Concerned neighbors and family collected donations and paid the thirty-nine dollars for the initial three months of her treatment. After suffering from the effects of a virulent malarial infection and contracting pulmonary tuberculosis, she was afflicted with delirium, a protracted religious melancholy, and a wasting physical disease. This essay reconstructs the life of this woman prior to admission and the meaning of her melancholy. Her life reflected and exemplified the central themes and contradictions of the missionary spirit in the era of grand revivals.

By the early decades of the nineteenth century the idea of the Indian as a racially inferior primitive destined “to be destroyed by God, Nature, and Progress to make way for Civilized man” informed both the secular ideology of Manifest Destiny and the evangelical missionary spirit.2 So little time remained to rescue Native Americans who perished in savage darkness. Whites viewed Native peoples as “vanishing Americans” seemingly destined

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