By E. C. Routh, 1932
The story of Isaac McCoy who ranks with Eliot and Brainerd and Roger Williams as apostles to the Indians furnishes one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of missions.
In 1700, James McCoy, an orphan ten years old, came to America from Scotland and landed at Baltimore. Alter a few years he emigrated to Kentucky and later married a member of the Bruce family of Scotland living in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Six children were born to them, the third of whom was William, the father of Isaac McCoy. William McCoy became a Baptist minister and in 1790 moved to Kentucky as a pioneer preacher. Isaac, the third of six children, was born in Fayette, Pennsylvania, June 13, 1784.
He was baptized March 6, 1801 in his seventeenth year by Rev. Joshua Morris. On October 6, 1803 he was married by Rev. George Waller to Miss Christiana Polke in the home of the bride's father, Charles Polke, Sr. The next year he and his young wife moved to Clark County, Indiana, and united with the Silver Creek Church, the oldest Baptist church in that territory. He was licensed to preach by the Silver Creek Church, August 13, 1808, and two years later, October 13, he was ordained by the Maria Creek Church, with his father and Rev. George Waller serving as presbytery. The original license and ordination papers are preserved with the McCoy manuscripts. Isaac McCoy was the first pastor of the Maria Creek Church which had been organized the preceding year. That church joined with a number of other churches, the year it was constituted, 1809, in forming the first Baptist association in Indiana. Churches throughout that territory were affected by the teachings of Daniel Parker and Alexander Campbell. Later Maria Creek Church was excluded from the association on the
ground that it was a missionary church. A brother of Isaac, John McCoy, was one of the founders of Franklin College in Indiana.
Isaac McCoy served several years as pastor of the Maria Creek Church, working at the trade of wheelwright to support his family. In the McCoy manuscripts are several letters from Luther Rice, the earliest being dated January 25, 1815, in which Mr. Rice referred to a letter just received from Mr. and Mrs. Judson. At that time twenty-seven missionary societies had already been organized in this country. A letter dated September 16, 1817 from the secretary of the Board of Managers of the Missionary Society, advised McCoy that he had been elected missionary for a term of twelve months, at a salary of $500 a year, on which draft might be made quarterly in advance. He was to labor in Indiana and Illinois and give attention particularly to the Indians. McCoy had expressed the hope that he might be located at St. Louis, but John M. Peck had already gone there. A letter from Peck to McCoy dated March 21, 1818 contained the information, that on February 8, a Baptist church had been organized at St. Louis with eleven members and that more than $2500 had been subscribed to build a meeting-house. On August 19, the same year, the membership had increased to eighteen and $3700 had been subscribed. In 1820 the Triennial Convention voted to discontinue the work at St. Louis, but Peck stayed after missionary support was withdrawn. He moved across the river into Illinois and served half time each, St. Louis and Rock Springs Church in Illinois.
Early in 1818, McCoy began work among the Weas, Miamis, and Kickapoos, in the heart of the wilderness of Indiana. He opened a school for the Indians and made frequent trips to secure pupils and to survey the needs of the Indians. Many a night, during rainy weather, he slept on bark pulled from the trees. In 1820 he moved to Fort Wayne and opened a school with ten English scholars, six French, eight Indians and one Negro. By the close of the year he had 32 Indian scholars, all living together in his home as members of his family. A year later he reported 42 scholars, Miamis, Potawatomies, Shawnees, and an Indian from New York. In
August 1822, a church was organized at Ft. Wayne. A temperance society was organized June 12, 1822, by McCoy and his associates.
In January, 1822, McCoy made his first trip to Washington City in the interest of the Indians and was present at the opening of Columbian College. For years he received compensation from the Government as teacher, or as surveyor, or as a commissioner entrusted with special responsibilities by the Government. American Indians never had a better friend than Isaac McCoy. He labored incessantly in the effort to have the tribes among whom he worked, removed to a territory of their own, west of the Mississippi, where they might be free from designing white men who sold them whiskey and robbed them of their property. He made a dozen or more trips to Washington City in their behalf. H. F. Buckner, in his papers, quotes a member of Congress from the Louisville District who said:"Not only were the Baptists chiefly instrumental in securing for the Indians the treaties under which they are prospering beyond all former precedent, but they have ever been indefatigable in their efforts to have these treaties kept inviolate. Whenever the rights of the Indians have been threatened with invasion, the Baptists have been the first to present to the president and to Congress their humble protest."In October of 1822, McCoy located a new mission station among the Potawatomies at Carey, now Niles, Michigan, and opened a school in January, 1823 with 30 Indians in attendance. He baptized the first converts, two white men, in the waters of Lake Michigan, November 6, 1824. Two months later he baptized several Indians. On October 9, 1825, McCoy preached the first Baptist sermon heard in Chicago. After the location in Michigan (Carey and Thomas - now Niles and Grand Rapids), his work there cost the missionary board nothing except as designated funds were sent, as the fund provided by the Government and funds sent by friends, enabled him to keep the work going, although there was hunger and suffering at times, when all they had to eat was boiled corn. In December, 1827, Congress made an appropriation to meet
the expense of an exploration to the new territory, which was committed to Captain George Kennerly of St. Louis and Isaac McCoy. In June, 1828, he received a report of the annual meeting of the Board in which a plea was made for Burma and Africa and for aid to establish missions in South America, Greece and China, but nothing was said about the Indians. There were many who did not sympathize with McCoy because they said the Indians would soon die out and there was no need of doing mission work among them. McCoy left the Carey Mission, July 2, 1828, on a trip of exploration to the Southwest as instructed by the Government. While waiting at St. Louis for a party of Chickasaws and Choctaws, who were to accompany the exploration commission, he made a trip west in Missouri to the Kansas-Missouri line and explored the country of the Osages and Kauzaus. At that time he selected the town of Fayette, Missouri, as a temporary home for the family until they should be located in the Indian Territory.
On October 12, they started out from St. Louis with the Choctaws, 6, Chickasaws, 13, and Creeks, 4. Their route lay by the Harmony and Union Missions in the Territory. They camped at the confluence of the Verdigris and Arkansas Rivers where they remained November 26-December 22. There the Creek delegation met 1,500 of their countrymen who had recently arrived from the old home east of the Mississippi. On their return McCoy and his party reached St. Louis, December 24, 1828. McCoy went over to Lexington, Kentucky, where his two sons were studying medicine and where the family was spending a few months. He made a hurried trip to Washington and submitted a report of the exploration. He also met with the Mission Board in Boston. On his return home the family left Lexington in June for the Southwest, but while in Indiana, he and Mr. Lykins made a trip to the Carey and Thomas Missions. They left Indiana, July 27, 1829, for the Southwest and located a temporary home at Fayette, Missouri. A brief tour of exploration of the Territory was made and McCoy left in November for another trip to Washington City. On August 16, 1830, he set out for a survey of the territory of the Delawares. He was absent 103 days,
and 96 nights in succession were spent in the open without being sheltered by a roof. In 1831, he made another trip into the territory and was accompanied by Mrs. McCoy and the little children. They visited the Harmony and Union Missions and camped on the Grand River. Joseph Meeker visited McCoy late in 1831. They planned to establish a printing press among the Cherokees, but failed because of the "apathy of the Baptist denomination." In 1832, he attended the Triennial Convention in May, while on a trip to Washington City. On his return he visited the Creek Nation and was present at the organization of the Muskogee Church at Ebenezer Station, September 9, 1832.
The family finally settled near what is now Kansas City, and remained there until the removal to Louisville, Kentucky, after the organization in October, 1842, of the American Indian Mission Association. He was appointed secretary of the new organization. He labored four years in that new relationship. On his return from Jeffersonville, Indiana, he was exposed to severe weather and illness developed which resulted in his death, June 21, 1846. His last words were: "Tell the brethren to never let the Indian work decline." Mrs. McCoy lived several years longer and died in 1851. Of the thirteen children born to them, only three were living at the time of McCoy's death. Seven of them had died while he was away from home on trips in behalf of the Indians. One of his sons, John C. McCoy, helped to lay out Kansas City. Isaac McCoy's work was made possible in a large measure by the heroic sacrificial devotion of his wife. Her letters to him reveal deathless devotion to him and to the cause of Jesus Christ.
Isaac McCoy has a secure place in the history of American Baptists. "This one thing I do," might have been said of him. That one thing was the physical and spiritual welfare of the American Indians. He was not deterred by hardships and dangers. He was patient and persistent in his labors. In the promotion of his work among the Indians he made constant use of the school and the printing press. He won the Indians through the contacts and training in the school-room. Someone expressed the sentiments of many admirers
of McCoy in these words:"That which more than anything else must form the enduring memorial of McCoy is what he did and suffered for the Red Man. He labored for him during his ministry with an intensity that nothing could abate; and he has left a mark on the destiny of that people which time cannot efface."We need his spirit today.
Go to Chapter 3
[From E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists, 1932. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Oklahoma Baptist Index Page
Baptist History Homepage