Lecture covers "Heathen School"
Condensed by Native Village
Knoxville, TN: John Demos, a Yale University
professor and published writer, spoke to a
University of Tennessee audience about his book,
“Heathen School.” He shared a story of The
Foreign Mission School (1817-1826), or as it would
be known by the locals, the “Heathen School.”
Located in Cornwall, Conn., the Foreign Mission
School was established to educate young
men who were considered to be “heathens” and convert
them to Protestant Christianity. It was
suggest “that [Heathens] be corralled into one
single place and subjected to more organized forms
of ... supervision.”
The students, called “scholars,” came from many
different home countries: Hawaii (then known as the
Sandwich Islands), Java, Malaya, New Zealand, Greece
and Mexico. Native Americans also made up a large
portion of the scholars. They boarded at the school
where they learned reading, writing, arithmetic,
chemistry, geography and theology.
The Heathen School succeeded for several years The
only problems were scholars who were expelled for
“disobedience, bad morals and inability to learn,”
However, the real trouble for the school began when
two Native American scholars began romantic
relationships with two young white ladies from
Cornwall. When these two relationships ended in
marriage, the American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions shut down the school. They decided
to do mission work only overseas, where “no more
wild men” could be brought upon American shores to
woo young white females.
When the interracial couples moved to Georgia to be
with their Native American husbands and their
families, they were treated as traitors. Both of the
men were killed, but only after walking the Trail of
At the end of Demos’ lecture, he produced a
photograph, showing his own connection to the story.
He said that featured in the photograph was his
father, who was once a student at one of the
“Heathen Schools” in Turkey.
"Heather Schools" has received the Francis Parkman and Ray
Allen Billington prizes in American history and was
a finalist for the National Book Award in general
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