Native Village Youth and Education News

April 1, 2009 Issue 196 Volume 3

Lecture covers "Heathen School"
Erica Frye
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,” Demos said.

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 Tears.

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 nonfiction.


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