Reverend Peter Dougherty

News From Omena, July 1857

Letter to Walter Lowrie from Peter Dougherty, Grove Hill, 17 July, 1857
Transcription and commentary by Mark Smith, secretary, OHS

• In which we learn that Reverend Dougherty is ready to sever ties with the Presbyterian Board unless something can be done about Mr. Porter. •

In a previous post, News from Omena, January 1855, we learned of the hardships and challenges Reverend Peter Dougherty faced in organizing and running Grove Hill School, Dougherty’s residential school for Native Americans.  This 1857 letter from Peter Dougherty to Walter Lowrie, corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, comes a little over two years later and chronicles the infighting between Reverend Dougherty and John Porter over the running of the school.

In Reverend Dougherty’s introductory paragraph he praises Miss W. A. Isbell, Teacher of Female Department, and bemoans her imminent loss due to her heavy work load and low pay. This would be a recurring theme in Dougherty’s letters to Lowrie: the difficulty in recruiting and retaining good staff.

In the second paragraph Dougherty begins to come to the point: he wishes for the Board to change the terms of his employment or to discontinue employing him.  As the letter goes on the source of this ultimatum becomes clear.  At first Dougherty asks for more family time, which means a manse for his family to call their own, a place away from the daily running of the institution (where they currently lived). He also wants to be freed from the running of the school so that he may concentrate more fully on his pastoral duties as a minister to a wider flock.  But really, these wishes are merely the preamble for his main complaint.

Paragraph three bluntly introduces the main source of Dougherty’s dissatisfaction: “I supposed from your letters to me that I was considered in charge here and was responsible for the proper management of the institution.”  This is a delicate matter which Dougherty confronts head on.  Who is in charge of this school, me or Mr. Porter?  It is really quite bluntly put. To complicate matters further, it must be mentioned that John Porter, Teacher of Male Department, was a nephew to Andrew Porter, who was with Dougherty on Old Mission before being sent to Bear Creek (Petoskey) in 1852 to start a mission there. Andrew was Walter Lowrie’s nephew and John was Andrew’s nephew. John Porter arrived on the scene at New Mission in 1854.

Porter claims to have the “right of the entire control of the boys” and does not acknowledge Dougherty as his superior.  Dougherty makes his contempt of Mr. Porter clear, indicating that Porter is not really interested in the hard work of the school (“he got some what tired of the school and found the confinement oppressive”), and that Porter has vowed never to go back inside the school again, instead now to be in charge of outdoor work, for which, according to Dougherty, Porter acknowledges no superintendence (“you are not the boss of me,” in other words).  Dougherty then relinquishes any responsibility for the outdoor work.

In paragraph four we learn that Mr. Porter has been working as Deputy Surveyor for the county.  This job takes him far afield and leaves the rest of the staff short-handed.  The job of surveyor paid $3 per day, which was more than could be earned at the mission. Mr. Joseph Glenn, farmer, and George Craker, assistant, are both of the opinion that Porter’s frequent absences are “unfair”, and in fact George would have left by now (writes Dougherty), had it not been for assurances on Mr. Porter’s part that he would give up surveying.  But Mr. Porter did not give up surveying.  In fact, Porter seems to have been in direct communication with Walter Lowrie and it seems as if Walter Lowrie has told Porter that he does not need to account for his time, and that his pay at the mission would not be docked when Porter was out surveying: “He [Porter] said when he left the institution he intended to report the time thus lost, but that you had written to him he need not make any account of time thus lost.”  In finishing Dougherty softens his criticism somewhat (“I may have wrong views on the matter”) but still manages to imply that Mr. Porter does not really care about his job at the Mission.

The last part of Dougherty’s letter thanks the Board for all its many kindnesses, before circling back to Dougherty’s initial request to be relieved of the duties of running the institution (the school), in favor of just being a minister, which is already enough.  Dougherty seems to be laying down a marker for the Board.  He wants a house for his family and he wants nothing more to do with the school.

It would not be until 1862 that George Craker was appointed Mission Farmer, replacing John Porter.  Mr. Porter and family settled in Leland township and remained, and Porter continued surveying at least as late as 1884.   Mr. Dougherty remained as superintendent and eventually built a house for himself and his family at his own expense, remaining in Omena until the mission is discontinued in 1871.

To sum up, in this 1857 letter from Reverend Dougherty we witness the cauldron of petty rivalries and slights which made the running of Grove Hill School even more difficult than it might have already been.  And here is another thing to consider .. John Porter’s wife, Annis McElvain, was Mary McConnell’s sister.  Mary (McElvain) McConnell, cook and laundress at the school, was later married to George Craker, who was nine years younger than her.  In other words, in addition to John Porter’s relationship to Walter Lowrie, other relationships also determined the fault lines of daily relations at the school.  It wasn’t just the weather, the isolation, and the physical challenges of survival that made the job hard.  It was also infighting.  In fact, the infighting almost led to the closing of the school in 1857, when Reverend Peter Dougherty officially expressed his wish to be relieved of the burden of running it.

But he stayed on.  He worked it out. He persevered for the good of his flock.

And this is why primary sources are so fascinating and so important.  In the letters of Reverend Dougherty we see a man frustrated with the complications and hardships of his life NOW, not merely the summation of a life well-lived.  There was nothing pre-ordained in his success. Fortunately Reverend Dougherty found a way through the crisis and continued his mission to the Native Americans, otherwise we would have no story to tell at all.  By the end of 1858, with the assistance of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Reverend Dougherty would supervise the building of both a new manse and a new church in Omena.

Thanks to Marsha Buehler, Archives and Exhibit Committee Chair, for help with background biographical info and advice
Here is the letter, and below is the transcription.


Walter Lowrie, Esq.
Grove Hill, July 17th, 1857

Dear Sir

I have our vouchers ready which I will forward with this, with a report of expenses. Miss Isbell would prefer if you would forward her salary to her friends in New Haven. The amt. of her bill her a [?] $19.13. She still complains of her hard service and says she can’t continue to do it another winter. After you wrote to me I saw her and the matter was talked over among the females and Mrs. McConnell assisted her for a time, why she did not continue or whether she will resume I have not learned. Miss Isbell is most industrious, takes good care of the girls, their clothing too, and deserves great praise for the time and labor she gives to them but others may feel that her plans impose more labor than is necessary. All are quite well – the school is going on regularly, not as full as last winter. Our supplies came the 15th. The season has been cold and backward but is now warm growing weather. Our wheat is fair and will if saved nearly furnish our bread for the next year.

After much reflection I feel it a duty to myself and family to signify my wish to have my relation with the board changed, either to have my relation discontinued or so changed that I can live out of the building. It is necessary to have early hours for family work and meals, which imposes on females and small children very early rising or to grow up without even the form of devotion. So with breakfast small children have to be furnished with meals out of time which interferes with the regular work of the dining room & kitchen. Again – with my time occupied as it is every day I find scarcely any time to instruct or take care of my children. Besides these things and the feeling that the members of the church and families here are neglected there are certain things here which I am not satisfied with and which brings me in collision with others and makes me feel I would rather withdraw and let others take the management of the institution.

I supposed from your letters to me that I was considered in charge here and was responsible for the proper management of the institution. After Mr. Porter came we consulted together and agreed on some rules by which the children should be governed. These rules were disregarded and he claimed to have the right of the entire control of the boys, that he had no instruction that there was to be any Superintendence and he did not acknowledge any. As to his management of the boys I say nothing further than I disapproved of it. After he got some what tired of the school and found the confinement oppressive and I became disabled and proposed to take the school he said he would not go in the school again but would take the outdoor work as I wrote to you. After entering in these duties he claimed the same independence he had in the school and told me as to the office of Superintendent he did not know how I had it unless you saw me exercising it & gave me the title because I had assumed the office as there was no Superintendent in other missions. I then relinquished all those matters to him and do not wished [sic] to be considered as responsible any further for out door matters.

The chief source of dissatisfaction with him has been his claiming and exercising the right of leaving the business of the mission to do frequent jobs of surveying. He has accepted the office Deputy Surveyor of the county. He has frequent calls to survey roads, village plots and lots of land from six to twenty miles distant. His doing so produces dissatisfaction. Mr. Glenn spoke of it as unfair and George this spring would have left on this account when the took charge of the farm if I had not persuaded him to remain and Mr. Porter told him he would give up surveying. I do not think it fair that one should have the right to drop the business of the mission and hiring out at $3 per day while others have to devote all their time to the institution, even if a substitute should be hired but when I suggested that it would be but right to allow the time, thus taken, to that and as much extra help had to be hired. He said when he left the institution he intended to report the time thus lost but that that you had written to him he need not make any account of time thus lost. I may have wrong views of this matter but with my views I do not feel well to have matters go so and others dissatisfied and complaining, causing them to feel if those who are regarded as heads here can neglect the interests of the mission for private gain they do not much care how matters go.

These are in a sense little matters but they cause irritation and lead me to the decision to separate myself from the institution and when freed from the responsibility I will not feel constrained to interfere, and those little heart burnings will be avoided.

With regard to the board, we are entirely satisfied and feel grateful for all the kindness we have experienced. My conviction is that duty calls for more time to be devoted to the members of the church and families about here. I do not see a clear indication to leave these people unless the Board do not feel able to sustain a missionary separate from the school. I do not think it would cause as much additional expense as you named if you can get a suitable man with a small family. I make this statement now that you may have time to consider the matter & secure some one – and if I go out of the institution and remain, I may make some arrangements for a place for my family to live.

Mr & Mrs. Beatty were at North Port last Saturday but the boat left before we got there so we did not see them.

Respectfully yours
P. Dougherty

News from Omena, January 1855

Letter to Walter Lowrie from Peter Dougherty, Grove Hill, January 1, 1855
Transcription and commentary by Mark Smith, secretary, OHS

I’m always thrilled to discover a cache of old diaries or letters. Both fascinating and informative, they are also some of the best primary sources for historians. Letters and diaries are a slice of life lived now, with no clear sense of how the story will end, as it is in life itself. History is settled, it seems, but letters show the true ephemeral nature of history unfolding, before the stories solidify, and sometimes what we find causes us to reassess everything we have been told by the history books.

Written one hundred and sixty-seven years ago, this letter from Reverend Peter Dougherty of Omena to Walter Lowrie, corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, shows the immediate difficulties and challenges in running the mission and the associated school, Grove Hill Academy. We discover several things. First, we have a list of who was employed at the school, including one George Craker, who would later marry the widow Mrs. Mary McConnell and be the mainstay of the mission church for decades after Dougherty’s departure in 1870. George’s descendants, with Aghosa’s descendants, kept the church in service to its congregation as documented by Ruth Craker, George’s granddaughter, in the book The First Protestant Mission in the Grand Traverse Region, 1932. Also mentioned is Mr. Greensky, Odawa interpreter Peter Greensky, who would eventually become a Methodist minister in his own right, founding Greensky Hill Church, which still stands today, between Petoskey and Charlevoix.

We also discover that some of the boys have been getting in to visit with some of the girls after hours in the boarding school, which results in some strict punishment and a few expulsions from the school. The school, Grove Hill Academy, was residential and focused mainly on manual arts training and basic education for the young Indian residents.

Dougherty’s third paragraph opens with mention of land claims amongst the settlers over at the Old Mission he has left behind, and would seem to indicate that he would like Lowrie to put his weight behind their initiative.

I think paragraphs four and five come to the very heart of the matter for the survival of the mission: the fate of the Indians being swindled out of their land and falling under the influence of intoxicating liquors. 1855 was a time of great turmoil for the Odawa, with a treaty to follow in the summer which would have far reaching implications, but would do little to stop the advances of civilization and its attendant vices.

As if to reinforce the point, Dougherty relates the sad but true tale of Chief Peter Wakazoo’s selling off of the village of Wakazoo (part of present day Northport) to whites while under the influence of strong drink provided to him by those whites. In effect this would be the end of Reverend George N. Smith’s mission, as the Indians dispersed more widely, selling their village lots (which should not have been for immediate sale under the terms of the patents, but due to slack enforcement and incompetence, the details never were enforced.) This reference by Dougherty is priceless as it helps us to triangulate from Reverend Smith’s account of the event in his own diary.

Lastly Peter Dougherty closes with a recap of winter weather so far and notes that they get mail very scarcely and may not see any until winter is over, which means a few more months at least. Such were the vagaries of travel and the sheer isolation of Omena, whose main visitors came by boat, but not in the winter, and proper roads were but a notion at the best of times. Letter writing under these circumstances was almost an act of faith. It is fortunate that these letters have survived their difficult journeys and have been preserved for us to see.  If you would like to see the originals of this letter, and many others from Rev. Peter Dougherty of Omena and Old Mission, click on this link.
Thanks to Marsha Buehler, Archives and Committee Chair, for help with background biographical info and help with transcription.

Walter Lowrie, Esq
Grove Hill, January 1st, 1855

Dear Sir

After long delay I have filled out my report from the 1st of May to Nov. 1st. There is now employed in this institution under pay besides ourselves Miss Isbell, Porter, wife, Mr. Glen and Mrs. McConnell, Sarah Rogers cook, Mrs Milne & Miss Jane Milne and Mr. Greensky Interpreter. Mr. Porter I presume has informed you why Mrs. Milne & her daughter were retained. The circumstances in the judgement of all made it indispensable that they should stay. Mr. Greensky lives in the institute this winter but expects to build himself a house on some land I bought for him, in the spring. He is to receive at the rate of 100 dollars a year. Mr. Glen (and we fully agreed with him) thought he could not do all the choring and attend school. And as he had the right of school three months we had to retain George Craker. He was intending to leave to attend school some place and we offered him his board with the privilege of attending school if he would help do the work morning and evening which he agreed to do. There is due to him for wages from May 1853 to middle Dec 1854 two hundred thirty seven dollars. We borrowed a hand mill to grind corn for hominy. It answers very well.

Grove Hill Academy eventually became Hotel Leelanau

In my last letter I made allusion to a difficulty which led to the dismissal of one of the girls and the punishment of several other scholars. We discovered one night two of the boys in the girls’ sleeping room and found that some of the girls had secretly got a key which opened into the boys’ apartment and had encouraged the boys after we were gone to bed to get up and visit the girls’ rooms. The girl who appeared to be the chief guilty one we dismissed and punished by whipping the girls and boys who had been concerned in the matter. One boy to escape the punishment ran away. One was quite determined not to be whipped and wished me to consent to his going away without punishment which I refused and after some array of rope [?] he pulled off his coat and received the punishment. I then gave him the privilege of leaving if he chose but advised him to stay and behave himself which he decided to do and has behaved very well since. The matter was a painful one at the time but the effect of the punishment good. One of our boys has been very sick with inflammation of the bowels, is now some better after four weeks confinement in our room.

I would mention that the settlers at the old mission who are making claims there, had a meeting some month ago, and agreed to draw up a petition to congress and address letters to all the representatives from the state to have an act passed by which each one whose claim was described, and whose name was on the petition might have his claim secured at the government price. It was said at the meeting the mission would probably represent their own interests and aid the effort by their influence – as there is little communication between that and this this time of year. I have not heard whether the petition has been forwarded. You may be able to further the object and secure the rights of the Board there if you approve of this movement.

The present prospect is that the country will rapidly settle and I am fearful of what the effect will be on the Indians. More or less men will keep liquor. There has been a good deal of drinking during the past season on the Peninsula North of us, at Mr. Smith’s mission, there is danger they will be broken up. Some men have come in and purchased and by furnishing liquor got the chief of that band [Peter Wakazoo] drinking and he has sold the lands of the Indians. The Indians are dispirited and are selling their lots to white men. What they will do time will determine.

Our people are quiet; and not occupying any point that will immediately excite the cupidity of the white men as a point for business and speculation, and their lands being surrounded by state land which is not yet for sale, may not be disturbed. But the only hope for them here or elsewhere is to be men, be sober, industrious, and resist the destructive effects of intoxicating drink.

There has been much stormy weather and cold during the fore part of December but it is now very pleasant and the snow fast wasting. Our mail arrangement is all out of order. We have had no mail yet this winter and do not know if we will get any. I send this to the Post Office it find [sic] its way out.
P. Dougherty