The Foreign Mission School

(Cornwall, Connecticut)

Main attributes of this Native American place: In Tribal history; Native persons; In historic documents.

The Foreign Mission School in Cornwall Village was the first foreign missionary school in the United States. It was created by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1817, during the religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. A new experiment in converting “heathen” to Christianity, the school imported, Christianized, and educated Native American and Polynesian boys with the goal of sending them back to their villages as Christian missionaries, to convert and “civilize” their countrymen. In its short lifetime, the school taught over 100 students representing at least six Native American tribes and several Asian/Polynesian societies. The experiment failed because the ABCFM failed to take into account the racial biases of the local citizenry. Two Cornwall girls (daughters of the director and steward of the school) fell in love with two high-ranking Cherokee boys attending the school. In 1825, Sarah Northrop married John Ridge, the wealthy and educated son of a Cherokee leader, much to the outrage of the town’s white Puritan residents. A year later his cousin, Elias Boudinot (Cherokee name Gallegina), married Harriett Gold. Prior to their marriage, the couple were burned in effigy by an angry crowd, including Harriet’s own brother, which eventually forced the closing
of the school in that same year.

Contributor: Lucianne Lavin

SOURCES

Further reading:

Andrew, John. Educating the Heathen: The Foreign Mission School Controversy and American Ideals.

Cornwall, CT: Cornwall Historical Society, 1988.
Cornwall Historical Society, and Paul Chamberlain. The Foreign Mission School. Cornwall, CT: Cornwall Historical Society Inc., 1968.

Dwight, E. W, Henry Obookiah, and Lyman Beecher. Memoirs of Henry Obookiah: A Native of Owhyhee, and a Member of the Foreign Mission School, Who Died at Cornwall, Conn., Feb. 17, 1818, Age 26 Years. Philadelphia, PA: American Sunday School Union, 1830. To access online, go to: http://archive.org/stream/memoirsofhenryob00dwig#page/n5/mode/2up.

Demos, John. The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Gaul, Theresa Strouth, Elias Boudinot, and Harriett Gold Boudinot. To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Online resources:

Connecticut History.org “An Experiment in Evangelization: Cornwall’s Foreign Mission School”, http://connecticuthistory.org/an-experiment-in-evangelization-cornwalls-foreign-mission-school/.

Online exhibit: Foreign Mission School 1817-1826:http://www.cornwallhistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/foreign_mission_school.html.

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