Why I Came to St. Paul by Harriet E. Bishop

harrietbiship b&wAn excerpt from her book, “Floral Home, or First Years in Minnesota.”

Published in New York in 1857

The question, why I came to St. Paul, will naturally arise in the mind of the reader. This cannot be better explained, nor with less appearance of egotism, than by the following letter from Rev. Dr. Williamson, of the Sioux Mission. It was address to the Board of National Popular Education, then in its embryo state, and by them place in my hands.

“My present residence is in the utmost verge of civilization in the northwestern part of the United States, within a few mi9les of the principal village of white men in the territory that we suppose will bear the name of Minnesota, which some would render, ‘clear water,’ though strictly, it signifies slightly turbid or whitish water.

“The village referred to has grown up within a few years in a romantic situation on a high bluff of the Mississippi, and has been baptized by the Roman Catholics by the name of St. Paul. They have erected in it a small chapel, and constitute much the larger portion of the inhabitants. The Dakotas call it Im-mi-ja-ska (white rock), from the color of the sand-stone which forms the bluff on which the village stands. This village has five stores, as they call them, at all of which intoxicating drinks constitute a part, and I suppose the principal part, of what they sell. I should suppose the village contains a dozen of twenty families living near enough to send to school. Since I came to this neighborhood, I have had frequent occasion to visit the village, and have been grieved to see so many children growing up entirely ignorant of God, and unable to read his Word, with no one to teach them. Unless your Society can send them a teacher, there seems to be little prospect of there having one for several years. A few days since I went to the place for the purpose of making inquiries in reference to the prospect of a school. I visited seven families, in which there were twenty-three children of proper age to attend school, and was told of five more, in which were thirteen more that it is supposed might attend, making thirty-six in twelve families. I suppose more than half of the parents of these children are unable to read themselves and care but little about having their children taught. Possibly the priest might deter some from attending, who might otherwise be able and wiling.

“I suppose a good female teacher can do more to promote the cause of education and true religion than a man. The natural politeness of the French (who constitute more than half the populat8ion) would cause them to be kind and courteous to a female even though the priest should seek to cause opposition. I suppose she might have twelve or fifteen scholars to begin with, and if she should have a good talent for winning the affections of children (and one who has not should not come), after a few months she would have as many as she could attend to.

“One woman told me she had four children she wished to send to school, and that she would give boarding and a room in her house to a good female teacher, for the tuition of her children.

“A teacher for this place should love the Savior, and for his sake should be willing to forego, not only many of the religious privileges and elegances of New England towns, but some of the neatness also. She should be entirely free from prejudice on account of color, for among her scholars she might find not only English, French, and Swiss, but Sioux and Chippewas, with some claiming kindred with the African stock.

“A teacher coming should bring books with her sufficient to being a school, as there is no book store within three hundred miles.”

This was the first I had heard of St. Paul, or even of Minnesota, and the impression was at once riveted on my mind that I must go; and when, after two weeks of prayerful deliberation, the question was asked, “Who will go to St. Paul?” I could cheerfully, though tremblingly respond, “Here am I; send me.” Every possible obstacle was presented; the difficulties of the almost unknown route; the condition of society; doubts as to a welcome by the people generally; the self-denials to be exercised; the privations to be endured—all of which were to me as so many incentives to persist in my decision. In short, I came because I was more needed here than at any other spot on earth, and because there was no other one of my class who felt it a duty to come.

Friends violently opposed. Those who dare not oppose did not encourage and vice versa. It was evident that all considered it hazardous in the extreme, presuming on, yae, tempting Divine Providence. Only one had said, “Go, and the Lord will be with you.” And thus, with no human aid on which to rely, the arm of the Invisible was my support. And though comparatively ignorant of the world and its evils, I went forth to struggle with its waves; to tread the unknown future—a path hitherto unexplored—a thorny maze; but with the certainty that, where thorns abound, roses often bloom, and their sweet fragrance has refreshed me when weary, and been a sweet savor unto my soul.

I was happy then; I am happy in the retrospect. Never has a regret for the decision crossed my heart; on the contrary, it has ever been a theme of gratitude that I was enable to overcome all the impediments, and come at a time when no other one would venture.