Last week we published an article about the Zeba Indian United Methodist Church and that it started in Sault Ste. Marie. This week we are going to talk about how it started.

John Sunday and Rev. John Clark

Before heading west to start the Missionary in Zeba John Sunday, a Methodist Native American Preacher from Canada, began mission work in the Native American settlement at the Sault Ste. Marie Rapids.

In 1832 Rev. John Clark, heard of the movement at the ‘Soo’ and decided to work there. He would later follow John Sunday west. In the spring of 1833, Clark and his family moved to the Soo and the construction of a schoolhouse and church began.

In 1834 the school had a female teacher and 35 students. There were three Methodist classes with 59 members. Like Zeba, the membership was predominately Native Americans with 40 Native Americans and 19 whites.

Rotary Park

Sault Ste Marie MichiganThe Sault Ste. Marie Country Club now occupies the mission church and school’s original location. There is a historic marker in Rotary Park across the street remember the mission. There is a second marker about 200 yards from the historical marker that features a storyboard of the history of the mission.

John H. Pitezel came to the Soo as a missionary and settled into the mission house with his wife. With Native American children attending the mission school, Mrs. Pitezel had a family of 16. In addition, she fed the employees of the mission and hungry Native Americans that stopped by from time to time. The Methodists had 57 members at the Soo in 1844.

In January 1849, the mission followed the travels of the Ojibway from the Soo to Naomikong Point in Bay Mills Township on the southwestern shore of Whitefish Bay. A mission house was built, and a mission established there later that fall.

Population shifts

As the white settlement at the Soo grew the Native Americans moved away. The Methodist mission work was concentrated at Iroquois Point about 15 miles west of the Soo in 1861 and on Sugar Island near the Soo Mission site.

In 1863 it was reported to have 53 members and 40 probationers, 2 local preachers, one church, two Sunday schools with 65 students plus 13 officers and teachers.

The Native Americans were on a new reservation by 1883, Bay Mills, northwest of Brimley. The Methodist missionary was appointed to Iroquois and Bay Mills.

 By 1890 the combine Iroquois and Bay Mills Mission reported 60 members. Methodist mission work with the Native Americans in the area continued for many years.

Historical Marker

Methodist Indian Mission

Statehood Era (1815-1860) – Registered in 1978 and erected in 1979 – ID #L633A

Located on Riverside Drive, Sault Ste. Marie – Lat: 46.48545100 / Long: -84.30277300

Methodist Indian MissionSeveral Methodist ministers were active in missionary work in the “Soo” area in the 1830s. John Sunday, an Indian preacher from Canada, began mission work in the Indian settlement at the Sault Ste. Marie Rapids around 1831. The Reverend John Clark followed in his steps two years later. Then a church and log schoolhouse were erected. In 1833 Peter Marksman, son of an Indian medicine man, was converted to Christianity and later became an esteemed minister of the Detroit Annual Conference. By 1834 the school had thirty-five students, and three “Methodist classes” were organized with forty Indians and nineteen whites. The Michigan Conference sent William H. Brockway to the mission as superintendent in 1839. Here he remained for ten years, serving most of that time as chaplain for Old Fort Brady.

John H. Pitezel and John Kahbeege continued the ministerial work at this settlement having come to the “Soo” in 1843. Pitezel arrived at what was a flourishing school and a farm with nearly fifty cultivated acres of land. He served as superintendent of the Methodist Indian District from 1848 to 1852, with missions as far away as Minnesota. A mission house was built in 1849 at Naomikong on Whitefish Bay. Little Rapids had been the focal point of the mission, for here were the farm, mission house, chapel and needed supplies. As more white settlers came to the “Soo” in the 1850s, many of the Indians moved away. By 1861 Methodist mission work in the area was concentrated at Iroquois Point near Sault Ste. Marie. The Methodists sold the mission land here in 1862.

Learn more about the rich history of the Eastern Upper Peninsula.