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Ask Rufus: John Wesley's Chickasaw Interview of 1736

 

This 281-year-old London news magazine contains a 1736 interview by Anglican minister John Wesley with Chickasaw Indians about their religious beliefs. They had traveled from their villages (present day Tupelo area) to Savannah for a conference.

This 281-year-old London news magazine contains a 1736 interview by Anglican minister John Wesley with Chickasaw Indians about their religious beliefs. They had traveled from their villages (present day Tupelo area) to Savannah for a conference.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

In the fall of 1771, British naturalist Bernard Romans traveled up the west side of the Tombigbee to the Chickasaw villages at present-day Tupelo. This image of a Chickasaw warrior appeared in his 1775 book A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida.

In the fall of 1771, British naturalist Bernard Romans traveled up the west side of the Tombigbee to the Chickasaw villages at present-day Tupelo. This image of a Chickasaw warrior appeared in his 1775 book A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/Library of Congress

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

The year 1736 was a pivotal year in the history of the Tombigbee River Valley. French and British interest, allied respectively with the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, were competing for control of what are now the states of Mississippi and Alabama. In May of 1736 the conflict erupted into open warfare at Chickasaw Indian villages which were located at present day Tupelo. 

 

Also in 1736 and 1737, Anglican minister John Wesley was in Savannah, Georgia. Wesley included in his ministry a mission to spread the Gospel to the southeastern Indians. 

 

Accounts of the fighting at the Chickasaw villages appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine, a British news magazine published in London. The September issue carried an account of the conflict headed simply: "Indians Beat the French." It was a brief letter describing the defeat of the first of two French assaults against the Chickasaws. 

 

The magazine's May 1737, issue, under the heading "From Georgia," contained a transcript of John Wesley's "conference" with five Chickasaw warriors including "two Chiefs, Postubbee and Mingomawtaw." The Chickasaws told of their spiritual beliefs including the role of the "Beloved Things" in their defeat of the French and Choctaws. 

 

The conference had taken place in Savannah, Georgia, on July 20, 1736. Wesley was identified as Mr. John Wesley, Minister of Savannah. Among the more interesting questions and answers were: 

 

 

 

"Q. Do you believe there is one above who is over all? 

 

Postubbee answer'd -- We believe there are four Beloved Things above: the Clouds, the Sun, the Clear Sky, and he that lives in the Clear Sky. 

 

Q. Do you believe there is but one that lives in the Clear Sky? 

 

A. We believe there are Two with him. Three in all. 

 

Q. Do you think he made the Sun, and the other Beloved Things? 

 

A. We cannot tell. Who hath seen? 

 

Q. Do you think he made you? 

 

A. We think he made all Men at first out of the Ground. 

 

Q. Do you believe he loves you? 

 

A. I don't know. I cannot see him.  

 

Q. But has he not often saved your Life? 

 

A. Yes he has. For I have had many bullets gone on this side and that Side, but he would not let them hurt me. And these young Men have had many Bullets that went into them, but still they are alive. 

 

Q. Then he can save you from your Enemies now? 

 

A. Yes, but who knows if He will have mercy? We have so many Enemies now all round about us, that I think of nothing but Death. And if I am to die, I shall die, and I shall die like a Man. But if He will have me live, I shall live tho' I have ever so many Enemies. He can destroy them all. 

 

Q. How do you know that? 

 

A. From what he has done. When our Enemies came again against us before, then the beloved Clouds came for us: and often much Rain, and sometimes Hail has come upon them, and that in a very hot Day. And I saw when many French and Choctaws, and other Indians came against one of our Towns. And the Beloved Ground made a noise under them, and the Beloved Ones in the Air behind them: And they were afraid, and all went away and left their Meat and Drink, and Guns. I tell no Lye. I saw it too. 

 

... 

 

Q. Do you think and talk of the Beloved Ones? 

 

A. We think of them always where-ever we are; we talk of them, and to them, abroad, at Home, in Peace, in War, before and after we fight, and indeed whenever, or wherever we meet together. 

 

Q. Where do you think your Souls go after Death? 

 

A. We believe the Souls of bad Men walk up and down the place where they died, or where their bodies lie; for we have often heard Cries and Noises near the Place where any Prisoners have been burnt. 

 

Q. Where do the Souls of White Men go after Death? 

 

A. We can't tell. We have not seen. 

 

Q. Do you believe the Souls of Good Men go Up? 

 

A. I do, but I told you the Talk of the Nation. 

 

... 

 

Q. How came your Nation by the Knowledge they have? 

 

A. As soon as the Ground was found and fit to stand upon, it came to us, and has been with us ever since..." 

 

 

 

To say that history comes alive when holding and reading a 281-year-old newspaper, having as news of the day an interview of John Wesley with a Chickasaw Indian chief from what is now northeast Mississippi, is an understatement.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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