Elliott, Charles, 1792-1869

Titles by this author
Indian missionary reminiscences : principally of the Wyandot nation

Elliot was born in County Donegal near Killybegs, Ireland. He converted from Roman Catholicism to Methodism in 1811, and in 1813 he became a licensed local preacher. When he was denied admission to the University of Dublin due to his religious beliefs, he pursued his studies privately, and in 1814 he emigrated to western Pennsylvania with his family. He served as a missionary with the Wyandot tribe for the Methodist Episcopal church in the 1820's, and this experience was documented in his book, Indian Missionary Reminiscences. Elliot's academic career included serving as professor of languages at the Methodists' Madison College in Uniontown, Pennsylvania from 1827 - 1831 and professor of biblical literature and later president of Iowa Wesleyan College. He was successful as an editor of Methodist publications, editing the Pittsburgh Conference Journal (1833 - 1848) and the Western Christian Advocate (1836 - 1848, 1852 - 1856), and the St. Louis-based Central Christian Advocate (1860 - 1864).

Considering Elliot's youthful conversion from Protestantism, it is not surprising that he called for the reformation of the Catholic church in his book, Delineation of Roman Catholicism. He even served as a missionary to Rome in hopes of initiating change. Elliot also engaged in debates over the establishment of denominational seminaries which he believed were contradictory to apostolic example. When the issue of slavery became a controversy that split the Methodist Episcopal Church, Elliot, initially, attempted to find a moderate antislavery position by endorsing gradual emancipation through the colonization of freed slaves back to Africa. He encouraged slave masters to educate their slaves in Christian principles and treat them according to such principles. While he criticized abolitionists' sweeping condemnation of the character of all slave owners, he also opposed appointing slave owners to the church's episcopacy. In 1855, Elliot published A History of the Great Secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church in which he defended the antislavery position of northern Methodists. He elaborated this position in Sinfulness of American Slavery (1850) and The Bible and Slavery (1857).

The preface of Indian Missionary Reminiscences tells how the idea for the book came into being. While Elliot was a missionary at Upper Sandusky in 1822, he kept a daily journal of events. When he began editing the Pittsburgh Conference Journal, he shared some of these missionary experiences with friends in the printing office who requested that he write and publish the narratives. These narratives were then collected into the Sunday School book. The Reminiscences relate how John Steward, "the coloured man and apostle of the Wyandots" (7) dreamed that a Native American man and woman invited him to preach to their people (8). Steward ignored the invitation and became very ill. In his suffering, he prayed and promised that if he became well again, he would become a missionary to the Wyandot tribe and preach the Methodist faith. The story follows that John Steward (always referred to as the colored man) convinces the suspicious chief, Between-the-Logs, to convert to Christianity. He struggled to overcome Catholic prejudices among the Wyandot tribe and remained with the tribe for seven years before his death. The reminiscences continue to follow the history of the Wyandot tribe's conversion to Christianity (44). In August of 1822, a delegation of three chiefs attended the Marietta conference where they expressed their gratitude to the school and mission. The story of Elliot's own experiences with the Wyandot tribe begins in "Reminiscence VII" (46), and consists mostly of journal entries, arranged by date and varying from a collection of sentence fragments to lengthy descriptions. These entries concern the progress of the missionary school (78) and accounts of the young students (94). Elliot also describes the tribal life, the Wyandot language, and rituals such as marriage: "In the pagan state, marriage among the Wyandots could scarcely be said to exist. Their custom was, for a man and a woman to live together as long as one or both were agreed. But when either party was displeased with the other, or when a more desirable connection could be formed, then they parted" (111). The final reminiscence describes the "efficacy of the Gospel in commencing and completing civilization" (186). Elliot offers such proof as, "The attempts to civilize men without the aid of religion have entirely failed of success" (186).

McKivigan, John R. "Elliot, Charles." American National Biography. Vol. 7. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford, 1999, 425 - 426.

Other sources:
Buckley, James M. A History of Methodism in the United States, 1898.
Haselmayer, Louis A. The Presidents of Iowa Wesleyan College. 1967.
Mathews, Donald G. Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1965, 1780 - 1845.

Written by Stephen Rachman