The General Missionary Convention, later known as the Triennial Convention because it met every three years, appointed Isaac McCoy in 1816 as a missionary to the northern 'wild' Indians of Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois. Just a few years later, in 1828, the United States government took notice of the effectiveness Isaac had in both evangelizing and educating the northern Indians and called upon McCoy to survey the uncharted territory 'west' of Arkansas for a permanent home for the 'red man.' With the Board's approval, McCoy moved to the western edge of Missouri and, with the assistance of his son John Calvin, established his base at 'Westport' Missouri for the future relocation of the Indians to 'a permanent Canaan.' While some historians view the relocation of the Indians as a 'tragic' black mark in American history, both McCoy and the Indians felt it was best to relocate to a homeland where the Indians could progress as a people without interference from the white man as was happening in the east. The United States government would later break her promise to the Indians of a 'permanent' homeland in punishment for siding with the Confederates during the Civil War, but the initial relocation of the Indians to Oklahoma has been called by even some Indian historians in Oklahoma as 'the golden age' of Indian civilization.
Isaac McCoy had no formal education, but he gained both the respect and friendship of U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and later U.S. President Andrew Jackson. The manner in which he administered the move of the eastern and northern Indians to the territory of the red man (Oklahoma Territory), is a study in classic Christian leadership and the ability to overcome any obstacle. Oklahoma is the Choctaw Indian word for 'red man' and Oklahoma Territory, as surveyed by this Baptist missionary and pastor Isaac McCoy, became the place where the United States Government would eventually move the 'Five Civilized Tribes' from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and over sixty 'wild' Indian tribes from other states both north and east of Oklahoma Territory.
Isaac McCoy's Mission to Convert the Indians
Isaac's mission and ministry responsibilities were almost unbearable from a human perspective. Imagine traveling from north to south, east to west, both during the scorching long days of summer and the freezing short days of winter, charting the Oklahoma Territory for the United States Government, all the while ministering to the dozens of tribes with whom he had developed close relationships. McCoy had a special fondness for the 'wild' Indians (like the Ottowas, Sac and Fox, Osage, etc . . . ), but his influence was unsurpassed by any white man in the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole and Chickasaw) as well. McCoy's base of operations at Westport would eventually transform and become what we know today as Kansas City, Missouri. He single-handedly and temporarily stopped the Mormons in their migration westward. McCoy feared the Mormons' warped theology would corrupt the orthodox Christian missionary work being done in Kansas and Oklahoma Territory. The Mormons resented McCoy's authority over the soldiers who blocked their path west and called him a 'terrible sectarian,' but they eventually gave up in their attempt to pass through Western Kansas (Kansas: home of the Kanzaws or 'Kaw' Indians) and they set up shop across the river in Independence, Missouri. Only later did a break off sect of the Mormons make it to Salt Lake City -- after Isaac McCoy's death. In addition to his work at Westport and the Shawnee Mission, Isaac McCoy traveled in the 1820's and 1830's throughout Oklahoma. He made several trips on horseback to Washington D.C. and was often gone from his family for many months at a time. The first Baptist church in Oklahoma was founded just north of the modern town of Muskogee in eastern Oklahoma by Isaac McCoy on September 9, 1832. The charter members of that church, called the 'Muscogee Baptist Church, Ebenezer Station,' included a Creek Indian named John Davis (who himself was ordained the pastor of Muscogee Baptist by McCoy), a school teacher named David Lewis, and three slaves.
Isaac would devote his life to missions for the cause and glory of Christ among the Indians. I am amazed that David Brainard is better known than Isaac McCoy, but I believe, in time, that will change. Baptists, particularly Southern Baptists, shall become more familiar with the incredible missionary work of Isaac McCoy through books that are now taking advantage of the research available by reading the voluminous personal papers of McCoy, which until recently, were under lock and key at the world famous Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A Biography on McCoy You Must Have
Dr. George Ella, a member of Emmanuel, Enid and a dear personal friend of mine, has now written the definitive biographical work on the life and ministry of Isaac McCoy. His 663 page biography, published by Particular Baptist Press in 2002, reads like a work of fiction, but it has the historical accuracy and scholarship one would expect of the uber meister scholar Dr. Ella is. As I was reading (again) Ella's 'Isaac McCoy: Apostle of the Western Trail' I could not help but draw insight for my own life from this man's example. All of us who are Southern Baptists should be interested in this great missionary because he was one of the men present in Augusta, Georgia at the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Luther Rice called McCoy 'the greatest missionary since Carey.'
McCoy died June 21, 1846 and was buried in Western Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Here in Oklahoma, at institutions of higher learning like Bacone College, buildings and halls are named in McCoy's honor. His influence in our state is unparalleled by any Baptist since. I would encourage anyone interested in studying the life and ministry of a great Southern Baptist missionary to order Dr. Ella's book.
In doing research for my trip yesterday to the mission stations of McCoy in eastern Oklahoma, I came across the following letter penned by McCoy after the death of his eldest daughter, fourteen-year-old Mahale. She had died of typhus fever while serving on the field with her parents among the wild Indians. His daughter would be one of eleven children that Isaac and his wife Cristiana would lose to death. Only three of their fourteen children would survive to an old age.
McCoy wrote the following about the death of his daughter (I've updated it to modern English to make it easier to read):
We believe that Mahale's death is sanctified to our benefit. It has induced us with less reluctance to let go of the hold which our affections had upon people and things in the regions of civilized society. We have been enabled to trust all -- our children, ourselves, and all our interests -- to God.
When we thought about taking up residence with the Indians in their country, we felt great anxiety on account of Mahale; our other children were young, but she was old enough to cause us to desire that she enjoy the benefit of a good school and live in a good society. Though we did not want to keep her in the woods, it seemed impossible for us to leave her in a place where she could be comfortable and receive a good education -- we had no financial means to provide this favorable situation for her.
But our Heavenly Father, by one stroke (her death), has taught us not to feel undue anxiety for anything on earth, not even for our children . . . The day she died I wrote in my journal the words of the Psalmist: "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." Our children may be hurt by living with us among the Indians in their native country, but they might have become worthless had they been brought up in what others call 'good society.' The additional risk to them for living among the Indians will be more than balanced by the mercy of Him who has called us all to labour there. This confidence in God has not been disappointed: and we mention it here, for the encouragement of other missionaries who may realize painful anxieties on account of their children while resident among the heathen people."
To order Dr. Ella's book 'Isaac McCoy: Apostle of the Western Trail' contact:
Particular Baptist Press
2766 W. FR 178
Springfield, Missouri 65810
Here's praying we all are able to let go of our worldly affections like Isaac McCoy.
In His Grace,