Below is a letter from James Lloyd Breck, written the Wednesday before Christmas, 1841. With newly purchased land bought for $1,300, a $50 horse, and enough clothes to last three years, Breck writes of “considerable snowbanks,” a long table that served as the altar, and soundness of mission that has characterized Nashotah House Theological Seminary for more than 170 years.
On the Wednesday before Christmas day, about noon, I started forth on horseback and rode, through a driving snow-storm, and for the most part through an uninhabited portion of the country, fourteen miles to Eagle Prairie (where there are a number of Church families, being chiefly English people). Leaving there an appointment for service and preaching on the ensuing Monday night, I continued my ride five miles further, to an inn, which, notwithstanding it is a log-house, and only attracts the attention of travelers from its ancient appearance, yet is noted for a hundred miles or more around for its good landlord.
My pony being taken care of, I stepped into the house, but soon discovered that the driving snow found its way in through the roof, and particularly in my chamber, where was a considerable snow bank, evidently a snow-drift. But I slept soundly and rose with renewed strength to pursue my journey.
On Thursday morning it snowed but little, and by noon I found myself sixteen miles further on at the house of Mrs. Bowman, on Sugar-creek Prairie, where I dined. This woman, a communicant in the Church, had, previous to our coming into the Territory, gone 45 miles, to a town that the Bishop was visiting, to beg him to hold a service in her neighborhood; which request was complied with by the good Bishop. This afternoon I spent in visiting the various Church families on this prairie, and in catechising their children. The families live at such a distance from each other in these parts, that the children could not come to a Sunday-school, even were one established. We therefore appoint lessons to be learned under the direction of parents, and call at certain periods to hear them in the presence of the families,–which instructs parents as well as children. When we first visited Sugar Creek, we had to preach in a barn. I passed the night at the house of Mr. Boyd, whose infant son I baptized a few weeks before. I left in the morning for Elkhorn, where, about six weeks ago, we organized a parish, naming it “St. John’s in the Wilderness.”
Friday night being Christmas Eve, we had service in the school-house, which was illuminated for the occasion, and well filled with the settlers of the wilderness. On Christmas day we kept the Nativity of our Blessed Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST. A very old lady present could with difficulty refrain from tears at the thought of once more enjoying the Church services, and especially on a Christmas-day. All seemed rejoiced. In the afternoon I baptized Mr. Brainard and nine children of his family. Could you have witnessed this scene your heart surely would have rejoiced. The whole was so perfectly unostentatious and so rustic. No church, no altar, no chancel,–we assembled in this plain western school-house, which had in its centre a long table, that served as our altar. Around this we stood in order, as follows: myself at the back of it, having before me, and placed on it, a rude vessel serving as a font; the father stood opposite to me on the other side, with two adult children on the one side of him, and a third on the other; the witnesses of these were the grandfather and his daughter, Mrs. Brainard, both communicants; the grandmother was too infirm to stand,–she was confirmed by Bishop Seabury. At either end of this long table stood the younger children, four sons at one end, and a son and daughter at the other. We occupied the centre of the school-room, while the congregation sat all around us, with fixed attention. When all were duly baptized, how powerfully did this whole scene strike me as resembling, in some of its features, the accounts contained in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles:–”Stephanas and his household” were baptized there; Brainard and his household “were baptized” here.
In several of his letters he describes the country, interspersed with small but beautiful lakes, lovely rolling prairies, and numerous oak openings, presenting the appearance of parks and orchards. From the statistics furnished to the Domestic Committee, it appears that from the 1st of October to the 1st of January, they had ridden 1851 miles on horseback, and walked 736 miles, which is at the rate of 10,000 miles a year. Father Cadle lost his way returning from Green Bay, and nearly perished. Brother Hobart was sent up to the parish in that town, there to spend a few Sundays previous to the visit of the Bishop.
Portions reprinted with permission from Project Canterbury.