In February of 2013, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Manuscripts Collections acquired this letter written on February 23, 1850 in St. Paul by Presbyterian Minister, Edward Duffield Neill. Addressed to a Home Missionary Society colleague out East, the letter provides a detailed account of Neill’s missionary work in St. Paul, as well as his impressions regarding the changing landscape in the surrounding Territory.
Neill recounts his early work as a Presbyterian Minister in the Minnesota Territory but first and foremost, the eight-page manuscript gives a brief statistical analysis of Neill’s work over the past 10 months. He reports his involvement in building the First Presbyterian Church in St. Paul (Dec. 1849), his financial contributions to the Home Missionary Society’s coffers ($45.00 to date), and the increase in those who “…worship in accordance with the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations” (approximately 900). He goes on to describe the pre-existing Catholic and Protestant denominations, the former currently being housed in a “rude log chapel”.
The letter also describes Neill’s impression of St. Paul upon his arrival in 1849. He states, “I landed at St. Paul in April, 1849. It was then a village of 300 inhabitants, mostly illiterate French Canadians attached to the Church of Rome.” Being a man of the church, he did however attempt to lighten the blow, stating that the current state of the Territory proves there have since been “…great changes and those in the right direction.”
Neill’s interests crossed well beyond his early work as a Minister, showing an inclination towards matters of business, politics, and governance. He is delighted by the establishment of several new schools and quite impressed by the Territorial Government’s incorporation of a Library Association. Neill believes in five years time, “…there will be direct or speedy communications between St. Anthony Falls and New York City via Lake Superior, and there will be a call for at least five times as many laborers.”
Neill’s predictions for the future were not always so bright, however. In a passage foretelling of impending events, Neill states, “Four-Fifths of the Territory is in Indian Country, the abode of the warlike Ojibwa, the wild Dakota and the discontented Winnebago. Negotiations however are going on, which will shortly induce the Dakota to dispose of the lands of his ancient ancestors and to commence his painful Exodus towards the setting sun.”
Edward D. Neill, a native Philadelphian, came to the Minnesota Territory in 1849 as a Presbyterian Minister under the auspices of the Home Missionary Society. At the time this letter was written, Neill was a frontier minister but he is also known as a prolific author, Civil War Chaplain to the 1st Minnesota infantry, Secretary to Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, as well as a past President of Macalester College.
This spectacular piece of Minnesota history complements the Society’s collection of the Edward D. Neill and family papers, as well as the Minnesota portion of the American Home Missionary Society records, available on microfilm.
See whole letter: Neill letter 1850
Shelby Edwards, Manuscripts Collections Assistant