This Day in History: Assignment of Indian Agencies to Religious Societies

On this date in history, November 1, 1872, the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs gives us a snapshot of how the government was apportioning various Indian agencies to the care of religious societies. This was an outgrowth of President Ulysses S. Grant’s Indian Peace Policy, which sought to remove corrupt Indian agents and replace them what he deemed would be morally superior Christian missionaries.

The government began assigning religious societies to care for Indian agencies as early as 1869, but this official report gives an accounting of whether things stood by 1872:

  • The Hicksite Friends had six agencies with 6,598 Indians
  • Orthodox Friends had 10 agencies with 17,724 Indians
  • Baptists five agencies with 40,800 Indians
  • Presbyterians had nine agencies with 38,069 Indians
  • Christians, two agencies with 8,287 Indians
  • Methodists had 14 agencies with 54,473 Indians
  • Catholics had seven agencies with 17,856 Indians
  • Reformed Dutch had five agencies with 8,118 Indians
  • Congregationalists had three agencies with 14,476 Indians
  • Episcopalians had eight agencies with 26,929 Indians
  • American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Ministries had one agency with 1,496 Indians
  • Unitarians had two agencies with 3,800 Indians
  • Lutherans had one agency with 273 Indians.

This summary is taken from the book: Documents of the United States Indian Policy, third edition, edited by Francis Paul Prucha, 2000, which provides a verbatim of the 1872 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. I recommend the Prucha book as a great resource.

Not surprisingly, I guess, there was politics involved in assigning which religious societies got assigned Indian agencies. For instance, a research summary at Marquette University called: “Directors of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions: Introduction” reports that the Catholics were quite disappointed that they did not receive a larger number of assignments. They began to organize, an effort that led to the creation of the Board of Catholic Indian Missions. Click on the link above for more background.


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