The bulk of this collection of correspondence was written between 1838 and 1862, and addressed to Reverend John Smithurst, “Indian Settlement, Red River, North America.” The “Indian Settlement” was the home of Chief Peguis and his people, the Saulteaux, located at Netley Creek, a branch of the Red River south of Lake Winnipeg. Following his resignation in 1851, Rev. Smithurst immigrated to Canada West and settled in Elora and then Minto in what is now Ontario.
Rev. Smithurst was an Anglican missionary sent by the Church Missionary Society from England to Rupert’s Land to convert the First Nations and Metis peoples of the area known broadly as the Red River Settlement; modern-day Winnipeg, Manitoba encompasses many sites that made up the settlement. Ministering to the “Indians” and “Half-Breeds,” Rev. Smithurst was one of the handful of missionaries west of Canada during a period of social and political unrest, economic upheaval, starvation, disease, racism and classism. Rev. Smithurst was in contact with many influential people of the time, including Henry Budd and James Settee, the first Indigenous men to be ordained by the Anglican church in North America; Reverend William Cockran; Reverend Ezekiel Gilbert Gear, chaplain at Fort Snelling in modern-day Minnesota; Reverend William Mason, Rossville Mission Press printer; David Anderson, first bishop of Rupert’s Land; and Duncan Finlayson, governor of Assiniboia.
In the correspondence within this collection, missionaries privately share personal frustrations with their efforts to “civilize” and convert Indigenous peoples, while struggling to survive the landscape and navigate social conflicts.
Acquired with Rev. Smithurst's letters, and included here, are several miscellaneous letters, as well as correspondence for the Reverend C.E. Thomson, who succeeded Rev. Smithurst at the Elora parish, and correspondence for the Reverend Adam Townley, step-father to Rev. Thomson. Correspondents include: John Strachan, first bishop of Toronto; Alexander Neil Bethune, second bishop of Toronto; F.D. Fauquier, first bishop of Algoma; and George Whitaker, first provost of Trinity College in Toronto.