The Life of John Papoonung – Part 13

Papoonung, who had been zealously laboring in his way to promote the good of the Christian (lock, to whom he was attached, had his own share of trials and sufferings beside those which fell to him as a partaker of those of his brethren. His character amongst those who were acquainted with him stood high, according to Loskiel’s account it was unblemished, yet there were found two Indians, who undertook to arraign it. They were wicked men, in whom perhaps his honest hearted exhortations had raised a spirit of enmity, and they wished to destroy his reputation, cast a stain upon his Christian profession, and no doubt bring him to an ignominious death. They came to the settlement at Friedenshutten, and declared that they had received full and certain information from the chiefs at Zeninge and Hallobank, that John Papoonung was a dealer in poison. They further said, that he had been the occasion of the many sudden deaths which bad recently taken place amongst them, and of the epidemical disorders which had thinned the population years before. This false statement found at first a ready ear amongst the people, and the whole village was unsettled and disturbed. The Indians in their unregenerated state are too prone to the use of such secret means to remove an enemy, and this knowledge caused a majority of the congregation unjustly to suspect Papoonung. Some even went so far as to join the wicked slanderers, and to form a party having in view the destruction of his life. Smick, the missionary, convinced of the innocence of the assistant minister, did all he could to persuade others of the truth, but in vain.

Papoonung before the whole congregation declared that he never had any poison in his possession, and knew not how to prepare it. He stated that his heart had been full of wickedness, but that it had been washed in the blood of Christ, and that he now belonged to the Lord soul and body, and intended to love, serve and cleave to Him all his life. This declaration did not pacify his enemies. Some of the party who had combined against him, waylaid him not far from the settlement, and demanded that he should give up his poison, or they would kill him. In this extremity the Lord Jesus was his support. He felt his heart full of holy confidence in the protecting providence of God, and he found no cause for fear or anxiety. Calmly, and without visible emotion, he referred them to his public solemn assurance of his innocence, and turning from them he walked quietly away. Their enmity was for the moment chained, they dared not execute their wicked intentions: To one of his friends he said, ” If the Lord permits, that, by these base lies, I lose my life, I shall at once be delivered from all misery, and go to my Savior. I should only pity my wife and child.” His wife who was also a true hearted believer in the Lord Jesus, was wonderfully supported during this trying season, and looked to the Savior for deliverance, knowing him to be a friend able and willing to save in the time of trouble.

Papoonung now determined to investigate the charge made against him, and sent two messengers to the chiefs who were said to have spread the report, to know the foundation on which it stood. The chiefs who had never heard of his being accused of such wicked practices, were astonished at the message. They without hesitation solemnly assured the two Indians that called on them, that they were ignorant of the whole affair. Returning with joy to Friedenshutten, the messengers were enabled to prove the innocence of Papoonung and the malicious hatred of the two accusers, to the satisfaction of the whole settlement. Sincere rejoicing took place, and many sympathized in the sufferings which had been endured by a beloved brother and spiritual leader. The two who had raised the report, felt it was prudent not to be found in that neighborhood, and those who had been misguided by them, were brought under deep sorrow therefore. They publicly desired the pardon of the whole congregation, and were for a long period sorely distressed that they had joined in a wicked persecution carried on against an innocent man. How often has it happened since that day, that a persecution originally started against an individual because of his faithfulness to his God, has been joined in with by the weak and the ignorant, who are persuaded to believe that the outcry is but against evil practices. Oh, may those in our day who have ever engaged in such a work, be enabled to ask forgiveness of their friends, who have stood faithful,—and seek with bitterness of heart, for pardon at the hands of that God who regardeth the just man, and upholdeth him in the midst of his persecutions and sufferings.

Early in the Sixth month, 1772, the Indians left their settlements on the Susquehanna, to remove to the Big-Beaver. Heckewelder says “Friedenshutten (Wyalusing) now about to be forsaken, was a favorite spot of the Christian Indians, having both natural advantages and artificial charms. The town had been regularly laid out, and built for the greatest part of square white pine timber. Their chapel was an ornament to the place. Most of their garden lots were put under good palings—their fields in fine order and cultivation, with a number of fruit trees planted out in proper places. These improvements on which seven years’ labor had been expended, was now taken off their hands without making them the smallest recompense. The Friends (Quakers) however according to their generous custom, sent them one hundred dollars as a mark of their friendship to them, which they received with gratitude.” After a tiresome journey of eight weeks, during which several of the children died, they reached Friedenstadt.

The new comers amounted to about 240 persons; and it was necessary to have more land to settle them on. One spot called Schoenbrunn (the beautiful spring) had already been granted by the chiefs in council, and to obtain others a deputation was appointed by the Indian brethren to wait on the chief at Gekelemukpechunk. Papoonung was appointed head of the embassy, and one of the missionaries accompanied it. The inhabitants of the village where the chief resided, had just received a present of seventy gallons of rum, and had commenced a drunken frolic, but when the news arrived of the approach of the deputies, the chief ordered all to quit drinking. They obeyed, and by the aid of sound sleep soon regained their sobriety, and were able to attend the council. Papoonung after informing the assembly of the arrival of the company from the Susquehanna, and that they would have to build one or two other settlements beside Schoenbrunn, felt the way open to speak of the sentiments, doctrine and worship of the converted Indians. Loskiel says, ” He did this in a solemn and manly style, relating how he had lived formerly, and how God had shown mercy to him.” The Council gave a friendly answer, and after the usual compliments had been exchanged the delegates returned.

(To be concluded.)

“Relics of the Past No. 44 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII No.11 Dec. 7, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758