BRIEF HISTORY OF METHODISM IN THE UPPER PENINSULA
The beginning of Methodism in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan west of Sault Ste. Marie is credited to the missionary trail blazers who came to Kewawenon, now known as Keweenaw Bay. The first, in 1832 with John Sunday a converted Canadian Indian (see “Shaw-wun-dais” below).
In 1833 Rev. John Clark continued the mission work started by Sunday. He was followed by Rev. Damiel Chandler in 1834 who remained here for two years. Rev. Clark was appointed Superintendent of Lake Superior Missions in 1834 and was instrumental in having a mission house and church school house erected during Rev. Chandler’s mission stay. Houses for the local natives were also erected along the lake shore in the vicinity of the present Whirl-I-Gig Road.
These early missionaries led a rugged life and their methods of travel was by canoe, foot or snowshoes. Slow steamers and sailboats plied the lakes later and by the late 1870’s meager train service was available.
Other missionaries up to 1870’s were: W.H. Brockway, George Brown, Peter Marksman, George King, John Kahbeege, John H. Pitezel, Joseph Holt, Peter O. Johnston, N. Barnum and Rufus Crane.
With hard times in Europe and the opening of mines in the Copper Country and lumbering in Northern Michigan in the 1850’s, thousands of immigrants from England, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Finland and even Canada came to the Copper Country to make their homes. The groups contributing the most to the growth of Methodism were the Cornish miners from England. They were mostly Methodists in membership or in preference, a heritage from the strong influence of John Wesley during the great Methodist revival in England.
(“sultry heat”), better known as John Sunday, Methodist Minister, was a member of the Mississauga Tribe, which was scattered throughout central Upper Canada and particularly in the vicinity of Rice Lake and the mouth of the Credit River. He was born in 1795 near the Black River in central New York state as his family may have been traveling at the time. The Canada Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church recognized him as a potential religious leader. In 1832 he was accepted as a ministerial candidate and visited the Ojibwe at Keweenaw, a large bay on the south shore of Lake Superior where the Methodist Community formed (Zeba) and the history begins. Little is known about his wife, Mary Sunday, who was a strong, independent woman. They had been married since the late 1820’s and had lost ten children. He stated how the Gospel helped him through these tragedies.
After his ordination in 1836 he visited Great Britain and the queen for the interest of Indian Missions and their land rights. The portrait of John Sunday hanging in the Zeba Church was painted by William Gush during this visit. He was wearing a sash and his chief’s medal. The outer man was easily sketched but insights into his inner mind were much harder to capture.
He continued to live in his familiar Ojibwe cultural world, powerfully spoke his language, and he labored faithfully for his people. He was also a spiritual warrior and a veteran of the War of 1812.
When blind and near death, he was still speaking to his people, showing them “how wonderfully he had been led into the way of the Kingdom.” Into his final year, he assisted the resident British Canadian missionary as much as he could.
He belonged to the last generation with direct memories of Mississauga life before the War of 1812 and they resisted removal from the Rice Lake area. A memorial was erected for him in the late 1870’s for his efforts. John Sunday died in peace at Alderville, Ontario on December 14, 1875 at the age of 80. A tall obelisk marks John Sunday’s grave in Mississauga’s Alderville Cemetery.
Come and visit the Zeba Indian Mission United Methodist Church and view the portrait of John Sunday, which was given to the church by Mel Visser in 2015.