A History of the Rice Lake Indians by Mary Jane Muskratte Simpson

Peter Jones

The Rev. Peter Jones, a native Indian missionary, is worthy of mention. Though not a native of the Rice Lake district, he played an important part in the conversion of the Indians. The following appeared in "Onward", March 15th, 1930 under the heading of "Great Indian Characters" by F. G. Weir.


Peter Jones
Peter Jones Collection
April 1832
Victoria University Library

KAHKEWAQUONABY (Peter Jones) - On the first of July 1857 a number of people gathered at the cemetery at Brantford and erected a beautiful marble monument bearing the following inscription: "Erected by the Ojibway and other Indian tribes to their revered and beloved Chief Kahkewaquonaby, the Rev. Peter Jones."

Peter Jones was born at the heights of Burlington Bay, Canada West, on the first day of January 1802. His father was Augustus Jones of Welsh extraction and was for several years the King's Deputy Provincial Surveyor in Upper Canada. His mother was Tuhkenahneequay, daughter of Wahbonosay, a Chief of the Mississauga tribe of the Ojibways. His father being much away from home, Peter was left almost entirely in the care of his mother who trained him according to the customs of her people. He says: "I used to blacken my face with charcoal and fast in order to obtain the aid of personal gods or familiar spirits, and likewise attended the pagan feasts and dances. For more than fourteen years, I lived and wandered about with the Indians in the woods, during which time I witnessed the miseries and woeful effects of the fire-water." One day, while he was quite young a great feast, was made for him, at which his grandfather Chief Wahbanosay officiated. The purpose of this feast was to dedicate him to the guardian care of a god according to the custom of his tribe. At this, he was given the name "Kahkewaquonaby", which means "Sacred Waving Feathers."

His boyhood experience included a sacred bear's-oil feast, where each guest had to drink about a gill of what was not any more palatable than castor oil.

At an early age he was instructed by his grandfather in those subjects that were taught in the Indian universities of the great outdoors. He was taught woodcraft, how to handle bow and arrow, management of a canoe, and the use of a spear. He made good progress in these studies and in the course of time came to be considered a good hunter.

According to the custom of Indian people in those days if a gap came in a family due to the death of a boy, that gap was filled by adoption. When Peter was nine years old he was adopted by a Chief known as Captain Jim who had recently lost a son. Shortly after that Captain Jim moved with his family to the river Credit. We get some idea of the privations of that day endured by the Indians from Peter's account of the journey.

"During the journey we suffered much from hunger, we were obliged to cut hickory trees to peel off the bark and cut out chips which were boiled in order to extract the sweet juice; this we drank and derived much nourishment from it. At other times we were compelled to boil and eat a kind of moss called Wauquog taken from the pine trees."

The boy suffered much from cold and wet. In later years he had a great deal of illness. At one time he was a cripple for three months as a result of exposure to hunger and cold in his early days. He was much too young to have taken part in the War of 1812-13, but he no doubt had an understanding of what was going on: "The day after the Battle of Stoney Creek my brother John and myself went and examined the battlefield, and were horrified at seeing the dead strewed over every part of the ground. Some of the bodies were greatly mangled by cannonballs; such are the horrors of war."

He regarded the fifth day of June 1823 as a red-letter day in his life. Concerning that day he said: "O the goodness of God, may I never forget the glorious things He did for men, or the glorious morning of the fifth of June 1823." It was the day of his conversion.

At first, as we have seen, he received his religious training from his mother, who taught him the beliefs and practices of her people. When he was eighteen, at the request of his father, he received Christian Baptism. Previous to this he had read the bible, and had almost been persuaded to become a Christian, but hesitated when he beheld the unbecoming conduct of certain people who were supposed to be Christians. As to his Baptism; he felt that it had no effect upon his life. In later years he expressed himself as thankful that he did not, in his youth, fall into the vice of drunkenness.

On the first of June 1823 he and his sister Mary left their home to attend a camp meeting in the Township of Ancaster, prompted, so he said, by curiosity. At this meeting he was converted. On the last day of the camp meeting the converts were required to stand. When the Rev. William Case saw Peter Jones standing he exclaimed: "Glory to God, there stands a son of Augustus Jones of the Grand River among the converts, now is the door opened for the work of conversion among his nation." The prophecy was fulfilled.

In the summer of 1822 Peter hired out to a brickmaker to earn money so that he might attend school the following winter. He got the money and went to school at Fairchild's Creek. The next summer he worked on his father's farm. During the summer of 1824, he taught school at his father's house. On Sundays, he attended worship at Davisville and assisted in the Sunday School. It was during this that he first began to speak in public. He began by giving a simple account of his conversion. The following summer he entered into partnership with his brother-in-law in the brickmaking business, intending later to purchase a yoke of oxen and begin farming. He did not get very far with these plans, for he says: "I soon found the Lord had other work for me to do, for I could think of nothing else but trying to proclaim the gospel of Christ to my poor benighted brethren. I afterward make a present of my oxen to my uncle, Chief Joseph Sawyer."

From the time he gave away his oxen he was variously employed until May 23rd, 1835 when he started off with the Rev. A. Tarrey on his first missionary journey. They went to visit some Ojibway and Muncey's on the River Thames. From that day until he was compelled by sickness to cease from his labours he was a zealous missionary to his race. He spent a great deal of his time going up and down preaching to the bands of Indians scattered over Ontario. He instructed them in religion, advised them to make settlements, and helped them choose suitable sites. He taught them how to cultivate the land, and procured seed and implements. He also inspected their homes. His journal contains one curious entry which is a report of a round of inspection of the homes at the settlement of Grape Island. The following items are typical:

"Joseph Skunk, floor clean - cupboards poor - table good but dusty - beds tolerably good. A woman was making light bread like a white woman."

Bro. Hurlburt, all neat, like a white woman's house, except the Teakettle, which was out of place.

Joseph Shippegaw, floor poor and dusty - cupboard good - table good - beds rather poor - woman on the floor making baskets - one woman boiling pumpkins.

Peter Jones met with a variety of experiences on his missionary tours, as these entries show:

"July 28th, 1829, On rising this morning from my bed of blankets and cedar boughs I found I had been sleeping on a large land lizard which had been lying under the leaves when the cedar boughs were spread for my bed."

August 1st, 1829, Our men being much exhausted from hard toiling with the paddle, and having no food to eat, we were obliged to land and tent for the night a few miles from the commencement of the river St. Clair. We had now only a barebone left in the provision line, so we boiled it in a large kettle of water and drank the broth for our supper.

Supper, August 2nd - we again boiled the bare bone and drank the broth for our breakfast, thanking God that we had even this to satisfy in some measure the "cravings of hunger."

Peter Jones made a great contribution to missionary enterprise by translating into the Ojibway language a large number of hymns, the Apostle's Creed, and a considerable portion of the Bible. These translations are still in use among the Indians. A certain authority has said they are "as perfect as the Ojibway language would admit."

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