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Whipple, Henry Benjamin (1822–1901)

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Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry B. Whipple, c.1860.

Henry B. Whipple, c.1860.

Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, is known for his missionary work among the Dakota and Ojibwe and his efforts to reform the U.S. Indian administration system. After the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, Whipple was one of the few white men to oppose the death sentences of 303 Dakota.

Whipple was born in 1822 and educated in New York. After serving as rector and priest of Zion Church in Rome, New York, for eight years, he moved to Chicago in 1857 to help organize and become rector of the Church of the Holy Communion. His missionary work became well known among Midwestern businessmen, politicians, and churchmen, including Episcopalians in Minnesota. They elected Whipple as their bishop in 1859.

Before moving with his family to Faribault in 1860, Whipple toured parishes and American Indian missions throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, and St. Anthony in 1858. When Whipple visited the St. Columba Mission at Gull Lake, led by Ojibwe deacon John Johnson Enmegahbowh, the mission’s conditions of poverty alarmed him.

Treaties forced the Dakota and Ojibwe to live on reservations. The influx of white traders, loggers, farmers, and entrepreneurs to the region limited their options for traditional hunting, gathering, and farming. After his visit to Dakota country, Whipple dedicated his missionary work to promoting Indian welfare.

Whipple’s attitude toward Indians was paternalistic. He believed that whites needed to rescue Native people from poverty, alcoholism, and “spiritual wandering.” He also stressed that Indians needed to be “civilized” in the Euro-American ways of farming and education. He was also, however, more attentive than government agents to the concerns of the Dakota and Ojibwe.

Whipple wrote to and visited Native members of his diocese. The Dakota and Ojibwe, he learned, had longstanding grievances after dealing with traders, agents, and missionaries for two decades. Through treaties with the U.S. signed between 1805 and 1858, the Dakota and Ojibwe had ceded most of their territory in Minnesota. In exchange, the U.S. government had promised annual payments of cash and goods, the construction of mills and schools, and agricultural training.

However, government agents delayed or withheld the payments. Addressing his protests to the press, public officials, and Presidents Buchanan (in 1860) and Lincoln (in 1861), Whipple criticized the government for making fraudulent deals and failing to enforce the treaties. He also called for an overhaul of the U.S. Indian administration, denouncing it as “a stupendous piece of wickedness.”

Whipple proposed specific reforms. He asked the U.S. government to treat the Dakota and Ojibwe as wards or citizens rather than as sovereign nations. He proposed that it provide supplies rather than cash payments and organize reservations by tribal band. He also recommended that agents prevent the sale of alcohol to Indians, encourage Indians to acquire land, and hire Christian teachers of farming and “the arts of civilization.”

Whipple became a more vocal critic as tensions between the Dakota and white immigrant communities erupted in the U.S.–Dakota War in August 1862. In September, a military commission headed by General Henry H. Sibley brought 303 Dakota men to trial. Many white Minnesotans threatened to riot if all 303 were not hanged.

In letters to Senator Henry M. Rice, President Lincoln, Henry Halleck, and various newspapers, Whipple argued that the government did not have the right to order a mass execution. He blamed the U.S. for prompting the conflict with years of treaty violations. He also protested the legal basis for the trials, the haste of the prosecution, and the lack of a competent defense. Yet in December 1862, Lincoln authorized the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota in Mankato.

Whipple’s appeals during the U.S.–Dakota War trials earned him a national reputation as a spokesperson for Indian affairs. He served on a number of commissions, including the Sioux Commission (1876), the Northwest Indian Commission (1887), and the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners (1895–1901).

Late in his life, Whipple continued to expand the Protestant Episcopal Church in Minnesota. In the 1890s, he established a number of diocesan schools, including schools for Indian children. He remained in Faribault until his death, in 1901.

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Allen, Anne Beiser. And The Wilderness Shall Blossom: Henry Benjamin Whipple, Churchman, Educator, Advocate for the Indians. Afton: Afton Historical Society Press, 2008.

Berg, Scott W. 38 Nooses Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End. New York: Pantheon, 2013.

Chomsky, Carol. “The United States-Dakota War Trials: A Study in Military Injustice.” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 1 (November 1990): 13–98.

P823
Henry Benjamin Whipple Papers, 1833–1934
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/P0823.xml
Description: See the letters from Whipple to Senator Henry M. Rice (November 29, 1862), Abraham Lincoln (December 4, 1862), editors of various presses (such as The Republican and The Pioneer), General H. Sibley (March 7, 1863), and W. P. Dale, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (November 16, 1863; Letterbook 3). Also see Whipple, "What Shall We Do with the Indians" (Letterbook 3).

Martínez, David. “Remembering the Thirty-Eight: Abraham Lincoln, the Dakota, and the U.S. War on Barbarism.” Wicazo Sa Review 28, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 5–29.

Nichols, David A. Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1978.

“Rice, Henry Mower.”
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=r000198

Tinker, George E. Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry B. Whipple, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry B. Whipple, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of Cathedral Church of Our Merciful Savior, Faribault, c.1870.
Black and white photograph of Cathedral Church of Our Merciful Savior, Faribault, c.1870.
Black and white photograph of the confirmation of Dakota at Fort Snelling, 1863.
Black and white photograph of the confirmation of Dakota at Fort Snelling, 1863.
Black and white photograph of Enmegahbowh (Reverend John Johnson), c.1885.
Black and white photograph of Enmegahbowh (Reverend John Johnson), c.1885.
Black and white photograph of Enmegahbowh (Reverend John Johnson) and Bishop Whipple, c.1898.
Black and white photograph of Enmegahbowh (Reverend John Johnson) and Bishop Whipple, c.1898.
Scan of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry B. Whipple, March 27, 1862.
Scan of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry B. Whipple, March 27, 1862.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Whipple and others at St. Cornelia's Church, Morton, c.1895.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Whipple and others at St. Cornelia's Church, Morton, c.1895.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry Whipple, c.1898.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry Whipple, c.1898.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Whipple's library, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Whipple's library, c.1900.

Turning Point

In November 1862, Whipple writes letters to President Lincoln, public officials, and the press to protest the death sentences of 303 Dakota men.

Chronology

February 15, 1822

Whipple is born in Adams, New York.

November 1849

Whipple is ordained as rector of Zion Church in Rome, New York.

March 1857

Whipple is ordained as rector of the Free Church of the Holy Communion, the first “free” church (charging no fees for a pew seat) in Chicago.

1857

Whipple attends the First Episcopal Convention in Minnesota.

June 30, 1859

Whipple is elected the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota. His diocese includes Minneapolis, St. Paul, smaller towns, and the Ojibwe missions of E. Steele Peake and John Johnson Enmegahbowh.

Spring 1860

Whipple moves with his wife and five children to Faribault and establishes it as the see of his diocese.

April 9, 1860

Whipple sends his first letter to President James Buchanan on behalf of the Dakota.

March 6, 1862

Whipple sends a letter to President Lincoln requesting Indian administration reform.

August 1862

During the U.S.–Dakota War, Whipple helps care for wounded people brought to St. Peter.

Septem-ber 28, 1862

The trial of 303 Dakota men by a military commission begins.

December 4, 1862

Whipple sends a letter to Lincoln explaining the causes of the U.S.–Dakota War and urging clemency for 303 condemned Dakota men. The letter includes a petition on behalf of the Dakota, signed by the Protestant Episcopal General Convention.

December 26, 1862

Thirty-eight Dakota men are executed at Mankato.

1876

Whipple ordains the first Ojibwe deacons in Minnesota.

1895

Whipple is appointed to the Board of Indian Commissioners in February.

Septem-ber 16, 1901

Whipple dies in Faribault.