Posey was missionary to Cherokees

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com Three old table-top graves sit on a hill on the west side of Posy Road, about a half-mile north of the Highway 34 intersection. One of the headstones honors the memory of the Rev. Humphrey Posey, "missionary to the Cherokee Indians in 1817, from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, (who) through life evinced a warm, religious friendship for the red man." Posey was born Jan. 12, 1780, in Virginia. He was remembered fondly by Newnan resident Robert Fleming, who authored a remembrance of him in 1852, called "Sketch of the Life of Humphrey Posey, First Baptist Missionary to the Cherokee Indians, and Founder of Valley Town School, North Carolina."
"In his person, Elder Posey was over the ordinary size of men," said Fleming, "with fair complexion, and clear blue eyes, he might be considered handsome. But he was more than this; he was dignified and commanding in his personal appearance, -- always easy and affable in his intercourse with others, -- never phlegmatic nor morose." Fleming said that Posey "was not what is usually called an educated man, having never attended school more than to enable him to read, write, and perform the simple rules of arithmetic." Posey "never, at school, studied English grammar," said Fleming. "He commenced teaching 'little old-field schools' as he used to call them, when about seventeen years old. And as he who teaches, learns faster than he who is being taught, so it was with young Posey. He had a great thirst for knowledge." Baptists were "slow to launch a missionary effort among the Indians," said William G. McLoughlin in his book, "Cherokees and Missionaries." "In part the delay was due to strong antimission sentiment among rigid predestinarians, (who) believed that God would save the Indians in his own good time and that money for missions was wasted." But the tide of opinion soon changed, and Dr. William Staughton, corresponding secretary for the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, wrote to Posey from Philadelphia on Oct. 16, 1817, "At a meeting of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, on Monday last, your favor of August the 26th was submitted and considered. The Board, anxious to see 'the light of life' spreading among the Cherokees, and on the western frontiers generally, and pleased to find your heart set upon the good work, enter with pleasure into your feelings and views. They wish you to accept immediately an appointment, as their missionary for twelve months." Posey accepted the appointment, requesting in a Nov. 24 letter that "that the Board will bear me up in their prayers, and beseech the blessed Jesus to ask for the poor benighted Cherokees, as a part of his immediate inheritance." After receiving this appointment, Posey "commenced, on the 1st of December, 1817, a tour of preaching among the Indians, and the white people on the frontier," said Fleming. "In 1818 and 1819, he formed a very extensive acquaintance with the tribe." Posey soon established day schools at the Cherokee towns of Cowee, Tillanoocy, and Eastatory. But "the confusion in the nation over the effort to force a removal to Arkansas soon forced Posey to suspend operations," said McLaughlin. After a trip to Arkansas to scout a place for his mission, it became apparent that most of the Cherokees would not be removing there, after all. This is when Posey managed to negotiate with the Cherokees to establish a mission at the Valley Towns in North Carolina. Baptist Elder Alfred Webb reported that Posey left Haywood, N.C., "to take charge of a mission in the Cherokee nation, where he originated and attended the management of a very nourishing school, and preached over the nation by means of an interpreter (Edward Tucker), for the space of about five years. Eternity will unfold the good which this faithful servant of the Most High God effected in the moral condition of these rude people." Moravian missionaries, who had been in the Cherokee Nation since 1801, reported that Posey visited them on June 25, 1818. "Mr. Humphrey Posey, a Baptist preacher, a very dear man who seems to mean very well, visited us with one of his relatives. He said that since his conversion the salvation of the Cherokees, in whose neighborhood his home is, has been very close to his heart and that he is in charge of a school for young Cherokees on the border, where he also preaches from time to time. He was on the way to Oostanaula to the Council to talk about his plan with the chiefs gathered there." "At a grand council of the chiefs," Fleming said, "Posey obtained their hearty consent, and promise of cooperation to establish a school amongst them at Valley Town." Missionaries at the Brainerd Mission near modern-day Chattanooga, Tenn., recorded in their journal on April 27, 1820 that Posey and his family had "commenced their operations on the bank of the Highwassee creek... the valley called Peach Tree." The mission consisted of 80 acres, three houses, a farm, and a school. Rev. Jeremiah Evarts, also a missionary to the Cherokees, reported on the Valley Towns mission in 1822: "In going & returning I conversed with Mr. Posey, in reference to the Baptist Mission, in the Valley Towns, of which he is the Superintendent... The school now consists of 60 children... The establishment consists of a preacher, schoolmaster, blacksmith, two farmers & a hired man. This spring 80 acres of corn have been planted; last year 800 bushels were raised. "The plan of the station is this: The pupils eat & lodge by themselves, forming own family & eating at own table; the family being under the care of the teacher, with the aid of two or three young women... Mr. Posey's family consisted of himself, his wife & six children: of course his allowance was $240, annually. Each family had cows from the common stock; and when the pork was killed, it was divided among the different families." Posey had to deal with a lot of lingering resentment and hatred from the white people, who were advancing westward at the time. "The White people are constantly opposing every effort to instruct the poor, benighted Indians," reported one missionary at the Valley Towns mission. "The great objection urged by most people in these parts is the enmity of the old wars in which some of their friends have been killed by them." Deacon James Whitaker wrote in a letter, "I was at Valley Town in 1821, six or eight weeks, and during that time, I had full opportunity to know every thing in and about the establishment; and, I can say, a more attentive and faithful man could not be found, and the Cherokees universally esteem (Rev. Posey) as a good man. At the mention of his name, those who still remain in the country, will brighten up with a smile on their countenance." In 1836, the Valley Town school was reported in I.M. Allen's Register, as being in a nourishing condition, "And to this day the Cherokees have more confidence in Humphrey Posey than they have in any other man living." After his stint as a missionary in North Carolina Posey lived for a time in northwest Georgia, establishing several churches there, including some which flourish to this day. "In the providence of God, he was permitted to enjoy the society of the wife of his youth forty-two years," Lettice Jolly, said Fleming. "She died at their residence in Walker County, June 22d, 1842. By her he had ten children; eight daughters and two sons, all of whom have given evidence of conversion to God. He was often heard to speak of this as a matter of consolation to him in his declining years." On the July 28, 1844, Posey married Mrs. Jane Stokes, widow of Deacon William M. Stokes, of Newnan, Georgia. He may have met the Stokes family through his mission work in North Carolina, since one Indian girl took on the name "Anna Stokes" -- the same name as Jane Stokes Posey's stepdaughter. Posey "disposed of nearly all his property in Walker County, among his children, and came to Newnan to reside permanently," said Fleming. "Several churches in the vicinity called him to preach to them as a pastoral supply, and he devoted his time to their service faithfully, and with much success, up to the close of his life." The last sermon he ever delivered was on the second Lord's day in December, at Ebenezer Church, seven miles east of Newnan. He died on the 28th day of December, 1846. [ Editor's note: This is the second and final installment in a two-part series on 19th-century Baptists Humphrey and Jane Posey, both buried on Posey Road in Coweta. They were early supporters of Mercer University. ]

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