Licensed to preach by the South Carolina Presbytery on 19 April 1819, Rev. Thomas C. Stuart, known as Father Stuart, was one of the earliest Presbyterian missionaries in Mississippi. Sent by the Synod of South Carolina in 1820, Stuart established the Monroe Mission and was a missionary among the Chickasaw Indians of northeastern Mississippi. In 1823 Stuart organized the church and by 1830 had a membership of more than one hundred Native Americans, African Americans, and whites. Chickasaw College grew out of a need for an educational institution for the daughters of Presbyterian Church members at Monroe.
The autumn session of the South Carolina and Georgia Synod of 1819 resolved to send a missionary to labor among the “Southern Indians just east of the Mississippi River.” In 1819 Stuart set out from Georgia and traveled more than 180 miles before reaching Chickasaw territory. When he first came upon the Creek nation, he “held forth to them that we desired to preach the gospel among them and also establish schools for the education of their children without any cost to them.” Stuart recalled that “they listened attentively, but after short consultation they rejected our proposal.” Undaunted, Stuart kept pushing west toward Mississippi and arrived in the Chickasaw Nation on the eve of a council to elect a new king, King Ishtohotopah, the last king of the Chickasaw.
On 22 June 1820 the Chickasaw council granted Stuart permission to stay and chose a site for the mission. Stuart, King Ishtohotopah, and several Chickasaw representatives signed a formal agreement, beginning Father Stuart’s missionary work among the Chickasaw. In 1821 Stuart and his family reached the site of the future residence of the Monroe Mission in Mississippi. One witness reported that the old Monroe Church “was an interesting sight. It was a diminutive room 16 × 16, built of small poles” and had a “dirt and stick chimney and a large open fireplace, where, in the winter, the worshipers warmed their frost-bitten fingers.”
The Monroe Mission originally had eight members. The families built houses, started a farm, founded a school, and preached to the Chickasaw using an interpreter. Monroe Mission was an accessible location at the intersection of the highways of travel for several Native American tradesmen. From the north and south, the Cotton Gin Road passed through Monroe as well as the Natchez Trace, which came from the northeast and went south. In 1827 the Monroe Mission was placed under the American Missionary Board, which supported similar missions to the Cherokee and the Choctaw.
Over the mid- to late 1820s the church grew to twelve times its original size. Distinctions of race and color seemed unimportant in Stuart’s missionary model. One acquaintance recalled, “He earned the appreciation of all, regardless of color or condition or creed.” Church records showed a racially heterogeneous membership, with twenty-nine whites, sixty-nine African Americans, and twenty-five Indians in the late 1820s. Further, Tishu Miko (Tishomingo), a brave warrior and ruler of the Chickasaw cession where Monroe resided, was a prominent friend of Stuart’s and an attendee at the Monroe Mission.
After Chickasaw Removal Stuart traveled cross-country in 1839 and forded rivers in a wagon with his daughter, Mary Jane Stuart, to visit Chickasaw he knew in the Monroe Mission. During the Civil War, Stuart served as an instructor at Chickasaw Female College and helped carry the college through the tumultuous period of Reconstruction. He died in Tupelo, at the home of his daughter, in 1883.
- C. W. Grafton, History of Presbyterianism in Mississippi (1927)
- Fred R. Graves, ed., The Presbyterian Work in Mississippi (1927)
- E. T. Winston, “Father” Stuart and the Monroe Mission (1927)