Thomas Caldwell Stuart, was born on the 29th of Sept. 1794, and was, therefore, at the time of his death, on the 9th of Oct. 1882, 88 years & ten days old. His mother died when he was but a few days old, & he was taken by a lady in the neighborhood who had just lost an infant. He remained in this family several years. He made a profession of religion when quite young, & from the first resolved to enter the ministry. He was licensed by the Pres. of South Carolina in April 1819, & in the fall of that year was sent as a domestic missionary to south. Ala.
On his way home from this tour, he received a notice of the appointment of himself & Rev. David Humphreys to visit the Southwestern tribes of Indians with a view to locating a mission station. Hastening home, he & his associate Mr Humphreys, set out early in the summer of 1820. They first visited the Creeks, who declined to receive them. They then came on to the Chickasaws, & spent Sabbath the 20th of June, at the house of an Indian chief, Levi Colbert in five miles of Tupelo, Miss., where more than 62 years afterward, one of them was to end his long pilgrimage. The next day they attended a great national ball-play in the immediate neighborhood, where they met & conferred with the principal men; and soon afterward they received formal permission from the General Council to establish a mission, to be located wherever the 2 commissioners might see proper.
They selected a spot about eleven miles south of where Pontotoc now stands, which Mr Stuart afterward named “Monroe” in honor of President Monroe. On their return to South Carolina, Mr. Humphreys decided not to engage in the undertaking, & Mr Stuart determined to push forward alone. He was accordingly ordained on the 13th of Dec. 1820 by the South Carolina Pres. “as a missionary to bear the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen of our borders.” The ordination sermon was preached by Rev. Richard B. Cater, from 2 Tim. 2:3, “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The charge was delivered by Rev. W. S. Barr.
It is difficult at the present time to realize the magnitude of such an enterprise. This region was then the “Far West,” occupied by uncivilized, some of them unfriendly, tribes. Almost everything necessary to the establishment of the mission had to be brought the entire distance in wagons, over bad roads, often no roads at all. But in spite of all impediments, Mr. Stuart, on the 21st of Jan. 1821, reached the site of the future mission with his party consisting of mechanics & farm laborers with their tools & implements; for the young missionary was destined to become not only the “bearer of glad tidings of salvation” to many a benighted soul then dwelling in the shadow of death, but now rejoicing with joy unspeakable, but also to be the founder of the civilization of a people.
Everything was to be done—houses to be built for a boarding school, fields to be cleared, a gristmill to be erected, & even the furniture to be manufactured. In 1823 Mr Stuart returned to S. Carolina & married Miss S. C. Caldwell. Having been joined by several other missionaries, it was deemed expedient to establish more stations at a distance from Monroe, of all of which he was made superintendent. This necessitated long journeys often at inclement seasons, attended with much exposure, & sometimes danger in crossing swollen & bridgeless streams. Once a year he went to Tennessee for the purpose of hiring laborers and getting up a drove of hogs & various supplies for the mission. The nearest post office was at Columbus, Miss. as was also the nearest physician.
From the fact that Mr. Stuart outlived nearly all his contemporaries, but few who knew him in his last years were aware of his long & laborious efforts for the good of the human race, or of their successful results. He himself had but little conception of the great work he had been instrumental in setting in motion, till many years afterward when visiting the Chickasaws in their home in the Indian Terr., he was present at the meeting of their first legislature, & the inauguration of their first governor. If the com. are not mistaken, all the Senators, & some members of the House, were former pupils of the school at Monroe—the Governor certainly was. They were a fine looking set of men, combining much of the education & culture of the white man with the grave dignity of their forefathers; & when they invited him to a seat in their midst, & formally thanked him for what he had done for them & their people, he felt that he had not labored & “endured hardness” in vain. It is not claimed for Mr. Stuart that he accomplished all this by his own unaided efforts, but that he was the pioneer in the good work which has advanced that interesting people to a high degree of civilization.