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LUGGER, ROBERT, Church of England clergyman and educator; b. 11 Feb. 1793 in Plymouth Dock (Plymouth), England, son of Joseph Lugger and his wife Elizabeth; d. 28 June 1837 in Plymouth.

The son of a gentleman, Robert Lugger received a grammar school education and was prepared for a professional career. That career was deferred, however, by a stint in the Royal Artillery during the Napoleonic Wars, one which carried over into the post-war period when he was assigned in 1817 to fortification projects in Barbados. But clearly he also found time to pursue his long-held plan to become a teacher. Backed by the Church Missionary Society, he organized what he called a “National Negro Schoolon the island in 1818 and endeavoured, through the use of the innovative Bell system of monitorial instruction, to deal with the circumstances of a slave society. The experience convinced him that “education alone will never do, unless the ground be broken up and the good seed sown at the same time.” His subsequent missionary career in Upper Canada would be fully committed to a merger of the tutorial and the spiritual.

Following a medical discharge from the army and his return to England in 1819, he matriculated at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, was ordained in 1823, and received his degree the following year. At the college he appears to have befriended a brother of Sir Peregrine Maitland*, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Sir Peregrine was known to take a keen interest in the welfare of its Indian inhabitants and this connection, combined with the influence at Cambridge of the evangelical movement, may well have shaped Lugger’s course as a missionary and inspired his later comment that he would be willing to collaborate with missionaries of other persuasions.

The occasion presented itself in 1827 when he was interviewed and accepted by the New England Company to serve as its first resident missionary among the Six Nations in the Grand River valley of Upper Canada. The company, a lay organization formed in the 17th century to minister to New England’s Indians, had been forced to shift its labours to New Brunswick after the American revolution. But difficulties there with “wandering” Micmacs and Malecites made the sedentary Iroquois community on the Grand a more tempting field. Of the six nations, the Mohawks held out the most promise. For some years they had been calling for a resident Anglican missionary and repeatedly complained of the failure of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, hitherto the principal missionary agency at work among them, to meet their needs on a regular basis. They had had to get by with visits from clergymen at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) or Ancaster [see Ralph Leeming*] and services conducted by catechists such as Henry Aaron Hill [Kenwendeshon*]. Lugger was the person selected by the New England Company on 15 June 1827 to put things right.

Lugger’s knowledge of the Iroquois came from extensive reading and from conversations with William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, who had informed him of the educational work at Grand River of John Norton*. Like Norton and like the Moravians, who worked among the Delawares at New Fairfield (Moraviantown) [see Christian Frederick Denke], Lugger planned to combine conventional religious instruction with training in the mechanical arts. He was also anxious to follow the Bell system and he had every expectation of “getting the Mohawk School as forward as possible in order to send out teachers to other parts.”

The community that greeted Lugger in 1827, made up of some 2,200 Iroquois, including roughly 600 Mohawks, had for years been unflatteringly described by overseas visitors who did not share an earlier generation’s fascination with the “simple nobility” of the Indian. But for Lugger, the incurably optimistic missionary-teacher, there were encouraging signs. For one thing, John Brant [Tekarihogen*], the well-regarded son of Joseph [Thayendanegea*], had tried to keep alive the cultural initiatives that his father had launched at the Grand River. He had, for example, seen to the completion of two schools near the Mohawk chapel. After his arrival Lugger collaborated for a time with John Brant, notably in the compilation of a Mohawk grammar.

Although he was greeted warmly by the Mohawks, Lugger fared less well among those Senecas, Cayugas, and Delawares who embraced the teachings of Skanyadariyoh (Handsome Lake), the Seneca prophet who had sparked a dramatic revival of traditional Iroquois religious practices at the turn of the century and who had scorned the Indians’ adoption of white ways. All the same, Lugger enjoyed some success among the Onondagas, Oneidas, and Tuscaroras; the Tuscaroras indeed requested and received a missionary of their own, the Reverend Abram Nelles*, who served as Lugger’s assistant.

More troublesome than Handsome Lake’s legacy was the competition Lugger faced from the Methodists’ ambitious presence in the valley. Their successes among the Iroquois [see Tehowagherengaraghkwen*] probably eroded Lugger’s aim to work closely with other missionaries and fostered in him the high church tendencies that a visiting Presbyterian clergyman, William Proudfoot*, observed. There was also a falling out with John Brant in 1831 over the competing claims of Methodism and the Church of England in the valley. Brant and his followers among the Upper Mohawks sided with the Methodists while the Lower Mohawks (the two groups were named after their original villages in the Mohawk valley) clung to Lugger. Brant also accused the missionary of trying to undermine his authority by dismissing a teacher whom he favoured. All of this was accompanied by the criticism some chiefs levelled against the instruction offered in the mission’s schools for the way it was weakening such traditional pursuits as hunting and fishing.

In spite of controversy Lugger persevered with what became in 1831 the show-piece of his mission – his long-sought-after school of industry for teaching skills to the Indians, known after 1850 as the Mohawk Institute. In spite of Indian scepticism and hostility, classes were organized to teach spinning and weaving to the girls and carpentry, tailoring, and farming to the boys. Then, to reinforce the institution as an educational centre, he converted it into a boarding-school in 1836, even though some officials warned that the concept was totally alien to the Indian. The venture survived and in recent times has been transformed into a thriving cultural centre for Woodland Indians.

Its founder, however, did not live to see the fruition of his show-piece. Barely months after the boarding-school opened, an ailing Lugger returned to England, where he died. On the eve of his departure a delegation of Mohawks and Oneidas had returned him their “sincere thanks . . . for all the good things you have done . . . as well as for our temporal as our Eternal interests.” Both Lugger and his wife were complimented on their efforts to protect the Indians from the worst effects of the white man’s world and to bring to them not only the Word of God, but medicines and emotional comfort when they had fallen ill.

Although missionary activity has come to be denigrated as the spiritual component of an aggressive imperialism that paid scant heed to non-European cultures, Lugger’s career from “palm” to “pine” could be perceived as having played a part in cushioning the impact of a dynamic civilization upon ones much less so, and as having applied ameliorative educational formulas then flourishing in the imperial metropolis to an island in the Caribbean and a frontier in Upper Canada.

Charles M. Johnston

AO, MS 35, unbound papers, extract from letter by T. G. Anderson to Mr Partlock, 6 Nov. 1826; John Strachan, draft of letter to Church Missionary Soc., 27 Feb. 1827. BL, Add. mss 21882: 106. Devon Record Office, West Devon Area (Plymouth, Eng.), 166/8 (Stoke Damerel), reg. of baptisms, 19 July 1794. Guildhall Library (London), mss 7913/2: 166, 171, 175; 7920/2: 75–76, 82, 244–45, 262, 265–67, 273–74; 7920/3: 69, 95; 7923: 148–50, 159; 7956, 24 Feb. 1806, 17 Jan. 1815 (New England Company papers). RHL, USPG Arch., journals of SPG, 39: 235, 239. Six Nations Indian Office Arch. (Brantford, Ont.), Chisholm file, accounts and letters; Council letter-book, 1832–37; Six Nations vs. New England Company; Statistical report, 1827. G.B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1836, 7, no.538: 1–853, Report from the select committee on aborigines (British settlements) . . . , 49, 635. John Howison, Sketches of Upper Canada, domestic, local, and characteristic . . . (Edinburgh and London, 1821; repr. Toronto, 1970). John Norton, The journal of Major John Norton, 1816, ed. C. F. Klinck and J. J. Talman (Toronto, 1970). Valley of Six Nations (Johnston). John West, A journal of a mission to the Indians of the British provinces, of New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and the Mohawks, on the Ouse, or Grand River, Upper Canada (London, 1827). Alumni Cantabrigienses . . . , comp. John and J. A. Venn (2 pts. in 10v., Cambridge, Eng., 1922–54). S. D. Clark, Church and sect in Canada (Toronto, 1948). Elizabeth Graham, Medicine man to missionary: missionaries as agents of change among the Indians of southern Ontario, 1784–1867 (Toronto, 1975). C. M. Johnston, “To the Mohawk Station: the making of a New England Company missionary – the Rev. Robert Lugger,” Extending the rafters: interdisciplinary approaches to Iroquoian studies, ed. M. K. Foster et al. (Albany, N.Y., 1984), 65–80. J. W. Lydekker, The faithful Mohawks (Cambridge, 1938). Robert Potts, Liber Cantabrigiensis . . . (Cambridge and London, 1855). Annemarie Shimony, Conservatism among the Iroquois at the Six Nations Reserve (New Haven, Conn., 1961). Isabel Thompson Kelsay, Joseph Brant, 1743–1807: man of two worlds (Syracuse, N.Y., 1984). J. D. Wilson, “‘No blanket to be worn in school’: the education of Indians in early nineteenth-century Ontario,” SH, 7 (1974): 293–305.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Charles M. Johnston, “LUGGER, ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 26, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lugger_robert_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lugger_robert_7E.html
Author of Article:   Charles M. Johnston
Title of Article:   LUGGER, ROBERT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   February 26, 2024