Alexander Faribault's Photo

Bishop Henry Whipple's story: 1867
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks

Alexander Faribault's story: 1855
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Mary Whipple's_story: 1862
Before the Story
After the Story
In her tracks


Taopi's story: 1864
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


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Bishop Henry Whipple
Before the Story: 1822-1867

Early Years | Arriving in Faribault | Episcopal Schools | Indian Affairs | More

Bishop Henry Whipple was born in New York in 1822. He was the oldest of six children. His father was a merchant who did very well in business. Henry and his siblings attended boarding and private schools in New York.

When Henry was 16, he followed his father’s wishes and began studying mathematics with an uncle. The uncle was a professor at what is today Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. After some time at Oberlin, Henry became very ill. His doctors suggested it would be healthier for him to stop studying and go in to business.

For the next ten years, Henry Whipple worked for his father. He purchased goods from local farmers in New York to sell to others. He also became very active in New York politics. Many people who knew him at this time thought that he would have a brilliant career as a politician. The people he met during this time were important to his work later in life.

In 1842, Henry married Cornelia Wright. She was six years older than he was, and also very well educated. She had attended the progressive Emma Willard School in New York, and was a teacher. Although Henry had been raised as a Presbyterian, he joined Cornelia in attending the Episcopal church.

Henry Whipple held his daughter, Jane, in this photo taken in about 1849.

In 1848, Henry decided to devote his life to helping others. He worried about how he would support his wife and the four children they had at this time. But his father and New York’s Episcopal Bishop encouraged him. Henry began studying for the ministry. From 1849 to 1857, Henry served as the rector at Zion Church in Rome, New York. This is where the Erie Canal began. The canal had opened in 1825. The town was growing. Many important and wealthy people began attending the church while Henry was rector. Under Henry’s leadership, the church became well-known for helping the poor.

In 1857, Henry was asked by Episcopal church leaders to go to Chicago. They wanted to build the Episcopal church movement there. In Chicago, Henry rented buildings where he could preach. He walked all over the town, visiting with people and telling them about his church services. There were many men who worked for the railroad living in Chicago. Henry learned all about trains so that he could talk knowledgably with the railroad men. When the railroad men discovered that Henry was interested in what they did, they became interested in attending his church services. Soon Henry was leading a large church.

Early Years | Arriving in Faribault | Episcopal Schools | Indian Affairs | More

In 1859, Henry was elected as the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota. He was only 37 years old, but he had already spent ten years in business and politics, and had ten years of experience in the ministry. But going to Minnesota was a risk. Episcopal missionaries like James Lloyd Breck had begun working in Minnesota several years earlier. But Minnesota had been a state for only one year. People had just begun settling the town of Faribault. Henry now had six children to support. He also became responsible for paying his father’s many debts after his father died.

Episcopal church leaders wanted Henry to make St. Paul the base for his work. But Henry chose Faribault. This was because Alexander Faribault and other men from the town offered him land to build a home and church. Henry explained later:

"Forty gentlemen called at the Mission House, and in the name of the citizens of Faribault, offered me a home. They were men of different [religions], and after speaking of the conditions of the country and expressing their confidence in its future, they said they had raised money which they would give me to provide a home for myself, or they would pay the rent of the bishop’s residence for five years. They also promised to aid me according to their ability in founding schools. The warm welcome of these pioneers touched my heart… [This] was the only place in the state which had offered me definite pledges for a residence; it gave me the hope of meeting my expenses without debt; it was the center of a rapidly growing section of Minnesota, and it offered me the prospect for the establishment of Church schools….I have never regretted my decision. The citizens of Faribault have always given me their confidence and support.”

Early Years | Arriving in Faribault | Episcopal Schools | Indian Affairs | More

By building schools in Faribault, Henry knew he could train many people as missionaries there. Then he did not have to wait for missionaries trained in Eastern schools to come to Minnesota. He also thought schools were important for improving the lives of Indian children.

When Henry arrived in Faribault, there were already two small Episcopal schools. One was a mission boarding school for Indian children started by James Lloyd Breck in about 1857. Both Dakota and Ojibway children attended this school, although the tribes were not friendly. White children also attended the school. When he began traveling through the state, Henry would use his horse-drawn wagon to bring children to the school from their far-away homes.

Andrews Hall. Andrews Hall. This was the dormitory for children attending the mission school. Photo courtesy of the Rice County Historical Society.

James Lloyd Breck had also founded Seabury Divinity School. This school trained Episcopal ministers and missionaries. Breck brought divinity students with him when he first came to Minnesota. They lived and studied in his house. They also rented space in town, and later moved to wooden building near the present Cathedral. Breck, his sister-in-law Mary Mills (later Whipple) and other priests taught the divinity students, and the students helped in the mission school. When the divinity students graduated (including Henry’s brother, George), they began their own missions in Minnesota and other places.

When Henry arrived in Faribault in 1860, he saw they would need a larger school for the divinity students. He made plans for the school, and laid the cornerstone of a new building, Seabury Divinity Hall, in 1862. When the hall was completed in 1864, it also became a boarding school for boys and young men. By 1866, a new building was needed for this school. Shattuck Hall was built on the bluff.

Shattuck School in about 1875. Shattuck School in about 1875. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Henry also founded a school for girls in 1866. He had four daughters of his own. He had had sent his daughters East to school for their education. But his well-educated wife, Cornelia, and new sister-in-law, Mary Mills Whipple, knew much about the importance of education for young women. Henry and Cornelia built on to their house. They opened St. Mary’s Hall. The school was for the education of clergymen’s daughters, including their two younger daughters, and other girls. An older daughter and other educated women from the East came to teach at the school.

Early Years | Arriving in Faribault | Episcopal Schools | Indian Affairs | More

It would seem that Henry Whipple had his hands full in Faribault. Within just a few years, he had developed the Episcopal schools and overseen the construction of an impressive Episcopal Cathedral. But, in spite of criticism from some members of his congregation and many others, Henry Whipple devoted an equally large part of his time, attention and efforts to seeking justice in the treatment of American Indians.

Within months of first arriving in Faribault, Henry traveled to the Episcopal mission on Gull Lake. Henry quickly understood that the government treaties and the government’s treatment of the Indians had caused the misery he saw there. He immediately wrote to President James Buchanan:

“In my visits to them, my heart had been pained to see the utter helplessness of these poor souls, fast passing away, caused in great part by the curse which our people have pressed to their lips.”

Henry was especially concerned about the effects of the alcohol provided to the Indians by traders and government agents. He went to Washington in the fall of 1860 on the first of many trips to talk to political leaders about Indian affairs.

Henry did not agree with people who said that Indians were stupid, or evil, or heathen. He was respectful of their traditions and customs. He found ways to connect Native American beliefs to Christian beliefs. His attitudes were very unusual and extraordinarily compassionate for this time in history. But his attitudes toward American Indian culture were not completely accepting, either. Henry wrote that Indians’ lives would be better if they converted to Christianity and became farmers. This may have been true, since this would have made Indians more acceptable to white settlers. But these changes would not allow Indians to maintain many traditional ways of life.

Henry clearly saw that unfair government policies were creating a dangerous situation. He knew that a time of crisis for both Indians and settlers was coming. Henry was sad but not surprised by the events of the U.S. Dakota War in 1862. When over 300 Indians were condemned to death after the war, Henry made speeches, wrote many letters and published a newspaper article about the unfairness of this situation. He thought he would have the support of some of the political leaders in Minnesota with whom he had been friendly. But leaders including Senator Henry Rice, General Henry Sibley, and Governor Alexander Ramsey, demanded the executions.

Because of his early career in politics and his family members in the East, Henry also knew political leaders in Washington. A cousin worked for President Lincoln. Perhaps because of this, Henry was able to speak to the President about the scheduled executions in Minnesota. Lincoln agreed to commute all but 39 of the death sentences. Thirty-eight Dakota were executed in Mankato in 1862, convicted in unfair trials.

For the rest of his life, Henry continued to try to find some way to improve the lives of American Indians. He tried to provide for their basic needs through mission work. The Indians trusted him, giving him the name of "Straight Tongue." In Faribault, Henry worked with Alexander Faribault to help Taopi and others. He tried to work with leaders in Washington to establish a fair “Indian policy.”

Early Years | Arriving in Faribault | Episcopal Schools | Indian Affairs | More

Although the events listed here seem enough to have filled all of Henry Whipple’s life, they bring us just to about 1867, when Henry Whipple’s Story begins. For information about his life after 1867, read Henry Whipple: After the Story. You can also visit places in Faribault that were important to Henry by following In His Tracks.

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