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A Map of Brainerd

Wilder, Mary A.
Place Made:
Hamilton County Tennessee United States of America
Date Made:
ink and watercolor on paper
Accession Number:
This map is the most detailed surviving depiction of the largest and most important Cherokee mission school in the Southeastern United States.

The Brainerd Cherokee Mission School was established in October 1816 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), a missionary society affiliated with the Congregationalist church near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The first students enrolled in March 1817. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia, between 1817 and 1838 more than three hundred Cherokee men and women studied at Brainerd making it, “the largest institution of its type among the Eastern Cherokees.”

In May 1819 President James Monroe visited the Brainerd mission. According to the journal kept at the mission, “he looked at the buildings & farm, visited the school… & was pleased to express his approbation of the plan of instruction.” At the time of his visit the missionaries had:

“just put up, & were about finishing a log cabin for the use of the girls. He said that such buildings were not good enough, & advised that we put another kind of building in place of this; that we make it a good two-story house, with brick or stone chimneys, glass windows, &c, & that it be done at public expense. He also observed that after this was done, it might perhaps be thought best to build another of the same description for the boys.”

Federal funding and the elimination of tuition fees spurred further development at Brainerd. Writing in the period after Monroe’s visit, the missionary Elias Cornelius recorded a detailed description of the landscape:

“nearly in the center of the row is the mission house, two stories high, having a piazza its whole length, with a pleasant court yard in front of it… Behind it, and immediately connected with it, is the dining hall and kitchen… On your right and at the distance of a few feet, stands another building of two stories, which is used for the instruction of the girls. It is well finished, and was built by the particular direction of President James Monroe… Many smaller buildings are ranged upon the right and left of these two, and afford convenient lodging places for the children, and other persons connected with the institution.”

Mary A. Wilder’s map depicts the extensive mission school complex in a level of detail that is unrivaled by any other period description. The key to Mary’s map runs from A to U and includes everything from the mission house to the corncribs and “a beautiful hickory about 8 inches thick.”

ARTIST: Mary A. Wilder’s identity is not yet certain. She may have been Mary Anne (Wilder) Camp (1806-1830) of Rindge, New Hampshire, and Ashby, Massachusetts. Her father, Samuel L. Wilder (1778-1863) was a prominent member of Rindge’s Congregationalist Church and the kind of man who might have been involved with the Boston-based ABCFM. In 1829 Mary married Albert Barlow Camp, a Yale educated Congregationalist minister. The map was deaccessioned by the Congregational Library and Archives and further investigation into the map’s provenance may confirm Mary Anne (Wilder) Camp as its author.

Mary Anne (Wilder) Camp would have been fifteen when she drew this map. It is possible that she accompanied her father on a trip to Tennessee where they engaged in the kind of philanthropic tourism described in the diary of Juliana Margaret (Courtney) Conner (1804-1881) in 1827:

“We went 7 m out of our way to visit Brainerd the mission settlement and I have never been more gratified than I was on that occasion… Mr. Ellisworth, the teacher of the male academy, is quite an intelligent man – his system… is a most excellent one – the plan of instruction and the books used are the most modern and improved that we have in our schools… We were shown several specimens of letter writing and compositions (that) were extraordinary… Mr. E(llisworth) observed that (the students) possessed great talents for imitation. He produced a piece of painting, (a) likeness of Mary Queen of Scots taken from an engraving by one of the boys, his first attempt, (it) would have done credit to one who had taken regular lessons in the art. Miss Sawyer, the teacher of the female academy, produced several pieces of writing… (as well as) several samplers (that) were elegantly wrought equal if not superior to any I have ever seen…”

The foliate border above and below the map may relate to schoolgirl needlework of the period. Unfortunately there is no extant known needlework from the Brainerd Mission School. However, a sampler in the MESDA collection worked by a Cherokee girl at the Valley Town Mission School in Western North Carolina has just such a border.

During the 1830s, as the Cherokee were expelled from Georgia, many found refuge at Brainerd. However, the broader expulsion of the Cherokee from the Southeast brought an end to the Brainerd Mission School. On August 19, 1838 the congregation met and received communion together for the last time.

Fifty years later, in May 1874, a correspondent for Scribner’s Monthly recorded that the site had fallen into ruin. “There stands,” he wrote, “a massive yet simple monument. Around it the envious brier has crept… A hundred rods away stands one of the old mission houses, now a decaying ruin.” Today a suburban strip mall has entirely obliterated the site of the Mission School; only the cemetery remains.

RELATED OBJECTS: The Wachovia Historical Society Collection has a pair of Cherokee-made baskets collected at the Spring Place mission in Georgia (MESDA Acc. 5136.1-2); The MESDA collection has a pair of needleworks made at the Valley Towns Mission School in Western North Carolina (MESDA Acc. 5402.1 and 5739.8)

The map was deaccessioned by the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund