"... It is true we have trials such as were wholly unexpected and some which we see but little prospect of being removed; were these merely personal and did not feel that they would probably in a great measure prevent our usefulness here... We do not shrink from toil, hardships, or privation... We have labored hard and almost incessantly and I hope we shall be willing to wear out in this delightful and important service." —Excerpt from a letter by Lucia B. Van Tassel, February 28, 1823
Lucia Badger was born in Blandford, Massachusetts on January 19, 1794. Her father, Reverend Joseph Badger, was a preacher and in 1800 was appointed by the Connecticut Missionary Society to New Connecticut (now Western Reserve) in the Ohio Territory. Lucia as a young girl grew up near present day Ashtabula County, Ohio. Her father worked as a missionary among the Native Americans pursuing, as Thomas Jefferson preached, the idea of urging natives to adopt the lifestyle of "yeoman-farmer." The missionaries were to "collect all the native children [they] could into the school and teach them English."
Along with English, the boys were taught to work a farm while the girls were trained in the domestic chores. With this came a strong diligence on education in the Bible and Christian morality, all fitting in well with Jefferson's vision. Lucia must have been familiar with the Natives and was used to being with them while growing up.
Lucia married Reverend Isaac Van Tassel on September 17, 1822 and later that year, she, her husband, and several others arrived at Maumee to open the first mission school in the Maumee River Valley. Lucia recounted later: "We landed at Maumee, October 27, 1822. Mr. Van Tassel repaired immediately to the site of the mission house; found the body of a hewn log cabin erected, 16 x 60, and went to work to prepare it for the reception of the family, consisting then of 13 members and some hired help... Our school commenced the winter following, with about a half dozen scholars and increase time after time till we numbered 50; but they probably would not average over 30, as they were very unsteady in their attendance. Mrs. Sackets commenced the school and taught a few weeks, it was subsequently taught by different members of the family. I taught one year; the remainder of my time was devoted, when not confined by sickness, to domestic avocations, and the study of the Indian language in which I had made considerable proficiency."
The work at the mission school was hard and the ague (malaria) was rampant. Lucia's husband spent a good deal of time away from the mission, traveling among the various tribes, trying to encourage more students to attend.
Lucia became the center and stronghold of the little school, taking care of not only students but also the teachers who shared her home. She also developed and affinity for the Native people not shown by all missionaries. She writes: "It would have been far more agreeable to my wished to spend my time in studying the language and instructing adult native females, than otherwise."
Because Lucia spent time studying the Native language she was often able to communicate directly with the tribes without an interpreter. She worked on a written vocabulary of the languages she learned.
This mission school struggled and finally closed in 1834 due in part to the lack of financial support, illness of many of the leaders and, of course, the impending removal of the Natives west by the government. Lucia's story in Northwest Ohio doesn't end here.
Following the death of her husband in 1849, Lucia returned to New York State and studied medicine. After qualifying to practice medicine, she returned to the Maumee Valley in Wood County (Ohio), and began a long and successful medical practice. Her niece, Louise Atkinson, remembered Lucia fondly: "Love for her fellow creatures was the most marked trait of her character. She was small of stature and possessed of remarkable physical endurance, once crossing the Mississippi River in a rowboat to see a patient. However vexatious and trying the occasion, she always preserved a quiet unruffled demeanor."
Lucia died in 1874 in Maumee and was buried in the Perrysburg Cemetery.
Regardless of our 21st century views on these missionaries and their actions, they all believed they had the best intentions of the heart. Many became allies with the Natives and even tried to help prevent their inevitable removal. They saw their primary mission as imparting Christianity and the "hopeful conversion" of even one soul was seen as a victory. As Lucia Van Tassel noted in her reminiscences: "It has been said that the Maumee Mission was a failure: If the hopeful conversion of about thirty souls, and the triumphant deaths of at least nine of these, who were known to the missionaries to have died trusting in the Saviour, besides much seed sown, the result of which can only be known in the light of eternity was not worth the few thousands expended there, then might the mission be called a failure."