Negotiating Sovereignty: Resistance and Meaning Making at the Bear Mountain Mission in Early-Twentieth Century Virginia  

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Virginia Tech


In 1907, the Episcopal Church established a mission in the heart of the Native Monacan community on Bear Mountain in Amherst County, Virginia. The Bear Mountain Mission operated a church, day-school, and clothing bureau until 1965, when the day-school closed after the integration of Amherst County Public Schools. This thesis investigates how Native Monacan congregants negotiated sovereignty, enacted resistance against the assimilating efforts of the Episcopal Church, and maintained group identity and safety at the Mission during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Monacan congregants utilized the inherently colonial nature of the Mission's structure in ways that allowed them access to influential white Protestant networks, as well as validation by the mission workers who lived in and around the Bear Mountain community. I argue that Monacan people used strategies such as the refashioning of Mission teachings, anonymous and signed letter-writing to the Bishop, and communal protests to ensure that the Mission remained a safe space that worked for their Native community during a time of immense racial animosity.
Using the personal correspondence between women mission workers, church leadership, and Monacan congregants, I examine the inner workings of the Bear Mountain Mission, and the beliefs and actions of mission workers and Monacan people alike. This thesis challenges the history of Bear Mountain Mission, and Native missions within the United States more broadly, to consider the unique and numerous ways that Native peoples enacted resistance strategies in order to ensure that Protestant Missions worked in ways that benefited their communities.



Monacans, Episcopal Church, Missions, 20th Century, Native Americans, Virginia