Isaac McCoy

Isaac McCoy (1784-1846), American Indian agent and missionary, worked with several tribes in the Midwest, urging them to move to reservations. He advocated a separate state solely for Indians.

Born near Uniontown, Pa., on June 13, 1784, Isaac McCoy moved with his family to Kentucky in 1790. There his father pastored a church, and young McCoy experienced a religious conversion at the age of 17. Two years later he married Christiana Polke, who eventually would bear 13 children.

In 1804 McCoy moved to Indiana, where he settled in Clark County as the minister at Maria Creek Baptist Church. In 1817 he was appointed missionary to the Miami and Kickapoo Indians in the Wabash Valley, and later he served in the same capacity among the Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians in Michigan.

In 1828 McCoy was appointed a member of the Federal commission assigned to move the Ottawa and Miami Indians westward as part of a government policy to remove all Indians to the Great Plains region. He became an ardent supporter of this policy, for he believed that thereby the Indians would be removed from the evil influences of frontiersmen. He began advocating a separate Indian state in the West. On a trip to Washington, D.C., he persuaded Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to endorse his idea and then went to survey a capital city for his proposed state (near the Ottawa mission in Kansas).

In 1830 McCoy was appointed an agent to assist the Indians in their westward movement and surveyor to draw the boundaries of their new reservations. His next few years were spent thus. In fact, with the help of his two sons, he surveyed most Indian reservations in Nebraska and Kansas and the Cherokee Outlet in Oklahoma.

To promote his concept of a state in the West entirely for Indians, McCoy wrote extensively, publishing one book on the subject in 1827 and authoring many pamphlets. However, his dream never became reality, for technological advances and changes in pioneering techniques brought so many white settlers to the trans-Mississippi country that the Indians were eventually confined to smaller and smaller reservations.

In 1842 McCoy moved to Louisville, Ky., to become first corresponding secretary and general agent for the American Indian Mission Association. He died there on June 21, 1846. McCoy had only the best intentions—to Christianize the Indians and to remove them westward to escape the influence of the whites—but in the process he helped deprive the natives of much of their original lands.

Further Reading on Isaac McCoy

Helpful in understanding McCoy are his own Remarks on the Practicability of Indian Reform (1827) and History of Baptist Indian Missions. The only biography is W. N. Wyeth, Isaac McCoy (1895). Also helpful are general histories of Kansas and Oklahoma.

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