Jotham Meeker – Indian Missionary

Jotham Meeker

Jotham Meeker.

Jotham Meeker was an Indian missionary in Kansas and other states.

Mekker was born in Xenia, Ohio, on November 8, 1804. His boyhood was spent on a farm, after which he learned the printer’s trade. He then joined Reverend Isaac McCoy in mission work among the Indians, beginning his career as a missionary among the Potawatomi at Carey, Indiana, in 1825. Two years later, he was sent to the Ottawa Mission at Thomas, Michigan. While there, he devised a system of applying the English alphabet to the phonetic spelling of Native American words, which greatly simplified the work of the mission teacher.

In 1833, at the suggestion of Isaac McCoy, he came to the Shawnee Baptist Mission in Johnson County, Kansas. He brought an old-fashioned hand printing press — the first ever brought to Kansas — to print books in the Indian language. The first one of these was known as the Delaware First Book. Copies of several of the books thus printed by Meeker are now in the possession of the Kansas State Historical Society.

In 1837, he established a mission near present-day Ottawa, Kansas, where he and his wife, Eleanor, ministered to the needs of the Ottawa tribe for 18 years. They endured floods, prairie fires, cholera, and malaria to serve the Indians for more than 20 years. Their daughter, Maria, was the first white child born in Kansas.

Meeker was an early advocate of printing native languages and developed an orthography that enabled standard types, printing over 60 publications in nearly a dozen languages, including the Shawnee Sun, with contributions by Blackfeather and John Tecumseh Jones of Ottawa.

Jotham died on January 12, 1855, and was buried in the Ottawa Cemetery, as was Eleanor, who died a year later.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated June 2024.

Also See:

Historic People in Kansas

Kansas History

Kansas Indians

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