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James EvansAfter James Evans was ordained in 1833 he served in various missions in Upper Canada, converting some of the local population and studying Aboriginal linguistics. By 1836 he devised an Ojibwa syllabary, a list of characters that functioned as an alphabet. Within a few years (and while forced by weather into a seven-month confinement at Fort Meshebegwadoong on the North Shore of Lake Superior), Evans had the opportunity to apply his knowledge of languages and cultures and develop Cree syllabics. 

On April 7, 1840 Evans was appointed to Norway House as the Wesleyan superintendent for the district. In time, tensions developed between Evans and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC)-major points of contention involved Evans opposition to labour on the Sabbath, his independent spirit, his concern for Aboriginal rights and the expenses he accrued. Within a few short years he was stationed at Rossville in order to minimize his involvement in company affairs.  

In 1844, while on a mission to the Athabasca region, Evans accidentally shot Thomas Hassal, his trusted interpreter and mission teacher. Evans' character changed following the tragic accident and reports surfaced that he had become unstable, further fuelling the growing tension between the missionary and the HBC. By June of that same year, the company restricted Evans to 200 pounds per year to cover all mission expenses.

Note from RundleOver the years, Evans had taken a number of local girls into his family and in 1846 the Aboriginal people of Rossville charged him with sexual misconduct.  In the resulting trial he was found not guilty but the trust between him and the community was broken and his colleagues Benjamin Sinclair and Henry Steinhauer were convinced of his guilt. Evans was removed to London, England in October where he was tried again. Once again he was reprimanded, but exonerated. In November he suffered a heart attack from which he died.  

Evan's trial has been the subject of recent studies, revealing a complex scene with many players in a community under stress. Raymond Morris Shirritt-Beaumont concludes: "We will never know with certainty what happened between him and the young women who resided in his home...each participant in the drama seems to have been responsible to some degree for the events that occurred...Certainly healing appeared uppermost in the minds of the local leaders of the church at Rossville in 1846 as they sought to help the young women get on with their lives. That approach resonates with the direction being taken in similar cases today."   

Citation Sources
Shirritt-Beaumont, Raymond Morris. "The Rossville Scandal, 1846: James Evans, the Cree, and a Mission on Trial." Masters Thesis, University of Manitoba, 2001.


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