September 29, 1834: Reverend Edmud F. Ely establishes a missionary school at Fond du Lac

On this day in 1834 in what would become Duluth, Reverend Edmund F. Ely opened a missionary school adjacent to the American Fur Company Post; it was the first school at Fond du Lac and, by default, the first school in what is now Duluth. Ely was born in Wilbraham, Mass., on August 3, 1809. When he was 24 he left divinity school in New York to become a missionary, and arrived at the Head of the Lakes in 1833. He established the missionary school for native Ojibwe at Fond du Lac and ministered to Ojibwe at Sandy Lake, Leech Lake, Lake Pokegama, and as far south as where Pine City now stands—although his journals expressed his frustration at trying to convert them to Christianity. It was said that “By canoe and snow shoes he traveled for hundreds of miles, pursuing his duties as missionary and teacher.” The fur post was abandoned in 1849, the same yearn the Ely’s left Fond du Lac for St. Paul. They were back at the Head of the Lakes in 1854, after the treaty of LaPointe opened the Minnesota side of Lake Superior to European settlement. They first moved to Superior and in 1856 established Oneota with the Merritt and Wheeler families.

Reverend Edmund F. Ely. (Image: Duluth Public Library)