When Rev. Joseph Bullen was first sent to this section in 1799 by the American Missionary Society, armed with a letter of introduction and authority from the Secretary of State he found the Indians hospitable and kind, though wholly without knowledge of Christianity - few scattered white settlers knew very little more than did the Indians.
The following entries from Bullen's diary show something of the religious status of the nation at the time and the response that he received.
"June 28 - Went to M'Gee (the interpreter). Was kindly received and hospitably entertained. Delivered him a letter from the Secretary of State. Found him kindly disposed, but a stranger to everything of religion. So I read and explained to him several things in the Bible. He gave me attention, and promised me every aid in his power in making known the good things, but added that his ignorance of the gospel was such that at present he could not interpret it. He could not read, and had never heard a sermon. M'Gee's wife and slaves, who all understand English, are fond of hearing, so that the time is agreeably, and I hope usefully spent."
"June 27 - - This day came to Mr. McIntosh's (1) who talked in a discouraging manner and deems it weakness in any man to think of making Christians of Indians. I told him that I was of the same opinion, but believed that God is able to make them good Christians, and that we wish for the honour of being workers together for God. On being further acquainted with this man we found him an honest agreeable man and useful as he talks good Indian, in helping me to hold good talks to the Indians who continually frequent this place and wish to know the beloved speech.
"June 3rd - Preached the first sermon in the Chickasaw nation. Read and explained the first chapter of Genesis. These people attended with the utmost seriousness and solemnity. They expressed great joy that they had an opportunity to worship God and hear of things concerning Jesus Christ. After sermon there came to me an old man who fifty years ago had heard preaching. He told me it was the most delightful season of worship he had ever experienced. To me it was indeed a happy day."
June 6th - In conversation with some Indians who had sundry scruples to solve, two of which were as follows: On being informed that the great Father above maketh all things, knoweth all things, governeth all things - - the Indians say, "Great Father make all things? How come he make rattlesnake, make thunder and lightning?" The other I shall mention is: On hearing one of us teach them the ten commandments, that clause in the second, 'visiting the iniquities of the father upon the children' raised a scruple how it could be just to punish children for wrong done by their fathers. I considered I had cause to bless God for the attention among them, which would induce such inquiries and was enabled to give such solutions as appeared fully satisfactory to them. They were seriously attentive."
"June 22 - When appearances are discouraging one day, they are encouraging the next. It is so now. Have become acquainted with James Colbert, a native of this country, who has been baptized, reads and writes, is a man of property; one quarter Indian; is a sober man; knows something of religion and wishes his nation to know and observe the same; believes his soul is immortal; hopes to explain the beloved speech and my talks to the nation. Had also good talks today with M'Gee and others.
"June 23 - Preached at James Colbert's; read the XI Psalm; laboured to show the folly and sin of forgetting God, and to persuade my hearers to realize his presence. They were seriously attentive. Was mightily encouraged. This was a happy day. After the service, one James Gunn, a white man, came to me and said, "I am glad. It is good to be in the presence of the Lord. I pray that I and my house may serve the Lord".
"June 24 - Being requested, I preached again. I now love to be here. James and Susannah Colbert consent to the marriage covenant and are declared husband and wife. Charles , their only child, and Peggy Allen, daughter of Colbert's sister, were baptized; also Mary, Hannah, James and Margaret, children of James and Jane M'Kim. An aged Negro woman, property of William Colbert, has come 30 miles to hear a sermon and said,' Me live long in heathen land; am glad to hear the blessed gospel'. White, black, and red worshipped together."
"August 18 - Preached on the second coming of Christ. The most serious attention I have ever seen in this nation was visible, both in the service and after it was concluded." (2)
When the news that Rev. Bullen was leaving became known, respectful homage was paid him by the highest in authority, as is shown by these entries in his journal:
"August 29 - George Colbert, a Chickasaw Chief, called in decent dress. He informed me how he and his brother Levi had laboured to further the pious and benevolent designs of the society; that he, Levi, and a number of others wish to learn good things - no get drunk but work, make corn, cotton, cattle, hogs, etc."
"Wolf's Friend called and says head men and warriors all wish us to come back by April next. He appointed two chiefs men to accompany us as far as Knoxville, and wishes we might be in the holy keeping of the Great Father above." (3)
(1) Sent out by the British government in 1750 to further incite the Chickasaws in hatred of the French
(2) Bullen's Journal, 1799
(3) Bullen's Journal, Aug. 18, 1799