John H. Pitezel was born on April 18, 1814 in Laceham (Fredericks County, Maryland), one of eight children born to Henry (May 18, 1784-May 15, 1828) and Mary Wilson (Briggs) Pitezel (December 28, 1787- ). John’s parents were married on December 12, 1809. They later converted to Methodism. John converted to Methodism at a camp meeting near Delaware, Maryland, in August 1824.
1828 was a bad year for Mary Pitezel. Her husband, Henry Pitezel, died of cholera on May 15, 1828. After his death she was informed of her sister’s, Mrs. Priscilla Biggs Plane’s, death on May 10th. In 1829, Mary Pitezel and her six children who had survived infancy moved to Tiffin (Seneca County, Ohio). There, Mary married her brother-in-law, Jacob Plane (January 23, 1785-August 28, 1834) on October 22, 1829. Her youngest son and two daughters stayed with her, as well as her sister’s three young children.
John Pitezel spent the next five years learning how to be a saddler in Tiffin, where he often heard Methodist preachers. On April 21, 1834, he received his first license to preach in the Tiffin Methodist Circuit. Later in 1834, Pitezel entered the Norwalk Seminary. He studied at Norwalk, 1834-1836, and taught school during the winter months. He received a license to teach on January 17, 1835. His brothers Joshua Hanson Pitezel and (Benjamin) Wilson Pitezel lived and studied with him during at least part of this time.
Pitezel served in the Lower Sandusky Circuit in 1835. He was admitted to the Michigan Annual Conference in 1836 and traveled the Tecumseh Circuit with Rev. Wm. M. Sullivan. He also worked in Adrian and Marshall, Michigan.
In August 1836, Pitezel was appointed to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at the personal request of Superintendent William Brockway of the Indian Missions of the Upper Peninsula. On September 4, 1836 he moved to Sault Ste. Marie with his family. Pitezel served there for nine years. From his diaries of those years he later published his book, Lights and shadows of missionary life: containing travels, sketches, incidents and missionary efforts, during nine years spent in the regions of Lake Superior (1859). In his journals, Pitezel noted how his family and other missionaries suffered loneliness, temptations, and difficulty with slow and ignorant inhabitants, both whites and Native Americans.
Pitezel often traveled great distances under trying circumstances. He traveled up to 100 miles round trip by snowshoe in freezing rain and snow.
In his spare time, he also read many books, wrote in his journals, wrote many letters, taught himself Greek and revived his knowledge of Latin to read the scriptures in Latin and the original Greek.
In 1844, Pitezel was transferred to Kewawenon, near current day L’Anse, Michigan. His family was forced to leave most of their possessions behind, and travel to Kewawenon in a large canoe loaded with food. The trip took them twelve days. They lived in Kewawenon for three years. Pitezel was modestly successful there with Indian revivals. He also traveled to visit Indians in LaPointe, Grand Island and Sandy Lake. Some trips Pitezel made to government pay points to try and prevent Indians from spending all their money on whiskey. During his tenure at Kewawenon he made five trips. Three of his trips were during the winter and made with snowshoes of his circuit, an average round trip of 200 miles. One of his trips was in snowshoes to Grand Island, a 240 mile round trip.
The new industries of cooper and iron mining brought changes to the area. In 1845 Pitezel made a four day trip to Eagle Harbor and sold a surplus of potatoes for $45 in gold. The money was badly needed by his family to buy winter supplies. He also met Michigan’s first State Geologist, Douglass Houghton, on October 10, 1845.
In 1846 Pitezel was given the additional duties to preach to serve as a “roving Commission” to establish religious worship among miners. He traveled up and down the Keweenaw Peninsula and was successful in establishing a church of 30 men who signed a total abstinence pledge at Cliff Mine.
Pitezel was next appointed to Eagle River Mission, another mining community. . Eagle River Mission was considered to be a tough assignment with little promise of success as most of the miners were either Catholic or agnostic. Due to lack of finances, the Pitezels were only able to travel through a loan of eight dollars from a friend. With his family he crossed Portage on November 16, 1846. The mining company provided them with a cabin and stove, and allowed them to charge provisions at the company store. Pitezel first preached there on November 27, 1846. The constant noise of the continuous mining operation was difficult for the Pitezels to bear. In spite of obstacles, Pitezel organized a class of twelve men. He also worked in the Ontonagon region where he had limited success.
In 1848, the Michigan Annual Conference appointed Pitezel Superintendent or Presiding Elder of the entire Indian Mission District. This meant more travel time, if that was possible. Since his wife had just delivered a new baby boy when Pitezel heard of his appointment, the family waited to travel by steamer to the Soo. Pitezel supervised all Indian and mining missions and served as pastor at the Soo from 1848 through 1852. He had a very low opinion of the whites in the Soo area.
From 1858 to 1862 Pitezel worked in Albion, Michigan.
Pitezel was married twice. His first wife was Eliza Holdstock (July 8, 1820- ), the fourth of nine children born to James P. and Margaret Medist Holdstock of Indiana. Pitezel and Eliza were married in Bear Creek, Michigan, in late August or early September 1838. Eliza presumably died within a year or two of their marriage. By 1840 he married Abbey (surname unknown, dates unknown). Pitezel had several children: a premature infant who apparently died in early September 1839; a daughter born around June 10, 1840; a child born in 1841; and a son, Henry Eugene Pitezel, born on October 9, 1848.
Rev. John Henry Pitezel died in 1906. (This information is from the collection and The Methodist Church in Michigan: the 19th century by Margaret Burnham Macmillan.)
The Clarke also has several books by Pitezel including: Historical recollections: a paper (copyright 1872); History of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Norwalk, Ohio: and the Norwalk seminary (1888); Life of Rev. Peter Marksman: an Ojibwa missionary illustrating the triumphs of the gospel among the Ojibwa Indians (1901?); Lights and shades of missionary life: containing travels, sketches, incidents, and missionary efforts, during nine years spent in the region of lake Superior (1859); and Stray leaves from the budget of an intinerant (copyright 1861). A number of these books were written either partially or completely from his manuscripts in this collection.