Facial Hair Friday: Utopia above the Lower 48

Sir Henry S. Wellcome and William Duncan in front of Duncan's residence, Metlakahtla, Alaska. Probably during Wellcome's 1916-17 visit to Metlakahtla. (ARC 297900)

Sir Henry S. Wellcome and William Duncan in front of Duncan's residence, Metlakahtla, Alaska. Probably during Wellcome's 1916-17 visit to Metlakahtla. (ARC 297900)

These might look like two gentlemen out for a stroll in the early twentieth century, but the well-bearded gentlemen on the right is William Duncan, founder of  Metlakahtla, a Utopian community. The man on the left with the mustache is Sir Henry S. Wellcome, who founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Company, which later became part of GlaxoSmithKline.

Why would you form a Utopian community of Anglicans from the native peoples in Alaska? And why would a pharmaceutical businessman have any interest in it?

Duncan was born in Yorkshire, England, but after joining a missionary society, he was sent to Canada. He actually started a community in British Columbia, but after a dispute with Anglican Church authorities in Canada, he persuaded the U.S. Government to allow his group of 800 native Tsimshians  to settle on Annette Island. Duncan lived in Metlakahtla until his death in 1918. (Metlakahtla today has Alaska’s only Indian reservation and 1,400 residents.)

The little town had a church, a sawmill, a brass band and a baseball team. The National Archives has many images of life in of Metlakahtla in the National Archives at Anchorage, Alaska.

Wellcome’s experience with Native Americans was very different from Duncan’s. He was born in Wisconsin to a deeply religious family, and later moved with his family to Garden City, Minnesota. Wellcome witnessed an attack on Garden City by the Sioux, who were defeated and hanged. The treatment of the Sioux affected Wellcome, and later developed into an interest in the treatment of Native Americans, which in turn led to his interest in Metlakahtla. He visited the settlement and also wrote a book, The Story of Metlakahtla.

In 1961, the Wellcome papers were donated to the National Archives  by the Wellcome Trust of London, England. (It should be noted that Wellcome was an avid collector of many things, enough to fill his own museum!) The collection was first housed at the National Archives in Seattle and then moved to Anchorage.

The collection of 105 cubic feet contains originals or copies of letters  and documents, “obtained or reproduced from the records of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Education, the Alaska Board of Education, and the Alaska Territorial Governor’s Office; papers of Father Duncan and others; letters from persons with whom Sir Henry had dealings; and records of the Metlakahtla Indians and to Father Duncan. ” There are also many images, both postcards and pitcures, of life in Metlakahtla. Many of these can be viewed online.

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