Many years ago my mother-in-law gave a family bible to my husband. This is what she wrote about the bible:
This testament is being passed along to you. It was given to me by your Grandmother O’Dell and given to her by her maternal grandmother Margaret McDonald who was born in Batavia, New York in 1807 and married Abija Schoville. When she was in her 20s they moved to Lynn Township, St. Clair Co., Michigan. Indians were the most predominate resident in this yet uncleared land. Margaret McDonald Schoville was given this book by John Riley, an old Indian. This book was an old one then and she kept it in her bedroom and read it until her death in 1890 at the age of 83. In 1976 the book would have been in the family approximately 144 years.
|Margaret McDonald Scoville and family. On Margaret's right side is her daughter Harriet Scovill Nelson,|
who is holding her daughter Grace Nelson. Grace married John O'Dell; their child Laura was my mother-in-law.
|The John Riley New Testament has a leather cover, and is held together with string lacing.|
It shows great wear. It may date to the early 1800s.
A Brief History of the Riley Brothers
John and his brothers James and Peter were the Metis sons of an Ojibwa 'Indian Princess" and James Van Slyck Ryley of New York State. Ryley worked as a U.S. Indian Commissioner and interpreter. He was born around 1761 and served in the Revolutionary War. He also had a wife and children in Schenectady. "Judge Riley" served on the court of common pleas, as sheriff and as postmaster back in Schenectady. He appears as an elder in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1818.
Ryley was with Territorial Governor Lewis Cass at the Treaty of Saginaw and his signature appears on the treaty. He used his power to obtain tracts of land for his three Metis sons.
The Riley brothers were described as passing seamlessly between 'white' and 'Indian' society, being well-spoken and intelligent. They sided with the Americans, fighting with General Lewis Cass, in the war of 1812. The 1810 Michigan Census shows John Reilly as an interpreter in the Saginaw, Michigan area.
The treaty reads:
ARTICLE 3. There shall be reserved for the use of each of the person hereinafter mentioned and their heirs, which persons are all Indians by descent, the following tracts of land:
For the use of John Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and forty acres of land, beginning at the head of the first march above the mouth of the Saginaw river, on the east side thereof.
For the use of Peter Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and forty acres of land, beginning above and adjoining the apple-trees on the west side of the Saginaw river, and running up the same for quantity.
For the use of James Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and forty acres, beginning on the east side of the Saginaw river, nearly opposite to Campau’s trading house, and running up the river for quantity.
For oral histories on the Treaty of Saginaw go to
Articles can be found at
Another signature on the treaty is that of Louis Campau, nephew to Joseph Campau who was an early landowner and trader in Detroit. Louis later was an early landowner in Grand Rapids, MI and employed James Riley until James died in 1829. James had been Lewis Cass's interpreter during his 1820 expedition to find the source of the Mississippi River. Read more at
In 1835 John Riley owned land and a general store in what is today downtown Port Huron, MI where the Black River enters Lake Huron.
From "A History of St. Clair County" by A.T. Andreas:
The site of Port Huron was then owned by John Riley, the half-breed...He was not only proprietor of the place, but the chief of a band of Indians, most of them, at that date, residing on the opposite shore of the St. Clair [river]. He had been educated at the Presbyterian Mission at Mackinaw, and read and spoke good English. He was a gentlemanly appearing man, mild in his address...He dressed after the fashion of the whites, but his wife, a full-blooded Indian, though neat and tidy in appearance, dressed in true Indian style."
From "The Early History of St. Clair County":
One of the leading spirits among the Indians was an Ojibwa chief who resided on the south side of Black River,
An oral history told that the Riley clan camped around John's cabin. Other stories tell how he was with Black Duck and became incensed when Black Duck bragged about the American scalps he had taken during the war, and John shot him dead. Luckily Lewis Cass intervened and instead of Black Duck's clan taking John's life they settled for a lot of whiskey and some trade goods. John was also reported as to have killed a Harsen's Island settler while drunk. Another history by an early Methodist pastor says that the Riley clan was hospitable and taught him to hunt and fish. There is evidence that John was disbanded from his chiefdom and returned to "white" society for the rest of his life. There is another story about the Riley boys riding with Cass to retrieve a "white" boy who was captured by "Indians" during the War of 1812. The boy was outside of the city limits of Detroit looking for a lost cow when he was taken.
Riley Township was organized in 1841 and named for John Riley, "a mixed-race Chippewa whose father had bought land in the area in 1836 and gave John a lease on the land for six cents a year."
RILEY This township-town 6 north, range 14 east-was detached from the township of Clyde and organized by act of March 6, 1838. It was named for John Riley, the half-breed Chippewa Indian who lived for several years on the reservation at Port Huron, and was in the habit of going regularly to the woods in what is now Riley township for making maple sugar and for hunting. In October, 1836, the same year the Indian Reservation at Port Huron, upon which John Riley lived, was bought by the United States. Riley's father bought the southwest quarter of section 27 in this township and a few days later gave to John a life lease of it at the rental of 6 cents yearly. It is said that John opened a store but extended too much credit to his white friends with the result that he lost his goods, and money, and first mortgage and then sold his property. Belle river runs southeasterly through the township, and the incorporated village of Memphis lies partly in section 35 and partly in the adjoining township of Richmond, in Macomb county.
One history reports that in 1851 John Riley was Chief in Munceytown on the Thames River in Ontario, and the Rev. Peter Jones was the Methodist missionary. The Rev. Jones had been converted by "The Father of American Methodism," the Rev. William Case, in 1823 at a camp meeting. The Rev. Jones was an Ojibwa of the Mississauga clan from Brant, Canada. He became an import missionary to the Native Americans, translating hymns and the Bible, and traveled to Europe and met Queen Victoria. He was also a political activist who helped his people obtain clear title to their lands.
There is some evidence that John Riley died in 1858 in Saginaw Co., Michigan. This based on Michigan 1812 Pension paper showing an $8 payout to John Riley who died December 11, 1858. But an oral history has a man saying he performed John Riley's funeral in 1842!
History of Margaret McDonald Scoville/Scovil/Scovile/Scoville
(Incidentally, in 1840 a Jeremiah Scoville appears as a landowner of Section 33 in Fort Gratiot, St. Clair County. He also appears in the 1834 Michigan census and later appears as a Port Huron tavern keeper. I have no evidence of his being a relation to Margaret.)
And Where Did the Twain Met?
As far as when John Riley and Margaret McDonald Scoville met, I cannot find evidence of Abijah and Margaret Scoville in Michigan before the 1850 census, nor do I know where John Riley lived after 1836.
When Michigan became a state, land previously awarded to or owned by Native Americans was 'bought back' -- and the Native Americans were removed to reservations in north-western Michigan.
There are different stories about what happened to John Riley at this time. The county and state histories published in the late 1800s are mostly based on oral histories. John may have returned to his people on the Thames River in Ontario. He may have died in 1842 or 1851. He may have had his "chief" status removed and returned to live with Americans. Another source says he is buried in Sarnia, Ontario.
A website by Native Americans states that John Riley was a Methodist and there is evidence that he had Methodist friends.
As of August 2019, the John Riley New Testament is in the hands of the Port Huron Museums on a permanent loan. Gary and I meet with the museum director Victoria and manager of community engagement Andrew Kercher and members of the Blue Water Indigenous Alliance. Andrew confirmed that the book was published by the American Bible Society shortly after its inception, perhaps around 1820.
The book will be on display at the museum and eventually become part of the display for an Indigenous history museum in the future.