Seghers was born on December 26 1839 in Ghent, Belgium. Left an orphan at a very early date, he was brought up by his uncles. After having studied in local institutions and in the American Seminary at Louvain, he was ordained priest on 31 May, 1863. He then left for Vancouver Island, where he was engaged missionary work among the pioneer whites and the natives. After several years of hard work establishing missions in the Northwest, the Pope appointed him Archbishop of areas in the Northwest including Alaska.
When Bishop Seghers arrived at Dyea in 1886 he was slapped in the face by the Klanot chief of the Chilkoot tribe. Undeterred, he decided to climb the Chilkoot Pass with four other men, Father Pascal Tosi, Father Aloysius Louis Robaut, the cook Antoine Provost, and a man named Frank Fuller.
When the men reached the confluence of the Yukon River and the Stewart River, Seghers decided the other two priests should spend the winter there, while he and Fuller would press on to Nulato. Father Tosi expressed concerns about this proposal, noting that Fuller had displayed signs of emotional instability. Seghers acknowledged the concern, and how the lateness of the season would likely impact his work. He gave as his reasons for going ahead anyway as his wish to fulfill a promise made to the people of Nulato to return eight years earlier. As they continued down the river, Seghers came to realize that, as traveling conditions and the boat deteriorated, Fuller’s mind did as well. On October 16, he wrote in his diary:
“Peculiar conversation with (Fuller) in which, for the third time, he gives evidence of insanity.”
On November 27, Seghers and Fuller, with two native guides they had acquired at Nuklukayet, decided to spend the night at the fish camp at what is today known as “Bishop’s Rock”. Seghers was in high spirits, laughing frequently, thinking that he would finally reach Nulato the following day. Fuller, however, remained sullen, looking suspiciously at his companions and remaining agitated throughout the night.
Between six and seven the next morning, the party arose and prepared for the final leg of their journey. As Seghers bent over to pick up his mittens, Fuller fired a single shot which killed Seghers instantly. Seghers died on this day November 28, 1886 at the age of 47.
Fuller was then arrested, taken to Sitka for trial and sent to prison for eight and a half years. When let out, in Portland, Oregon, he got into a violent quarrel with a neighbor and was himself murdered.
The remains of the bishop were ultimately transferred to Victoria and he is remembered as “the founder of the Alaska missions.”
-from AK Tribunal Papers, 1904; newadvent.org ; Gates, 1994; “Mgr Seghers,l’apotre de l’Alaska” by Maurice de Baets;
2 Replies to “Bishop Charles John Seghers”
is there a way to find out who the two native guides were? I have a possible family connection. our family verbal history claims my relative to be one of the guides. Did the guides have to go to Sitka as witness?
Hi Tink, Perhaps you could contact the Alaska Historical Society, they may have some records. I found quite a bit of church records in the Yukon Archives, and had to get permission to view them. There may be similar church records for that area in Anchorage. Good luck in your research, let us know what you find out.