Mary Ann Clark Longley was born November 10, 1813 to Thomas Longley and his wife Martha in Hawley Massachusetts.
She was the sixth of the Longley’s twelve children. Her family were descendants of the English Puritans and her parents raised their children in the true Faith of their ancestors. Mary Ann was well acquainted with the pages of Sacred Scripture; many lines and sentences easily flowed from her pen when she wrote, showing her great love and knowledge of the Bible.
In 1818 to 1830, during the ten week winter terms, Mary and her sister Lucretia attended Mary Lyon’s Female Seminary in Buckland. In the summer of 1829 Mary worked as a teacher in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She then moved, in 1832 to continue her own studies in Amherst Massachusetts at the Amherst Female Seminary. She began writing her brother Alfred during these years. She expressed to him many of her personal feelings towards friends and acquaintances. She also expressed her desire that all the friends she knew, would be worthy of their pilgrim fathers and purpose to live an honorable and upright life in service to God.
Mary had a profound desire to serve the Lord, it flowed from deep within her heart. She expressed many perplexities to her brother and always concluded with the fact that she wanted to do what was the most pleasing to the Lord and most useful to His cause. She desired to be a teacher in hopes of serving the Lord through this role. This desire the Lord soon granted her and she left for Indiana to teach in 1835. She had not a little difficultly in finding a suitable escort to accompany her to Indiana. Finally they found Rev. Dyer Burgess of West Union, Ohio. He had been visiting New York on business and was very willing to escort Miss Longley to her destination.
It was through Mr. Burgess she was first introduced to Stephen Riggs. He was a young, well educated man from Ohio. Mr. Riggs had a vision to take the Gospel to the heathen. He was studying to become a licensed preacher of the Gospel. Mary considered herself a very unromantic type of person. She was quite practical, a quality that would be for her benefit in the work in which she would later give her life. There were a number of small difficulties while she was getting to know Stephen Riggs. It was mutually understood by both of them that they were getting to know each other in order to see if they were well fitted for marriage. Mary expressed to her brother that she thought Mr. Riggs was not as open-hearted as she hoped, also that she did not think she really had the proper affection for him that she should.
These matters where soon worked out and over come and the two where married in 1837 . Mr. Riggs was also now licensed to preach the gospel after graduating from the Chillicothe Presbytery. It was but a short time after the couple’s marriage that they left for Minnesota. It had been decided that they would take the gospel to the Dakota Indians at the Lac Qui Parl Mission station. Living among the Dakota was no easy task for Mrs. Riggs; she learned to live without many things to which she was accustomed. She truly hoped that through her and Mr. Riggs’ efforts the Dakota might be won to Christianity. Her life was full and abundant; she spent her time learning the Dakota language, doing all the necessary needle work for her family, laundry and mending, raising and caring for their little baby Alfred, as well as teaching school to the Dakota children and a few adults. She spent much of her time tutoring as many Dakota women as were willing to learn. She taught them sewing, spinning, and other needle arts, as well as academic subjects.
The greatest hope of the Riggs’ was that they could soon overcome the language barrier between them and the Dakota; the sooner they could speak the language of the people, the sooner they could share the Gospel with them. In 1842 the Riggs family – with the exception of baby Isabella (the latest arrival), who was in Minnesota with another family at the Mission – journeyed to Hawley, Massachusetts. They were able to briefly visit the Longley Family. While visiting home, Mary’s brother Thomas consented to join the Riggs’ at the Mission in Minnesota. On the return trip, the little party stopped in Ohio to see to the printing of the New Testament in Dakota. Upon returning to Minnesota the Riggs family decided to start a new mission station farther into the plains of Minnesota. They made their new home at the Traverse des Sioux. The trip to their new home was a rather fearful one for Mrs. Riggs. Accompanied only by another female friend and a Christian Dakota named Simon, the party of travelers came across a war party of Ojjibeway’s returning from killing several Dakotas. The Ojjibeway’s did not disturb them but continued on for they were being pursued by a small band of Dakota. Not long after this, the Dakota band caught up with the Missionaries. They at once became very angry, beginning to blame the travelers for not stopping the Ojjibeway’s when they went past.
In their rage they shot one of the horses of the wagon team, forcing the Missionaries to continue the rest of the way on foot. Once at Traverse des Sioux, Mrs. Riggs had to assist Mr. Riggs in building the family cabin, after the sad death of her brother Thomas. The couple were greatly cast down at the death of their young companion but trusting in God’s providence, they continued on with their work among the Dakota. Mrs. Riggs continued to teach school to the Dakota, as well as teaching the women sewing, knitting and other needle arts. In 1846 the family moved back to the Lac Qui Parle Mission; this time with a larger family, two little girls: Martha (born 1842) and Anna (born 1845). They lived with Mr. Rigg’s cousin, Moses Adams and his family. The year 1854 brought another change in the Riggs family; a move to Hazelwood. Here they joined another missionary family, Dr. Williamson and his wife. Together Mr. Riggs and Dr. Williamson helped the Indians found the Hazelwood republic; a large number of Christian Dakota began their own self-government modeled after the United States. During much of this time Mrs. Riggs was very ill, yet continued to help her husband in his work as much as possible. In 1862 the Dakota Uprising broke out. A larger part of the Dakota Nation rose up against the settlers killing them in masses.
The Riggs and many of the other missionaries were saved by the Christian Dakota, who helped them flee to safety. The Riggs lived in a tent for a month until Mr. Riggs found a house at St. Anthony. Here they lived for some time, Mrs. Riggs was often alone with the children (many of whom were now grown and going east to college). Mary was very sickly during this time, but continued on in the strength of the Lord. It was during this time that her husband was gone that the missionaries saw the most fruit from their labors.
God used the heart-breaking events of the massacre to turn the hearts of the Indians to Jesus Christ. Mary Ann finally went to be with the Lord in 1869. Finally at rest in Christ, she left a long legacy for her family. All of her children who lived to maturity became missionaries – some of them in foreign lands and some of them continued on their father’s work among the Dakota Indians. God greatly used Mrs. Rigg’s influence to turn many hearts to Christ and in the process, radically changed the Dakota culture.