History of the Pacific Northwest
Oregon and Washington 1889
Volume I
Page 186 - 192

Copyright 2000 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
 This page is part of the  Union County, OR AGHP

(1834 - 1844.)

The Oregon Methodist Mission - Visit of Flathead Indians to St. Louis, Asking Missionaries - Formation of Oregon Methodist-Episcopal Mission - Rev. Jason Lee and Associates Journey to Oregon, 1834 - Establishment of Mission in Willamette Valley - Schools Established at Willamette and Fort Vancouver - Missionary Efforts to Christianize Indians - Arrival of Dr. Elijah White, Rev. David Leslie and Others - Status of the Mission - It Abandons the Indian Work - The Oregon Institute Founded - Prominent in Every Popular Enterprise - Rev. Jason Lee Succeeded by Rev. George Gary - Character of the Mission Changed - Effects of Presence of Methodist Mission in Oregon.

IN THE fall of 1832, four Flat head Indians accompanied a returning party of Rocky Mountain trappers to St. Louis. Two of the number had died in that city; and the two survivors started upon their return, but never reached their people. These Indians had communicated to General william Clark, then residing at St. Louis, that they had been sent East by the chief men of their tribe to solicit that the "word of God" might be taught to their people. The publication that such an appeal had been made, the wearisome journey to carry the petition, the tragic fate of the messengers from the knowledge-craving tribe, invoked the zealous interests of religious denominations; it created at once a sensation in missionary circles. Wilbur Fisk, D.D., President of Wesleyan University, eloquently urged immediate response. The Board of Missions of the Methodist-Episcopal Church urged immediate response. The Board of Missions of the Methodist-Episcopal Church invited laborers. Rev. Jason lee and his nephew, Daniel Lee, of Stanstead, Lower Canada, members of the New England Conference, volunteered; and the former was appointed Superintendent of the Oregon Mission.

     (1833.) The Board, October 16th, appropriated three thousand dollars for an outfit, and authorized the employment of two lay members. The Messrs. Lee repaired to Boston to consult Captain wyeth, who had but lately returned from Oregon. That gentleman was about dispatching the brig May Dacre to the Columbia river; the next season he proposed to lead a party across the continent. Thus was afforded the opportunity to ship their outfit and to travel overland with a safe escort. Cyrus Shepherd, of Lynn, Mass., and P.L. Edwards, of Richmond, Mo., were selected as lay members; and Courtney M. Walker, of the latter place, had been hired for one year.

     (1834.) On the 28th of April, the missionaries left Independence, Mo., with Captain N.J. Wyeth's second Oregon expedition, and on the 13th of September reached Fort Vancouver. The May Dacre had already arrived and was lying in the Columbia, near the mouth of the Willamette. The purpose had been to establish this mission among the Flatheads; but Superintendent Lee counseled with Dr. McLoughlin, who urged that, to accomplish anything with the Indians, their establishments must be where they could collect the indians around them. They could teach them to cultivate the ground and live


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more comfortably than by hunting. While doing this, they should teach them religion. He suggested that the Willamette valley was the proper field; and his recommendations were adopted.

     Having received their supplies, leaving Mr. Shepherd at Fort Vancouver on account of sickness, the Lees, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Walker ascended the Willamette river sixty miles. On the 6th of October, upon the east side of the river, they established the first mission station in Oregon. Their building, thirty-two by eighteen feet, was ready, November 3d, for occupancy. A manual-labor school was immediately opened for Indian children.

     (1835.) A similar school had been established by Mr. Shepherd at Fort Vancouver, and continued till spring, when he joined the mission. In October, Rev. Daniel Lee, impaired in health, visited the Sandwich Islands; and Mr. Edwards took charge, during the winter, of the mission school at Champoeg.

     (1836.) The increased number of scholars required additional buildings. At this time missionary efforts were largely devoted to preventing the introduction of ardent spirits into the Willamette valley and among the Indians.

     The Oregon missionary undertook to teach the gospel to a savage race who had neither knowledge nor conception of christianity. The Oregon Indian had accustomed himself to the presence of the trader, the trapper and the sailor; but such intercourse was transient; nor was its purpose moral or mental improvement. The missionary was the first to teach, to christianize, to civilize. His was the herculean task of transforming Indian character, of mollifying savage nature, of preparing the Indian mind for the presence of a superior name with entirely variant purposes of life. To an unappreciative people, the missionaries urged the adoption of an aggressive civilization content only with supplanting every custom, tradition and characteristic of that people. To accomplish any result in such a field, the missionary must tangibly demonstrate to the savage the advantages which attend Christian conduct. The Indian must be convinced that the daily life of the white men under Christian influences exhibited evidence of a higher scale of happiness than he enjoyed. Missionary duty also found fruition in adapting the country for the homes of civilization. To successfully accomplish such results, how plausible the theory that the mission required to be self-sustaining and independent. Within itself should exist the ability to subsist its members. People to whom it ministered should be dependent upon it, - should look up to it and should co-operate with it. The Methodist Board, recognizing this policy, as promptly reinforced its Oregon Mission as the means of communication afforded.

     In May, Dr. Elijah White and wife, William H. Wilson, Alanson Beers and wife, Misses Downing and Johnson, arrived at the mission (1). They had sailed from Boston in June, 1836, in a whaling vessel, and reached the Sandwich Islands, where they were delayed several months waiting for a passage by a Hudson's Bay Company's vessel to the Columbia river.

     In September, the mission was further strengthened by the arrival of Rev. David Leslie and family, Rev. H.K.W. Perkins and Miss M.J. Smith. On Christmas, a general meeting was convened; and the Oregon Missionary Society was formed. A new station at The Dalles, among the Wasco Indians, to be called Wascopam, was ordered, to which was assigned Revs. David Leslie and H.K.W. Perkins. Superintendent Lee was selected to go East and solicit aid and additional missionary force.

     (1). On the 16th of July, Rev. Jason Lee married Miss Ann Maria Pitman; and Cyrus Shepherd married Miss Susan Downing. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Daniel Lee in a grove in front of the Mission House.

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     (1838.) On the 26th of March, leaving the mission in charge of Rev. David Leslie, Rev. Jason Lee started East accompanied by P.L. Edwards, a Mr. Ewing of Missouri, and two Chinook Indians (1).

     With the two Indians he reached New York in the fall. The Methodist Board resolved (November 6th) to send five additional missionaries, one physician, six mechanics, four farmers, a steward and four female teachers.

     During the winter of 1838-9, missionary meetings were held by Lee and his Indian companions through the Northern States. Including appropriations made by the Board, over forty thousand dollars were contributed. Agricultural implements, a saw and grist mill, trading goods, a complete outfit for a colony, were purchased. On the 9th of October, 1839, the reinforcement, consisting of fifty-two persons, sailed from New York in the ship Lausanne, Captain Spalding: Revs. Jason Lee and J.H. Frost, A.F. Waller, W.W. Kone, L.H. Judson, Josiah L. Parrish, J.P. Richmond, M.D., and Gustavus Hines (2), preachers; Dr. I.L. Babcock, physician; George Abernethy (3), steward and accountant; Messrs W.W. Raymond, H.B. Brewer, James Olley, H. Campbell, and their families; Misses Ware, Clark, Phelps and Lankton, teachers. In the colony were sixteen children. During this year, Rev. David Leslie and William H. Wilson established a station near Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound. The Lausanne arrived at Fort Vancouver on the 1st of June, 1840. On the 13th, a general meeting of the mission was held. Dr. Richmond was assigned to Nisqually, Mr. Frost to Clatsop, Messrs. Hines and Kone to the Umpqua country. Dr. Babcock was located at Wascopam. The mission colony now numbered seventy-five, twenty of whom were children. That the founders of the Oregon Methodist Mission were actuated by the philanthropic motive of civilizing and christianizing the native population is apparent. That the Missionary Board duly appreciated the remoteness of the territory, the difficulty of obtaining supplies, and necessary dependence on the Hudson's Bay Company, are manifest in the liberality in reinforcing this mission. That the missionaries selected were prompted by similar laudable motives may be charitably believed. The Oregon Mission entered upon its career, embracing men of ambition, men of force, men who could and did see a great future for Oregon, if erected into an American State.

          A foreign corporation was their neighbor, exercising control over the Indian population, as also over the majority of the white population then present in the territory. The one was British and worldly, the other American, claiming to be actuated by higher, holier, purer motives. So long as the mission confined itself to religious and educational pursuits, - so long as it continued missionary in its labors, - it enjoyed the sympathy and received the direct aid and support of the Hudson's Bay Company.

     Indian civilizing soon ceased to be an occupation of the mission. The work changed to ministering to the white settlers who were gathering in the Willamette valley. As the mission strengthened in influence with those settlers, its power became a political lever as much as moral agency. The missionaries had commenced their labor in the education and care of Indian children. Time and money had been liberally expended, at first with seeming assurance of success. The building of the enlarged mission schoolhouse in 1842, at an expense of ten thousand dollars, had been succeeded by a remarkable morality of Indian children. A number of them died, which occasioned a number to run away, and

     (1) On the 26th of June, 1838, Mrs. Jason Lee gave birth to a son, - Oregon's first-born American white male. On the 27th, mother and child became occupants of one tomb, - brief but sad chronicle of the birth and death of an Oregon first born, - the first death of a woman of our race west of the Rocky Mountains.

     (2) The historian of the Oregon Mission, - author of a most entertaining narrative of the missionary voyages.

     (3) Governor George Abernethy, of the Oregon Provisional Government, 1845-6

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the parents of others to withdraw their children. The attempt to educate the Indian youth had received its quietus. As the only rational hope of transforming an Indian is in alienating him while a youth from Indian customs and traditions, so, by the refusal of Indian youths to submit to missionary teaching, Indian civilization ceased to be a part of missionary labor. The missionaries continued to receive and instruct those Indians who would receive instruction; but their efforts being unappreciated by the native, they turned their active attention to the American settlers, - the white population who had commenced the transformation of Willamette valley into an American community. Here were their own race engaged in mechanical branches, in cultivating the extensive mission farms, in caring for their rapidly increasing stock of cattle and horses. The mission had developed into a wealth-producing community. Its power was to continue by its acquiring and retaining influence with the increasing population. It had become a candidate for popular favor. From its farms, stores and granaries, it could furnish sustenance, supply necessary implements for the pursuit of husbandry or mechanical vocations. It could not only furnish employment but could supply its employés with all the necessaries of life. The community was as dependent upon it for temporal wants as for spiritual food. the reinforcement of 1840 no longer meant Indian mission; it was colonization, power- moral, social, political.

     The world will harshly criticise those who, having dedicated themselves to a service which required self-denial and sacrifice, abandoned such for more tasteful or more profitable employment, even though the later proved more practicable of good results. The erection of mills, the successful pursuit of trade, the cultivation of lands, the holding of office, are all benefits to our race, and are also sources of wealth. But such pursuits will not be accepted as missionary labor. Large tracts of land had been taken up by the mission for itself; and each member had located his section of land. The mission supported a large force of employés. The country was without established government or laws; there was no agency to restrain lawlessness but the presence of the missionaries. It was a recognized associate governing power; and the settler early learned to look up to the mission, to respect its authority, to defer to its leading members. Nor was it slow to assume authority thus voluntarily acknowledged, to exercise that control to which the settler had voluntarily submitted. Thus its members acquired influence in the community. If greed for gain or personal ambition may have prompted some to use tat power inconsistently with the precepts of the Gospel which they were sent to Oregon to impart to the Indians, the individual should be condemned; the mission should only be censured where it participated in the wrong, shared in the profit, or suffered such wrong to pass unrebuked.

     Located in the Willamette valley, the mission became the nucleus of American settlers. It sympathized with them. Its leading members mingled with the people. The mission molded public opinion. As the country increased in population, its purposes materially changed. Education became a subject of vital popular interest. The little community looked to the mission for educational opportunities. Jason Lee called a meeting at his residence on the 17th of January, 1842, of the members of the mission and all friendly to education. Dr. Babcock and Revs. Leslie and Hines were appointed to report a plan for an institution of learning. On the 1st of February, 1842 an adjourned meeting was held at the Oregon Mission House. Friends of education, irrespective of sect, participated, prominent among whom was Rev. Harvey Clark, Congregationalist. Thus and then was inaugurated the OREGON INSTITUTE.

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     It was to commence as an academical boarding school, to be converted as early as practicable into an university. Although designed for white children, a person of color who produced a certificate of good moral character, and could read, write and speak the English language could gain admission. It was to be placed under the supervision of some evangelical branch of the Protestant Church. Until such denominational character should be ascertained, subscribers of fifty dollars and upward were authorized to transact the business. A fifty-dollar subscription conferred the right to participate in meetings of the business. Five hundred dollars entitled its subscriber to a perpetual scholarship. When subscriptions should amount to four thousand dollars, buildings were to be erected. Subscriptions were payable, one-third cash, and the remainder in cattle, lumber, wheat, or property delivered at the institute at market prices. Money was then unknown in Oregon. Cash meant accepted orders either upon the mission at Oregon City, or upon the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. Four thousand dollars were promptly subscribed. On the 26th of October, 1842, the Methodist-Episcopal Church of Oregon pledged itself to sustain the Oregon Institute; and thus it became a Methodist institution.

     On the 29th of May, 1843 the subscribers to the institute met at Wallace Prairie, the selected site. Previous proceedings were ratified, and the Oregon Institute was formally transferred to the Methodist-Episcopal Church of Oregon. By November 16th, 1843, the buildings had been erected at a cost of three thousand dollars, under the supervision of William H. Gray, General Superintendent and Secular Agent.

At the first annual meeting of the Trustees, Rev. Jason Lee was elected President, and selected as agent to visit the Atlantic States to solicit funds and donations for a library, apparatus and other educational appliances.

     The mission and its prominent members zealously entered into all popular enterprises. By establishing the institute, it had commended itself to popular sympathy and support. Any secular work which promised benefit to the masses, or wealth or influence to the mission, was sure, to secure its hearty co-operation, the direct assistance of its leading spirits. In its earliest days, it had been the prime agency in stocking Oregon with cattle. If a mill was needed, it supplied the capital and skilled operatives for its erection. If a store was to be established, it furnished the goods. Its prestige was invoked against the competition of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the spring of 1841, Ewing Young, an independent settler, died without any relative in the territory. He had amassed considerable property. How was it to reach his legal heirs or representatives? Unconnected with either Hudson's Bay Company or the mission, in the absence of laws providing for the settlement of estates, who was to take the custody of his effects? The mission and its members were willing to adopt a code of regulations to establish law and order, to submit to lawful authority, to empower the will of a majority to be exercised in a system of government.

     Then, as at every succeeding attempt of the American settlers of Oregon to adopt some form of government, the Methodist missionaries, clergy and laity, took a prominent part. They molded the political issues of those days, and were the popular leaders. There were, however, a series of tolerated acts which reflect no credit upon the mission. The investigation ordered by the Methodist-Episcopal Missionary Board, the result of that investigation, and the action of the new superintendent, are tacit condemnations of the worldly and financial policy of the Oregon Mission.

     Dr. Elijah White had been dismissed in 1840, and returned to the States. Oral and written complaints against the superintendent had followed. It was charged that the

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Board had been misled as to the number of Indians in the territory, in consequence of which misrepresentations, a much greater number of missionaries had been sent and maintained than was necessary. There was delay in making report of the manner in which the large appropriation to the reinforcement of 1840 had been disbursed. As a consequence, the Board, on the 19th of July, 1843, recommended to the bishop in charge of foreign missions an investigation of the financial concerns of the Oregon Methodist Mission. Bishop Hedding appointed Rev. George Gary, of Black River, New York, superintendent of the Oregon Mission. Unaware of this hostile action, without notice to the accused of pending charges, Rev. Jason Lee had, during the fall of 1843, started for the east via the Sandwich Islands to solicit funds for the Oregon Institute. Rev. Gustavus Hines was to have accompanied him. They had arrived at Honolulu, where, awaiting a vessel bound for the United States, they learned that Mr. Lee's successor was en route to Oregon. A passage for only one offering, to Mazatlan, was embraced by Lee, who from thence proceeded via Vera Cruz to New York.

     Rev. Gustavus Hines returned to Oregon, where he arrived April 23, 1844. The annual meeting of the mission was held, Rev. D. Leslie acting as superintendent. Leslie was assigned to the Willamette settlement, Hines to Tualitan Plains, Parrish to Clatsop, and Perkins to The Dalles. Rev. Dr. Richmond and Revs. Kone, Frost and Daniel Lee had previously abandoned the mission and had already returned to the East.

     The only Indian mission was at The Dalles. The four appointments, the mission school and the several secular departments now constituted the Oregon Methodist Mission. Superintendent Gary shortly arrived. He was vested with unlimited discretion and full powers to continue the mission as conducted, or abolish its secular character.

     Superintendent Gary called a meeting of all the missionaries, ministers and laymen. The result was a decision to sell the Clatsop mission farm and stock. The lay members were discharged, except H.B. Brewer, at The Dalles. They were allowed a sum sufficient to enable them to reach the eastern States, or, if they elected to settle in the country, an amount in property equal to such traveling expenses. Dr. Babcock returned to the States; all the rest became settlers.

     The Oregon Mission Manual-Labor School still remained undisposed of. It had been erected at an expense of ten thousand dollars. Superintendent Gary called a meeting of the Oregon Methodist-Episcopal Church June 26th at the mission schoolhouse, to determine what disposition should be made. It was resolved to abandon it. Superintendent Gary sold the property to the trustees of the Oregon Institute for four thousand dollars. The Oregon Institute farm found a purchaser; and the Oregon Mission Manual-Labor School became the Oregon Institute. Thus terminated the colonial character of the Oregon Methodist Mission.

     Rev. Mr. Perkins left for the East in the fall. The Oregon mission after ten years of existence numbered four preachers, viz.: Superintendent Gary, David Leslie, A.F. Waller and Gustavus Hines. The latter remarks: "The finances of the Oregon Mission were thus summarily brought to a close; and the mission was not only relieved of a ponderous load, but assumed a decidedly spiritual character."

     The presence in Oregon of the Oregon Methodist Mission had not materially contributed to the temporal or spiritual advancement of the native population of Oregon. As a civilizer or christianizer of the Indians, it was a failure. But to the future of Oregon, its presence was salutary. Reports to missionary boards gave valuable information of the

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country, its soil, climate and resources. The support of the Provisional government fused the American element and hastened the extension of Federal jurisdiction over the territory.

     As an Americanizer, as an impresser of Oregon social life by the establishment of churches and school, its agency in colonization was lasting and incalculable. The Oregon Mission became the Oregon Conference, a wholesome adjunct, but not a factor in settlement. From a little mission party of four, it had become the Methodist-Episcopal Church of Oregon.


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