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Dr. John McLoughlin
Methodist Missions and Missionaries


With Wyeth's second expedition, in 1834, came the first Methodist missionaries: Rev. Jason Lee, Rev. Daniel Lee, his nephew, and the following laymen: Cyrus Shepard, a teacher; P. L. Edwards, a teacher; and a man named Walker. They arrived at Fort Vancouver September 17, 1834. They were also hospitably received by Dr. McLoughlin, and treated with every consideration and kindness. On Dr. McLoughlin's invitation Jason Lee preached at Fort Vancouver. Boats and men were furnished by Dr. McLoughlin to the missionaries to explore the country and select a proper place for the establishment of their Mission. In the McLoughlin Document, he says: "In 1834, Messrs. Jason and Daniel Lee, and Messrs. Walker and P. L. Edwards came with Mr. Wyeth to establish a Mission in the Flat-head country. I observed to them that it was too dangerous for them to establish a Mission [there]; that to do good to the Indians, they must establish themselves where they could collect them around them; teach them first to cultivate the ground and live more comfortably than they do by hunting, and as they do this, teach them religion; that the Willamette afforded them a fine field, and that they ought to go there, and they would get the same assistance as the settlers. They followed my advice and went to the Willamette."

Rev. Dr. H. K. Hines published a book in 1899 entitled, "Missionary History of the Pacific Northwest." While, as is to be expected, Dr. Hines' book is biased in favor of the Methodist missionaries, and Jason Lee is his hero, nevertheless, he has endeavored to be fair and just to all. In this "Missionary History," page 92, Dr. Hines says: "It was no accident, nor, yet, was it any influence that Dr. McLoughlin or any other man or men had over him [Jason Lee] that determined his choice [of a site for the Mission]. It was his own clear and comprehensive statesmanship. Mr. Lee was not a man of hasty impulse. . . . This nature did not play him false in the selection of the site of his Mission." And on pages 452, 453, he says: "Some writers have believed, or affected to believe, that the advice of Dr. McLoughlin both to Mr. Lee in 1834, and to the missionaries of the American Board in 1836, was for the purpose of pushing them to one side, and putting them out of the way of the Hudson's Bay Company, so that they could not interfere with its purposes, nor put any obstacle in the way of the ultimate British occupancy of Oregon. Such writers give little credit to the astuteness of Dr. McLoughlin, or to the intelligence and independence of the missionaries of the American Board. Had such been the purpose of Dr. McLoughlin, or had he been a man capable of devising a course of action so adverse to the purposes for which his guests were in the country, he certainly would not have advised them to establish their work in the very centers of the great region open to their choice. This he did, as we believe, honestly and honorably."

Jason Lee selected, as the original site of the Methodist Mission, a place on French Prairie, about ten miles north of the present city of Salem. When he and his party were ready to leave for their new home, Dr. McLoughlin placed at their disposal a boat and crew to transport the mission goods from the May Dacre, Wyeth's vessel, on which their goods had come, to the new Mission. He loaned them seven oxen, one bull, and seven cows with their calves. The moving of these goods and cattle to the Mission required several days. He also provided and manned a boat to convey the missionaries, personally. In his diary, Jason Lee says: "After dinner embarked in one of the Company's boats, kindly manned for us by Dr. McLoughlin, who has treated us with the utmost attention, politeness and liberality."

March 1, 1836, Dr. McLoughlin and the other officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, all British subjects, sent to Jason Lee, for the benefit of the Methodist Mission, a voluntary gift of one hundred and thirty dollars, accompanied by the following letter:

"Fort Vancouver, 1st March, 1836.
"The Rev. Jason Lee,

"Dear Sir: "I do myself the pleasure to hand you the enclosed subscription, which the gentlemen who have signed it request you will do them the favor to accept for the use of the Mission; and they pray our Heavenly Father, without whose assistance we can do nothing, that of his infinite mercy he will vouchsafe to bless and prosper your pious endeavors, and believe me to be, with esteem and regard, your sincere well-wisher and humble servant.

"John McLoughlin.

From its beginning, and for several years after, the successful maintenance of the Methodist Mission in Oregon was due to the friendly attitude and assistance of Dr. McLoughlin and of the other officers of the Hudson's Bay Company in Oregon. Without these the Mission must have ceased to exist. This applies also to the successful maintenance of all other missions in the Oregon Country in the same period of time.13

In May, 1837, an addition to the Methodist Mission arrived at Vancouver. It consisted of eight adults and three children. Of these three were men, one of whom was Dr. Elijah White, the Mission physician; five were women, one of whom was Anna Maria Pittman, whom Jason Lee soon married. In September, 1837, the ship Sumatra arrived at Fort Vancouver loaded with goods for the Methodist Mission. The Sumatra also brought four more missionaries, two men, two women, and three children. Rev. David Leslie and wife were two of these missionaries. All these missionaries were entertained by Dr. McLoughlin, and provided with comfortable quarters at Fort Vancouver.

In March, 1838, Rev. Jason Lee left for the Eastern States, overland, on business for the Mission. His wife died June 26, 1838, three weeks after the birth and death of their son. Immediately on her death Dr. McLoughlin sent an express to overtake and tell Jason Lee of these sad events. The express reached Jason Lee about September 1, 1838, at Pawnee Mission, near West-port, Missouri. [Dr. H. K. Hines, Missionary History, p. 90.] From this act alone could anyone doubt that Dr. McLoughlin was a sympathetic, kind, thoughtful, and considerate man? Or think that Jason Lee would ever forget? Later, in 1838 Dr. McLoughlin made a trip to London, returning to Fort Vancouver in 1839.

While Jason Lee was on this trip to the Eastern States, the Missionary Board was induced to raise $42,000 to provide for sending thirty-six adults, and sixteen children, and a cargo of goods and supplies, on the ship Lausanne, to Oregon for the Methodist Mission. Among these new missionaries were Rev. Alvan F. Waller, Rev. Gustavus Hines, and George Abernethy, a lay member, who was to be steward of the Mission and to have charge of all its secular affairs. This party of missionaries, who came on the Lausanne, are often referred to as "The great reinforcement." The Lausanne, with its precious and valuable cargoes, arrived at Fort Vancouver June 1, 1840. As soon as Dr. McLoughlin knew of her arrival in the Columbia River, he sent fresh bread, butter, milk, and vegetables for the passengers and crew. At Fort Vancouver he supplied rooms and provisions for the whole missionary party, about fifty-three people. This party remained as his guests, accepting his hospitality, for about two weeks." Shortly after some of this missionary party were endeavoring to take for themselves Dr. McLoughlin's land claim at Oregon City. The Lausanne was the last missionary vessel to come to Oregon.

Why this large addition to the Oregon Mission, and these quantities of supplies, were sent, and this great expense incurred, has never been satisfactorily explained. It seems to have been the result of unusual, but ill-directed, religious fervor and zeal. The Methodist Oregon Mission was then, so far as converting the Indians, a failure. It was not the fault of the early missionaries. Until 1840 they labored hard and zealously. The Indians would not be converted, or, if converted, stay converted. Their numbers had been greatly reduced by the epidemics of 1829-32, and the numbers were still being rapidly reduced. And why the necessity of such secular business as a part of a mission to convert Indians to Christianity? The failure to convert the Indians was because they were Indians. Their language was simple and related almost wholly to material things. They had no ethical, no spiritual words. They had no need for such. They had no religion of their own, worthy of the name, to be substituted for a better or a higher one. They had no religious instincts, no religious tendencies, no religious traditions. The male Indians would not perform manual labor - that was for women and slaves. The religion of Christ and the religion of Work go hand in hand.

Rev. Dr. H. K. Hines, in his Missionary History, after setting forth certain traits of the Indians and the failures of the Methodist missionaries to convert them, says (p. 402) : "So on the Northwest Coast. The course and growth of a history whose beginnings cannot be discovered had ended only in the production of the degraded tribes among whom the most consecrated and ablest missionary apostleship the Church of Christ had sent out for centuries made almost superhuman efforts to plant the seed of the 'eternal life.' As a people they gave no fruitful response." And, on page 476, he says: "Indeed, after Dr. Whitman rehabilitated his imission in the autumn of 1843, the work of that station lost much of its character as an Indian mission. It became rather a resting place and trading post, where the successive immigrations of i844-'45-'46 and '47 halted for a little recuperation after their long and weary journey, before they passed forward to the Willamette. This was inevitable." And on page 478 Dr. Hines says that Dr. McLoughlin "advised Dr. Whitman to remove from among the Cayuses, as he believed not only that he could no longer be useful to them, but that his life was in danger if he remained among them."

J. Quinn Thornton in his "History of the Provisional Government of Oregon," It says: "In the autumn of 1840 there were in Oregon thirty-six American male settlers, twenty-five of whom had taken native women for their wives. There were also thirty-three American women, thirty-two children, thirteen lay members of the Protestant Missions, thirteen Methodist ministers, six Congregational ministers, three Jesuit priests, and sixty Canadian-French, making an aggregate of one hundred and thirty-six Americans, and sixty-three Canadian-French [including the priests in the latter class] having no connection as employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. [This estimate includes the missionaries who arrived on the Lausanne.] I have said that the population outside of the Hudson's Bay Company increased slowly. How much so, will be seen by the fact that up to the beginning of the year 1842, there were in Oregon no more than twenty-one Protestant ministers, three Jesuit priests, fifteen lay members of Protestant churches, thirty-four white women, thirty-two white children, thirty-four American settlers, twenty-five of whom! had native wives. The total American population will thus be seen to have been no more than one hundred and thirty-nine." (This was prior to the arrival of the immigration of 1842.)

In his Missionary History Rev. Dr. Hines says (page 249) that in 1841 and 1842, prior to the arrival of the immigration of 1842, the Oregon Methodist Mission "comprised nearly all the American citizens of the country." And on page 239 he says: "Up to 1840 it [the Methodist Mission] had been entirely an Indian Mission. After that date it began to take on the character of an American colony, though it did not lay aside its missionary character or purpose." He also says that in 1840 there were only nine Methodist ministers in the Oregon mission. Some of the lay members, of which J. L. Parrish was one, became ministers, which probably accounts for the difference in the estimates of Thornton and of Dr. Hines. In the summer of 1843 Rev. Jason Lee was removed, summarily, as Superintendent of the Oregon Methodist Mission by the Missionary Board in New York, and Rev. George Gary was appointed in his place, with plenary powers to close the Mission, if he should so elect. He closed the Mission in 1844.

When the Lausanne arrived June 1, 1840, Dr. McLoughlin's power and fortunes were almost at their highest point. During his residence of sixteen years in the Oregon Country he had established the business of his Company beyond all question, and to the entire satisfaction of its board of directors. The Indians were peaceable and were friendly and obedient to him and to his Company. He was respected and liked by all its officers, servants, and employees. With them he was supreme in every way, without jealousy and without insubordination. He had become, for those days, a rich man, his salary was twelve thousand dollars a year, and his expenses were comparatively small. He was then fifty-six years old. He had prepared to end his days in Oregon on his land claim. His children had reached the age of manhood and womanhood. Few men at his age have a pleasanter, or more reasonable expectation of future happiness than he then had.

The half-tone portrait of Dr. McLoughlin, shown facing page 62, was taken from a miniature, painted on ivory, in London, probably when he was in London in 1838-9. It portrays Dr. McLoughlin as he was in his happy days. This miniature now belongs to the widow of James W. McL. Harvey, who was a grandson of Dr. McLoughlin. It was kindly loaned by her so that the half-tone could be made for use in this address.


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