An Extravagant Request
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
On Saturday, April 14, 1838, Rev. Jason Lee stopped by the Whitmans’ mission. Lee was a Methodist missionary from the Willamette Valley. The Methodists had been the first to respond to the request for missionaries in the Pacific Northwest. Now Lee was on his way back to the States to drum up more support from the Methodist Missionary Society.
Lee spent five days with the Whitmans. He then headed off to the Spaldings’ mission at Lapwai (near modern day Spalding, Idaho). Lee’s visit inspired Whitman and Spalding to think bigger regarding their own mission stations. On April 21 Spalding drafted a joint letter to the American Board, the group which sponsored their missions.
They requested 220 people! The current number of staff was just 5: Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, Rev. and Mrs. Spalding, and Mr. Gray.
Dr. Whitman and colleagues had been sent out in 1836 to establish a single mission station. But after reaching the area, the group decided it would be better to set up two missions instead. For both sites to succeed they felt additional helpers would be necessary. In fact, Gray was already on his way back to the States to get more recruits. But he had left before Spalding and Whitman hatched their new, more extravagant plans. The letter addressed this issue:
Spalding and Whitman were confident that they would receive a positive response from the American Board:
But sometimes the view from those on the front line differs from the view of people back at headquarters.
This is part 15 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2
Next: Greene Responds
Drury, Clifford M. Chapter 12 (pdf 1.7 mb) of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Whitman, Marcus, and Henry Harmon Spalding. April 21, 1838. Letter to Rev. David Greene of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Boston. Whitman Mission Collection.
Did You Know?
Wagons used on the Oregon Trail had to carry nearly 2000 pounds of supplies. They traveled 2000 miles or more to the Oregon Country. Most wagons were pulled by oxen as they could eat the prairie grass and survive without lots of food for lengthy periods.