By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
On Thursday evening, February 18, 1835, twenty-seven year old Narcissa Prentiss began her new life. With her family and friends watching, she became Mrs. Marcus Whitman in the local Presbyterian Church. It was also her last day as a resident of Angelica, New York. The very next day, Narcissa and her new husband would leave for their new mission station far away in the Oregon Country.
The ceremony included the singing of a hymn that was popular in farewell services for missionaries. It began:
Yes, my native land! I love thee;
All thy scenes I love them well;
Friends, connections, happy country,
Can I bid you all farewell?
Can I leave thee, can I leave thee,
Far in heathen lands to dwell?
Many at the wedding ceremony realized that this was probably the last time they would see the newly married couple. As the hymn continued, voices dropped out, replaced by more and more muffled sobs.
By the last verse only Narcissa was singing. Her voice “as sweet and musical as a chime of bells” sang:
In the deserts let me labor,
On the mountains let me tell,
How he died – the blessed Saviour –
To redeem a world from hell!
Let me hasten, let me hasten,
Far in heathen lands to dwell.
Today many may see the word “heathen” solely as a derogatory comment. But in the context of a service for departing missionaries, the stress is more on the fact that these people have not yet been exposed to the word of the Christian God. What better place for missionaries to establish a new mission? One can only imagine the feelings of bittersweet excitement felt by Marcus and his new bride as they set off to follow their dreams.
But first, the new couple would need to travel across the continent to reach their mission station. In her own words Narcissa described this is “an unheard of journey for females.”